16 Ways to Lower Your Utility Bills that could Save You 1500 a Year
A Note on £/$ Amounts in this Article
Electricity in the UK costs (very roughly) double what it costs in the U.S. Conversely, $1 is (variably!) about £0.60 exchange rate at present (2012). This means that (extremely roughly!) about one GB pound of electricity is the same as about one dollar of electricity.
Although this is extremely rough working, and very sloppy mathematically, this article is trying to demonstrate very broad and average savings, and to show that even small measures build up and can make a worthwhile difference to your household budget - so where I've put the amount of savings as a rough guide and motivator, I've used the same figure for both the U.S. and the U.K. currencies, and used '£/$' instead of putting two figures in each time.
Central heating and air conditioning are surely symbols of modern life – we can adjust our climate at the touch of a button, and instant heat has saved the lives of those – particularly the very old and very young – who might otherwise perish from hypothermia. But many of us have become slaves to convenience, and we pay for it not only by handing over our hard-earned cash to the utilities companies who report billions in profit every year, but also with small but nonetheless significant health concerns.
Is Your Temperature Control Making You Sick?
By actively circulating the air we breathe, air conditioners can spread germs more easily from one person to another, and if you are lucky (!?) enough to have air conditioning in your office, car or home, if one of the people who shares this space comes down with a bug, the chances are, you’ll all have it within a few days. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, since air conditioning systems are perfect breeding grounds for Legionnaire’s disease, and anecdotal evidence shows that for people with chronic conditions like asthma, air conditioning seems to make their symptoms worse. Many people find that their skin becomes very dry in an air conditioned environment, and this concern is not just for the beauty-conscious, since dry skin can be at best very uncomfortable, and at worst can lead to infection if the skin becomes cracked and irritated.
It has long been suspected that dry skin, breathing difficulties and sinus problems are exacerbated by turning up the central heating, although hard research results are difficult to find on this. But researchers at the University College in London have found that our ability to control temperatures in our homes and offices is fuelling obesity. So whether you want to breathe easier or lose a few extra pounds, it can be worth turning down the thermostat and finding a different way to keep warm.
Improve Your Health While You Save Money!
So cutting your utilities bills may have a positive impact on your health as well as on your pocket. Here are some tips to help you turn down the heat, or turn off the air conditioning, without making you shiver or break into a sweat.
Get insulated from the cold, and cool down in the heat!
- The ‘big three’ are loft and cavity wall insulation, and double-glazing. The UK’s Energy Savings Trust estimates that a typical family home would save around £500 on energy bills every year by getting double-glazing installed and loft and cavity wall insulation. Although energy is somewhat less expensive in the US, this still works out to a saving of close to $500 annually.The ‘big three’ can be quite expensive, although the savings on your utilities bills, and the value they add to your home will mean that they do pay for themselves within a year or two. But insulation doesn’t end here, and there are lots of ways you can make your house warmer, or cooler, with even a minimal budget.
- Don't Heat Empty Rooms. Turn the radiator thermostat right down in rooms that you don’t use so often. You might want the living room to be warm when you settle down in the evening to relax, but if you only spend an hour in the kitchen every day to cook and wash the dishes, is it worth heating that room all the time? Slipping on a sweater to pop to the fridge for a snack might not be the height of luxury, but think of all the extras you could buy as the cash you save builds up.
- Don't Throw Money out of the Window! Get heavy curtains with pelmet tops to stop heat escaping through the window glass in winter, and use dark blinds to keep out the summer heat instead of turning on the air conditioning.
- Warm Floors, Warm Room. Be creative! Cold will creep through the floor too in the colder months, so put thick rugs down, or even make your own rugs! In the summer, go the opposite way - roll up your rugs and put down some rush matting instead, which will still be comfy for the feet without hoarding the heat in your home.
- Personal Touches can Warm up your Life! Throw some ‘throws’ and cushions on your sofa that you can snuggle into while you’re reading a book or watching TV. Whether you brighten a dark room with some snazzy prints, or bring a touch of elegance with some cool tones or rich reds, these scatter items are easily washed and easily changed, so that you can swap your décor to suit your mood without calling in the painters and decorators.
- Door Snakes Don't Bite! Get ‘door-snakes’ to keep out the drafts and to stop heat escaping through any gaps between the floor and the bottom edge of doors. Even the most well-fitting doors can have small cracks and gaps around the edges, and the more of these you stop-up during winter, the cosier your home will be.
Energy Saving in Lots of Small Ways Adds up to Big Savings
- Use energy-saving bulbs. Some energy-saving bulbs might not be bright enough to read by comfortably, but do you need more than a soft glowing lamp to add some warmth and atmosphere when you’re watching TV?
