Need lower utility bills? We moved into a drafty old home and SLASHED the heat and power bills! Do you do need lower energy bills, too?

“What do you mean, she spent $6000 on heating last year?”

The lady at the oil company again listed off how much fuel was used to heat our big century-old house the year before we moved in and I wondered if I need to take out a new mortgage to pay for heat and hot water!

We had spent $400 on wood fuel the year before at the cabin and didn’t even use it all. How could I afford to spend more than that every month?

No, no, no, that just wouldn’t do. We need lower utility bills if we wanted to … well, eat!  I looked around at our leaky, rattling windows, the drafty stone foundation and the high ceilings. We couldn’t afford to burn money – can you?

I put our family of six on a budget plan – $270/month for oil (3600 litres budgeted for the year) and $110/month for power. Crazy, right?

We moved into a drafty old home and SLASHED the heat and power bills. Do you do need lower utility bills, too?

One year later, and both utilities owed US at the end of the billing cycle! YES these ‘little things’ work! Final tally – we used less than 2500 litres of oil and averaged $86/month for electricity. Now we have a new goal to meet, even lower utility bills to strive for, and we’ll be starting to implement the next level of savings.

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Unless you have a money tree in the back yard, you probably want lower utility bills. So let’s check out my list of  51 59 66 ways – from the simple and inexpensive to more involved – that you can lower your utility bills and put more money in your pocket. (Once we move and start implementing these, I will be gradually linking to tutorials. But not yet!)

I’m afraid I couldn’t stop at 51. It’s a long post. You WILL find ways in here to save money on your utilities.

Lower Utility Bills – WATER

Consider building or installing a solar hot water heater. This is actually the best, most cost-effective way to save money on heating water. There are different types, depending on if winter temperatures go below freezing. There are even ways to make your own, but of course they won’t be as efficient as commercial ones. This is not a low cost option, but some areas have government-funded programs that can help you with the cost. We don’t have one yet – it’s in our ‘renovations’ plan.

Although a lot of people swear by tankless water heaters, I’m not entirely sold on them. They use a lot of electricity, waste water and are hard to get fixed. And, since they run on electricity, a power outage means no hot water. My father had to install a special 240-watt box for his because it draws so much electricity when it’s running. What’s worse, they don’t work with solar or geothermal, or with low-pressure showerheads, and so I can’t recommend them. Consumer Reports agrees. So let’s eliminate this (for most of us) in the search for lower utility bills.

Do your laundry in cold water. If some clothing really needs hot water, set them aside until you have enough to do a full load. (And be sure to buy laundry detergent that works in cold water). Not only will this save you a huge amount of hot water, but it’s easier on your clothes. Oh, and that applies to the rinse setting, too. It’s so rare that I do a hot water wash, I think it might happen twice a year. It usually only happens when one of the children is playing with the washing machine, turns it to hot wash, and I don’t notice right away!

We don’t wear a lot of pure white clothes.

Honestly – if someone gives us pure white clothing, they usually get passed along to the thrift store. I don’t own clothing that I can’t easily, inexpensively, wash!

If you have a dishwasher, only run full loads.

I mean, really full loads (well, as long as the water can reach/hit all the dishes). It uses the same amount of hot water and electricity if you wash one plate or cram it full of dishes.

And if you’re getting a new dishwasher, buy one that will efficiently and economically handle all your wash load.

A typical dishwasher uses 30-53 litres of water. If dishes are only lightly soiled, the light wash cycle can save you about 11 litres of that. If  you upgrade your dishwasher, see if you can get a ‘half load’ cycle! My new dishwasher sanitizes the dishes, has customizable loads, is extremely quiet, AND does it with less water and electricity than the old one – worth every penny to have a quieter wash and lower utility bills!

And definitely turn off the heat dry. Open the door slightly to let the steam out and your dishes will dry on their own. I promise you that you don’t need to heat dry your dishes. I NEVER use this option.

Large, bulky pots and dishes that take up a lot of dishwasher space? Wash those by hand. It’s a waste of hot water and electricity to put those in the dishwasher.

If you have one sink or basin full of soapy water and one filled with clear hot water, you can wash and rinse a lot of pots and pans without running the water. Definitely do NOT do dishes by running the hot water continuously!

Take SHORT showers and certainly not baths. In fact, install a shower timer (they range from $5 to ‘Are you kidding?’) – every minute averages 3.8 gallons of hot water, so a typical 8 minute shower uses more than 30 gallons. It sometimes seems like a nitpicky thing but if you’re really serious about lowering utility bills, you need to pay attention to the details.

