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$40 energy bill – how we did it

By Priya Raman on 04 December 2009 | Topics - Home Ownership

In these tough economic times, we all try to find ways to save money. Grocery bill, eating out, movies, extra-shopping, travel all get put on the chopping block.

As a homeowner, one of the big drains on our wallets have been our energy bills. Every year the natural gas and electricity rates seem to creep up and at the same time our needs keep going up with more electrical gadgets and appliances. We don’t have to deprive ourselves of comfort but a few simple fixes and some elbow grease can save some extra cash here.

Here are some that we have done to get a low energy bill.

  • It’s not about the looks. Compact Fluorescent Lamps(CFL) come in ungainly designs and might not be the best thing to add to the aesthetics of your house. But they do come with a lot of savings. But how about dimmer lights ? Until recently, CFLs were not compatible with recessed or lights with dimmer options. It is no longer the case. There are some real rebates available for replacing bulbs. Shops tend to run promotions frequently and give away free CFLs.
  • Unplug the sleeping monsters. With all the electronic gadgets, we have become slaves of these devices. Our work day and home life seem to overlap. So to accomplish more in the time we have we keep having all the gadgets connected at all times. Laptops, cellphones, DVD, iPhones seem to be connected all the time, even when they are not in use. If we are lucky they would be set to a stand-by mode that stops using power after a certain duration of being idle. A simple and easy step to save here is to make it a habit every night (to start with) as you go around the house locking up, to also unplug electronic items that are not in use. Any device connected continues to use electricity even when not in use. You can do well to attach these electronic items to a power strip and switch all the connected devices when not is use.
  • Reduce the temperature and blanket the heater. Water heaters are big drain on the utility. Most of us have a conventional water heater – the one with the tank that keeps the water at a certain temperature through out the day and night. The first step is to turn down the temperature setting on these. The manufacturer (and doctors in some case) recommend ~120 degrees for households with children. We don’t usually use extremely hot water during summer so we keep it below 120 for the hot months. You should also insulate the heater and the pipes that carry hot water with insulation. A typical heater jacket costs around $40. If you are going on vacation, do not forget to set the heater to vacation mode.
  • Light your presence, not your absence. A very simple and good habit to cultivate is to switch of lights (and fans) when you walk out of rooms and there is nobody in that room. We have points scheme for our kids if/when they switch off lights in rooms with no one.
  • Warm yourself not the empty house. A programmable thermostat is a good investment – and most utilities have rebates for installing one. When programming the thermostat, make sure you set the furnace off during the hours when there is no one in the house. We also set ours to low (56 degrees) at the night time – when we are asleep under warm covers. It comes on in the wee-hours of the morning just in time for us to get up.
  • Don’t heat the attic, You don’t live there. Insulating the attic is another simple and inexpensive way to retain heat in the house and keep your bills down. We followed the simple science concept – hot air rises and cold air sinks. We had some old R19 insulation in our attic – which was up to code 20 years ago. We decided to add another layer to it. The house is much warmer and heat stays in for a longer time in the winter and stays out during summer. So less heater during winter and fans during summer. Yes. We got a rebate from our utility for installing additional insulation. It was a simple, week-end project.
  • Insulate the switches or they will drain you. One other place that is often overlooked and one that is simple to fix are the switches. Typically each room in the house has 4 electrical outlets and 1 or 2 switches. If you look behind the switch panels you will find them hollow and most have some space around the edges. We went around the house, placing a foam backing to each switch. These foam backings are cheap and are available in all home center. In some places where the switch plate was not sitting flush with the wall, we used clear caulk around the plate to stop the leak.
  • Plug the leaks. Baseboards in most houses are not flush to the wall. We used clear caulk on the top where the base board meets the wall and also between the floor and the baseboard. Bonus: As an additional benefit this will also help arrest ant invasion on rainy days.
  • Use a fan to keep you hot or cold. We don’t have an AC and have never felt the need for one. But we do have ceiling fans and these actually help us during the winter too. We run them in the reverse direction – that pushes the warm air down (remember hot air rises). And on hot summer days – it makes us feel a few degrees cooler.
  • Cocoon the house. We had our exterior walls insulated with blow-in cellulose insulation. This cost us $800 (minus the rebate of course! ). This not only made the house warmer but also reduced the noise from the street – an added bonus.
  • Get your house a new set of glasses. Of course the most expensive project we undertook was to replace the old drafty aluminum windows with vinyl dual-paned windows – that was 6 years ago (I don’t even want to think about how much we spent then). But these days it costs less that what we paid then and there are more options – triple paned windows with UV protection and neutral gas etc. Bonus: This reduced the noise from the street behind us.
  • Free solar dryer. A concerted effort we made this summer and continue do on sunny winter days is to use the free solar power we get from Sun. We started drying our clothes in the sun (shade for colors). A small investment in clothesline can easily be recovered by the savings in the dryer bill.







We started our “Energy project” a few years ago and slowly made simple changes to our daily life. We were rewarded over the summer when for the first time, our utility bill came to just $30. As an added bonus our utility company gave us a 20% discount on one month’s bill for reducing our usage by 20% from the previous year.

So it is possible for anyone to do this and we have proven that it can be done. Simple changes can save extra $$$ to your wallets.

About the Author Priya is a working mom of two. Besides her steady load of work at home taking care of her kids, she finds time to work for her husband's company, help her childrens' school and conduct summer camps. She created the site Little Respite to share some of her ideas/thoughts with other fellow parents, friends.