Money Hack—Tips for Keeping Your Utilities in Check
Most of us grew up hearing it:
“Turn the light off when you leave a room.”
“Turn the light off when you leave a room.”
“Shut the door. You weren’t born in a barn.”
“Don’t leave the water running if you’re not using it.”
Chances are good that you grew up in a household desperately trying to make the most of its income, tightening the straps on loose finances around the home. If this is you, your parent(s) were doing their due diligence to not let precious pennies go, quite literally, down the drain (or out the electrical socket or cracked doors or windows, for that matter).
Utilities are a large drain on your finances. While they’re a necessary part of everyday life, there are some practical steps you can take to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. So here we are again with our latest installment of Money Hack—Tips for Keeping Your Utilities in Check.
Without further ado:
Heating/Cooling. The ever-present struggle over thermostat control is real. If you’re like some of us, Dad kept it set at a chilly 60° while Mom spent her day bundled in a blanket and slippers. But there can be a happy medium for all household members with these tips:
- Control your vents. No matter where you live, a large part of your bills are either going to the ol’ A/C or furnace. By doing a simple inspection of your vents, making sure every single one is open in the home, you can maximize your heating/cooling output. Some people believe that closing vents in areas of minimal use will lower their bill, but that’s actually a myth. Closed vents (unless using a system with individual units to individual rooms) actually forces your unit to work harder to try and bring the temperate up or down to your desired level.
- Clean and maintain. Once you’ve opened your vents, check them out. Inspect for dirt, dust, or debris that may be clogging airflow. Also check your filters, whose primary purpose is to trap these particles. A dirty air filter will minimize airflow into the home, so be sure to replace them routinely.
- Leverage fans. A basic understanding of physics tells us that hot air rises. Therefore, you can take advantage of fans for a large part of the year without having to even touch the thermostat. During cold months, ceiling fans can push this hot air down into the living space to warm it up. In hot months, a fan can draw warm air upward, keeping the temperature below nice and comfortable. Therefore, when it’s cold, spin your fans clockwise to trap heat downward, and when it’s hot, your fan should spin counter-clockwise to push hot air up and out.
- Use them. For many months out of the year a room can be easily cooled by cracking a window without using the A/C. For brisk sleeping, crack a window in the bedroom. During the day, keep curtains drawn over windows that receive a lot of warm sunshine (or vice versa during cooler months).
- Close the cracks. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the combined effects of leaving small leaks in your home equals having a window wide open all year.1 By using inexpensive expanding foam or calking, or strips specifically designed to trap air, you can maximize your heating/cooling dollars. Areas of special interest include around windows and door frames and holes in walls where pipes and lines enter or exit the home.
Electricity. Nearly everything in your home requires an energy source to operate, making electricity one costly monthly bill. But before running to the candles for light and fireplace for heat, consider these simple steps.
- Do a sweep. According to the Department of Energy, one single cable box left plugged in and unused for a year can cost up to $17.83 in unnecessary energy usage. While this might not seem like a lot, think of all the devices you have plugged in RIGHT NOW that aren’t being used (curling irons, coffee pots, microwave, TV, computer, alarm clock, waffle iron, fan, electronic toothbrush, razor, lamp, and more). All of those items are drawing energy, whether in use or not. Every night before bed, go through and unplug everything that isn’t being used.
- Control your water heater. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a water heater set at 140 ° or higher can waste up to $61 annually compared to one at 120°.1 Rarely do you need water that hot anyway, so save yourself some cash and reset that machine.
- Look for the star. The Energy Star, that is. When you have to replace items in your home, the Energy Star symbol declares a product will save you exponentially in energy usage. Furthermore, for official certification, Energy Star items have to be able to recoup their higher price tag within five years. Start small with light bulbs, computer monitors, and TVs, and work your way up to larger items when needed like kitchen and laundry appliances and windows.
Appliances. You use your appliances on a daily basis and while there’s no way around the majority of them, you can cut costs here and there.
- Keep it cool. According to LG Electronics, maker of laundry appliances, by simply using cold water only in your washing machine, you save up to 90% of its energy usage. Your dryer obviously uses TONS of heat. If possible, consider air-drying or line drying your clothes in order to save on this utility. Likewise, your dishwasher uses gobs of heat to do its job. While hot water is necessary for the cleaning cycle, a heated drying cycle is not required. If your machine has the option to turn off the added heat to drying, disable it and save.
- Load for efficiency. With your washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher, the way you load your items can determine ultimately if you have to do another load altogether. Make sure you load each machine for efficiency. A precisely loaded dishwasher will fit much more inside and save you subsequent washings. Stockpiling your clothes of like colors until you have a full load to wash and dry might take more time, but will save you in the long run.
- Leverage cook times. Heating up the oven and cooling it down only to heat it back up a few hours later takes a lot of energy. Plan out your day in advance. If you are baking a chicken for dinner and also have a sweet tooth for cookies, plan to bake them back to back so your oven doesn’t have to go through the energy exhaustion of heat up, cool down, heat up again.
There are tons of other ways to tighten the reigns on your utility usage and spending. This is just what we believe is the best money hack list to get you started on your utilities! Now, onward to bill slashing!
 Bell, C. (n.d.). Save money on utilities. Accessed April 18, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.bankrate.com/finance/smart-spending/10-ways-to-save-money-on-your-utility-bill-4.aspx
 Dachis, A. (2012). How to reduce your energy bill with No Cost or Sacrifice. Accessed April 18, 2016. Retrieved from http://lifehacker.com/5953039/how-to-reduce-your-energy-bill-with-no-cost-or-sacrifice