In the current economic climate, its been a bit rough for those that want to go green on a budget. Not everyone can...Read the rest of this article
Save money now: 27 ways to lower your utility bills
by Kathryn Robbins on February 20, 2011
In the current economic climate, its been a bit rough for those that want to go green on a budget. Not everyone can afford a car like the Chevy Volt, but you can make simple and affordable changes around the house that will lower utility bills and add some green mojo to your home. These common sense ideas can not only lower your utility bills but can also be a great teaching tool for kids. Make sure to check your utility bill to find more info on your provider's web site or call them directly for more information. If you have other suggestions, please leave us a note!
Use your ceiling fan: Most everyone thinks of using a ceiling fan during the summer but they can help you out in the winter. As you learned in elementary school, the reason your feet get cold in the winter is because heat rises in a room. A solution is to run your multidirectional fan so it draws the hot air at the top of the room down to your living area. This method is especially effective for rooms with high ceilings (10-12ft) and may save you up to 8% on your bill since you can lower your thermostat. While many people think that standard ceiling fans use a lot of power many of them use the the same amount as a light bulb and can be found online for $30 - $100.
Upgrade your appliances: Just like an old car there's a time when your trusted friend has hit the end of the road. The Energy Star rating system helps buyers find washers, dryers, refrigerators, and other items that use a lot less energy. Check out the US Department of Energy's web site to see if your state offers a rebate program to buy a smarter appliance that will help you save even more cash.
Use regular gas in your snow blower: While the green method of snow removal involves a simple shovel and some good old fashioned work, some snowbelt areas of the country make that nearly impossible. Premium gas cuts down on the knocking or pinging action in the engine which can be great for a high end automobile but it won't do much for the snow blower that you picked up at the local hardware store.
Lower your thermostat: Running around your house or apartment in a t-shirt and shorts during the summer months is fine, but it's a preposterous idea during the winter months. Turn down your thermostat and break out a hoodie, sweater, or that unfortunate pair of slippers that you got over the holidays.
Look to your ceiling fan to help your AC: Air conditioners or central air systems are utterly convenient but they also use a lot of energy. Since ceiling fans are an affordable way to cool off a room you can set your AC to kick in at a higher temperature. For every degree you set your AC above 78 you can slice 3-5% off your power bill.
Give your oven a vacation: firing up the oven to start dinner can jack up the ambient temperature and make your AC work even harder. Avoid baking: break out a trusty saute pan for a quick and healthy stir fry, nuke your meals in the microwave, toss some tasty stuff in a slow cooker, get grilling outside.
Get a rain barrel: Water use shoots up during the summer due to demands from new gardens, lawns, and washing your ride. Installing a cheap rain barrel to capture the water falling from your roof is an excellent way to get free water.
Rethink your lawn mower: Just like snow blowers, premium gas isn't the best choice for your lawn mower. Using regular gas can save you a little cash the next time that you fill up. If you really want to have a green lawnmower think about buying an old-fashioned push mower with a sharp blade system such as the Scotts 2000-20 20-Inch Classic Push Reel Lawn Mower. You'll save on gas, maintenance, your hearing, as well as getting a workout in your yard.
Blinds are the new black: Blinds or drapes can combat direct sunlight which can turn a formerly pleasant room into an oven that could cook a wall of rotisserie chickens bigger than the one at your local Costco. Sunshine that pours through your windows can raise the temperature of a room by 10-20 degrees; deploy your blinds before you leave for work for a cooler house in the evening.
Pick out the peak time: Many electricity companies divide their hours into two sections called peak and off-peak times. Peak times are their busiest period since they usually occur during normal business hours. Off-peak hours, on the other hand, occur when there is little demand for energy, such as 10:00pm or even on the weekends. In many instances, electricity companies actually charge less for power during off-peak times. Try running your dishwasher before you go to bed or leave your load of laundry for a lazy weekend to lower your bill.
Raise your energy IQ with a smartmeter: Smartmeters are green gadgets that can tell you exactly what kind of power your appliances are really using. Monitors like the Kill A Watt can tell you how much it costs to run the appliance by day, week, or even a year and don't require expert installation. Another great program is from the non-profit arm of Google with their PowerMeter system. If you have a qualifying device such as The Energy Detective or your utility has partnered with the company, Google lets you track your energy consumption online.
Make clean air filters a habit: Air filters for your heating system or air conditioner act just like the oil filter in your car. If they are clogged or dusty, they become less effective because the blower motor has to work harder; so it's a good idea to check your filter every month. If you need to pick up a new filter write down the code, name of the manufacturer, and its measurements before you head out to the hardware store.
Make friends with your water heater: Building a relationship with your water heater may sound a bit odd, but it can save you some serious cash in the long run. Check to see if your water heater has a blanket or a layer of insulation on the outside. This blanket acts just like your own keeping in the heat. If you need to purchase one, they can be purchased for less than $15.00 online depending on the size of your tank. Lowering the temperature can also be good for your budget. Lowering the temperature from 140 to 120 degrees shouldn't even be noticed by the hot water hog in your family and can save you about $120 a year.
