Reduce your energy costs at home to help keep money in your pocket. Changing a few habits and upgrading some outdated items can have a significant impact on your monthly energy bills.
In this Money Management Tips post we’ll cover 5 topics you can use to help dramatically reduce your energy bill each month. Some of these tips might seem like common sense while others you might not have thought about.
1. Replacing old inefficient incandescent light bulbs with CFL or LED lights
Countries around the world have passed or are working on legislation to phase out the use of incandescent light bulbs due to their inefficiency and short lifespan. The lifespan of bulbs is usually represented in the number of hours the bulb will provide light before burning out. The lifespan of your typical incandescent bulb is 1,200 hours. CFL bulbs have an average lifespan of 30,000 hours while LED bulbs can last upwards and exceeding 50,000 hours.
CFL (Compact Fluorescent) Bulbs
Rather than passing electricity through a coil of wire, CFL bulbs pass an electric current through a tube filled with argon and mercury vapor and are up to 70% more energy efficient than an incandescent bulb. CFLs can run about $1 more per bulb than an incandescent but the cost savings over the lifetime of the bulb can be about $150 less than an equivalent number of incandescent bulbs.
The downsides to CFLs are the fact that they do contain small amounts of mercury, cannot be used with dimmer switches and can take a few seconds to reach full brightness after being turned on.
LED (Light Emitting Diode) Bulbs
LED bulbs use a number of small LED lights to output an acceptable amount of light. LED bulbs are more expensive than incandescent and CFL bulbs but have a lifespan of 50,000+ hours and use less energy than CFL bulbs and far less than incandescent.
The downsides to LED bulbs are the price and some people have reported some buzzing or flickering from their bulbs when used on a dimmer switch.
Assuming 25,000 hours of usage (about half the life of an LED bulb) and the cost of $0.12 per kilowatt hour, you can consider the following costs per bulb type: $201
for incandescent, $48
for CFL and $38
for LED. Source
. These are for ONE BULB so imagine the cost savings if you changed over more of the bulbs around your house. Even if you don’t have the means to change every bulb in your house over to CFL or LED, simply changing the most used ones (like your kitchen, living room and bathroom) could save you nearly $50 per year.
2. Better management of your heating and cooling
According to the Energy Information Administration
, about 42% of home energy costs go to heating and cooling. This leaves a lot of room for improvement and areas to save money.
A 1978 research paper (“Energy Savings through Thermostat Setbacks" by Nelson and MacArthur) found that in the winter, on average, if you turn the thermostat down by one degree Fahrenheit for eight hours every night, you’ll use about 1% less energy. If you raise the temperature in the summer and lower it in the winter while you’re not home or in bed you can dramatically cut back on your energy costs.
If you install and properly use a programmable thermostat you can also easily save on energy costs without having to remember to adjust your thermostat throughout the day. Several studies have found that many people improperly use programmable thermostats however and actually end up with higher energy usage than without. This comes down to people overcompensating the assumed savings from adjusting the temperature during the day or night with dramatically more usage in the morning and evenings. Just because you have the potential of cutting back on energy by reducing demand when you’re gone or sleeping doesn’t mean you can now use more energy in the morning and evening when you’re home.
An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document from 2004 describing the Energy Star programmable thermostats specification
[PDF] summarizes the research into their efficacy:
Consumers are often advised that installing a programmable thermostat can save them anywhere from 10 to 30% on the space heating and cooling portion of their energy bills. While reliant on proper use of the programmable thermostat, such savings are easily true in theory; however, there needs to be more field-tested data to better substantiate savings claims. Analyses from recent field studies have suggested that programmable thermostats may be achieving considerably lower savings than their estimated potential.
In 2000, the Energy Center of Wisconsin published a report entitled “Programmable Thermostats Gone Berserk? Taking a Social Perspective on Space Heating in Wisconsin
" [PDF]. The study found, in part, that:
Despite the emphasis that has been placed on the use of programmable thermostats to reduce thermostat setpoints and so save heating energy, respondents with programmable thermostats report thermostat setpoints that are not substantially different from those of respondents with manual thermostats.
