5 Tips for slashing utility bills

Karl Fendelander | Improvement Center Columnist | November 9, 2012

According to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR website, the typical Single Family home will pay approximately $2,200 for their electricity this year. That’s close to $200 a month, more than many families spend on a week’s worth of groceries. While living without energy is not an option for most people, there are many quick and painless ways to lower home energy usage substantially. Alone, the tricks below can shave a few dollars off your bills, but put them together and you could be saving a fistful of dollars every month. For our purposes, we'll be using a very rough average energy cost of $0.12 per kilowatt hour (kWh) and about $2 per thousand gallons of water (both of which are on the low end for Americans).

  • Switch off and unplug. In today's world, we're surrounded by electrical gadgets. From phone chargers to gaming consoles, these devices are everywhere -- and sucking down power like it's their job. Here's a handy formula for calculating how much it costs to run devices in your home from Mr. Electricity:
    Wattage x Hours used ÷ 1000 x Price per kWh = Cost of electricity
    • The Daily Green reports that you could save about $90 every year just by turning off your computer every night before bed.
    • Instead of cooking your coffee after it's brewed, turn the machine off. CUB Energy Saver estimates this can save you $65 every year.
    • Some of the new video game consoles eat up as much energy as a refrigerator just by being plugged in -- and way more when switched on.
    Don't just assume that devices turned off or on standby aren't still syphoning electricity. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesperson estimated that Americans waste around $100 every year from not unplugging devices when they aren't in use. The folks at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have put together a table listing some standard power consumption rates for typical devices, both in use and while on standby. Check it out, and do the math yourself.
  • Switch your bulbs. If you're still using incandescent bulbs, you're wasting money -- lots of it. Left on for a month straight (or 730 hours):
    • A 100-watt incandescent bulb uses 73 kWh of electricity, which works out to $8.76 every month.
    • compact fluorescent light (CFL) producing the same amount of light runs at 25 watts, using 18 kWh, which works out to $2.16 every month, and it lasts as long as seven incandescent bulbs.
    • A light emitting diode (LED) bulb only needs 16 watts to produce the same light, using 12 kWh, only $1.44 per month, and it lasts as long as 42 incandescent bulbs.
    If you assume that you've got at least two 100-watt incandescent bulbs on for twelve hours a day, seven days a week, switching to the LED equivalents saves you about $90 a year and that's without having to replace any burnt-out incandescent bulbs. Make the switch to LED bulbs, and cut your lighting-related power bill by around 80 percent.
  • Switch your fridge. Refrigerators go between using almost no power when they're at the right temperature to putting a huge drain on your home's power when the compressor kicks on. According to Energy Star'shandy calculator:
    • A large fridge from the early nineties can cost as much as $250 a year to run.
    • A new Energy Star certified fridge of the same size cuts that number down to about $60 a year.
    That old fridge in the garage might seem like a cheap way to increase your chilled storage, but you could save nearly $200 a year by replacing it with a new model.
  • Switch your thermostat, and keep up your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). Energy Star estimates that simply by upgrading to a programmable, digital thermostat you could save around $180 a year. If you set that thermostat frugally, you'll save another one to two percent for every degree you go up in summer and down in winter -- a practice that also gives your heating and cooling systems a break. If you switch to a space heater and cart it around the house with you in winter rather than heating the entire house, Mr. Electricityestimates you'll save over $1,000 every year -- and over $400 every year by using ceiling fans instead of air conditioning.
    However you decide to heat and cool your home, sealing things up properly is incredibly important. The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) estimates that about 20 percent of heated and cooled air escapes through leaks in ventilation and around drafty, old windows -- all of those little leaks add up to the equivalent of leaving a window wide open to the weather. Flex Your Power estimates savings of up to $190 per year just by sealing up your ducts, weather stripping, replacing old windows and fixing any other leaks. The DoE also points out that landscaping can save money, too. Well placed trees that block wind and the heat of the sun can save you between $100 and $250 annually.
  • Rethink your hot water. The California Energy Commission(CEC) estimates that 25 cents of every dollar spent on energy goes towards heating water. The EPA reports that a hot water heater set at 140 degrees wastes between $36 and $61 every year while on standby and more than $400 in demand losses -- they suggest setting your water heater at 120 degrees to reduce this impact.
    • Flex Your Power suggests installing faucet aerators and low-flow shower heads to reduce water use and water heating costs by as much as $300 annually.
    • Energy Star reports that you can save as much at $30 a year just by wrapping your water heater in insulation.
    • The CEC suggests switching to solar water heating for savings of about $500 every year.
    • Mr. Electricity suggests washing your clothes in cold water -- if you were to wash only with hot water for a year, you'd waste as much electricity as leaving the fridge open 24/7 for the whole year.
    Pick and choose from a few of these simple solutions, and watch your utility bills plummet. Saving $50 a month is $600 a year -- for many people, these savings can be easily achieved.

For quick and easy suggestions on lowering utility bills, visit our interactive illustration.