10 Ways to Save Energy and Lower Your Utility Bills
These changes will make your home energy-efficient and cut your utility spending.
Cut back – for the environment and your wallet.
Making your home more energy-efficient isn’t just about making a positive impact on the environment – it will make a positive impact on your wallet, too, by reducing your utility bills. Some changes are simple, like replacing old lightbulbs or unplugging machines that aren’t in use, while other projects can transform your home, like bringing your air conditioning up to date or installing solar panels. Big or small, the changes you make can help lower your monthly utility bills and lessen your environmental impact. Read on for 10 ways to save energy and money at home.
Updated on Mary 7, 2020: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.
Consult a professional.
To determine where your home is wasting the most energy, consider a professional energy audit. This may involve blower door tests to check for drafts, thermographic screenings and other inspections that assess the house, its features and your habits, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A home energy audit takes between one and five hours and costs $408 on average, according to HomeAdvisor, although depending on where you live and the size of your home, the price could reach $1,500 or more. The Department of Energy reports that efficiency upgrades identified in a home energy audit can save homeowners between 5% and 30% on their energy bill. You can find professionals who can perform a home energy audit on networks like Angie's List and HomeAdvisor, which will allow you to get an estimate and check reviews.
See what's using the most energy.
Some electronics in your home are "energy vampires" – devices that continuously sap power even when they’re turned off. There are a few ways to figure out which devices should be unplugged to cut down your electric bill. One option is Sense, a home energy monitor that plugs into your electric panel and provides details about your home’s electricity use through a mobile app. The app will then show you how plugging in or unplugging different devices changes the total amount of wattage in use. You can also use a plug-in kilowatt meter to measure how much energy individual appliances use, such as your refrigerator or computer. Mike Phillips, co-founder and CEO of Sense, says one way to find the devices most likely to be using a larger amount of energy is by their temperature: “If something is using power, it’s going to be warm,” he says.
Use smaller machines for work and entertainment.
Especially when you find yourself at home more, the devices you use for work and play can have a big impact on your energy usage. A desktop computer, for example, will draw more energy than a laptop, even when the laptop is plugged in. “A laptop computer tends to be more efficient – the components are more efficient – but also, you can unplug it,” says Lauren Urbanek, senior energy policy advocate for the climate and clean energy program for NRDC, or Natural Resources Defense Council. Additionally, many video game consoles, like PlayStation and Xbox, offer TV and movie streaming apps but they’re far less efficient than smaller devices designed for streaming. Urbanek estimates they use “somewhere in the range of 20 times more energy (used) than if you use a Roku or Apple TV device.” To save energy, aim to use your video game console for video games, and get a dedicated streaming device for watching TV.
Update old appliances.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but newer appliances operate more efficiently than older ones. The most efficient appliances have an Energy Star rating from the DOE and Environmental Protection Agency, which tells you they're designed to use less energy and can help save on utility costs. For washing machines and dishwashers, "eco" settings or efficiency cycles take a lot more time but use less water and electricity. The added time may seem inconvenient, but it could have a visible effect on your bill – especially if you run the dishwasher and washing machine daily or more often. “If you’re in a rush to get your dishes done, fine, use the shorter cycle. But if you don’t care when the dishes get done in the morning, use the eco mode,” Phillips says.
Change out old lights.
Pay close attention to the lightbulbs in your home – and if you’re still using any incandescent bulbs. “Any light that gets used, if it’s incandescent it should be replaced,” Phillips says. Instead, opt for LED bulbs, which you can find at the grocery store, pharmacy or online. An LED bulb using 8 watts will produce the same brightness as a 60-watt incandescent bulb and lasts roughly 40 times longer, according to lighting technology company USAI Lighting. Another plus for LEDs: “They come in all different shades, temperatures (and) colors so you really don’t get the harsh light that people have been worried about in the past,” Urbanek says.
Replace your showerhead.
It might seem almost too simple, but swapping out an old showerhead will reduce the rate of water flow, dropping your water usage without the need for shorter showers. Urbanek recommends looking for showerheads that have a WaterSense rating, which is similar to an Energy Star rating but specific to water usage and flow. While older showerheads use a lot of water and create further water waste with mist, showerheads designed for efficiency cut down on the waste while still making the shower experience enjoyable. “The technology in terms of shower heads has really improved – you’re not just going to get a trickle of water,” Urbanek says.
Pay attention to your thermostat.
If you leave the house every day, setting a program on your thermostat helps cut down on unnecessary heating and cooling. However, if everyone’s at home, it’s not so easy to save energy and avoid getting too cold or hot. “Set it to whatever you’re OK with from a comfort perspective, but a higher setting on your thermostat (in summer) definitely saves energy,” Phillips says. Consider lowering your HVAC use at night while everyone’s asleep, and opt for open windows during the spring and fall months when it’s not too hot or cold. “On nice days, opening the windows and turning on the ceiling fan can have a big impact on your comfort,” Urbanek says.
Insulate and reduce air leakage.
A major source of inefficiency in your home is air leakage, when the warm air in winter and cool air in summer escapes outside, making your heating and cooling system work harder. A home energy audit can identify sources of air leakage and areas that would benefit from insulation, but amateurs may be able to spot them as well. Urbanek recommends checking around your windows and doors for visible gaps where air can get in and out. If your attic is unfinished, consider insulating the space to keep it from reaching extreme temperatures in winter and summer. This will help keep your HVAC system from working as hard to heat and cool the living space directly below the attic.
Have your HVAC serviced.
To make sure your heating and AC don't give out during a critical time, have both systems serviced by a professional annually. Regular maintenance improves the efficiency of your HVAC system, ensuring minor issues don’t lead to higher utility bills. If you’re unable to have a professional visit your home, you can change out the air filter, which can fill with dust, pollen and pet fur and make the system work harder. New air filters can be found in home improvement stores or ordered online. “Just make sure you’re getting the right size and type of filter for your system,” Urbanek says.
Put solar panels on the roof.
Rooftop solar panels are more common these days, especially in sunny parts of the U.S., and they can be an excellent way to cut down your total utility bill. While solar panels are becoming less expensive as they gain popularity, installation comes with a high price tag. HomeAdvisor reports that the average solar panel system costs $25,593, but it varies greatly depending on where you live. Research your options thoroughly to determine if solar panels would be right for your home. There may be a rebate or tax break offered for installing solar panels in your area, for example. But first, Urbanek recommends insulating your attic, sealing holes where you have air leakage, identifying "energy vampires" and opting for up-to-date, efficient appliances. “(Doing these tasks first) means that you would need a smaller solar system to operate your home,” Urbanek says.
Here are 10 ways to save energy and lower your utility bills at home:
- Consult a professional.
- See what’s using the most energy.
- Use smaller machines for work and entertainment.
- Update old appliances.
- Change out old lights.
- Replace your showerhead.
- Pay attention to your thermostat.
- Insulate and reduce air leakage.
- Have your HVAC serviced.
- Put solar panels on your roof.