37 ways to reduce your monthly energy bill by $20 or more
If I were to offer you $27,000 right now, would you take it?
I’ll wager you would, even if your last name is Walton or Tyson.
And as you probably suspect, that $27,000 figure isn’t just a number I pulled out of thin air. In fact, it’s the exact amount you’d have in your bank account in 30 years if you were able to save just $20 dollars a month on your energy bill and invest it. Change that $20 to a $40 and you’d have over $40,000 in 30 years. You see where I’m going here.
Don’t worry, we’re not talking drastic lifestyle changes. Just a few small changes to your routine can get you to that $20 a month mark. Once you’re there, you may very well want to go full Fayetteville funky on your energy usage. But baby steps first.
Here we go.
Easy, no brainer ways to reduce your energy bill
- Check your hot water heater's thermostat. Most hot water heaters are set at 140 degrees. However, 120 degrees is usually more than enough for your water heating needs. A 20 degree difference may sound small, but it’s huge in terms of energy usage. Just this one change can reduce your energy bill by 6-13% as on average water heating is about 18% of your energy usage.
One thing to be careful of: some newer dishwashers require 140 degree water so make sure to check the appliance’s manual if you have it. If you don’t, a quick Google search should get you the info you need.
- Check your refrigerator and freezer temperature. Fun fact: the ideal refrigerator temperature is 37-40 degrees and the ideal freezer temperature is 5 degrees. If you go any colder then that, you’re wasting money. So take a quick look at your temperature settings and make sure you’re no lower than the above ranges.
While you’re at it, be sure to keep your fridge and freezer full as much as possible. Having a full fridge or freezer makes it much easier to keep food and drinks cool. This can drastically lower the amount of energy both appliances need to function properly (saving you money).
- Wash laundry in cold water. About 90% of the energy your washing machine uses goes towards heating water. So unless you’re trying to get out heavy, oily stains, skip the heat and save some money.
Do that enough and you’ll save around $40 a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Buy a smart thermostat. Keeping your home comfortable with heating and air conditioning is a huge part of your energy usage (around 54% on average). So anything you can do to reduce usage of either has a dramatic effect on your energy bill.
Trust us when we say there is no better way to do that than to install a smart thermostat. There are lots of brands out there, but the basic function of all of them is to turn off or reduce usage of your HVAC system when you don’t need it. Times like when you’re at work, asleep, out of town on vacation, etc.
One brand that gets a lot of attention (and that we love here at Franklin) is Nest. In particular, we like the Nest Thermostat E. It’s the cheaper version of the more well known Nest Learning Thermostat ($169 vs $249 as of this writing), but it’s mostly the same thing. It’s what I have in my own house and what I recommend pretty much everybody get if they’re looking to cut their energy bill.
Now obviously we’re a heating and air company so we install these, but you can absolutely install them on your own if you have a basic HVAC system and are handy with tools. Just make sure there’s a good guide online for your ecochosen brand of thermostat.
That said, if you don’t have the time or don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, we install Nest Thermostats for $99. You can buy the unit yourself or get it from us at the lowest price Nest Thermostat E’s are allowed to be sold at ($169). If you want to go that route, just give us a call at (479) 282-0003 and Mary will get you scheduled for an install within five minutes or so.
Regardless of how you go about it, getting a smart thermostat is a no-brainer that saves you 10-15% a month on your heating and cooling usage.
Important: Right now, two Northwest Arkansas utility providers are offering $100 rebates on smart thermostats. All you have to do is follow the instructions on the following websites and they’ll write you a check:
SWEPCO: Smart Thermostat Rebate Form
Requirements: Must be a SWEPCO residential customer, 2 per home, must show receipt, must request within 90 days of installation
Black Hills Energy: Smart Thermostat Rebate Form
Requirements: Must be a Black Hills Energy residential customer, 2 per account, must show receipt, must request within 90 days of installation, must install one of the following thermostats: Nest Thermostat E, Nest Learning Thermostat, ecobee4, ecobee3 lite
Note: Doing just the above can save you around 20% on your energy bill. If you want the quickest, easiest route to sizable savings, it's the four changes above.
- Pile on the long underwear and blankets. Kind of an obvious one, but an easy way to drop that thermostat a few more degrees in winter is to bundle up. Every degree you drop saves you money.
- Clean your dryer’s lint trap. You’re probably already doing this, but make sure to remove the lint from your dryer’s lint trap before each load. A lint free trap allows your dryer to run at peak efficiency.
If it’s getting to the point where the lint is hard to remove, scrubbing the trap down with soapy water and a brush should take care of it.
