How To Not Suck… At Lowering Your Utility Bills

Stick what in my toilet? Let what hang out? Recycle… what? So many questions and so many odd suggestions, all in the name of trimming your utility bills. There are plenty of things you can do to cut costs. And with the cold weather coming — or already here for many of us — it’s a great time to see what you can do to stay warmer and save some cash.

This is by no means a definitive to-do list, but here are some surefire ways to save you a few bucks.

Start by subjecting your home to a home energy audit, during which a tech would check all the usual suspects for energy loss in your home. Many utility companies offer these audits for free. You can perform your own energy audit, or hire a pro.

The audit is no good if you stick it in a drawer, so once those problem areas in your home have been identified, make sure you finish the job and update, insulate, and do whatever else is needed.

If you decide to make energy-efficient home improvements, many companies and federal and state governments offer financial incentives for which you may qualify. Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to see what’s available for you.


Many of you will react to the following suggestions with “no duh” or “doesn’t everybody already do that?” The answer is “no,” which is why we bring up these basic bill-saving suggestions…

Use a programmable thermostat: You’ll be able to set with precision the temperature you want in your home. You can have the heat or AC at a minimally acceptable temperature when you’re not home or when you’re sleeping, and you can program a more comfortable temp for when you’re home and awake. The installation should take a beginner DIY-er about two hours.

Block the cold air: Check your windows and doors for winter breezes. If you can feel a draft, it’s time for this do-it-yourselfer goodie. Treat your windows and glass doors with clear plastic insulation (sort of like shrink wrap for your windows) and weatherstrip. If you have the cash and your windows are old, consider new EnergyStar-rated windows.

When you buy new, buy efficient: Do your homework before you buy and look for energy-efficient appliances. These may cost more at first, but your energy savings over the life of the product should save you money in the long-run.

Shut doors and vents: If you’re not using a room, it doesn’t need to be perfectly warm or cold. Shut vents in those rooms to save.

Use shades and curtains: Window coverings don’t just keep out prying eyes. A good set of heavy curtains will help keep out the cold and the heat.

Service your stuff: Regularly have your heating and AC units checked by a pro to make sure they’re in top working — efficient — order. Flushing out your water heater, for example, will eliminate debris and build-up and make your unit more efficient. Also be sure to change the filters on all your appliances, heating and cooling equipment.

Go Alphabet Soup for Lighting: LED and CFL lighting options use less energy and last longer than old-fashioned bulbs. Upgrading 15 of the inefficient incandescent light bulbs in your home could save you about $50 per year, according to the Department of Energy.

Let it all hang out: Use a clothesline or a drying rack rather than a clothes dryer, which costs about $85 a year to operate.

Create good habits: Just like your mamma taught you, make sure to shut off the lights when you leave a room.

Things You Maybe Hadn’t Already Thought Of

Here are some suggestions that not everyone has thought of…

Pack your freezer: Your frozen chicken legs and mint chocolate chip ice cream are like solid blocks of ice, so your freezer won’t have to run so often to stay chill.

Use fans year-round: It makes sense that a ceiling fan would cool your home in the warmer months, but you can also use your fan for good in the winter. Set your fan to run clockwise to push warm air down in the winter months.

Nuke it: Your microwave uses about two-thirds less energy than your stove. Also, if you’re reheating leftovers or heating up something like soup, you can usually microwave it in the same dish you’ll be eating out of, so fewer things to wash. Speaking of which…

Use your dishwasher: Yup, your dishwasher uses less water than washing dishes by hand. But don’t use the drying cycle in the dishwasher, just save the money and let them air dry.

Phantom loads: Three-quarters of home electronics still use energy when they’re turned off. Your computer, DVD player, VCR (do you still have a VCR?), television and others still suck power — think of the clock and other lights that stay on all the time. To cut back on “phantom” energy use, invest in a power strip and turn it off when you’re not using what’s plugged in. (That is, if you can stand seeing those blinking lights when you turn the darned things back on.) Don’t leave your phone, tablet and laptop chargers plugged into the wall when you’re not charging. And when you’re in the market for new electronics, look for those with stand-by modes.

Toilet savvy: Save on water bills by placing a heavy object in your toilet’s water tank, which will decrease the amount of water that fills your tank with each flush. Don’t worry — the experts say your flush will be just fine without all that H2O. A brick may seem like the obvious choice, but it may degrade over time and damage your tank, so use a plastic water bottle filled with some pebbles or sand instead. And though it might work, we don’t recommend using gold bars. Finally, while we’re talking about the throne, be wary of inventions that are too good to be true.

Go halfway: Turning the valves for your sinks halfway off will still give you plenty of water to brush your pearly whites and wash up.

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You can read Karin Price Mueller’s stories for The Star-Ledger at, follow her on Facebook, and on Twitter @kpmueller.

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