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Save money by reducing your household’s energy use - tips and tools that will lower your family's usage

Updated on May 29, 2016

How to lower your energy consumption and save money

Did you know that, according to the US Energy Information Administration, the average American household uses 909 kWh per month? What if I told you that you could be using less than 400 kWh per month? The implication of course is that you would use less electricity, be more eco-friendly, and see a noticeable reduction in your monthly bills. Now, as long as you’re on the grid you’ll still have to pay an electric bill every month. Between distribution fees, access fees, and the small portion that goes to a low-income assistance fund, you’ll never truly be free of a monthly bill. However, the total amount due can be lowered drastically. The energy efficiency of your home depends on how many changes, how much effort, and how much money you want to invest. The good news is that the majority of these tips are either free or low cost!

To start with, check your bill to see how much energy you are using a month. This is going to give you a realistic goal to set when taking on the challenge to reduce your bill. After all, if you have an electric fence for your horses or heat with electric, your bills will probably stay somewhere slightly above average at best. A goal I often suggest to my self sufficiency clients is to reduce your monthly usage by 50% within three months. It isn’t hard to do, but forming good habits takes time.

Tracking your usage is easy

Your electric bill is usually accompanied by this usage chart. This tells you what you used last year in comparison to this year, and month to month.
Your electric bill is usually accompanied by this usage chart. This tells you what you used last year in comparison to this year, and month to month. | Source

Habits that will reduce your energy bill

This leads me to the cheapest way to reduce your bill. In fact, it isn’t just cheap, it’s free! Form good energy efficient habits such as turning off lights when you leave the room. Many people think that it takes more energy to turn their lights back on than they would save for the five minute trip to the kitchen. The truth is, if you’re leaving the room for more than four minutes, it’s probably worth your time to shut it off. The same tip goes for nearly every other electronic in your household. When not in use turn it off.

Computers and televisions are some of the biggest energy guzzlers in your home. If you’re like me, you tend to let them go into idle mode rather than turning them off at night. This is a common mistake that can costs you a lot of money over the course of your year. Even if you have an energy efficient television, nothing is more energy efficient than “off”.

Another appliance to unplug when not in use is the microwave. I know you’re thinking “how will I know the time when I’m in the kitchen?” and the answer is simple: buy a clock. Realistically you’re not going to be using your microwave often enough to justify it being plugged in 24-7. In fact, if you consider the total amount of time you use your microwave daily it’s probably somewhere around the 5 minutes or less mark.

Most of our usages do come from direct use such as watching television, keeping lights on, and so forth. However, our appliances can continue using electricity even while off. This is known as ghost usage and can account for up to a 25% of your usage! That means that unless you unplug, you’re wasting energy. Here is a list of some of the top offenders in your house that account for ghost usage:

  • Plasma/LCD Televisions
  • Laptops – when plugged in
  • Desktop computers
  • Ink-jet Printer
  • Phone chargers
  • Cordless phone
  • Cable/Satellite box
  • Cable Modem
  • Gaming system
  • Coffee Maker
  • Microwave

Now, it can be a huge hassle to unplug your television every single night. A more practical solution is to get a smart strip surge protector. Just like turning off your lights when you go to bed, you can simply flip the switch to off and the entire strip is as good as unplugged. Of course, even if you don’t turn it off at night, you will still be reducing your energy usage by utilizing the smart strip.

Another habit you can get into is hanging your clothes to dry instead of tossing them in your energy guzzling dryer. Even if you don’t have a spacious back yard to put the clothesline, you can always opt for a retractable clothesline indoors. The basement, laundry room, or a fairly spacious bathroom will do just fine. The bonus to this is that you can still line dry your clothing even if it’s raining or snowing. The retractable line is cheap and easy to install.

If you’re absolutely dead set on drying your clothes in the dryer (let’s be honest, sometimes you don’t have time to wait for them to dry) toss in a few wool balls. These serve two purposes. First, it will act as a fabric softener by reducing static. Secondly, it will actually make your clothes dry almost 20% faster, which means less time and less energy usage. It’s a great life hack and unlike dryer sheets, wool balls are reusable.

If you just want to cut back on your drying time without investing in a new product, try tossing in a dry towel with your load of wet clothes. It will absorb extra moisture and help the entire load dry faster, however, you'll still want to add softener.