For small children, put a small tub inside the larger tub (the link is to the one I use) and fill that. It’s much nicer to sit in a small tub so that water comes up to your chest than to sit in a large tub where the same amount of water doesn’t even cover your bottom! This is something we’ve learned to do at our cabin where water is scarce and all hot water is heated on the stove. Small children will also feel safer in the smaller tub.

Wash your hands in cold water. It won’t kill you. We did it at our cabin for three years and my children think it’s strange to use hot water to wash up – and that includes baths in the summer. My boys heard that old time Scots considered hot baths suitable only for babies and old people, so they have decided that they’re tough Scottish boys (at least in the summer!)

Turn the temperature of your water heater down to 120F/49C. As a note – there is a nasty illness called Legionella which develops in standing water but is killed at 140F/60C. Therefore the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes recommends that electric hot water tanks are set at 140F/60C and antiscald devices installed on all taps. Unfortunately, this is expensive, since maintaining a tank of water at 60C uses more than twice the energy as maintaining it at 50C! Sometimes safety and lower utility bills can’t be reconciled – choose safety!

For this reason, if you are replacing your hot water tank, get only the size you need. There is no reason to have a huge tank that can handle showers for a big family if you only have two people in the house.

Have leaky faucets fixed immediately.

Turn off the water when you are … brushing your teeth.

… Or shampooing/soaping up in the shower. There are water saving faucets with shut-off valves to make this easier.

… Or soaping up your hands. Unless you are USING the water, turn it off while you do the in-between tasks.

No matter how much you water the sidewalk, it isn’t going to grow. Even if you decide to water your lawn, don’t overdo it.

Collect and use rainwater. I love the way my hair feels when washed in rainwater.

There’s more, so very much more. Don’t stop now.

Lower Utility Bills – Electricity

Do you want to know how to keep your energy bill low?

Always do a full load of laundry. Washing small loads uses the same amount of electricity. If you must do a smaller load, be sure to adjust the water settings so you’re not using unnecessary water.

Hanging clothes to dry – especially heavy items like towels and jeans – saves a lot of electricity and is better

for your clothing. A note from my mother, though – unless you have a proper clothesline outside where they can flap in the wind, it’s best to just machine dry your bed sheets. They don’t dry well indoors. They do dry quickly in the machine, so don’t leave them in for very long.

If you are using the dryer (for example, in the winter), never mix lightweight and heavy clothes together. Dry towels by themselves, jeans and heavy pants together and lighter items alone. But please consider hanging those heavy items, if at all possible.

And again, if you do use a dryer in the winter, divert your dryer heat so that it warms the house instead of the outdoors!

And if you do use a dryer, clean out the lint filter after every use.

If you live in a place where hanging clothes outside is impossible in the winter, these few changes can help lower your average winter electric bill.

A simpler way to grab “wasted” heat in the winter is to leave the oven door open when you’re finished cooking.

Either install a low flow toilet or simulate one by putting a mason jar full of water into your toilet tank. Just do check around and make sure you’re getting a good quality low flow toilet. You want it to flush properly.

If you are looking to get new appliances, make sure that they are Energy Star certified. These are designed to use much less electricity and, in the case of dishwashers, less water.

If you have a fireplace, choke your chimney! Talk to the chimney experts in your area, if necessary, to ensure that you have your damper properly closed. Fireplaces are terrible – expensive hot air goes out and house-chilling cold air comes in them!

Install low flow faucets and shower fixtures. This is a quick and easy way to decrease hot water use, which will lower utility bills. This is especially important if your fixtures are older.

Install a heat trap on your hot water tank. I’m not really sure how it works, but it diverts the heat from your drainage pipes back into your hot water tank so that the heat energy isn’t all lost. (I think.)

Insulate the hot water tank, especially if it feels warm to the touch.

Insulate the pipes that leave your hot water tank so that heat isn’t lost as it travels through them.

Consider adding a timer to your hot water tank so that it turns off when everyone is at work/school and sleeping. Or, less expensively, just turn it off. While it takes a little while to heat up in the morning, that’s less expensive than running it needlessly for eight hours. We used this one trick with the hot water tank at our cabin and dropped our propane use by half. A tank that’s turned off means lower utility bills. Classic hot water tanks are incredibly convenient, keeping water piping hot at all hours – but you’re paying a lot for that luxury. Unless you know that someone is going to be showering or running the dishwasher at midnight, turn off that tank!

Replacing the hot water tank is another option, if you have an old one. Get an efficient electric one  and no longer worry about turning it off when it’s not in use. An on-demand tank can be installed at the point of use (in the kitchen and in the bathroom) so that there is no lost heat along the pipes.

If you are just heating up a small amount of food, use the toaster oven. Stop using the oven to heat up one little thing.

