22 Utilities: Home Energy

I once paid scant attention to this line item. During 2004-2008, as I snoozed, my utility bills averaged $1,930 per year. After that, I undertook some easy steps to save energy. I lowered thermostats, installed CFLs, enabled computer sleep modes, switched to low-flow showerheads, and more. Magically, my bills nosedived. During 2009-2012, the yearly cost fell to $1,470—that’s a 24 percent drop (yup, as to this expense, I’d been decidedly unfrugal).

This chapter presents strategies to whittle your energy bills down to size. For your convenience, the strategies follow typical home energy uses as reported by the Department of Energy (DOE):

Space Heating: 31%
Space Cooling: 12%
Water Heating: 12%
Lighting: 11%
Computer/Electronics: 9%
Appliances: 9%
Refrigeration: 8%
Other: 8%

Remember one idea that applies to all these categories: whenever you replace anything that uses energy, buy models that slash your operating costs. Visit EnergyStar.gov.

22.1  Cut Heating Costs

   22.1.1  Lower Thermostats
Lower  them by 10-15 degrees for eight hours each day and you save about 5-15 percent per year. The precise savings depend upon your home’s size and the climate (milder climates yield greater savings).

   22.1.2  Install Programmable Thermostats
Program these to lower the temperature whenever you go to bed or leave for work. Many thermostats allow for seven day programming, so you can set them higher on weekends.

   22.1.3  Seal Off Rooms
If parts of your house receive little use in winter, close them off and lower the thermostat for that zone.

   22.1.4  Seal House Leaks
Look for gaps around windows, pipes, and wire holes. Close them up with caulk, foam, or weather stripping.

   22.1.5  Seal Outlets and Light Switches
Install foam gaskets behind any plates located on exterior walls.

   22.1.6  Vent Rarely
When you run the fan, heated air escapes.

   22.1.7  Block Fireplace Leaks
Close dampers when the fireplace is idle. Consider inflatable inserts to seal chimney flues even tighter. Search the web for “inflatable fireplace inserts.”

   22.1.8  Install Indoor Window Insulation
Install clear plastic over windows or patio doors. Apply double-sided tape around the frame, stretch the wrap over the tape, and use a hair dryer to remove wrinkles. This produces a crystal-clear, air-tight barrier. I’ve experimented with these on several windows and skylights. The results: drafts decreased and the plastic surfaces stayed warm to the touch while untreated windows stayed cold. Search the internet for “indoor window insulation kits.” Buying tip: these go on sale every spring.

   22.1.9  Install Outdoor Window Insulation
Install clear plastic over the outside of windows or patio doors. If the aesthetics bother you, install them only on your home’s backside.

   22.1.10  Install Window Treatments
Consider honeycomb blinds, thermal shades, and insulated drapes.

   22.1.11  Employ Draft Dodgers
For exterior doors that stay closed in winter, seal the gap between the door and frame with clear weather strip tape. For doors that see winter use, install insulated draft stoppers along door bottoms.

   22.1.12  Use Passive Solar Power
Open drapes on south-facing windows to let the sun shine in. At night, close the drapes to retain the warm air.

   22.1.13  Use Portable Heaters
Heat the room you’re in, not the entire house. Energy efficient models feature thermostats or dials to control power consumption.

   22.1.14  Use Electric Blankets or Mattress Pads
Heat the bed you’re in, not the entire bedroom. This tactic doesn’t work with some foam mattresses because the extra warmth degrades bedding materials. Check your mattress maker’s recommendations.

   22.1.15  Use Heated Throws
Heat yourself, not the space you’re in—they’re great for TV rooms.

   22.1.16  Wear Sweaters and Slippers
Heat yourself, and do it without paying for more energy.

   22.1.17  Schedule Furnace Tune-Ups
Invest in them annually or every other year.

   22.1.18  Consider Home Energy Audits
They often turn up new ideas for savings. Check with your utility.

   22.1.19  Add Insulation
Blow in foam or pile more layers into your attic.

   22.1.20  Add Rugs
If floors are cold in the winter, throw down area carpets instead of raising thermostats.

   22.1.21  Install Ceiling Fans
These redirect heat downward; and they’re especially effective for rooms with cathedral ceilings.