These details and the conclusions above lead us to suspect that the aggregate savings that can be expected from the installation of programmable thermostats in residential housing is probably quite modest.
3. Unplug unused electronics
One thing you might not think about is the power your various devices and appliances use even when “turned off". This power draw is called standby power
and can account for up to 10% of your home’s energy usage (source
). This can add up to $100 per year just to power unused devices.
Which of your devices and appliances might be consuming power even though they’re off? Here are some basic rules you can look for:
- Anything with a remote control (TV, VCR, cable box, stereo)
- Anything with an external power supply
- Anything with a digital display, LED status light or digital clock
- Items that contain battery chargers
What can you do to cut back on standby power? The best way is to simply unplug the unused or rarely used items when you don’t need them. One tip is to use power strips with an on/off switch so you can easily turn on or off clusters of electronics (like a TV, VCR and gaming console) without having to physically plug and unplug them.
Here are some common devices you can unplug when not being used:
4. Changing your water usage habits
- TV in a second bedroom or basement that gets used a few times a year
- Gaming consoles (Xbox, Wii, Playstation, etc)
- A printer that doesn’t get used regularly
- DVD / Blu-ray players
- Any kitchen devices with a clock or LED status that you don’t use daily
Being aware of how you use your water can affect both your power and water bills. Energy.gov has a list of 15 ways to save on your water heating bill
. Some of the tips we believe will be the most beneficial are:
- Reduce your hot water heater temp to 120’F
- Every 10’F reduction can save 3-5% on water heating costs
- Use cold water for most laundry loads and in the rinse cycle
- This can be a difference of around $0.65 per load
- Fix any leaks. A leak of 1 drop per second can cost $1 per month and might be as easy to fix as tightening the connection on a pipe
- Don’t let the faucets run while brushing your teeth or cleaning dishes
- Letting the faucets continually run while brushing your teeth or cleaning your dishes can waste several gallons per day. Over the course of a month this can really add up quickly and affect your water bill.
Simply being cognizant of how you’re using your water and when you’re using your hot water heater (every time you use the hot water the tank will get refilled and needs to be reheated which uses power) you can help cut back on your costs. While each of these alone might not add up to a lot, when combined and used with other tips they can help you save over time.
5. Air seal your home
Sealing your home to prevent drafts is important to keep hot air inside during the winter and cold air inside during the summer. Energy.gov has a lot of information and tips on air sealing your home
There are a few easy fixes to help seal your house and help prevent your conditioned air slipping through the cracks.
Caulking around stationary joints
There might be gaps around your door or window frame and the wall where air is seeping through. To fix this problem, add caulk to any gaps around the frames where they meet the wall. Doing this can save 10-20% on your heating and cooling bills. Here’s an Energy.gov article that covers how to caulk around these joints
Add weather stripping to moveable joints
After sealing around the frame and wall with caulk, the next step is to eliminate any gaps between your doors and windows and their frames. Weather stripping is usually rubber or foam that has a sticky backing that fits around the frame and will fill the gap between a door or window and frame that aren’t properly fit. If you look at your door and can see light or gaps between the door and the frame then that means air can be seeping through. Adding weather stripping can save between 5-10% on your heating/cooling bills. Here’s an Energy.gov article that covers weather stripping
Install insulation film over windows during winter
Window insulation film is a plastic sheet that you apply to your windows in the winter to reduce heat transfer. There are two types of insulation film generally available. The first is a solar control film that works by reflecting infra-red light and absorbing UV light. This film sticks directly to the glass. The second is called a convection control film and is simply a piece of plastic that covers the window to trap a pocket of air which acts as insulation. Some types of this film are shrink wrapped by heating with a hair dryer after taping to the frame.
There are many ways to reduce your energy costs by changing some of your habits around the house or from buying some more energy efficient items. While it might be difficult to use and apply every one of these tips, we encourage you to give some a try.
If you’ve found ways to cut back on your energy bills please share your experiences in the comments below!
This is part of our weekly Money Management Tips
series that aims to help you take more control of your finances. This series gives tips on everything from tracking your spending to improving your credit score.