Residential energy prices are on the rise in the U.S. In 2021, the average household’s utility bill grew by 4.3%, reaching a total of $122 per month. This amount has put a financial strain on homeowners, who also have to contend with inflation and other financial factors.
Climate controls and water heating remain the primary energy users in the home.
However, today’s houses, despite being more energy-efficient overall, are much more reliant on electricity. Modern appliances and electronic devices have become as important a part of daily life as HVAC systems and hot water.
Because of today’s plugged-in homes, it can be difficult to cut energy costs without making significant sacrifices.
However, there are a number of surprisingly simple steps that you can take to lower your utility bills. Individually, these simple fixes might not amount to much, but together they can lead to a noticeable decrease in your monthly bills.
If you want to lower energy costs without completely unplugging, try these simple steps.
Tip 1 – Clean Your Refrigerator Coils
Refrigerators need more electricity than any other kitchen appliance. They use between 300 and 800 watts of electricity, depending on the model and its age. Also, unlike the oven, stove, microwave, and dishwasher, the fridge is always on.
The refrigerator adds approximately $17 to the average home’s monthly utility bill. That adds up to over $200 per year.
One way to lower the cost of powering your fridge is to clean the condenser coils. When it is dirty or dusty, this cooling system is less efficient at drawing heat out and pushing cold air inside. Exceptionally dirty coils can increase the cost to power the appliance by up to 35%.
The coils, which are either under the fridge (newer models) or at the back (older ones), should get dusted every six to 12 months.
The coil cleaning process is straightforward. You can start with a vacuum with an upholstery brush attachment to remove larger particles before switching to a handheld brush to clean in between the coils. Most hardware stores sell specialized coil brushes for only a few dollars.
Tip 2 – Use Surge Protectors
So-called “energy vampires” are common in today’s hyper-connected homes. These “vampires” are devices that continue to consume electricity after they get turned off.
Computers, televisions, streaming boxes, cell phone chargers, clocks, and smart speakers are all examples of these silent energy suckers. They can waste up to 75% of the power used on home electronics.
Many of these devices go into “sleep” mode but still consume power. Often, the only option is to unplug them completely.
A more convenient alternative is to get a power bar or a surge protector.
You can plug multiple devices into the bar, which also has an on-off switch. When turned off, no power flows to any of the outlets, meaning you can turn your TV, computer, and streaming box off without unplugging them.
Surge protectors have the added benefit of saving your devices from damage due to power surges and keeping you from blowing fuses.
Tip 3 – Use Cold Water for Laundry
According to the American Cleaning Institute, up to 90% of the energy used to wash clothes comes from heating the water.
The washing machine itself is quite efficient, using an average of $20 of electricity per year. However, you will only notice this low cost if you stop using hot or warm cycles when washing.
If you look closely at clothing labels, you may see that many recommend cold water anyway because hot water can cause colors to fade more quickly, decreasing the lifespan of your apparel.
Tip 4 – Upgrade Your Garage Door
The garage door can be the weak link in your home’s climate control envelope. Most doors lack insulation, and they are not completely weather-tight. Outside air constantly leaks inside. If you have a climate-controlled garage, it will take extra energy to heat or cool.
Certain garage door constructions come with built-in insulation, which will save you from adding panels or batting yourself. The best option there is on the market when you want highly efficient insulation is a high-pressure polyurethane injected foam because it fills every crack and adheres to garage door panels making them stronger. The effectiveness of these materials is measured by an R-value based on their resistance to the flow of heat.
The higher an R-value, the more powerful the insulation.
Attached garages, even if unheated, can benefit from an insulated door with an R-value of at least 10. If you have a climate-controlled garage that you keep above freezing in the winter, you need an R-value of 12. Finally, if you use the garage as a fitness room or workshop, consider an R-value of at least 16.
If you work with a garage door specialist, they will likely suggest enhancing the insulation by applying weather-stripping on the door to keep cold or hot air from flowing through any small gaps in the door.
Tip 5 – Change Your Furnace Filter Regularly
An HVAC filter is a necessary component for your climate control system. It ensures good air quality and limits the spread of dust and air particles through your vents.
If the air filter is clogged with particles it has blocked from entering your ductwork, the furnace and AC units have to work harder to push air through the system.
By changing a dirty air conditioner filter, you can lower your HVAC’s energy consumption by 5% to 15%.
Tip 6 – Test for Air Leaks
Air leaks can lower the efficiency of your HVAC system by forcing it to work harder to cool or heat your home. Air coming into the house from gaps in window or door frames can also cause moisture and mold problems.
Unfortunately, these tiny gaps can be difficult to detect. In some cases, you may be able to feel a draft with your hand.
You can also pressurize your home by turning off all combustion appliances, closing all windows and doors, and turning on all exhaust fans. You then pass a candle or a lit incense stick around windows and door frames. Any air leaks will disturb the flame or incense smoke.
You can locate and mark these leaks, then use weather stripping or caulk to close them. Finally, you can repeat the pressurization test to see if your improvements were successful.
Tip 7 – Reglaze Your Windows
Ineffective windows can let in heat or cold, forcing your AC or heat to work overtime to keep up. This problem can increase your energy usage by as much as 30%.
Unfortunately, window replacement projects can be prohibitively expensive. An alternative is to reglaze your existing windows. The process involves putting a new, transparent coating on the window to make it weathertight. You can also replace cracks or missing pieces during reglazing.