   22.1.22  Go With the Flow
Anything that blocks registers, baseboards, or radiators makes your furnace work harder. Move aside furniture and drapes.

   22.1.23  Consult the Feds
They’re from the government and they’re here to help! For a reliable site, visit EnergySavers.gov.

22.2  Cut Cooling Costs

   22.2.1  Raise Thermostats to 78°F
Wear shorts and tee shirts. Drink iced tea.

   22.2.2  Install Programmable Thermostats
Raise the temperature when you’re away from home.

   22.2.3  Seal House Leaks
You pay to cool the air, so keep it from leaking out.

   22.2.4  Use Portable Air Conditioners
Cool the room you occupy, not the entire house.

   22.2.5  Try Personal Cooling
Cool yourself instead of the room. Use water misters or cooling wraps that store in the fridge.

   22.2.6  Open Windows and Use Fans
Cool without air conditioners.

  22.2.7  Install Ceiling Fans
These direct hot air upwards in summer.

   22.2.8  Use Window Treatments
Close windows and drapes during the day to keep hot air out. Open them at night to let cool air in.

   22.2.9  Add Insulation
This cools your house in summer and heats it in winter.

   22.2.10  Keep AC Filters Clean
Check your manufacturer’s recommendations.

   22.2.11  Clear Debris away From Outside AC Units
This promotes efficient operation.

   22.2.12  Schedule AC Tune-Ups
Well-maintained air conditioners use less energy.

   22.2.13  Cook Outside on Hot Days
It’s BBQ season anyway.

   22.2.14  Install Attic Fans
These cool your house at night.

22.3  Cut Water Heating Costs

   22.3.1  Set the Water Heater to 120°F
This provides adequate heat and cuts the risk of scalding.

   22.3.2  Take Showers, Not Baths
Baths use more hot water.

   22.3.3  Install Low-Flow Showerheads
Hold a bucket under the nozzle; run the water for 30 seconds. Multiply the volume collected by two. If the showerhead spews over two gallons per minute, replace it with a low-flow model.

   22.3.4  Install Flow Control Valves
Install them right before the showerhead so that you can cut heated water to a trickle while you lather up. Some nozzles come with this feature already attached.

   22.3.5  Take Shorter Showers
Longer showers cost more, so: (1) keep your hair short; (2) shave elsewhere; or (3) play a favorite song that lasts less than five minutes and finish before the music ends.

   22.3.6  Take Navy Showers
Post these instructions by each shower: “CONSERVE ENERGY: Wet Down, Shut Off Water, Soap Up, Rinse Off.” If you can convince your shipmates to comply, you’re more persuasive than me.

   22.3.7  Shower on Alternate Days
Keep clean in between with sponge baths.

   22.3.8  Install Faucet Aerators
These cut hot water waste.

   22.3.9  Repair Leaky Faucets
They cost you over time. Fix them.

   22.3.10  Turn Off the Water Heater When Away
Don’t pay to heat water during your summer vacation. In colder climates, this isn’t an option for winter trips, unless you want to suffer burst pipes and flooding.

   22.3.11  Insulate Hot Water Pipes
If your hot water pipes pass through cold areas—garages, crawl spaces, attics—wrap them in pre-slit foam insulators.

   22.3.12  Install an Insulated Blanket
Effective for older hot water heaters, but newer models are better insulated and unlikely to benefit. A simple test: if the outside of the tank is warm to the touch, then a blanket probably helps.

22.4  Cut Lighting Costs

   22.4.1  Switch to Energy Efficient Light Bulbs
Replace the incandescent bulbs you use most often with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) or light emitting diodes (LEDs). Note: CFLs cost less than LEDs.

   22.4.2  Switch to Cheaper Holiday Lights
Old style bulbs consume too much electricity; use LEDs.

   22.4.3  Install Timers
For any lights you keep forgetting to turn off.

   22.4.4  Install Dimmers
Dimmed bulbs use less energy.

   22.4.5  Use Three-Way Bulbs
Lamps don’t have to blaze away at full power 24/7.

   22.4.6  Install Motion Detectors
These provide security without ramping up energy bills.

   22.4.7  Light the Task, Not the Room
When you read or sew, don’t light the entire room—use a desk lamp.

   22.4.8  Place Workspaces Near Windows
No one charges for sunlight (yet).

   22.4.9  Turn Lights Off When You Leave a Room
Your parents whined about this for good reason.

22.5  Cut Computer and Electronic Costs

   22.5.1  Turn Off Idle Peripherals
Any scanner, printer, or monitor should be turned off unless in use.

   22.5.2  Activate Sleep Modes
If your PC runs Windows, type the word “power” into the search box located in the upper right corner of the control panel window. Select from the available options.