When washing your clothes, consider switching the water to cold. It will clean your clothes just as effectively as hot water without the added wasted energy required to superheat the water first. In fact, if you switch to cold water only you’ll see a reduction of energy usage by up to 90%! If there are clothes that you feel just don’t respond to cold water washing, try compiling them into a single load. You should also make a habit of doing full loads of laundry. This will reduce the wear and tear on your machine and it does not take much more energy to do a full load as a small load, so you’ll actually be using less energy per clothing item. In this case, bigger is truly better.

To save money on your heating and cooling costs keep track of when you’re home and when you’re not. If possible, get a programmable thermostat that will automatically adjust the temperature each day. For instance, if it’s the winter and you know that you are always out of the house between 7:30 am and 5:30 pm then program your thermostat to reduce the heating down to 58oF until about thirty minutes before you get home. That way you’re not paying to heat the home while you aren’t there to enjoy it. You can save up to 1% on heating cost for every degree you turn your heat down.

The same idea goes for air conditioning. By allowing the air to remain a few degrees higher (think 72oF instead of 70oF), you will save on cooling costs as your air conditioner won’t struggle quite as much to keep you comfortable. For both heating and cooling optimize the air flow in your home by using fans to circulate the heat/cold air. You want your fan to push the air down when heating and pull the air up while cooling. Most ceiling fans have a switch to change the direction for exactly this reason.

Take steps to make your appliances more efficient

Keep your refrigerator and freezer full to reduce the amount of energy it takes to keep it cold.
Keep your refrigerator and freezer full to reduce the amount of energy it takes to keep it cold. | Source

How to Save Money with Large Appliances

Then there are appliances that simply cannot be turned off. These include things like your refrigerator, freezer, or water heater. Just because they can’t be turned off doesn’t mean that can’t be made more efficient. To start with, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using each appliance correctly and are following a proper maintenance routine. This will include things like changing filters, checking gauges, and regular tune ups.

For your refrigerator and freezer you should try to keep them more full than empty. By filling the air space with chilled or frozen food, you’ll prevent the appliance from having to work so hard to keep the empty spaces cold. You should also defrost and clean your freezer every 3-4 months to keep it in top working condition. Make sure you don’t have the temperature set too low either. Your refrigerator should be 37oF and 40oF and your freezer should be below 32oF (duh) but ideally closer to 0oF. Personally, I set mine at 10oF as it is low enough to ensure frozen food but high enough that I am saving a little bit of electricity.

Your water heater is another energy offender as it is constantly warming up water…even when you’re not using it. Now, that is its job of course and you don’t want to wait 20 minutes every time you take a shower. So, optimize your water heaters performance by getting a water heater blanket (follow the link to see what to look for in a water heater blanket). This can help reduce the loss of heat from your tank by up to 50% and save you up to 9% on your total electric or heating costs.

Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL) bulbs are a great way to save energy!

A 23 watt CFL bulb can replace a 60 watt traditional bulb
A 23 watt CFL bulb can replace a 60 watt traditional bulb | Source

Upgrades that are worth the investment and will reduce your energy usage

Now, I’ve already mentioned a handful of items that you can purchase that will help eliminate energy waste such as smart strips, water heater blankets, and wool balls for your dryer. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to gadgets that will reduce energy usage the sky is the limit. Here are some that I find to be a worthwhile investment.

