Uh-oh, here it is again – the utility bill. Every month like clockwork.

At least that’s what most people think. Me, I love getting my utility bill. No, really! I find it a great challenge to see how low I can get it each month! It’s become a passion of mine. My utility bill last month was under $100, which has caused great stir on my weekly radio show, The Home and Garden Show on WOKV 104.5 FM (Saturdays at 7 AM). Less than $100 in the middle of the summer – everyone wants to know HOW I did it!

Honestly, most people’s energy consumption is behavioral. Even habitual. We all want to be comfortable, but there’s no reason to spend a lot on improvements to save a lot! The best energy-efficient improvements are those you can do yourself, either for free or for very little cost. The following are things you can do now, cost nothing, and will save you bunches:

  • (Summer) Keep thermostat at 78°F, adjust to 82°F when home is unoccupied
  • (Winter) Set thermostat at 68°F, then lower by 10°F at night and when home is unoccupied
  • Turn off ceiling fans when rooms are unoccupied
  • Adjust water heater thermostats to 120°F
  • Wash only full loads of dishes, and air dry instead of using your dishwasher’s drying cycle
  • Take short showers instead of baths (time your shower under 5 minutes for best savings)
  • Turn off the water faucet when brushing your teeth or shaving
  • Wash only full loads of clothes, and use cold water
  • Clean your dryer’s lint filter after each use, which will allow it to work more efficiently
  • Match pan size to burner size when cooking
  • Use glass or ceramic pans when cooking in the oven (you can reduce the cooking temperature by 25 degrees and food will cook just as quickly)
  • Use the garbage disposal sparingly, consider composting instead (save gallons of water)
  • Turn off your computer, monitor, printer, and any other electronic items when not in use
  • Plug home electronics, such as TVs and DVD players, into power strips; turn the power strips off when the equipment is not in use (TVs and DVDs in standby mode still use several watts of power)

The above list doesn’t mean that spending money on insulation or other improvements isn’t a good thing, but always start with free or low-cost changes and go from there. Your current situation, budget, and ultimate goals will have an impact on what improvements are best for you, your family, and your home. When considering an improvement, consider the source of the information. Someone selling a product may over-estimate the savings of their product or miss other, more inexpensive improvements. Obtaining unbiased information a 3rd party professional with nothing to sell can help you choose the improvement best for your situation, and strategize your long term goals.

And don’t forget, despite your best efforts, your utility bill may suddenly be higher than normal. Often, these high bills are due to extreme weather conditions. Extreme heat, cold, and humidity seriously impact your heating and cooling costs, even if you haven’t touched your thermostat! Due the the weather, your AC or heating unit may run longer to achieve those normally efficient settings of 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer. When you hear forecasts for extreme humidity and/or temperatures, prepare by adjusting your thermostat setting accordingly. A few degrees could normalize your electric usage while your indoor comfort level remains relatively the same.

Happy energy-mising!