   22.5.3  Use Tablets and Phones for Entertainment
These consume much less power than computers or TVs. If you’ve already bought one—hopefully, by following Appendix 1—favor it for movies, games, and internet usage.

   22.5.4  Use Power Strips
Many electronics drain power even when they’re off (it helps them start faster, but you pay more).

   22.5.5  Use a Kilowatt Meter
These measure how much energy particular appliances and electronics consume when idle, which motivates you to either unplug them or install power strips. Borrow a meter from your local utility or buy one on eBay for about $15.

   22.5.6  Beware Satellite/Cable Boxes
According to the National Resources Defense Council, a setup of two HD boxes, one of which records, consumes 446 kilowatt hours per year. That’s more energy than most refrigerators use. The fix: connect your boxes to timers so they don’t run when you’re away from the TV (when you’re at work, asleep, or at work and asleep).

22.6  Cut Appliance Costs

Everyone in your household uses these energy suckers according to ingrained habits instead of wise practices. Short-circuit the waste. Copy the condensed versions of these savings tactics (see Appendix 4) and tape one to each appliance.


   22.6.1  Disfavor Whites
The fewer white textiles you own, the less hot water you use.

   22.6.2  Wear Clothes More Than Once
Wear most of your clothing two or three times before washing. This means fewer loads and garments that last longer.

   22.6.3  Wash Full Loads Only
The fewer loads you wash, the lower your bills.

   22.6.4  Wash in Cold Water
Use hot water only for whites or heavy soils. Even then, use cold water for rinse cycles.

   22.6.5  Use Shorter Wash Cycles
The less time a load takes, the less electricity is used. Slightly soiled fabrics need only six minutes of wash time. Presoak grimy items.

   22.6.6  Cut Back on Extra Rinses
This cuts water costs as well.

   22.6.7  Wash Off Peak
Some utilities charge less at certain times. Run your washer then.

   22.6.8  Follow the Owner’s Manual
Adopt its advice to improve efficiency. If you can’t find your manual, visit ManualsOnline.com or search the web for your make, model, and the word “manual.”


   22.6.9  Favor Fast-Drying Clothes
Lightweight clothing dries quickly.

   22.6.10  Use Clothes Lines
Install one outside or a retractable indoor version in your shower.

   22.6.11  Use Drying Racks
They make for fewer dryer loads.

   22.6.12  Use Plastic Hangers
When clothes lines and racks fill up, these provide extra capacity.

   22.6.13  Use the Dryer’s Moisture Sensor
This reduces wasteful over-drying.

   22.6.14  Dry Off Peak
Some utilities charge less at certain times. Run your dryer then.

   22.6.15  Tumble Press
Some clothes stiffen when air dried. Five minutes on the permanent press softens them up at a very low cost.

   22.6.16  Dry Several Loads in a Row
This skips the cost of reheating your dryer for each load.

   22.6.17  Clean Lint Traps and Vents
Clogging interferes with your dryer’s efficiency.

   22.6.18  Buy Natural Gas Dryers
They cost less to operate than electrics.

   22.6.19  Follow the Owner’s Manual
Adopt its advice to improve efficiency. If you can’t find the manual, visit ManualsOnline.com or search the web for your make, model, and the word “manual.”


   22.6.20  Avoid Washing Dishes by Hand
If you’re stingy with hot water and your machine is inefficient, you might save; but most sources say that fully loaded dishwashers do the job for less. According to EnergyStar.gov, you save about $40 per year with the dishwasher.

