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Simple Ways to Cut Back on Utility Bills and Save Energy

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The typical American household spends $2,200 per month on utilities, with nearly half of that going toward heating and cooling energy costs. If you are looking to send less of your paycheck to utility companies each month, here are some helpful tips to not only lower your energy usage, but also investments you can make to save in the long run. 

Summer Energy Saving Tips

That warm summer sun is a beacon for everyone looking forward to vacation and cookouts, but it can also signal the beginning of astronomically high summer utility bills and AC energy consumption. Near round-the-clock cooling can double or even triple your electricity bill for several months. The first thing you should do is an energy audit to get a clear picture of energy usage and bills.

There are steps you can take, from the easy fix to the long-term investment, that can drastically cut down on your summer utility bills and use of electricity on the hottest days of the year.

Keep up regular maintenance on filters and HVAC systems

Dirty air filters and clogged ducts will slow airflow and put more of a strain on your heating and cooling system, wasting energy and costing you more money as it works harder than it would if it was clean.

The EPA recommends inspecting and cleaning or replacing air filters once a month during “heavy use” seasons, like summer and winter.

“There may be may be other things wrong with your HVAC system that wouldn’t be obvious to the average person,” Hewitt said. “Have your system serviced annually by an HVAC contractor to ensure that it’s running at optimum efficiency to save you energy and money.”

Get a programmable thermostat

This is a quick fix that can save you hundreds of dollars, and takes just a few minutes to install. Many smart thermostats use geofencing and wifi to communicate with you when you are on your way home to automatically cool the house down. This way, you don’t have to leave the air-conditioning running when no one is home.

Jill Kissick, a teacher whose job keeps her out of the house for the hottest part of the day, bought and installed a Nest for less than $200 when she and her family were living in southern Louisiana.  

Kissick, who is originally from New York state, said the hot Louisiana climate (which averages in the mid-90s in the summer months, but often climbs into the triple digits) meant she had to rethink her summer electricity usage for their two-story 2,200-square-foot house.

“Our old thermostat was not measuring temperature accurately,” Kissick said. “We found we saved about 10% on our bill, [which was] normally around $200 for the summer months.”

Kissick communicated with her smart thermostat from her phone, remotely turning down the thermostat before she left work in the afternoon. She also made sure to close doors to rooms that weren’t in regular use to avoid wasting cool air.

“When at home we kept the thermostat at 70,” she said. “When we left we would keep it at 75 or 76.”

Winter Energy Savings Tips

Maybe the summer isn’t when your energy bills are at their worst, but you instead tear through your annual budget during the winter. There are a couple specific tips for those looking to make a dent in their winter utilities bills. 

Replace your light bulbs

As the days get shorter, you might notice you have the lights turned on much more than before. The average home has approximately 45 sockets or bulbs, according to the EPA, and about 60% of US sockets contain an inefficient bulb. That adds up over time for homeowners and renters alike.

The EPA recommends replacing outdated bulbs with Energy Star-certified LED bulbs.  

“Certified LED bulbs use up to 90% less energy than standard bulbs and last 15 times longer,” said EPA spokesman James Hewitt. “A single light bulb that has earned the Energy Star can save more than $55 in electricity costs over its lifetime.”

That translates to nearly $1,500 in savings for the average home just by switching out those inefficient light bulbs.

Seal and insulate your house

The biggest air leaks are likely hiding in your attic or basement, Hewitt said. Sealing windows and doors with weather stripping, caulking around outlets and pipes, and adding extra insulation can save you up to 10% on your annual utility bills and lower your energy use. 

Kathie Steinert spent about $4,000 on additional, higher quality insulation added to the attic of her 2,800-square-foot Connecticut home a few years ago. Not only is it cooler in the summer, but they saw the benefits in their heating costs right away during the harsh New England winters.

Invest in Energy-Efficient Appliances

This is one investment that’s good for your bottom line and the environment.

“A typical household equipped with Energy Star-certified products can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 77,000 pounds of CO2 and save about $8,750 on utility bills over the life of these products,” Hewitt said. 

The top cost-cutting energy-efficient appliances are:

  • Central Air Conditioners: Replacing an A/C that’s more than 12 years old with an Energy Star model could cut your cooling costs by a whopping 30%, according to the EPA.
  • Windows: Depending on where you live, you can save between $100 and $580 per year by replacing single-pane windows with Energy Star windows. 
  • Ceiling Fans: Energy Star-certified ceiling fans with lights are 60% more efficient on average and can save you up to $130 over the fan’s lifetime.  
  • Dishwasher: Not only would you save water, but an energy efficiency model will draw less power than a dated model. 
  • Washing Machine: We use gallons of water to wash our clothing. Only do full loads if you don’t have a machine that adjusts for the load size. Use cold water so you don’t have to use as much energy or water. 
  • Dryer: For delicate clothing, consider hanging to air-dry. Not only does a heat dry use energy, but you might also get a longer life from your clothing. Finally, always clean your lint trap, as this is the second leading cause of house fires in the US. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.