Or use a microwave. They use a lot of power if you ran one for an hour, but who runs a microwave for an hour? Really – don’t. If something needs to cook for a long time, it needs to be in something other than a microwave!

And don’t overlook using the stovetop to warm up leftovers, or just eating them cold. It’s what we always did before microwaves, after all.

Batch cook. Do not bake six muffins and heat up the entire oven. (Really, that’s why you have a toaster oven!) Bake three dozen muffins and stick them in the freezer.

Slow cookers are far more energy efficient than using the stove, especially if you size the pot to the amount of food you’re cooking. A 3-in-1 Slow Cooker (which is what I am buying) is an amazing innovation that can save you a lot of money.

If you’re thinking of replacing your fridge, consider downsizing and making sure that it’s energy efficient. A Sunfrost fridge uses a fraction of the electricity that a regular one does. (When we replace ours, I want this one). Although most people won’t want to go fridge-free, it is certainly possible to use a fridge far less than most people do. Since your fridge uses a lot of electricity, this is a great way to lower utility bills. We lived three years living WITHOUT a fridge, but that’s not something most people want to do.

Turn off the ice maker. Even if you have an energy-efficient fridge, you won’t see any savings if you have the ice maker turner on. They double the energy use of your fridge.

Fridges with a freezer on top use the least energy. So it might not be trendy, but it will lower utility bills – and I before that over fashionable.

Keep a jug of water in the fridge for drinks instead of running the tap, or learn to drink room temperature water. As strange as that might sound, most people around the world do not drink their water ice cold.

Look around your house for phantom loads. These are devices that draw energy when they are plugged in but turned off. Your phone charger is a big one – do not plug in your phone and charge it overnight because it will still be drawing energy long after it has charged.

Ditch the television, one of the biggest phantom loads for most people. Ha – how many people have I lost with this one? I have seen households that pinch pennies and conserve energy in every way imaginable, but that big screen TV, plugged in all day and night, runs up a huge bill for them. We restrict our television watching to portable devices (tablet, phone, laptops) and when the battery is depleted, it goes away. Not only are the devices much easier on electricity than a large TV, they have limited battery life! If getting rid of the television and entertainment center won’t work, look into how much energy it draws (every single hour of every day) and see if there are any ways to minimize that.

Do you have a spare fridge in the basement or garage to keep drinks cold? How about porch lights that are burning long after everyone is asleep? Do you leave the kitchen or bathroom fan running and forget about it? All of these are plain and simply a waste of electricity – and your money. Be an energy sleuth and watch for times when electricity is being used for no good reason.

Does it go without saying that you should always turn off lights when they’re not being used?

Switch to CFLs! Compact fluorescent lights use a lot less power. High quality LEDs are even better but the light can be weird.

And turn off lights. Really, become that person that walks around turning off lights. You will always save energy when you turn off a light, even if it’s for just a few minutes.

Okay, perhaps those aren’t even all that high at your house. But heating – if you’re in a northern climate, you probably have a heating bill that’s far higher than you’d like.

Lower Utility Bills – HOUSE Heating

Take a moment to turn off the house heat or air conditioner when no one is home. Some people think that it saves money to keep the house at the same temperature all the time. In reality, bringing it back to a comfortable temperature when you return uses less fuel and you will see the difference with lower utility bills, especially combined with the other tips here. A timer can help with that.

When you are home – in the winter, keep the temperature at the lowest comfortable temperature. An important note — always use common sense and make sure (through space heating, slippers, etc) that the most vulnerable person in your household is comfortable. The elderly, ill or very young cannot handle very cold temperatures.)  

For us, 18C/65F is comfortable but anything below that feels chilly. Try 20C/68F for a while and see if you can gradually lower it. For every degree Fahrenheit that you drop the temperature, between 15C/60F and 21C/70F, you’ll save up to 5% of your heating costs.  How much of a change can that mean? Well, let’s say you’re used to having your house at a comfy 21C/70F and you’re paying $500/month for fuel. If you gradually get used to a 15C/60F house, you could drop that to as little as $285. Over the course of a six month winter, that would be over $1200. I’m happy to wear a sweater and slippers for $1200.

And although it seems shocking to say – it’s okay to be chilly, especially at night. As long as your bedding is warm, cool air at night is generally healthy. At night, or when you’re not at home, drop the thermostat to 13C/55F. It takes some getting used to, if you’re accustomed to sleeping in a warm room. (In our mountain cabin, bedrooms got as cool as 6C/42F at night!)

Do the opposite in the summer – if you have air conditioning, use it only enough to make the house comfortable, not cool.