   22.6.21  Avoid Pre-Rinsing
Experiment to see whether you can avoid rinsing dishes. Or soak them in cold water instead.

   22.6.22  Run Full Loads Only
And use less energy during the year.

   22.6.23  Wash Off-Peak
Some utilities charge less at certain hours. Run loads then.

   22.6.24  Use Energy Saving Modes
Reset the buttons once, and the machine works cheaper ever after.

   22.6.25  Air Dry
Heating elements consume energy.

   22.6.26  Check Filters and Drains
Clean them regularly to assure peak efficiency.

   22.6.27  Follow the Owner’s Manual
Adopt its advice to improve efficiency. If you can’t locate your manual, visit ManualsOnline.com or search the web for your make, model, and the word “manual.”


   22.6.28  Boil Elsewhere
Heat water efficiently in an electric kettle and transfer it into your pot on the stovetop.

   22.6.29  Run the Microwave
It uses less energy than a stovetop.

   22.6.30  Try Hot Plates for Small Jobs
They’re more efficient than stove burners.

   22.6.31  Use Smaller Cookware
Larger pots and pans take more energy to heat.

   22.6.32  Cook With Flat Bottoms Only
This isn’t a diet tip: if your pot’s base is warped, it costs more to heat whatever you cook. Replace damaged cookware.

   22.6.33  Use the Right Sized Burner
Small pans on oversized burners waste energy.

   22.6.34  Use Vent Fans Sparingly
Open a nearby window instead.

   22.6.35  Turn Off Burners Early

Electric burners stay hot long after they’re switched off. Use the residual heat to finish cooking.


   22.6.36  Use Alternatives
Ovens suck electricity. Whenever possible, use slow cookers, toaster ovens, microwaves, or pressure cookers.

   22.6.37  Preheat Sparingly
Most recipes direct you to warm up the oven while you mix ingredients, but if your preparation takes too long, you waste energy. A solution: prepare first, and then preheat. An oven thermometer shows you when the desired temperature is reached.

   22.6.38  Bake Double Batches
Cheaper than running the oven twice.

   22.6.39  Keep the Door Closed
Place a meat thermometer’s readout by the oven’s window so that you can check the food’s temperature without opening the door.

   22.6.40  Leave the Door Open
In winter, open the oven door after cooking to help heat the kitchen.


   22.6.41  Use Energy Saving Modes
All newer models have them.

   22.6.42  Set Refrigerators to 37°-40°F
Test the temperature with a thermometer placed in a glass of water.

   22.6.43  Set Freezers to 5°F
Test temperatures with a thermometer.

   22.6.44  Turn Off the Ice Maker
If you have enough ice, don’t pay to keep the maker running.

   22.6.45  Stock Them Full
Full refrigerators and freezers consume less energy.

   22.6.46  Keep Doors Closed
Remove items promptly and close the door. Note to self: mercilessly hound anyone who refuses to comply.

   22.6.47  Keep Hot Foods Out
Let leftovers cool to room temperature before loading them into the refrigerator or freezer—and do it before they begin to spoil.

   22.6.48  Keep Foods Covered
Uncovered foods release moisture, and humid air costs more to cool.

   22.6.49  Vacuum Coils Regularly
This evicts energy sucking dust bunnies.

   22.6.50  Maintain Gaskets
If door seals crack, your unit leaks air and loses efficiency.

   22.6.51  Follow the Owner’s Manual
Adopt its advice to improve efficiency. If you can’t find your manual, visit ManualsOnline.com or search the web for your make, model, and the word “manual.”

5 Responses to 22 Utilities: Home Energy

  1. Lake Girl January 6, 2017 at 7:55 AM #

    Great tips! Thank you!

  2. Lake Girl January 6, 2017 at 7:56 AM #

    I never thought of using my tablet instead of the TV. Might have to give it a try.
    Lake Girl recently posted…Traveling With Mother FranMy Profile

    • A Noonan Moose January 6, 2017 at 10:43 AM #

      If you hold the tablet close enough to your eyes it’s like watching a drive-in movie. 😉 Thanks for checking out the checklist Lake Girl!

  3. Logan David November 22, 2017 at 3:40 AM #

    Nice article, very informative indeed. The list is extensive which I never knew could be listed as utilities.

    Also visit http://www.enguard.net to learn about utility studies and sales tax exemptions.

    • A Noonan Moose November 22, 2017 at 8:46 AM #

      Thanks for commenting David! I’ll check out the enguard website!

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