- Don't put uncovered food/drinks in the refrigerator. Uncovered food/drinks develop condensation, which makes it harder for your fridge to keep cool. And when your fridge has to work harder, it’s costing you more money.
- Replace your filters. This is a big one that way too many people ignore. Dirty or clogged filters not only make your HVAC system work harder to push air into your system (costing you money), they also cause your system to fail quicker. And as you may be aware from past experience, a new air conditioner or furnace is quite an investment. So do your HVAC system a favor and replace or clean your filters every 30 days.
Filters are easy to find at the usual places: Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, Amazon, or your locally owned hardware store. As with most things, buying them in bulk saves you money so try to do that if possible.
- Do some dusting. As time passes, the coils that allow your refrigerator to keep food cold get dusty. When that happens, your fridge is working harder and - you guessed it - costing you more money.
Cleaning them is simple: just unplug your fridge and then gently clean the metal coils that are located on the back (most common) or bottom of your fridge with a brush or similar tool.
- Turn off the ceiling fan when you’re not at home. Ceiling fans are great for cutting your heating and air conditioning usage. That said, they only help by making you feel cooler. They don’t actually cool your home. So be sure to turn them off when you’re not at home because they aren’t doing you any good at that point (and are costing you money to run).
- Schedule yearly HVAC maintenance. I know, this is an easy one to write off. An HVAC company telling people to get HVAC maintenance they don’t need.
Here’s the truth: our annual maintenance plans at Franklin are priced right around break-even for us ($179). The reason we do them, despite them not making us money, is two-fold: they’re good for customers and they keep us busy. Stay with me for just a second.
Like a car or truck, furnaces and air conditioners are big investments. And like a car or truck, they need to be properly maintained if they're going to function properly and last for the longest amount of time possible. Done properly, regular maintenance saves you money on your energy bill (most studies find them to reduce HVAC energy usage anywhere from 20 to 40%) and helps prevent expensive repairs. Perhaps most importantly, it is a huge factor in how long your HVAC unit will last. You’ve seen the difference between a car that is lovingly taken care of and one that is left outside and run ragged. It’s the same with your HVAC system.
Whether you use Franklin, another company, or even do it yourself, HVAC maintenance is a must. Please don’t let your HVAC system run ragged and go to an early death, costing you thousands of dollars.
If you do want Franklin to handle your maintenance, just give us a call at (479) 282-0003 and ask Mary for more information on our annual maintenance plan. We’d be grateful.
- Turn off your dishwasher’s heated dry feature. Just like your washing machine, the vast majority of the energy used by your dishwasher goes towards heating water. Some of that you can’t avoid, as part of the cleaning process requires hot water. But you can skip your dishwasher’s heated dry feature to save money.
One caveat to that: if you forgo the heated dry feature, you’ll need to use a rinsing agent like Jet Dry to avoid water spots on your dishes. To add it to your next load, just look for a small cap on your dishwasher door, unscrew it, and add your rinsing agent. Voilà, no more water spots.
- Cook with the lid on. Reduce the amount of time you have to run your oven by keeping your pots covered. Less heat escaping = energy savings for you.
- Keep your vents open and clean. A common myth is that closing your home’s air vents reduces energy use. That’s false - it actually raises your energy costs by making it tougher for your heating and air conditioning units to push air throughout your home. So take a few minutes and do a quick run through of your home, opening any closed vents as you go.
- Use ceiling fans correctly to reduce your air conditioner/heater usage. Ceiling fans are a great tool for saving money on your energy bill. That said, they are often used incorrectly.
The proper use of ceiling fans is to control the flow of heat in your home. In the summer, you want heat to escape, so you should set your fans to spin counter-clockwise. That will push hot air up. In the winter, you want to hold on to heat as long as possible, so you should set your fans to spin clockwise. That will push hot air down.
All together, using fans properly is one of the best ways to reduce your energy bill.
- Measure your laundry loads. When drying clothes, be careful not to dry too many at once. If there’s little room for hot air to move, the dryer won’t be able to do it’s job and you’ll be stuck running the load for another cycle, costing you more money.
A good rule of thumb is to always leave around 25% of the dryer unfilled so air can move around.
- Use your microwave, instead of the oven. As much as you can, use your microwave instead of your oven. It uses less energy and doesn’t heat up your home as much.
- Load your dishwasher efficiently. For a dishwasher to run as efficiently as possible, it has to be loaded correctly.
For starters, that means placing bowls and cups on the top row, face down. Otherwise, they'll block water from reaching the bottom rack. Also be sure to put any light plastics like tupperware up top, else they'll warp from the heat.
