Letting the faucet run a little too long. Leaving the downstairs light on all night. Staring into the fridge while you decide what to eat. These all seem like tiny, harmless things in the moment, but then the utility bill arrives, and you realize that all those tiny, harmless things start to add up. On average, Americans throw away $130 billion on wasted energy annually. Take that down to the personal level, and we’re talking about a few hundred extra dollars you’re probably throwing away every year. That seems like a silly amount to spend just to save you the inconvenience of flipping a few switches before you go to bed or figuring out what you want to eat before you open the fridge. These costly little energy suckers live all around your house, and we think it’s high time you started to do something about it. It’s time to formulate a plan of action and go to work lowering your utility bill!
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Step 1: Full House
A full house is an energy-efficient house (maybe that’s why Danny Tanner and his two somewhat employed friends could afford that nice big San Francisco brownstone). Keeping your home packed tight makes it harder for energy to escape. We’re not suggesting you fill your living room with hundreds of pillows just to cut down on heating costs — even if that does sound pretty cozy — but there are some slightly less whimsical ways you can fill up your house to save some cash. Start with the refrigerator. You waste 100 to 150 kWh a year opening and closing your fridge; that’s because every time you do, you let warm air in, and the compressor has to bring the temperature back down. But if you keep the fridge stocked, the extra food will retain the cold, making for a quicker cooldown. So next time your roommate yells at you for stuffing another takeout container in the fridge, just remind them you’re doing it to save all of you money.
The “fill er’ up” technique can also save you some energy when you’re cleaning. The average dishwasher costs 46 cents per load to run. But if you stack creatively, you can double your typical dish load and cut way down on your utility bills. So let those dirty dishes soak in the sink a little longer and wait to run the dishwasher when there’s enough of them to make it worth your while. And while you’re at it, why not let your hamper overflow a little, too. Your washing machine costs on average 68 cents per load. Don’t waste all that water on a few pairs of socks; wait until you have enough dirty laundry to do a full load. Do both of these consistently and you can save hundreds every year.
But the best thing to fill your house with will always be friends, and not just because you appreciate their company. Warm bodies can really heat up a house, preventing you from having to run the heater quite so much. Next time the temperature dips, instead of running to the thermostat, why not make a few calls and throw an impromptu party or get-together? You can all get cozy playing board games or watching Netflix without the worry of a skyrocketing heating bill.
Step 2: Watch the Clock
There’s actually one household device that can help you save energy if you always leave it running: the clock! The time of day you do things, like run the dishwasher or even watch TV, can severely affect how much they cost you. That’s because of what energy companies call peak hours. Peak hours are the hours during the day when people in an area are using the most energy. It varies from place to place, so check with your energy provider about when they happen in your hometown. A lot of power companies offer discounts to people who run their appliances during off-peak hours.
Step 3: Water It Down
Water usage is another place where you’re losing a lot of money on your utility bills. Statistically, 95% of the water Americans use just ends up getting wasted. But you can combat that with a few common-sense tips. Shorter showers and not running the faucet while you brush your teeth are obvious ones, but you can even go high-tech with it. If you have a lawn that needs watering, you could always install a rain sensor. These nifty little devices actually detect the amount of water your yard has absorbed from rain and then cuts down your sprinkler use accordingly. Or install a low-flow showerhead, which can save you $23 a year per person in your household.
Tweaking your water usage can also cut down on your energy bill. Most water heaters are set to 140 degrees by default, but if you lower it to 120 degrees, you’ll save $20 a year, and your water will still be hot enough for everyday use. You can also save on your water heating bills by always washing your clothes in cold water. If you have the courage to take on a cold shower, then you could really start saving money.
Step 4: Keep It Cool (Or Hot)
Staying cool in the hot summer months or warm when the temperature dips can put a real strain on your energy bill. You can’t go run the air conditioner every time you break a sweat or blast the heater every time you get chilly unless you want to kiss your money goodbye. But there are tons of creative, energy-efficient ways to regulate the temperature in your house. Start by sealing up all the places that heat might escape from your walls. Fill in cracks, tighten up wall sockets and make sure your windows shut completely. They may seem small, but a lot of these tiny openings can seriously drain your heat. Then try installing a few well-placed ceiling fans to circulate air on a muggy day instead of blasting the AC. And believe it or not, the color of your roof can dramatically affect your heating bill. If you live in a warmer climate, a white roof will keep your house cooler. If you live in a cooler climate, a black roof will absorb heat better. Of course, if you’re not quite the DIY hero all those projects require, you can still just throw up a few window shades. Keep them open when it’s warm and closed when it’s chilly. Or invest in some decent bedding. Instead of heating your whole house at night, just heat your bed with a heated mattress pad or a cozy comforter.
Step 5: Stay Vigilant
The most important thing you can do in your war against your energy bill is remain vigilant. Don’t get lazy about leaving lights on or faucets running. Those lazy little slips can cost you hundreds every year. Look for every way you can cut down, no matter how small. Cook as much as you can with your microwave and toaster instead of your energy-guzzling oven. Hook your entertainment electronics up to a power strip so you know they’re all off when you’re done with them instead of accidentally leaving the Xbox or the cable box on. These may all seem like small steps, but they’ll seem huge next time you open your utility bill.