Creative Ways to Trim Your Utilities Bills
STRETCH YOUR DOLLARS AND BENEFIT THE ENVIRONMENT
By Rich Gray
Electricity, hot water, the phone, heating and cooling. . . .
We take them all for granted today, and while they do make life
easier, they also come with price tags that can vary wildly from
household to household. The area of utility costs is another one
where a little bit of work can pay off with sizeable savings that
will stretch over years.
The following tips cover a range of “utility” topics,
including refrigerators and other appliances, hot water, heating
and cooling, phones, and more.
Position the Refrigerator for Efficiency. . .
To get the most efficiency out of your refrigerator, location
is the key. You should position your refrigerator out of direct
sunlight and away from heat sources, such as heating ducts and
. . . And Give It Space
A refrigerator will run most efficiently when you place it a place
where air can completely circulate around it. Leave at least three
inches between the refrigerator and any counters or walls. Also,
make sure that you don’t use the top as sort of an open-air
junk drawer, as this will also restrict air circulation.
Vacuum Refrigerator Coils Periodically
By the same token, sliding the refrigerator away from the wall
and vacuuming the coils once a year will help to keep your refrigerator
running more smoothly. This is particularly important if you have
pets that love to shed.
Disable Automatic Refrigerator Devices
If your refrigerator came equipped with an automatic device, such
as an ice maker or butter warmer, disconnect it. These may be convenient,
but they also waste a lot of electricity.
Keep the Freezer Full
Freezers work most effectively when they are full. If you don’t
have food to fill them up, take soda or water bottles, fill them
two-thirds full of water and allow them to freeze. You’ll
also gain the added bonus of a ready supply of ice packs for picnicking
Refrigerator Door Maintenance
Check your refrigerator door gasket periodically to see if it
has become worn, ripped, or ill-fitting. If it has, replace it
to greatly increase your refrigerator’s efficiency.
Avoid “Frost Free”
“Frost free” may sound like a more attractive refrigerator
than a plug-it-in-and-forget-it unit, but it will also cost you
more in energy –costs. Go with a traditional model and defrost
it by hand every six months. You’ll also keep a better handle
on the food within it and waste less this way.
Cool Dishes Before Adding Them to the Refrigerator
Don’t put warm dishes and foods directly into the refrigerator.
Let them cool first, or else you’ll cause the refrigerator
to run needlessly.
Ventilation Fan Use/Misuse
Be careful when using kitchen and bathroom ventilation fans that
you don’t leave them running longer than you need to. In
wintertime, these fans can quickly suck all the heat from of your
house. In summer, they can do the same with your “cool,” if
you use air conditioning (and losing one’s cool is never
Garbage Disposal Strategy
If you must own and run a garbage disposal (note: composting is
a much better alternative), always use cold water when running
it, instead of hot. Your hot water heater will thank you.
Use Your Dishwasher More Efficiently
Dishwashers have reached the stage where they are actually more
efficient water-users than washing dishes by hand. Their efficiency
breaks down in their drying cycle, though. You should always disable
this and open the door to let the dishes air-dry.
Clean Your Dryer Lint Screen
Your dryer will run more efficiently if you clean the lint screen
each time before you run a load. A full lint screen will reduce
airflow, meaning the dryer has to work harder and longer to dry
Schedule Consecutive Dryer Loads
If you must use a dryer, try to schedule it so that you use it
for consecutive loads. This way you’ll be taking advantage
of the heat from the preceding load to start the next.
Repair Leaking Faucets
Don’t let a leaking faucet send your hard-earned dollars
down the drain. At one drip per second, a faucet can waste around
400 gallons of water a year. Not only will you be paying for the
water, but if it is heated, you’ll also be paying for the
wasted electricity or oil used to heat it. Leaking faucets are
easily fixed, most requiring just the replacement of a washer.
Save Water in the Bathroom
Save water while brushing your teeth or doing dishes by turning
off the water between use’s, and when the water is on, use
it minimally (i.e., not wide open).
Use Low-Flow Shower Heads & Faucet Aerators
Want to save up to 50 percent of the water you use? Install low-flow
shower heads and faucet aerators. Using these, typical family of
four will save up to 14,000 gallons of hot water per year.
Shorten Showers to Save Hot Water Costs
Minimizing the amount of time you spend in the shower can save
you considerably in hot water charges. Fully two-thirds of the
amount of your hot water costs go toward showering, and even by
trimming a few minutes off your showers, you can save hundreds
of gallons of water (and the resulting cost) per month. To really
maximize your savings, turn off the water while soaping up.
