We are Southern transplants, currently living in Northern New England, and we had to learn to expect frigid cold temperatures, snow piles taller than me, and shockingly high utility bills. When we lived in Oklahoma, we’d occasionally have electric bills between $500 – $700 for July and August, when temperatures were well over 100 degrees for weeks on end, while normal bills were about $150/mo for natural gas/electric/water combined. People warned us that utility costs in New England were high, but we couldn’t fathom that they’d be THAT high. While we don’t have any specific months where individual utility bills get that high, each of our monthly utility bills here are much higher than we anticipated.
We have propane for heating, and it is billed on average monthly billing. Initially, this one was about $250/mo in our area year round. It avoids HUGE bills in the winter months by paying a little extra all year long. Next, our electric was about $200/mo year-round, also on average monthly billing. We have well water, so while the water is “free”, the pump for the well is included in the electric bill.
It’s helpful to keep a copy of each bill in a binder or folder as it comes in. You can compare year to year costs and usage, to help figure out when you need to adjust usage, and see how your changes are affecting your actual bill.
Heating a home isn’t an option, you have to stay warm and keep the pipes from freezing, so we have learned some things that help us reduce utility costs where we can. We knew some of the “main” tips that people give, such as unplugging appliances when not in use, turn off lights when not in use, close vents in rooms you aren’t using, etc. and were already using those. But we needed to do MORE. After a lot of research, trying things to see what works best for our situation, and making adjustments as needed, we have more than cut our bills in half each month. They are still higher than we’d like, so we’re still implementing methods and experimenting. It’s important to see what works well for your own needs and situation. As we all live in different areas of the country, our needs will vary. These 14 Ways to Save on Heating, Cooling, and Electricity are some of the ways that we have found helpful in reducing our personal utility bills.
1. Thermal Curtains
I’ve blogged about using these before. They are great all year round! In the summer, they block out the heat, and keep cool air in. In winter, they block out some cold, while keeping the heat in. I had to dig through boxes to find them after we moved, but we are able to use the same ones we had in OK. We have more windows here, so I did buy more panels. The kind I have are priced under $15 per panel, but made a BIG reduction in our utility bills. I also purchased curtain hooks and got some cute matching fabric strips at the craft store. In the spring and fall, I tie the curtains back and we open the windows. We get fresh air, and are able to turn OFF the A/C and/or heat. I have allergies, so if they get too bad, we close them all and use the A/C (cheaper than my allergy medications), but only as needed.
2. Put on layers of clothes. We have warm pajamas and boot socks we typically wear around the house. We each have a REALLY warm blanket (Sam’s Club has them for around $15 each seasonally), and we cover up with that.
3. Get Moving. If you are cold, do some quick and easy exercises to get the blood flowing, and warm you up. Housework, such as dusting, vacuuming, etc. can also help 🙂 With the layout of our house, we can walk up and down the hallway, or around the downstairs area in a circle. It’s a great way for me to get some walking in during the cold months! I actually put on shorts and a T-Shirt when I walk, so I don’t get too hot, and then after I cool down and shower, I put my warm layers of clothes back on.
4. Ceiling Fans. We use these in the summer to cool the rooms, and in the winter, we reverse the direction and set them on low. This will pull the cool air up, and push the warm air down.
5. Snuggle. I love to snuggle under the big blankets with the kids while we watch a movie, and the dog snuggles with me all day. When we lost power for several days during a big storm last year, I let the dog sleep in the bed with me. She puts out so much heat, that she’d warmed up the bed in an hour, and she climbed out from under the covers to sleep above my pillow because she was too hot 🙂 I was ok once I got warm, and the blankets kept me warm after that.
6. Bake! During the winter, I cook more things in the oven, which helps heat the house. Once I take the food out, I’ll leave the oven open a crack to let the heat escape and help warm that part of the house. My kids are old enough to know not to touch it, and the pets can’t reach that high. In the summer, we do more grilling outdoors. It avoids heating up the kitchen. We can grill for 2-3 nights at once, to maximize use of the propane, and we sometimes eat outdoors too!
7. Change your filters, or clean them if they are reusable. Our landlord takes care of this for us, and he stops by once a month during the winter to change it. He makes sure the furnace is working properly and efficiently, and checks in on the hot water heater as well.
