Saving Money on Summer Utilities Can Save Hundreds of Dollars Each Year
There are countless methods available for lowering your energy bills and one of the best times to cut back is during the dog days of summer. Making the proper adjustments to your home and your lifestyle can work wonders in helping save money on electric bills but also do your part to help the environment as well. Just like other money leaks, just spending $10 or $20 more a month than you have to is very costly over time.
1. Save Money Cooling Your Living Space
The US Department of Energy has estimated that 31% of all energy costs in the home are devoted to keeping the living space at a comfortable temperature, especially during the hottest and coldest months. For many people, summer is a big energy drain because of the need to cool the home to a comfortable level.
Saving money on your home energy bills all year round requires proper ventilation and insulation of your space as a foundation for controlling the heating or air conditioning applied to the home interior. According to Greenpeace.org, improving the insulation and ventilation can reduce heating needs to about one third (or 50 kWh heat/m2/y) to 1/10 of that of other average homes. If your home is properly insulated and has good ventilation you can save money without having to keep your house really cold in the winter and warm in the summer. You can have comfort year round.
2. Head Off Hot Water
Over-consumption of hot water is the second-largest area of energy usage, and should be addressed at the source of the problem — reduce the amount of water released into the house. Replace any inefficient faucet or especially shower head in the home (this alone can save almost 1500 kWh electricity if using an electric boiler, or 1900 kWh of heat using a gas or oil boiler). Not only will a more efficient shower head reduce your energy bill by cutting back on electricity or gas usage, but you’ll be simply using less water as a whole which is good for everyone.
Beyond reducing your hot water usage you can go a step further and tackle wasted energy at the water heater itself. These heaters will have a thermostat that allows you to set how hot you want the water to be, so just like knocking off a few degrees on your furnace thermostat will make your furnace run less the same is true for your water heater.
In some cases this isn’t enough and you may simply have such an old water heater that it’s using far too much energy compared to newer models. Technology has come a long way and spending a few hundred dollars on a new energy efficient model could pay for itself in no time.
3. Go Energy Star
Become more conscious of your appliances in terms of their Energy Star rating or qualifications. According to advice from EnergyStar.gov, for example, swapping out your old incandescent light bulbs for a “compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about 6 months. It uses 75 percent less energy and lasts about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb.”
Major appliances in the home that also guzzle a lot of electricity include the modern flat screen television and the refrigerator. If you have the option to turn a major appliance completely off and avoid a standby mode you can see significant savings. If your refrigerator hasn’t been cleaned in a while you can do wonders for its efficiency if you spend a few minutes cleaning all of the dust clogging the coils either behind or underneath the unit. And ultimately, like an old water heater you may be simply better off replacing your unit with a newer and more efficient model. It will cost money up front but the savings might be far greater than any small improvements you can make with the old one.
4. Dry Clothes Naturally
Clothes dryers are modern technological marvels, but highly inefficient. The increased use of home drying machines ratchets up energy consumption significantly. Try air drying clothes, especially during the warmer months of the year when it’s easier for the natural heat to do it without a machine — your utility bill will thank you for it.
5. Check Your Attic
One of the reasons the air conditioner works so hard to cool the house is that some spaces get much hotter than others, but particularly the attic since it may receive the bulk of the heat through the roof courtesy of the baking sun. Consider installing a radiant barrier roof decking product, which can prevent up to 97% of the radiant heat the sun is beating down upon the roof from getting into the attic. This will lower attic temperature by about 30% and would thereby reduce the amount of work your air conditioner needs to do in order to keep the house cool.
If installing a radiant barrier isn’t something you can do right now a cheaper option may be to install an attic fan. Installing this large fan can create a massive flow of air that pulls in cooler air at the lower levels and then expels it out through the top of the attic. These can be especially helpful in two-story houses and can save upwards of 30% on your cooling costs overall.
Can’t afford an attic fan? Here’s the ultimate frugal route if you have a multi-story house. Grab a box fan or two and take them upstairs to the highest windows in the house. Put them in the window so that the fan is blowing air to the outside. Then be sure to go downstairs and open up the windows on the lowest level. You’ll create the same effect of drawing in cool air from the lowest levels and expelling it out through the highest point. This works best when it’s not excessively hot outside.
6. Go Low-Tech
In many cases simply going back to low-tech methods can do a lot to keep your energy bills down. Installing a humble ceiling fan can reduce your needs for full air-conditioning most of the time. It will help circulate the air in the house and create a constant light breeze which may be just enough to make a warm day comfortable.
No ceiling fans? No worries. For as little as $20 you can buy a powerful standalone fan that can be used anywhere in the house. Put it next to you when you’re in the living room watching TV or take it into the bedroom when you’re going to sleep.
And finally, use some common sense and pay attention to the weather. Sometimes it can be very hot during the day but cool down to very comfortable temperatures at night. If you look ahead and see that it’s going to cool off nicely you can turn off your AC before bed and open the windows to let the night air naturally cool the house.
7. Consider an Energy-Efficient Mortgage (EEM)
Buying a new home? You may want to consider a new Energy-Efficient Mortgage, or EEM. EEMs are typically used to purchase a new home that is already energy efficient such as an Energy Star qualified home. The term EEM is commonly used to refer to all types of energy mortgages including Energy Improvement Mortgages (EIMs), which are used to purchase existing homes that will have energy efficiency improvements made to them. EIMs allow borrowers to include the cost of energy-efficiency improvements to an existing home in the mortgage without increasing the down payment.
While not for everyone, and certainly only if you are serious about having an energy efficient home, these loans can be a way to help you maximize efficiency without breaking the bank. For more information on EEMs you can visit the page dedicated to them on the Energy Star site.
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.