Downsize your oven: If you have a small household, toaster ovens are great alternative to firing up your oven. Heating up a large oven takes a lot of time and energy while some of these small wonders can warm up to 350 degrees in less than five minutes. Plus, toaster ovens come in many forms that fit almost any budget. If Top Chef's Eric Ripert can cook dinner in a toaster oven, so can you.
Match your pan size to element size: When it comes to cooking on the stovetop, think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Use small pans on small burners and large pans on large burners. Using the wrong pan on the wrong burner can use up to 40% more energy.
Tidy up your refrigerator: Besides dust bunnies that hide under your fridge, dust collects on the back of the unit. Dust can prevent the unit from working efficiently because it makes the compressor work harder. Also check the seals on your freezer and fridge. If the seals aren't tight, the refrigerator has to work harder to cool off its contents.
Buy a programmable thermostat: Programmable thermostats are like a butler for your heating and cooling systems; they can be there to monitor your energy use while you're away. Program them to lower the heat while you're at work and fire up right before you return in the evening. Honeywell sells an entry level programmable thermostat that can be found online for about $20.00. In certain states electricity companies will actually give you a rebate for your purchase!
Buy compact florescent (CFL) or LED light bulbs: CFLs and LEDs a lot less energy than traditional ones which are being phased out due to a ban issued during the Bush administration. If you find the bulbs a bit pricey, think about shopping online or check out your nearest warehouse store. Bulk purchases of the bulbs at places like Costco or Sam's Club can be overwhelming for small households so try splitting the package up among family and friends.
Wash your clothes in cold water: Filling up your washer with hot water adds to your utility bill since your water heater has to go to work; about 80% of the energy used in the process goes to heating up the water. Many detergent companies have caught onto the cold water wash trend and have started producing special "cold water" versions of their product. Take a look online or even test out your current detergent to see if it might work. Some estimate that washing your clothes in cold water can save you $63 a year.
Ditch your dryer: Dryers can be huge energy hogs, so why not go old-school when it comes to smaller items like t-shirts and jeans? If you have a dedicated area for laundry, hang up an inexpensive clothesline. If you don't have the space use the shower rod in your bathroom to hang up your clothes to dry. An added plus is that your clothes will last longer since they aren't being abused by the dryer.
Check for leaks: If you found that your bill was a little higher last month it might be due to a leak. The National Sanitation Foundation estimates that a leaky faucet can waste between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons annually and a leaky toilet can waste up to 500 gallons of water in a day. If you currently have a leaky faucet, head over to the USGS site to see just how much water you're wasting. If you're DIY minded there are a lot of great resources online for common leaks like replacing a wax ring on your toilet or you can contact a plumber.
Slash your shower time: The average American spends about 8 - 10 minutes a day in the shower and that adds onto your energy costs and your water bill. Shower addicts can try to cut their time gradually by shaving off one minute a week using a kitchen timer or even a clock on their cell phone. For the truly hardcore, check out Lifehacker's guide to a Navy shower that's used by sailors that have limited access to fresh water.
Think low-flow: older faucets, shower heads, and toilets use a lot more water than their low-flow cousins. If you've got the cash a low-flow toilet uses almost five gallons less per flush than a standard toilet. For something cheaper, look at low-flow shower heads because they inexpensive and easy to install. For as little as $10, you can cut the amount of water you use in the shower by 50% to 70% over the high psi models.
Tweak your toilet: If you don't have the cash for a low-flow toilet, you can still reduce the amount of water your commode uses per flush. Grab a standard size water bottle toss some weight in the bottom like pebbles, sand, or even floral rocks. Then fill the bottle with water and toss it in the back of your tank. Just make sure that the bottle isn't hitting the mechanical parts of the tank.
Learning about lowering energy costs can be a be fun for children, but it also teaches them a life skill.
Get crafty when it comes to drafts: According to the US Department of Energy, drafts sap home energy use between 5% and 30%. Simple "draft dodgers" or "draft stoppers" are simple tubes filled with materials to block out drafts from windows and doors. Martha Stewart has a great guide for those with craft skills, or you can watch comedienne Amy Sedaris making one out of an old neck tie during her appearance on the Colbert Report.
Turn off the gaming console: The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 look like innocuous plastic boxes but they can be serious energy hogs. Encourage your kids to turn off their consoles when they aren't in use because the PS3 and Xbox can use as much energy in an hour as a washing machine. The National Resources Defense Council argues that if gamers simply turned off their consoles when they were done playing gamers could save a billion bucks a year in power bills.
Make energy conservation competitive: When you're of a certain age, things like water or gas bills aren't exactly on your radar. Monetary fines for not turning lights off can be a great motivator or even using a reward system for the most lights turned off in a period can work.