  • LED light bulbs - At 9 watts it is 3x more effective than an CFL light bulb, and 6x more effective than an incandescent. While these cost more money than a CFL or a incandescent bulb, the life expectancy of this bulb is as much as 18.3 years! It will also make you feel less guilty when you stay up late with a light on.
  • LED automatic night light - If you leave your hallway or bathroom light on all night you’ll be using significantly more electricity than if you switch to an automatic LED night light. These run at .5 watts per hour compared to the brighter 9 watts in an LED ceiling light. Better still, you’ll never have to remember to turn them off in the morning since the sensor makes it automatic.
  • CFL light bulbs – These pigtail shaped light bulbs costs more than a traditional incandescent bulb. However, they use a third of the watts that a traditional bulb uses and gives off the same amount of lumens (the unit that is used to measure light). They also last much longer than a traditional bulb and can have a life expectancy of more than 10 years, depending on the type and brand that you buy. While not as efficient as LED bulbs, these typically cost less money to invest in.
  • Energy Efficient windows – Upgrading your homes old windows to newer energy efficient windows is a smart move. Though it cost a fair amount upfront, you will see a worthwhile reduction in your monthly statement.
  • Window Plastic – If you live in a colder climate then you know that your windows leech out a lot of your houses heat. New windows may be a better option but they can be costly. If you don’t have it in your budget invest in new windows, seasonal window wrappings are a great option. This helps to seal air leaks and adds another layer to buffer out the cold weather and keep your heat in your house.
  • Window Caulk – Speaking of air leaks, window caulking your windows once every year or every other year can eliminate unwanted drafts. This is a truly quick fix that can be purchased at any local hardware store.
  • Insulation – It goes without saying that you want your home to be properly insulated. It helps keep the heat in during the winter and the heat out during the summer. There are a wide variety of insulations and materials. You’ll want different insulation in your attic than you would want in your walls or basement. This is another upgrade that may strain your wallet at first, but the savings will last you years to come.
  • Energy efficient curtains – Investing in a good, thick set of curtains will help keep heat from escaping out your windows or block out the hot sun during summer months.
  • Ceiling fans – a ceiling fan is relatively inexpensive to operate and helps to evenly disperse air conditioning or heat. Simply reverse the direction of the fans rotation to pull air up during hot months and push air down during cool months. This will prevent areas of your house from getting uncomfortably warm or cold and reduce the level of heating or cooling you have to do in order to remain comfortable in every area.

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Saving Money on your energy bill is easy!

Remember, anybody can reduce their energy usage and save money as a result. It’s eco-friendly and wallet-friendly. You don’t need to invest thousands of dollars into solar panels and windmills to subsidize your usage. Simply be mindful of what you do use and implement energy saving equipment into your home as your budget allows. Give it enough time and you will be wowed by the amount of money you are able to save.

Let us know what you use!

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    • Engelta profile image

      Engelis 2 years ago from Albania

      I will write these tips down to never forget them and I think I will start to do some of them. Very good hub. Voted thumb up :)

    • vhayward profile image
      Author

      Valerie Hayward 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Engelta, I'm glad that you enjoyed it :)

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Thank you so much for every tip! I'm always ready & willing to learn anything there is to lower the BILLS!! This is great. UP+++ Peace, Paula

    • vhayward profile image
      Author

      Valerie Hayward 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Paula, I'm a big fan of reducing my bills too :)

    • profile image

      Teri Stohlberg 2 years ago

      Great info, I will have to try these ideas out, instead of giving huge sums of money to Eversource.

    • vhayward profile image
      Author

      Valerie Hayward 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Teri, these ideas really do work too. The 400 kWh usage photo at the top is a screenshot of my own personal electric bill. My home is old too (built 1910) so it isn't "energy efficient". I've never paid more than $50 a month, usually less!

    • Cardia profile image

      Cardia 2 years ago from Barbados.

      Great tips! I've bookmarked this for later. Smart energy use is something that we should all start practicing.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Great tips, i should change my fridge the smaller type

    • vhayward profile image
      Author

      Valerie Hayward 2 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Cardia, I agree completely!

      Peachpurple, I'm glad this article was useful to you, thanks for the feedback :)

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 2 years ago from Iowa, USA

      We just got our clothes line set up at our new house. It takes a lot of energy to run a dryer, but only a little bit of time to use free solar power to dry clothes.

    • vhayward profile image
      Author

      Valerie Hayward 2 years ago from Michigan

      I agree drpennypincher, it's eco friendly and saves you money. Plus, I absolutely LOVE the scent of line dried clothes.

    • profile image

      DebMartin 2 years ago

      I know all these tips. But I'm surprised at how much I backslide over time. Good to re-read these. Got to use the clothesline more often and be better at clicking off my powerstrips before I go to bed. Thanks.

      My tip for single people who find it hard to keep the refrigerator full without wasting food is to fill it with water jugs. Or, in the Summer when I get a lot of traffic through my N MI home as friends head north to play.... numerous cases of beer and bottles of wine work well. ;-)

    • profile image

      Carl Stanley 18 months ago from Flint mi

      Great tips! What if itold you that i know of a way to generate all the electricity your home needs? The crazy part of what im talking about is that im not talking about solar power or wind turbines!

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