10 ways homeowners waste money and how not to

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | March 10, 2016

home equity and small businessesWhat do you do when your monthly budget for home expenses doesn't leave much for your savings plan? How about when some of those expenses start creeping up a few dollars here and there, but your income hasn't budged?

Perhaps worst of all, how can you avoid astronomical repair or replacement bills when home components fail?

To start, look at typical ways homeowners waste money and what you can do to avoid these mistakes. Then find solutions that can save you more than they cost to put into practice, and take a look at how you can spend a little in advance to save a lot in the long run.

Here are two major ways you and your home can waste your money and cut into your bottom line -- and 10 ways you can plug the slow money leaks as well as avoid future gushers.

If you're losing money on poor energy efficiency…

You may not be in a position financially to install solar panels or a geothermal heat exchanger -- in spite of the 30 percent federal Renewable Energy Tax Credits. However, your state and local utility company may offer other incentives and rebates to offset the expense of making less extensive energy upgrades. The following free and lower-cost strategies can help reduce your utility bills.

  1. Readjust your thermostat settings. For every degree you lower your thermostat in winter for at least eight hours per day, you may save as much as 2 percent on your heating costs. It costs you nothing to implement.
  2. Turn off lights and computers when not in use. Unplug chargers, too. They drain energy even when nothing is plugged into them.
  3. Switch to LED and CFL light bulbs. While these bulbs cost more than what you might have been accustomed to paying for incandescent bulbs, they last much longer and reduce energy use up to 75 percent.
  4. Install ceiling fans. Fans make you feel cooler, so you might be able to do without air conditioning in some climates. In others, you may reduce energy consumption by keeping your thermostat set a few degrees higher when the AC is running. Be sure to turn fans off when no one is in the room.
  5. Save energy when cooking. Your microwave uses 80 percent less energy and a convection oven uses 20 percent less than your regular oven. Pressure cookers reduce cooking times.
  6. Vacuum your refrigerator coils. Twice a year is recommended, more if you have shedding pets. Dust-covered coils can reduce your refrigerator's efficiency by 30 to 50 percent.
  7. Do laundry with energy efficiency in mind. As with the dishwasher, run full loads. Cold water works as well as hot with today's detergents. Hang the clothes out to air dry. If you use a dryer, clean the lint trap each time.
  8. Make effective use of natural light during the day. If you can't add energy-efficient windows or full skylights, light tubes installed in the roof transmit, amplify, and diffuse sunlight into your rooms during the day. Awnings or solar-filtering shades let in light while controlling heat gain. Window films also reduce heat loss in winter.
  9. Replace worn weather stripping. Sealing air leaks around windows and doors blocks heat from leaving and entering your home.
  10. Buy ENERGY STAR-compliant appliances. When replacing old appliances, choose the most energy-efficient models. If you want to save money, look instead for coupons and sales, and pass up unnecessary extended service warranties.

If you're losing money on poor home maintenance…

If money or time is tight, you might be tempted to skip some monthly or seasonal maintenance chores most homeowners at least have heard they should do -- but sadly don't. The following maintenance tasks protect some of your most expensive home systems and components from failing catastrophically.

  1. Service the furnace and air conditioning system. When either your furnace fails in January or your central air conditioning dies in August because one of the parts wore out prematurely, you could be faced with a bigger repair or replacement bill long before you'd planned for that expense. Changing your filters every one to three months is a relatively inexpensive way to prevent your systems from working so hard they conk out before their time. In addition, shop around for a plan from an HVAC service company to inspect and maintain both your heating and cooling systems annually in advance of the months you need the heat and AC functioning in peak condition.
  2. Inspect the roof and clean gutters and downspouts. Visually inspecting your roof from the ground for loose or curling shingles, or having a professional roofing company do a more thorough examination of the flashings may head off future leaks. The same goes for gutters and downspouts clogged with debris. Leaks may be covered by your homeowners insurance, but not necessarily if the insurance company determines they were caused by your lack of proper maintenance. Leaks may not be visible in your living area until damage is done to your ceilings, walls and floors. Even worse, mold growth may require costly professional remediation. Overflowing gutters can lead to ice dams on the roof -- a cause of roof leaks -- as well as cracks in your foundation leading to bigger expenses you definitely want to prevent.
About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.