Your house payment, of course, stands-out as your biggest monthly expense; in most families, the monthly car payments rank second. Utility bills usually come-in a very close third; and during winter freezes or summer hot-spells, the combined cost of gas and electricity frighteningly can devour up to half of a paycheck.
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Your house payment, of course, stands-out as your biggest monthly expense; in most families, the monthly car payments rank second. Utility bills usually come-in a very close third; and during winter freezes or summer hot-spells, the combined cost of gas and electricity frighteningly can devour up to half of a paycheck. Energy experts assert, however, utility bills need not remain your third largest expense; and they argue a little knowledge and initiative go a very long way in cutting your energy costs. Most families have great energy conservation plans, often the products of kids’ science classes. But most families never quite get around to putting their great plans into effect. Using what you already know, you and your family may cut your energy bills by 40% or more.
Image courtesy of Anton Fomkin.
- Go naturally without gas. Most American families run-up their energy bills with the costs of heating and cooling their homes. Therefore, begin cutting utility bills at the thermostat. Set air conditioning to 78, no lower than 75; set heating to 70, keeping in mind that most experts recommend 68. Then, make the deepest cost cuts by closing vents in rooms you rarely visit—the living room and dining room, for example. For maximum savings, adjust the thermostat for minimal household heating and cooling, putting space heaters and room fans in the places where you spend most of your time. If you live in an older two-story home, you know the heat naturally rises into the upstairs bedrooms; close the vents and let physics take care of air circulation. Conversely, during the summer, cold air falls; apply the principles of physics in reverse. To boost nature’s effects, install ceiling fans in your busiest rooms.
- Insulate everything. Put a blanket on your water heater, an extra layer of insulation in your attic, more blown-in insulation in your walls, and weather stripping on all your windows. Seriously consider “natural insulation,” too: A row of trees along the south side of your home may cut your cooling costs as much as 20 percent, and it may add 5 percent to your home’s “curb appeal.”
- Consumer electronics need not consume your paycheck. By now, you should have replaced all the light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescents. If you haven’t quite completed the job, do it this weekend. Then, start cultivating the family’s conservation habits, encouraging them to turn off lights the split-second they have finished with them. Even more importantly, teach the family to turn-off every appliance, computer, gadget, widget, handheld and “thingie” when they have finished using it. Although no device consumes a great deal of power, turning off a whole house full of computers and kitchen gadgets can cut your ener4gy bills as much as 10%.
- Work the water cycle. If you have a vegetable garden or orchard, irrigate with gray water from your washing machine and dishwasher; simply hook the drain pipes from the appliances to feeder lines for your drip system. If you live anywhere with decent rainfall, put rain barrels at the ends of your downspouts, collecting water for irrigation and even for some laundry. If you have not yet installed low-flow toilets, do it now, because the toilets will pay for themselves with just two month of water conservation; the same applies, of course, to shower heads and kitchen faucets. Most of all, institute a strict short-shower policy, instructing everybody in the fine art of getting wet, turning off the water to lather and scrub, and then quickly but thoroughly rinsing. You will save hundreds of gallons of water and a whole bunch of gas or electricity for heating it.
- Make trash your treasure. Although most major cities and suburbs now offer curbside recycling as part of their standard trash pick-up, they also keep the revenue from their recycling initiatives. Now that aluminum has topped $2 per pound, and given the average American family generates at least a pound of recyclable aluminum every week, you give away $20 every month. Manage your own recycling and cash-in. Similarly, cities typically pick-up yard waste, using it for compost, while homeowners foolishly invest in fertilizers and lawn additives. Start your own compost, using all your grass clippings and plant trimmings, supplementing with organic food waste, and consulting your home improvement retailer for compost additives that accelerate decomposition and add soil nutrients. Most of all, encourage the entire family to recycle or reuse practically everything. One prominent example suffices: Why are you still buying food storage containers when butter tubs and cottage cheese containers work at least as well?
The Great Recession may limit your opportunities for investments in home improvements, but you should begin planning to replace all your appliances with new and improved “energy star” models. Even if your refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer are less than five years old, new appliances save at least 10% from 2008 models. Of course, the upgrades add value to your home, and some states and counties are offering handsome rebates for appliance upgrades. Similarly, begin planning to install solar cells for electricity or solar panels for heating water. In many large cities, solar contractors are offering lease-to-own programs, or local governments are offering big tax credits for solar installations.