If you're washing something large and flat (i.e. a cutting board), make sure not to place it close and parallel to the dishwasher door or else you'll block the detergent flap from opening. That means you'll have to run the dishwasher again, doubling your energy costs.
Another thing to consider is the detergent you're using. This isn't a Proctor and Gamble commercial, but some detergents actually do a better job getting food off dishes. One highly rated brand you might consider is Quantum Finish.
- Don't preheat the oven unless you have to. For many foods that require long cook times, you don’t even need to preheat the oven. Exceptions: meats and similar temperature-sensitive foods.
A little more work, but definitely worth doing
20. Kill “vampire” electronics. A huge percent (10%) of your home’s energy use goes towards electronics that draw power all day long, even if they’re not in use. Think things like TVs, coffeemakers, computers, and phone chargers. So called “vampire” electronics cost the average household $100 a year, according to the Energy Department.
Electronics like the above should almost always be unplugged when not in use. An easy way of doing that is to use smart power strips that automatically cut power to devices in standby mode. You can find a popular model here.
21. Install light dimmer switches. Save some money on lighting by installing dimmer switches like these. That way you only use as much light as you need.
22. Shield your home from the sun. The more you can protect the inside of your home from the brutal rays of the sun, the easier it will be for your air conditioner to cool your home. An easy way to do that is to close curtains and blinds on the sunny side of your home. You may even look into installing tinted window film for maximum protection.
23. Install low-flow shower heads. Consider installing low-flow shower heads like this one. The less water flowing through your shower head, the less water your water heater has to heat.
24. Insulate your hot water heater. Keep that hot water heater of yours hot with a jacket like this. The better it can retain heat, the more you save.
25. Install motion sensors. If you really want to go high-tech, install motion sensors in your home so that lights only come on when needed.
26. Install a water heater timer. That hot water heater of yours doesn’t need to be running in the middle of the night. Save money by installing a timer and setting it to just run when you need it. This can easily drop your hot water heater’s energy usage by 10%.
27. Switch to LEDs. Here’s a biggie: replace your normal light bulbs with LED lights. Since LED lights use 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, you’ll save a bundle. In fact, the federal government estimates that replacing just five of your most used lights with Energy Star approved LED bulbs can save you $75 per year.
28. Ensure your home is properly insulated. Gaps in your doors and windows force your HVAC system to work harder to keep your home comfortable. Minimize that extra work by checking for any gaps in your doors and windows. If you find any, plug them with caulk and weatherstripping.
According to the Department of Energy, this step alone can cut your heating and cooling costs by 15-30%.
29. Switch to solar lights outdoors. If you’ve got lights outside, replace them with solar powered ones. They’ll absorb energy from the sun during the day, and run for free at night.
30. Remove sediment from your hot water heater. As sediment builds up in your hot water heater, it’s efficiency decreases. That’s why you should use the valve on the side of your water heater to flush sediment once a year. Doing that accomplishes two things: it saves you money on your utility bill and it prevents premature failure of the unit. Win-win.
A lot more work (or money) required, the faint need not apply
31. Insulate behind electrical outlets and switches. A huge source of air leaks in a home are electrical outlets that allow cold air in to sneak in (or out in the summer). The solution is to either buy electrical outlet sealers or use foam (or something similar) to insulate your outlets. You can find a great guide to do that here.
32. Plant trees around your home. If you don’t have trees near your home, plant them. The shade will protect your home from the sun and save you money on heating and cooling. According to the U.S. Forest Service Center for Urban Forest Research, shade from two 25-foot tall trees – one on the west side and one on the east – will save a typical house $57 a year in energy costs.
33. Line dry your laundry. If you want to completely reduce your dryer’s energy use, start drying your clothes Little House on the Prairie style. Each load you line dry saves you around .36 cents in energy usage.
34. Install an attic fan. An attic fan will pull cool air into your home and remove hot air, reducing your cooling costs.
35. Install storm doors. Storm doors are great for several reasons: they let you see outside (if you have a solid door), they protect your home from the elements, and they create a pocket of insulation that keeps warm air in and cold air out.
36. Install a tankless hot water heater. If it’s time to replace your hot water heater, consider going with a tankless hot water heater. Since they don’t have to keep a tank of water hot round the clock, they use far less energy. A typical one will save you $100 or more per year, depending on water usage.
One downside is that they are typically more expensive than traditional water heaters.
37. Upgrade to energy efficient appliances. If your appliances are getting up there in age (10 years or more), you might think about replacing them with Energy Star rated models, which are much more energy efficient.
Those savings can add up to quite a bit over time. Replacing just your fridge alone with an Energy Star rated model could save you $260 in energy costs in five years.