Insulate the attic. Everyone knows that heat rises. Without insulation in the attic, it rises and …. right out through the roof. One sign in the winter that your attic is badly insulated is a roof (here in snowy Canada) with no snow. Huge icicles hanging from the eaves is another indicator. If the house is more than 25 years old, the insulation probably needs to be replaced. Put the bulk of your insulation budget into attic and floors. Walls are actually not a huge source of heat loss (with some exceptions, which I mention later).

Add weather stripping around doors. If there is weather stripping, check to make sure it’s still doing the job.

Insulate outlets and light switches, especially those on outer walls. Don’t go stuffing insulation in – that’s probably a fire hazard. Insulated covers are very inexpensive.

Cover windows with plastic to insulate during the winterDon’t stop there. Find every crack that’s leaking air and seal them up. Cover windows with plastic (or bubble wrap – it’s even better than plastic!). Caulk around doors. An energy audit can help you find the leaks. The United States Department of Energy estimates that 10% of heat loss is from windows, 15% from ducts and 13% from plumbing and other leaky areas! A 1/16 inch crack can let in as much cold air as if you left a window open 1/2″. If you don’t mind that it’s less than gorgeous, 5mm clear poly is even better than the thin window plastic. That’s what we’re putting on our windows this year.

Even if you have covered the windows in plastic, consider getting storm windows, at least if you have older, less efficient windows. Every bit helps when you’re trying to get lower utility bills!

Use space heaters around the house whenever possible. It is far less expensive to turn down the heat and warm up just one room.

By the same token, a heated mattress pad is less expensive than heating the whole house. That’s the modern version of putting a bedwarmer under the blankets – but of course, you can do that with one or more hot water bottles! There are even non-electric bed warmers that go between sheet and blanket and are activated by body heat!

Get a furnace check up and tune-up done. Natural gas furnace systems need to be done about every three years, but oil furnaces should be done annually because they burn dirtier. This gets rid of soot buildup, ensures belts are tightened properly and fans are working.

And keep the filters clean! Put it on your calendar and make sure you clean or replace the filters.

Geothermal heat pumps are still relatively unknown, but they are amazing. Consider adding a heat pump to draw heat from the soil in the winter and cold from the soil in the summer.  My father heats and air conditions his bungalow all year round for less than $100. This is on our ‘renovations’ list!

Another, less expensive, option to lower utility bills is to add a pellet stove. The pellets are made from supercompacted sawdust, so they are using a waste product, and they cost far less to run than oil or natural gas. Be aware that your insurance might charge you more if you have a wood burning stove. They tend to disapprove of them.

Do you know how to use a ceiling fan properly? In the winter, run it clockwise on a low speed. In the summer, run it counterclockwise – standing under it, you should feel a definite push down.

If you’re cold, put on a sweater and slippers.

Girl with hot water bottle and blanket

No, that picture is not one of my girls, but I want that hot water bottle cover! Isn’t that a nice way to keep warm?

In fact, have a basket of various sized slippers near the front door for guests, and an assortment of cardigans handy for anyone who feels chilly. Most people won’t borrow a pullover sweater but will be fine with a cardigan.

Put warm, cuddly blankets on your sofa. Having hot water bottles handy is also a good idea for when you want to sit and watch a movie or use your device on the sofa. Snuggle up in the blanket with the hot water bottle tucked inside. (After the water has cooled, reuse it to water plants or wash floors or some other non-drinking re-use.)

In cold weather, make sure windows are well covered. Storm windows on the outside are great. In an older home, consider adding functional shutters which can be shut across the windows. When I was a teenager, I dated a boy who lived in a historic 18th century home. In September, they closed up the shutters and didn’t remove them until May. It might make more sense to only close up the bedroom windows, at least if they aren’t being used much during the days.

Inside the house, heavy drapes or tapestries can keep the cold out. A friend of mine who works for an efficiency company says that the best combination is shutters or storm windows + good windows (no cracks or drafts) + heavy winter curtains.

But don’t keep them covered all the time!

I always remember my mom opening up the heavy drapes in the morning to let the winter sunshine in and closing them up at night to keep the cold out. In the summer, it was the opposite routine – she closed up the curtains in the morning to keep the heat out and opened them at night to let the heat escape.

If you want lower energy bills, there is work to be done.

Some of these tips are simple, and some are more complicated or more expensive. Start with the easy ones and then, as you see lower utility bills each month, celebrate by finding more and more ways to keep the heat where it belongs.

And if you’re wondering how we’ve done after six months in our new home – even with some broken windows and an uninsulated basement, we have definitely managed lower utility bills. We still stayed within our heating budget and our family of six used less monthly electricity than the previous owner who was a single elderly lady.