8. Energy efficient windows. When we bought our house in OK, we had the older windows swapped out for newer, energy efficient windows. When we had our home inspection, it was something the inspector pointed out was an issue. We asked that the previous owner replace them with energy efficient windows before we closed, and he complied. They came with a warranty, and when we got the energy efficiency report from the utility company each month, we noticed a reduction in the amount of energy the home had used before. When we moved to NH, we made sure the house we were renting had these as well. You don’t want to pay all that money for utilities, only to let it leak out old windows.
9. Repair your roof. Likewise, a maintained roof is important. We also negotiated a new roof into the purchase of our OK home. The inspector said it would need to be replaced in about a year, so we asked the seller to replace it. We were lucky the roofer he selected lived 5 doors down, so when we had an issue and needed it addressed under warranty, he was quick to take care of it. We quickly learned that an older roof, or one with poor maintenance, can allow heat to escape (melts the snow while other homes are still covered), or can allow water in, which causes other issues.
10. Insulation. It’s really obvious when a room is not insulated well, during months of extreme temperatures. When our pipes froze and burst in OK, we found an entire section that was not insulated. As the remediation team was making repairs, they insulated all the areas. It made a huge difference in electric bills, and allowed us to adjust the thermostat. It also helped keep the pipes from freezing and bursting again 🙂
11. Programmable Thermostat. Our electric company installed one of these for us in our OK home for free when we enrolled in a special energy efficient program. They checked for energy efficiency, and gave us great tips and tricks. We had an adjustable rate plan, so we paid a flat fee for off-peak hours, and a premium fee for high demand hours. We were able to do all of our washing/showering/cooking during off-peak hours, so we paid a VERY low rate per kW. We had the thermostat set to adjust temperatures during high demand hours, so we used very little energy during that time. Here in NH, our electric company doesn’t offer this as an option, but we did get a programmable thermostat so we can have it automatically adjust temperatures for us. During the winter, we have it raise the temperature about 30 minutes before we get up for the day, and lower once the kids go to school. I’m ok with it being cooler during the day, I can keep warm with my blanket and warm clothes. It warms up again when the kids get home, and lowers again at bedtime. During the summer, the house stays pretty cool all morning, and the kids play outside during the day. We’ll have it cool off around the time Nick gets home from work until about an hour after bedtime, then it raises, so it won’t kick on again unless it gets really hot in the night, which is rare in this area.
12. Use a space heater. We have a space heater, similar to the one above, that we use in our family room. During the day, if I get too cold, I can turn it on to quickly heat just the room I’m in, instead of raising the thermostat to heat the entire house. Likewise, in the evenings, we’re all in here together, so we can use it to just heat this room. Ours has a temperature setting, so it’ll turn itself off and on to keep just this room at that temp, or we can set it to high if we’ve just come in and are freezing, just looking for a quick warm up. We are VERY careful with it, making sure nothing gets too close to catch on fire, and turn it off if we leave the room.
13. Floor Fan. While we had ceiling fans in every room of our OK house, for some reason only the living room in our NH house doesn’t have one. We offered to purchase one and install it, but the landlord said the room isn’t wired to handle one. Last summer, our AC went out and the unit need a special order part, so we had to go without for a week. Of course it was the hottest week of the summer up here (only 89, but VERY humid), and we had the windows open, but the air wasn’t circulating well. We finally got a floor fan, and it made all the difference. Once the AC was repaired, we kept the floor fan to use during the day, and raised the thermostat temperature. It helped lower the bill, because the fan kept the main room cool, while allowing the rest of the house to be a bit warmer.
14. Energy Efficient Lightbulbs. We make sure to turn lights off as we leave a room, but we also took the step to purchase energy efficient lightbulbs to use when they are on. It gets dark up here in NH around 4pm in the winter, so we use a lamp in the living room for several hours each day, and as needed in the other rooms. While the initial cost of the bulbs we use is more than a traditional bulb, between the energy savings and the extended life they offer, we more than make up the difference. We’ve just started needing to replace the bulbs in the lamps we moved from OK over 4 years ago, and I can’t recall how long they were in there before we moved, but it was a good while. When we moved in, we replaced the regular bulbs with energy efficient bulbs and saved the old ones to put back in when we move. They’ll still work, and we can take the energy saving bulbs with us to use in our next home. We like the Finally bulbs because they give off a good quality of light, the LED units are inside of the outer globe, so it “looks” like an ordinary bulb, it doesn’t require any “warm up” time, and has a 10-year limited warranty.