9 Bad Habits That Hike Up Your Utility Bills

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As inflation continues to spike, many Americans are searching for tips on how to lower their utility bills.

Sometimes the culprit for an expensive utility bill are certain bad habits, some of which we may not realize make up our energy behavior.

Kick these bad energy habits to save on monthly energy costs and reduce your overall energy usage. Here are the most common bad habits that can hike up your utility bills. 

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Letting Phantom Energy Get the Best of You

Phantom energy, sometimes referred to as vampire energy, is power consumed by electric appliances that are turned off but still plugged into outlets. This contributes to unneeded household energy use.

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Nick Wagner, VP of regulatory affairs and policy at Black Hills Energy, said The National Resources Defense Council found 23% of a household’s energy is wasted in phantom energy. Wagner recommends getting in the habit of unplugging unused appliances on a daily basis. Turn off lights and unplug appliances when you’re not using them or when you leave your home. This will help conserve energy and manage your utility bill.

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Keeping Clutter Around Your Furnace and Air Vents

If you haven’t used your furnace in a few months, you might wind up storing items around it. This can quickly become a problem in the winter months when furnace usage heats up. 

Wagner recommends decluttering the areas around the furnace and clearing out all flammable items like cardboard boxes, wood or cleaning solvents. The more clutter around a furnace, the more it restricts air flow which makes the furnace work harder. It can even result in damage to the furnace.

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Not Sealing Leaky Windows and Doors

One bad habit that can cost you more than you realize is not sealing leaky windows and doors.

Jenna Tenney, manager of communications and community engagement at MCE, said sealing windows and doors may be done using extra weatherstripping, insulation or draft stoppers. This helps keep your conditioned air inside your home and lowers your bill year-round by reducing your need for space heating or cooling.

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Not Taking Advantage of Natural Light

On a sunny day, you might find you’re still turning on a lamp instead of utilizing the (free!) sunlight outside. 

“Natural light can be a great way to reduce the need for electricity. Try moving your favorite reading spot or desk closer to a window and open the shades on sunny days to warm up your home on cold winter days,” said Tenney.


Ignoring Your Water Heater Settings

Wagner said according to the U.S. Department of Energy, water heaters only need to be set at 120°F. This is opposed to the 140°F many manufacturers set them at. Turning down your water heater offers an opportunity to receive significant utility savings. 

“When set at the higher temperature, residents can waste anywhere from $36 to $61 per year in standby heat loss or heat lost from the water heater into surrounding areas,” said Wagner. “Combined with lower water temperatures used when washing clothes, showering and dishwashing, customers could save over $400 by turning down the water heater.”

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Overusing Your HVAC

Turning on the thermostat and keeping it too high is a very common bad habit made by most, if not all, households.

Tenney recommends setting your thermostat just a few degrees warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter to save money. Adding a fan to your home to help circulate conditioned air can also help keep you more comfortable without a huge bill increase.

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Not Cleaning and Servicing Your Appliances

Caroline Utz, associate editorial director at The Spruce, said one of the biggest bad utility habits is forgetting to clean and service their HVAC appliances. Dirty filters make furnaces and heat pumps work harder, which results in higher numbers on your heating bill.

While every HVAC system is different, Utz said the filters must be changed periodically for the entire system to function well — anywhere from seasonally to every six to nine months. Utz also recommends having a professional inspect your furnace each year to make sure it’s running optimally. 

“Having a pro come by can cost you between $80 to $200, but you’ll find out whether anything needs your attention, which could save you from a costly repair later on,” said Utz.

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Heating Your Oven Multiple Times

Many households cook and bake throughout the course of a day. When possible, Wagner recommends cooking or baking as many dishes at the same time to take advantage of the energy that goes into heating up the oven.

Another pro tip? Don’t open the oven door unless it’s absolutely necessary. “Ovens lose about 25 degrees each time you open the oven door,” said Wagner. “Use the oven light and window to check on your food. This will also help keep your kitchen cooler while cooking.”

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Using Energy at the Wrong Time

“In some places, energy rates are charged not only on how much power you use, but also when. Check your electricity rate plan to see if you could change when you use electricity to lower your monthly bill,” recommends Tenney.

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