A friend, I will call G, recently moved to a larger home, just as we did about two years ago. G mentioned to me she was concerned about all of the increases on her utility bills that they hadn’t planned for in the excitement of planning and moving to a larger home.
I shared with her our experience of how we were able to keep our utility bills around the same cost or lower than we had before in our townhouse (which was a few rooms smaller and had the benefit of keeping the temperature more steady based on being sandwiched between other units).
When it came to discussing G’s water bill, I quickly mentioned that she might not find an increase at all in water use. She’ll still be doing the same loads of laundry, or dishes, or the same child baths and showers. The appliances will matter most in this case.
I found our water usage didn’t increase between residences, but only in the addition of another child after moving to our new home. That was a relief she hadn’t yet considered. Our water usage is around $35 per month, and we use an HE washer to wash additional loads most people don’t have like cloth diapers and dog towels.
Looking at the natural gas bill, we were able to actually reduce our bill below what we paid before in our smaller home. G has the option of using propane, a fireplace, or natural gas. She has 3 choices to consider and see how efficient each may be for her situation after a year of living there.
For example, we know our neighbor across the street heats her home all winter only with wood, and we both have a similar style house. She says it’s been more fuel efficient, and we’re looking into our options going forward incorporating wood we’ve previously purchased at a discount.
We most likely have a similarly efficient furnace as our old home had, but far better windows. And I have chosen to keep the temperatures a bit more modest in the newer home and take better advantage of the scheduling options on our thermostat than before.
In the past at our town home, we would shift the heat in smaller swings when we were home or at work. We’d keep the house heat around 67 degrees when at work, and tick it up a notch to 68 degrees when we got home. Our small chihuahua, Bambi, appreciated this, even though she stayed under comforters all day, but she has since passed away after our move.
Now, with our slightly larger chihuahua mix, Ruby, who has a much thicker coat, we keep the heat at 62-65 degrees in the winter when we aren’t home, and tick it up to about 67 degrees when home, with 65 degrees at bedtime. I found that Ruby lays in the sunshine in our front window all day long. Our house faces south which has been another big advantage to energy savings over our former east facing town house surrounded by trees.
When it comes to air conditioning, I had a bit of a desire for cooler temperatures when I was pregnant. Since then, our air conditioner is set to 80 degrees when we are not home and drops to about 77 degrees when we arrive. Though, if we’re having company, we will lower it for their comfort.
On occasion, we’ll shift a few degrees either way based on our overall comfort levels. Most likely, though, we use a fan to cool off and usually end up spending quite a bit of time outdoors with the kids anyway.
Now these temperatures might be extreme for you, but I found a few other ways to save on temperature control.
We use black out shades for sleeping in all of our bedrooms. In the summer, I do not open the shades when I know it’s going to be a hot sunny day. This keeps the sun from warming up the upstairs rooms too much and keeps costs of cooling the upper level down significantly.
In the winter, I make sure to raise all of the shades during the morning so they are open to gleaning any warm sun throughout the day and close them as the sunsets to keep the cooler air out. We used thermal curtains in our smaller town house with extremely leaky windows in the same way.
In addition, I take down the curtains in our family room during the fall, winter, and spring months, to allow as much sun to come in as possible since it faces south without any trees blocking it. I also house my plants in that window area. In the winter, I put up a sheer and curtains to close just as I do upstairs and move the plants outside.
Overall, our savings on gas triggered surveys from our gas company to learn more how we’ve become so efficient in the two years we’ve lived there.
When it comes to the electric bill, ours has increased this past year, but mostly due to Chris’ projects using power tools on such a wide-ranging regular basis. Since we’re finally done with massive renovations, I am looking forward to a huge drop in electric use which should be back to the same levels as we used in our smaller home.
Outside of those changes, I recommended to G to consider changing all of her light bulbs in her home to LEDs. The cost is a bit up front, but we spent about $50 to change every bulb in the house and saw a drop in energy costs. In our town house, similarly, when we moved in we changed all bulbs at the time to CFL and saw a gigantic cut in electric use the first year from incandescent lights.
With electric, just as heat, I recommend using the thermostat to schedule your a/c especially when you’re not home. If we were headed out for the day, I’d increase the temperature to 80 degrees, so our air conditioner ran far less than keeping it low. Considering Ruby lays out in the sun on an 80-90 degree day, I thought there to be no reason she needed a cool 70 degrees inside.
Additionally, electric can be saved by just being aware of your usage. When Chris and I first moved in together and bought our town home, I would come home from work in the evening to find every light in the house on. I wondered if we were trying to help land planes, asking why upstairs and bathroom lights were on while Chris was comfortably watching a show on the couch.
By improving our process to turn off lights, computers, and devices when we’re not using them, we’ve lessened our electrical draw as well. We also turn off our wifi router overnight using a light timer, in addition to light timers around our home for regular lamps.
Being mindful of when you’re done in a room is a simple thing to do. We’ve taught our Monkey as well to turn off lights, and on occasion, he’s become adamant about turning off a light if the “sun is out to use!”. While Chris still needs some reminding, we are far more efficient now than we were a decade ago.
G agreed these were simple ideas for saving money on her utilities. We know her water usage won’t increase much, and she might find some costs are lower due to a more efficient layout, location, or appliances in the house.
While these things may or may not add up to huge cost savings each month, over a decade or more they’ll equate to thousands and they aren’t taking away from still a living comfortable lifestyle.