While rent or a mortgage payment is often the biggest expense a household may have, utilities can be a significant expense as well. These can include gas, electric, water, and trash removal. Some of these costs may be included in rent, so check with your landlord. While trash removal is usually a set monthly cost, other utilities are based on your usage.
Utility companies and other organizations offer financial assistance to low-income households as well as support and assistance in helping everyone save on energy costs. Contact your utility company to learn more about the programs they offer and how you can take advantage of savings.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps keep families safe and healthy through initiatives that assist families with energy costs. They provide federally funded assistance in managing costs associated with:
- Home energy bills
- Energy crises
- Weatherization and energy-related minor home repairs
LIHEAP can help you stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer through programs that reduce the risk of health and safety problems that arise from unsafe heating and cooling practices.
Some of the most effective ways to keep utility costs down include:
- Monitor your thermostat:
- In cold weather, setting the thermostat to the low 60s will save a great deal on heating costs. A good-quality humidifier in the winter not only moistens the air; it makes the air feel warmer. Also consider adjusting the temperature to be lower when no one will be home. No reason to pay to warm or cool an empty home! (Note: Be careful in the winter to keep the temperature warm enough so that pipes don’t freeze.)
- Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs:
- They last longer than incandescent bulbs, are more energy efficient, and can help to lower your utility bill. They can be more expensive to purchase, but the cost over time is less because they do not have to be replaced as often. Some electric companies will provide these to you for free or for a reduced cost.
- Use less water:
- Keep showers short and install low-flow shower heads and aerators. Often, the savings on your water bill will pay for the cost within a few months. Run the dishwasher only when it is full, or wash your dishes by hand. Avoid excessive toilet flushing.
- Air-dry clothes:
- Clothes Dryers: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 5.8 percent of residential electricity goes to the clothes dryer. Air-drying laundry will have a positive impact not only on your electricity bill but on your clothing, too, as air-dried clothes are less likely to shrink or fade.
- Make your own cleansers with household staples:
- For regular cleaning, vinegar and baking soda or simple soap and water can be sufficient for cleaning surfaces and are less toxic if accidentally ingested by children. Other times, especially if there’s a illness in your home, it may be best to use an antibacterial product.
- When shopping for a new appliance, check its energy use and efficiency:
- Energy Star provides ratings to help you identify energy efficient appliances, like washing and drying machines, dishwashers, and air conditioners.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers examples of products that use less water at www.epa.gov/watersense.
- Weatherproof your home:
- This means caulking around window frames, weather-stripping doors, or using plastic insulating kits on windows.
- If an air conditioner is too expensive, closing all doors, windows, and curtains early in the morning on hot days can keep a home cool all day. Open your windows at night to let the cool air in and then close them up again before it starts to get warm. A dehumidifier will increase comfort and keep mold away.
- Insulate your attic (if you have one):
- This will keep heat inside during the winter and outside during the summer, reducing the costs of heating and cooling.
- Give household items a second life:
- Milk jugs can become storage for small toys or crayons, grocery bags can be reused for small trash cans and to hold smelly diapers. Old ketchup bottles can be used to store leftover pancake batter for a quick hot breakfast.Takeout containers can be saved and used for taking lunch to work or school, while old spice boxes can keep a toddler busy for a while as he or she learns to open and close the top. With a little creativity, many everyday items can be used again and again.
- Learn how to compost:
- This will help reduce the amount of waste your household produces. Check out the EPA’s Guide to Composting to learn how to get started.
While some of these tips are one-time or annual activities, others will become second nature over time. In the end, saving energy will translate to long-term savings, which is worth the effort!