- Switch the light off when you leave a room. If you like to leave a light on for security at night, or leave a radio playing to give any opportunistic burglars the impression someone is at home when you go to work, get a couple of timer switches for the plugs to a lamp and stereo. If a light or some music comes on intermittently, it gives a more realistic impression anyway, as well as saving you money on electricity.
- Turn things off fully, not just to ‘standby’. That little standby light on your TV might only cost a few pennies every night, but do you really want your appliances spending any of your money while you’re sleeping? If you leave a lot of different things on standby when you go out to work, or go off to bed for the night, those pennies can quickly add up and inflate your energy bill.
Don't Just Save on Bills - Get Healthy Too!
- Eat Right - Spice Up Your Life! It’s astonishing how simply eating right for the weather can make a difference. On cold mornings, have a substantial hot breakfast, because hunger will make you shiver even if you turn the heating right up. And don’t underestimate the warming power of spices: whilst we often associate spicy foods with hot countries, tossing some warming chillies into your casserole or stir-fry will raise your temperature too on a winter night. If you don’t like very spicy food, turmeric is a warm and comforting spice without being fiery and just like chillies it improves your circulation if eaten regularly, which will help your body regulate its temperature so that you aren’t at the mercy of the whims of the weather quite so much. In hot weather, eat light and often, and go for Mediterranean-style spreads that you can nibble at, like chopped fruits, pita breads, tapenades, and bowls of olives and cheeses with crackers and garlic breads.
- Get sweaters and cardigans for cold days, instead of flicking on the space heater, and get a face mister to spray on yourself in the heat rather than turn on the air conditioning during the summer. Putting your body under a little thermal stress occasionally is good for your metabolism and your waistline, and keeping warm or cool in more natural ways like this will help give you a broader temperature tolerance, as well as saving money.
- Exercise. A brisk ten minute walk to the shops will raise your temperature and increase your circulation and metabolism rates. One of the bonuses to this is that if you keep busy and active to keep warm instead of reaching for the thermostat, over time you’ll also get fitter and healthier. In the warmer months, when you really can’t face walking in the dreary humidity and blazing sun, try going for a swim at your local pool instead. One tip to remember is that very recent research has shown that if you drink warm water before exercising, you will actually retain less heat – so before you exercise in hot weather drink warm water, in cold weather drink cool water!
Water, Water Everywhere can make Money Flood out of your bank account
Shower Quickly, and have a Weekly Bathtime Pamper Session. Switching to a metered water system can save you money, but only if you watch your water use. If you take a long luxurious shower you can use a bath-full of water or more, so take quicker showers, and save your pamper-time for a weekend afternoon when you can soak in a bubble bath and get out all those creams and lotions and potions as a treat.
Do the Dishes like your Granny Taught You! Be aware of how much water you use when you wash the dishes, and wash them the old-fashioned way in a sink full of hot water, and rinse them in a sink half full of cold water, rather than washing each one separately under a constantly-running mixer tap or popping them in a dishwasher that sucks up both water and electricity.
Know your Washing Machine. Use the lowest water temperature setting you can, and look around for washing powder or tablets that work at this temperature. Try to fill your machine every time, rather than waste electricity (and water) by throwing in half a load on a ‘full load’ setting. When it is time to replace an old washing machine, look for the ones that are ‘eco-friendly’ – they will use less electricity and less water and will save you money.
Get a rain barrel, and use this water on the garden instead of getting the hosepipe out to keep your grass green in the summer.
So how much can you save by cutting down your energy consumption?
Estimates vary wildly, but adding up the average savings:
- Insulation, double glazing and measures like stopping up the gaps that cause draughts and fitting heavy curtains to stop heat escaping through the windows: £/$500 every year.
- Needing less heat (or less air conditioning) by eating right for the weather, slipping on a sweater and keeping active instead of turning up the thermostat: if you can turn down the thermostat on your central heating by a couple of degrees, it’s estimated that you can reduce your heating bill by 10% - so if you can turn it down even further, and turn down (or off) the radiators in rooms that you don’t use so much, this percentage could be a lot higher, and the cash will be in your bank account, instead of the energy company’s.
- Using energy-saving light bulbs, switching off appliances at the plug instead of leaving on standby, and using water-saving and energy-efficient appliances all add up – each small measure you take, even if it’s just fixing that dripping ‘hot’ tap, can save £/$10 to £/$40 per year, so if you incorporated 10 small ways, the savings you make could be anywhere up to £/$400 every year!
Added together, all these different things can make a difference of hundreds or even thousands of pounds in the long-term - and depending on how 'energy conscious' you are right now, you might be able to save up to £/$1500 every year by doing everything on this list!