Lower Your Water Heater Temperature
Lowering the temperature of your water heater from 115 to 110
degrees will save you considerably over time.
Insulate Hot Water Heaters and Hot Water Pipes
Insulate both your water heater and hot water pipes to realize
considerable savings year-round. In terms of the heater, make sure
that you don’t cover the top or bottom of the tank, nor get
insulated material anywhere near the thermostat or burner compartment.
For the pipes themselves, you can either go with specialized insulation
sleeves for use with hot water pipes, or make up your own out of
strips of thin insulation.
Wash Clothes in Cold Water
When possible, wash your clothes in cold water. This can save
you a whopping 75 percent in energy usage.
Consider a Home Energy Audit
To quickly zero in on what areas you should concentrate on in
your heating and cooling system to best save money, consider scheduling
a home energy audit. Your gas or electric utility may have a program
in place to do this for free or at a greatly reduced cost. If not,
they should be able to point you to a professional who can do it
for a reasonable amount. Home energy audits quickly pay for themselves
in both energy savings and in showing you what areas you should
concentrate to lower your bills.
Ventilate Heat from the Kitchen During the Summer
In the summer, keep your kitchen cool by using ventilation fans
to carry the stove’s heat outside. The electricity to run
the fan will cost considerably less than the cost of the electricity
to run your cooling system harder to compensate. Of course, the
alternative is also true. In the winter, keep the ventilation fan
off to help heat your house.
Turn Summertime Furnace Pilot Lights Off
Does your furnace have a pilot light? If you aren’t using
your furnace for anything in the summertime, why would you keep
the pilot light on? This can save you a few dollars a month, but
make sure that you actually turn it off and not just blow it out,
or you could be facing a very dangerous situation when your cellar
starts filling with gas.
Use Vegetation to Cut Down on Energy Bills
Planting vegetation around your house is one easy way to cut down
on your energy bills, particularly if your area really heats up
in the summer. Trees and bushes planted around your house will
block a lot of the sunlight that would normally strike it.”
Weatherize Windows for Big Savings
Make sure you weatherize your windows properly in the wintertime.
This alone can save you a considerable amount of money, as well
as make your house more enjoyable to live in. There are many different
products you can use to achieve this, from simple plastic sheets
to weather-stripping or putty. Run your hands around windows, doors,
and outlets to feel for drafts (or use a candle and see where you
get the most flicker), and then concentrate on getting the highest
drafts under control first.
Dress Indoors for the Season
One of the biggest things you can do to assist in your heating/cooling
bills is to dress for the season. Dress in several loose layers
in the winter, and when you’re cuddling up on the couch at
night to read or watch TV, make sure you do so under a thick blanket.
In the summer, go barefoot and wear loose-fitting light clothes
such as t-shirts and shorts. Not only will you be more comfortable,
your energy bills will be lower.
Check Ducts for Leaks
Leaking ductwork can contribute greatly to your heating costs.
Consider having a professional check your ducts to see how efficient
they are. Alternately, your local utility may have a program to
do this for you for free or at a significantly reduced cost. If
you have some form of maintenance program in place, where they
come yearly to clean your furnace anyway, ask if they’ll
also check your ducts.
Use Airlocks to Cut Down on Energy Loss
In cold winter climates, one of the best ways you can cut down
on energy/heat loss in your house is to employ an “airlock.” Yes,
think science fiction movies. Essentially, an airlock is an area
that exists between two doors that you must go through to enter
your house. This can either be an existing porch structure, or
even a simple 2 x 4 and plastic structure that you add to your
main door. The whole idea is that you go through one door before
opening another, keeping the cold gusts from flowing into your
house, and the hot air from flowing out.
Only Heat What You Have To
If you have rooms you don’t use often in the winter, close
them up and make sure you close the heating vents or radiators
in these rooms. If a room is not being used, you’ll save
money by not heating it. Even if it is used infrequently, opening
the door and turning the heat back on will make it comfortable
in a few minutes. Only heat what you must.
Consider installing a woodstove to help with your winter heating.
Wood is a renewable resource, and you can often find it for free
if you really try (take down a tree on your property, offer to
fell and tote away a dead tree on a neighbor’s property,
etc.). Wood is also a reliable heat source in case a winter storm
takes out your power for an extended period of time, crippling
Excerpted from The Frugal Senior by Rich Gray.
Copyright © 2006 by Rich Gray. All rights reserved. Excerpted
by arrangement with Quill Driver Books. $12.95. Available in
local bookstores or call 800.497.4909 or click