According to research reported by Bankrate, Americans spend a lot on utilities. “When you combine electricity, gas, water, and more, the average consumer spends about 7% of their annual income on energy — and that doesn’t even include the costs for other utilities like trash pick-up, cable, and internet,” Aly J. Yale writes. “Throw in those added expenses, and most people spend around $422 per month on utilities or more.”
What if you could easily lower that amount? What would you do with an extra $20, $50, or $100 a month?
Lowering your utility bills may not be as hard as you think. You and your family won’t have to sacrifice your quality of life to make it happen, either. These expert tips and hacks can help you pay less for your basic utilities.
Lower Your Water Bill
There are a few obvious ways to lower your water bill—taking shorter showers, turning off the tap when you brush your teeth, and so on. But what about the less obvious ways?
Colorado, California, and Vermont are among the states that have placed the strictest requirements on water-efficient low-flow showerheads. These showerheads throttle the amount of water that goes down the drain, reducing the average 40 gallons per household used every day just in the shower. These days, quality low-flow showerheads won’t reduce water pressure to the point that you will notice the difference.
Wash Full Loads
When using your washing machine or dishwasher, always make sure that you are washing full loads. Running a half-empty machine is a waste of money. If you find that your dishwasher fills up more slowly than you’d like, then switch to handwashing for a while.
Be Vigilant About Leaks
Any leak, no matter how small, can wreak havoc on your water bill. If you notice a leaky tap or showerhead, fix it immediately. However, sometimes leaks happen where you can’t see them. Keep an eye on your water bill, and if you notice a sudden spike in the cost, get a plumber out to check for possible leaky pipes under the house. Not only will you save money on your bill, but you’ll also save yourself potentially disastrous water damage.
Save Water for Plants
If you have a garden—whether it’s in a bed or a handful of pots—then you’ll need to water it. The time of day that you water can make a huge difference. It’s best for plants and your utility bills to water early in the morning. Water evaporates more quickly if you break out the can or sprinkler when the sun is already high in the sky. If you water in the evening, excess water can linger on the leaves of your plants, making them more likely to mildew.
In addition to changing up your watering schedule, you can also be smart about saving water for plants as well as household tasks. While you’re waiting for the shower or kitchen tap to heat up, catch the water in buckets or bottles for future use instead of letting it go down the drain.
Read More: Budgeting Strategies: The 50/30/20 Rule
Lower Your Power Bill
For most Americans, power is the most expensive utility bill each month. Luckily, there are a lot of easy, low-cost ways to lower your bill right now. In addition, you might consider making a few long-term investments to permanently reduce your electric bill.
Swap Out Your Old Light Bulbs
If you haven’t already switched to efficient LED bulbs, then what are you waiting for? They use so much less energy than incandescent bulbs—and they also produce less heat. That means your A/C won’t have to work quite as hard to cool your house. LED bulbs also last way longer, so you’ll spend less money overall on lighting your house.
Unplug Vampire Electronics
Did you know that many appliances and electronics continue to pull energy even when they’re not turned on? According to Duke Energy, “These phantom energy suckers can account for as much as 20% of your monthly electricity bill.”
When you aren’t actively using your electronics—including chargers—they should be unplugged. You could also use a power strip with an on/off switch to prevent these energy vampires from draining your electricity.
Lower the Temperature of Your Water Heater
Regardless of whether you have an electric or gas water heater, it’s a good idea to consider lowering the water temperature. Most water heaters have a default setting of 140 degrees—yet the standard safety recommendation to avoid scalding is 120 degrees! It’s not just energy-efficient but also safer for your family to lower the temperature setting on your water heater.
If you’re not sure how to change the temperature, look up your water heater online for details instructions. If you rent, ask your landlord if they’d be willing to change the settings.
Tweak Your Thermostat Settings
Your HVAC system is one of the biggest drains on your bank account. Heating and cooling your home costs a lot of money, but you can lessen the burden by changing the temperature of your thermostat. Go just a couple of degrees warmer in the summer and colder in the winter to maximize your savings. During spring and fall, consider opening the windows and letting the breeze take care of your climate control.
Many consumers are switching to smart thermostats, which can be programmed to automatically shift the temperature throughout the day. You can even control these thermostats with your phone, ensuring that your home is always at the perfect temperature.
Air Dry Clothes and Dishes
Clothes dryers and the heat dry feature on your dishwasher use up a lot of energy. They also increase the burden on your HVAC system during the summer. Although it takes a little more effort to air dry clothing, it’s well worth the savings on your electric bill—not to mention the reduction in wear and tear on your wardrobe. Drying dishes with a reusable cloth is also a savvy way to shave a few dollars off your bill. Once you get in the habit, it won’t take much time at all.
Update Your Home for Maximum Efficiency
You wouldn’t pay to heat or cool the outdoors, right? Well, if you have gaps around your windows and doors, that’s exactly what you’re doing. If investing in energy-efficient windows isn’t in the budget right now, you can seal up cracks with either weatherstripping or silicone caulk.
Over time, insulation can degrade. It’s well worth the money to replace old insulation with newer, more effective materials. Good insulation in the attic and under your house can make a big difference in your electric bill.
Even renters can make a difference by ensuring that your air filter is changed regularly. Experts recommend that you change your air filter every three months for optimum function of your HVAC.
Consider Investing in Solar Panels
While solar panels require an upfront investment, they’ll pay major dividends over time. You might even qualify for a tax break or be able to “sell” your electricity back to the utility company!
A professional installer can give you an idea of whether your property is a good candidate for solar and how much power you’ll need to generate for your home. You can learn more about the benefits of going solar at the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
Lower Your Natural Gas Bill
If you have a gas water heater, furnace, fireplace, or stove, then you know that this utility bill can fluctuate quite a bit from month to month. While there are certainly benefits to cooking with gas, there are drawbacks, too.
Many of the same tips used to reduce your electricity bill will apply here, such as lowering the temperature on your hot water heater and weatherproofing your home. However, there are a few hacks that are unique to natural gas.
Limit Your Fireplace Use
There’s nothing quite so lovely as a roaring fire in the winter. Unfortunately, most home fireplaces are terribly inefficient. They don’t provide nearly as much heat as a traditional furnace or a wood stove. Use your fireplace as a special treat for a cozy evening, not as a frontline element in heating your home.
Lock In Your Rates
Some natural gas utilities allow you to “lock in” your rates rather than being subject to the whims of the market. If that’s not an option for you, then you might be interested in programs that estimate your energy usage and average it over an entire year. While you won’t necessarily save money with this billing structure, it will prevent the dramatic highs and lows of your gas bill.
Be Smart About Your Stove
If you’re going to cook on your beautiful gas range, make it worthwhile. Make enough food for leftovers or cook several meals at once and freeze them. It takes a fair amount of energy to preheat an oven, so plan to bake multiple treats at once.
It’s not a bad idea to invest in supplemental small appliances for those times when you don’t want to use the range. An electric toaster oven (or even a countertop convection oven) along with an electric induction cooktop will cost less to use when you just want toast or a quick pot of pasta.