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How to kill that $450 utility bill

Matthew Grocoff

November 8, 2013

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: Green Living

"Holy cow! That's a big bill." That was my reaction to my friend Sam when she emailed me asking what she should do about her outrageous $450 utility bill. She figured since my wife and I have eliminated our energy bills for life that I must have some good advice for her. Sam doesn't have to achieve net zero energy in her home to be able to enjoy drastically lower bills.

I kindly explained to her that If her typical bills are $450 a month then she is guaranteed to spend between $359,000 - $546,000 over the life of her 30 year mortgage. And it's likely to be closer to that $1/2 million mark. She could count on that lower number, but then we'd have to believe that the coal industry lobby group is right and that the energy inflation rate will go down.

The good news for anyone who has bills that high is that you've got some future capital to work. If you do nothing, you're going to spend a lot of money to operate your home and probably will not be comfortable. So you may as well invest in making your home more cozy and recoup that investment through lower water and energy bills.

Here's what I told Sam to do, but this applies to anyone who's planning on heating up a buckwheat pillow in the microwave to stay warm this winter:

START BY TAKING A SHOWER (You're already taking a bath in your water bills)

First, go get yourselves some good 1.5 gallon per minute shower heads. That will cut your energy bill (less water to heat) and your water bill.

Bricor, Moen, Hansgrohe, Caroma - all make excellent 1.5 gallon shower heads. Don't buy a cheap one - you'll regret it. If you buy a truly high performance and high-quality shower head, you won't even know that you're using less water.

GET QUOTES and MAYBE AN ENERGY ASSESSMENT:

Most people should consider getting a home energy check up or assessment. Using funky tools like blower doors and infrared cameras, the assessment can show you where your home is losing energy. There are many states and utility companies that offer discounted energy check ups. Otherwise, they can cost $300 - $500.

But if you're spending hundreds every month on energy, there are some basic things you know are going to have to be improved. Might be better to put that money toward other improvements that are obvious. Before you get the assessment, get some quotes from two or three reputable companies on the following major items. If it's obvious that you need better insulation and weather sealing, then you may be able to avoid the expense of an energy assessment:

  1. Insulating or improving insulation in the walls
  2. Insulating or improving insulation in the attic. The attic should be well-sealed so no ceiling fans, chimneys, can lights, or plumbing cause air leaks. I really like Knauf Ecoseal as a simple, affordable, and effective solution to leaky and poorly insulated attics.
  3. Insulating the basement or crawl space and the rim joist of the house (that gap where the house sits on the foundation can get very drafty - this is where the mice find their way in)
  4. Replace your gas water heater with an electric heat pump water heater - Rheem or GE
  5. Get a quote for solar panels. This won't save energy - but rather let you produce your own. Solar has gotten so affordable that it will almost always pay for itself and give you some free energy for life.
  6. If your heating/cooling is old - consider upgrading to a geothermal ground source heat pump or an air source heat pump. New, very efficient systems like Daikin Altherma are becoming more popular and are cheaper than geothermal.

APPLIANCES:

The good news with high bills is now you have an excuse to get the appliances you've always wanted.

It would cost you about $4,000 to 8,000 to upgrade your dishwasher, washing machine, and refrigerator, and replace your gas stove with a high-performance induction range.

Go to Energy Star Product finder and choose MOST EFFICIENT 2013. You'll get better, cooler, higher quality, and more energy efficient stuff.

If you can't replace all the appliance at once, replace them in this order as you can afford it:

1. Refrigerator - Look for one that uses less than 465kWh per year or less than 400kWh if fridge is smaller than 21 cubic feet.

2. Induction stove - I have a Whirlpool range with double convection over induction cooktop. It rocks! Trust me, you'll love it, and you can ditch your carbon monoxide detector.

3. Washing machine - Find one that uses less than 95 kWh of electricity annually and less than 4500 gallons of water annually.

4. Dishwasher - Bosch makes a top of the line dishwasher that uses less than 3 gallons of water and only 190 kWh per year ($24/year). As a bonus, all of the most efficient dishwashers are insanely quiet.

LIGHTING:

Invest in replacing all your lights with LEDs (make sure you get 2700 kelvin color temperature - I love Cree and Philips). You will not need to replace these bulbs until your kids graduate from medical school.

LOWER COST:

Remember - this may cost you some money - some things may have a higher purchase price. But be careful to look at cost as well as price. It is an investment with a better return than any investment fund out there. At $450 a month you WILL spend well over $300,000 over the next 30 years if you do nothing . . . so consider your lower lifetime cost and enjoy your cozier home.

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