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Small Steps to Save Money on Utilities

June 2020

Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Distinguished Professor and Extension Financial Management Specialist Emeritus
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Utility bills are a major recurring expense in family budgets. They may not be the largest expense, compared to housing costs or transportation, but people still spend a lot. Below are thirteen small steps to cut utility costs:

  • Tighten Up Your Home- Close off unused rooms to conserve heat, fill in cracks around windows and doors, and caulk and weather strip doors and windows to save up to 10% on your energy bill.
  • Change Filters Regularly- Replace air conditioning unit filters every 1-2 months. Otherwise, they get clogged up with dust and dirt, which makes your unit work harder when airflow gets blocked.
  • Plan Baking “Binges”- Bake foods together as much as possible to reduce the times that you turn on an oven. For example, if you are baking chicken for 45 minutes, also bake banana bread at the same time.
  • Get Audited- Contact your local utility company for an energy audit and/or to arrange for the installation of energy conservation measures such as additional insulation and a time of day meter.
  • Lower Your Thermostat- Lower your thermostat by one degree and you could save 1% to 2% on heating bills. Turn back the thermostat even more when no one is home.
  • Adjust Your Hot Water Heater- Lower the temperature from the default setting (typically 140 degrees) to 120 degrees to reduce water heating expenses.
  • Use Fans Instead of Air Conditioning- Use a whole-house fan or ceiling fans to cool your home on days where temperatures are high, but not unbearable. Reserve air conditioner use for only the very hottest days.
  • Follow Recommended Practices- Invest in low- or no-cost energy-saving activities such as an annual furnace tune-up, insulation wrap on a water heater, and regularly cleaning the outside coils on a refrigerator.
  • Sign Up for Off-Peak Savings- Find out if your electric company offers a discount for electricity usage during “off-peak” hours (generally nights and weekends). If so, sign up for the plan, buy a timer for your water heater to turn it on during off-peak times, and wash dishes and clothing during off-peak hours.
  • Unplug Appliances- Use a power strip to conveniently turn off electronics (e.g., printers, monitors, and spare televisions) when they are not in use. Otherwise, they use a small amount of “phantom” energy.
  • Use Energy Efficient Light Bulbs- Replace the bulbs in your most frequently used light fixtures (as they burn out) with energy-efficient bulbs such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).
  • Wash Clothes with Warm or Cold Water- Wash full loads of clothes with the controls set to warm or cold (exceptions: heavily soiled clothing or when someone is sick) and skip extra rinsing cycles.
  • Use a Low Flow Showerhead- Replace standard showerheads and kitchen faucets with those that save water (and money!) by restricting the flow of water with minimal effects on water pressure.