Now that the summer heat is in the rearview mirror and the air conditioners have all gone quiet, most of America is enjoying a reprieve from high peak-season utility bills. But it won’t last, and they should get ready for the expensive cost of winter heating.
“In preparation for increasing energy bills, consumers should look to budget that factor into their financial planning ahead of the actual increases,” said Damian Serwin, budgeting expert and co-founder of Why Budgeting. “What might be a good idea is to factor in increased bills prior to actual increases in order to save up money aside and offset the increase in the winter months.”
Good ideas, indeed — but what if you’d rather lower your utility bills instead of just saving for their inevitable seasonal increase? The following are five realistic improvements that can add up to a savings of more than $100 per month — $104, to be exact– for four-figure annual savings.
- Savings: Up to $50 per month
Amanda Freick, chief revenue officer of Altruistic, is a veteran electrical utility engineer who has fielded countless calls from customers seeking to lower their monthly bills. She recommends calling your energy provider or looking online to learn your rate and tariff.
Some utilities let their customers change their rates — and you might be able to save real money by taking them up on the offer.
“For example, in 2020 I switched from a standard rate, which was a set cost per kWh, to a TOU, or time-of-use rate,” Freick said. “Time-of-use rates incentivize consumers to use less power during peak energy hours. By switching to the TOU rate and planning high consumption activities — such as pool pumps running and laundry — to the TOU times that had the lowest rate, I was able to save up to $50 a month.”
Visit the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) “Evaluating Your Utility Rate Options” page to learn more, but different utilities have different policies and rules. Con Edison in New York, for example, lets customers switch to TOU, but it requires them to remain on that rate for at least one year. XcelEnergy in Colorado will gradually move all of its customers over to TOU over the next three years.
Install LEDs To Dim Your Lighting Bill
- Savings: $19 per month
According to the DOE’s Energy Saver program, lighting accounts for 15% of the typical household’s energy costs — and what you put in those sockets matters.
“LED lighting uses 90% less than a conventional standard halogen light bulb,” said energy-efficient lighting expert Steven MacDonald, managing director of Scotlight Direct. “Many homeowners have not changed to LED or have only partially made the switch. For every light bulb you switch to LED, you save $3-$4 from your annual energy bill.”
According to the DOE’s EnergyStar program, the average household uses 50 light bulbs. On the high end of MacDonald’s calculations, that averages out to $200 in savings per year. But Energy Saver estimates the average household can do even better and save $225 by switching to LED — that’s $18.75 per month.
- Savings: $13 per month
Forbes estimates that installing attic insulation requires an investment of between $1 and $7 per square foot — and in terms of long-term bill reduction, it might just be the best money you ever spend on your house.
“The first thing you need to do that will likely make the largest impact on your gas and electric bill is insulation,” said Wesley Williams, real estate investor and founder of OC Real Estate LLC. “Make sure you have good insulation, especially in your attic space. It’s amazing how much heat or cool you will lose through your roof if you don’t insulate well.”
According to EnergyStar, “homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs (or an average of 11% on total energy costs) by air sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces, and accessible basement rim joists.”
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average residential energy bill is $121 per month. Following the DOE’s estimate of 11%, that’s savings of $13.31 per month or $159.72 per year.
Block the Escape Routes for Warm and Cool Air
- Savings: $12 per month
Thermal transfer drains your checking account above your ceiling the most, but you’re probably losing money through gaps all around you, too.
“The next thing to do is check your doors and windows and make sure they are properly sealed around the edges,” Williams said. “Over time, everything slowly expands and contracts, leaving gaps.”
EnergyStar estimates that simple, cost-effective remedies like caulk and weatherstripping can lead to savings of 10% on total energy costs, which as previously noted comes to about $121 per month, so this move would be a savings of $12.10 per month.
Install a Smart Thermostat
- Savings: $10 per month
Converting to a modern and efficient climate-control system is a major home renovation that requires budgeting — and usually borrowing. If you’re not ready for all that, there’s a much easier way to lower high heating and cooling bills.
“One of the simplest and most effective ways is to install a programmable thermostat,” said Lauren Davis, founder of the Moolah Project. “This will allow you to increase or decrease the temperature in your home automatically, which can save a lot of money on heating and cooling costs. You can save at least 10% of your total energy bill just by making this one change.”
EnergyStar says it’s more like 8% — but even that lower percentage of the EIA’s estimated $121 average monthly bill comes out to savings of $9.68.
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