A Cheapie's Guide to Going Green

My friends and family always accuse me of being a total cheapie. But I prefer to describe myself as frugal, thrifty, or efficient. I am also deeply concerned about the environment. So when the whole “going green” movement took hold I was excited about all the new products and technologies…..until I saw how much they cost. Most eco-friendly products tend to be more expensive than traditional brands. Moreover, alternative energy sources (solar, wind, and hydro power) are still more expensive than traditional forms of energy that rely on fossil fuels.


My new year’s resolutions for 2012 were to buy more eco-friendly products, use less energy, and lower my utility bills. Ideally, I would have liked to retrofit solar panels on my home and install a tank-less water heater but such upgrades were too expensive. Luckily, there are many simple inexpensive things that can be done at home to conserve energy. I have compiled a list of all the things I did this year to lower my utility bills. Some of the tips require spending a minimal amount of money but most are simply changes in habit.

How to Lower Your Electric Bill

  • Unplug all your appliances when not using them

The best way to save money on electricity is to refrain from using it in the first place. Even when appliances are off, they continue to draw power (up to 30-40%) from the outlet. As such, the best practice is to turn off all appliances when not using them. For example, I no longer leave my laptop and phone chargers plugged in. I even unplug my washer and dryer. I also switched from using plug-in air fresheners to battery-operated sense-and-sprays.

  • Wash Clothes and Dishes During Off-Peak Hours

Most electric companies don’t tell you that you are charged less for electricity used during off peak hours which is generally from 9 p.m-7 a.m. Off –peak rates are anywhere from 20-50% less than peak- hour rates, depending on your service provider. Washing your clothes and dishes at night with cold water can significantly lower your electric bill (and gas bill if your washer/dryer uses natural gas).

  • Use cold water to wash your clothes and dishes

If you have an electric water heater, you should wash your clothes and dishes in cold water. This simple habit change can significantly reduce the amount of electricity your family uses every month. In the summer months you may even consider bathing in cold water. I live in Houston where it is pretty much summer year-round so I have had no problem with taking a cold shower---it’s actually quite refreshing.

  • Install motion-sensor light switches

Everyone remembers their parents yelling at them to turn off the lights when they leave a room. Now you can get a light switch that automatically turns on/off when a person enters/exits a room. At $10-$30 per switch, they are an inexpensive way to lower your electricity bills. I spent about $40 to install switches in the three most used rooms in my home. They are also super-easy to install. If I can install them, anyone can.

  • Install a water heater jacket

If your water heater uses electricity, you may consider purchasing a thermal jacket (sometimes called a blanket) for the water tank. This tip is especially helpful if you live in a cold climate. The jacket insulates the water in the tank so your heater runs more efficiently. The heater will use less power (or natural gas if you have a gas water heater) to heat the water. The cost of a water heater jacket/blanket ranges from $15-$40, depending on the size, brand, and features. The one I purchased was easy to install and only cost me $16.

How to Lower Your Water Bill

  • Install a low-flow shower-head that uses no more than 2.5 gallons per minute

Replacing old shower-heads with new low-flow shower-heads can significantly reduce the amount of water your family uses every month. It is estimated that about 20-40% of the water used at home is for showering and bathing so this tip can really impact your water bill.

Prices range from $20-$50, depending on the brand. For less than $100 I replaced all three shower-heads in my home. I have definitely seen my water bill drop and my bathroom looks shiny and new. Plus, my old shower-heads didn't have any of the cool massage features the new ones have. Some complain that low-flow shower-heads have less water pressure, but that is simply not the case. None of the ones I bought had low water pressure. In fact, some of the massage settings use more water pressure than my old ones.

  • Take a navy shower

Another easy way to use less water is to start taking “navy showers”. A “navy shower” is basically a quick 2-minute shower with cold water during which you turn off the water while lathering up. Similarly, you should also turn off the water when brushing your teeth. These simple changes in habit can lower your water bill by 10-20% each month. This may not seem like much, but in the long run the savings really add up.

  • Put a brick or a full water bottle in your toilet’s water tank

You may have already heard this tip but it’s worth repeating. Placing a plastic bottle filled with water and sand in your toilet’s water tank can save you up to 1 gallon per flush. You can also use a brick, but I don’t recommend it. Bricks may disintegrate over time causing serious damage to your plumbing. I used a 20 oz. water bottle and my toilet flushes just fine. The size of bottle you choose will depend on your toilet tank. Some tanks may not completely flush with less water so you may need to experiment with different size bottles to see what works best.

How to Lower Your Natural Gas Bill

  • Use cold water to wash your clothes and dishes

If your water heater uses natural gas, you should wash your clothes and dishes in cold water. This simple habit change can significantly reduce the amount of gas your family uses every month. In the summer months you may even consider bathing in cold water. I live in Houston where it is pretty much summer year-round so I have had no problem with taking a cold shower---it’s actually quite refreshing.

  • Install a water heater jacket

If your water heater uses natural gas, you may consider purchasing a thermal jacket (sometimes called a blanket) for the water tank. This tip is especially helpful if you live in a cold climate. The jacket insulates the water in the tank so your heater runs more efficiently. The heater will use less gas (or electricity if you have an electric water heater) to heat the water. The cost of a water heater jacket/blanket ranges from $15-$40, depending on the size, brand, and features. The one I purchased was easy to install and only cost me $16.

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Comments 2 comments

DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa

Great tips for saving money and the planet!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Great tips for going green and so economically simple. I try to use cold water to do my laundry, good mention here. Thanks for the suggestions.

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