51 (and More!) Ways to lower utility bills

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Almost everyone wants to know how to lower utility bills – and that’s why you’re here, too! After three years of living off-grid with no utility bills, we recently moved into a century-old home and the previous owner was burning through thousands of litres of fuel oil each year. Regardless of the environmental impact of that, I simply can’t afford to burn 5000 litres of fuel oil for heat and hot water!

You know, it’s safe to guess that you can’t afford to burn money, either.

As a note – in case you aren’t already aware of this – one of the best ways to save a LOT of money is by increasing your self-sufficiency. Click here to find out why and access a solar calculator to figure out how large of a system you need.

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. Since this post turned into a massive list and has well over 5000 words, I’ve split it up into connected posts. Just follow the arrows at the top or bottom.

Saving Money on 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.

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.

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.

If you have a dishwasher, only run full loads. I mean, really full loads. It uses the same amount of hot water and electricity if you wash one plate or cram it full of dishes. 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.

And definitely turn off the heat dry. Open the door slightly to let the steam out and your dishes will dry on their own.

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 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.

Wash your hands in cold water. It won’t kill you. We’ve been doing it here 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!

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.


Saving Money on 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

Money Hanging Out to Dry

Every item that you hang to dry saves money

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 save you money.

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.

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.

Keep reading for great ways to save money on house heating.

Saving Money on 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’d be 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″.

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.

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.

Another, less expensive, option 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, 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 f. Inside the house, heavy drapes or tapestries can keep the cold out.

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.

If you want lower utility 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 a year in our new home – even with some broken windows and an uninsulated basement, 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.

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Please feel free to share anything on this site, in full or in part, with the following requirements: 1) all links MUST be left intact except by written permission 2) the excerpt or reprint MUST link back to the referring page, 3) the following author bio MUST be included: Marie has homesteaded in the city, in an off-grid cabin in the deep woods, and now in a 130-year old house in a village near her hometown. She is the author of A Cabin Full of Food, available on Amazon and loves to interact with her community on Facebook.

Lurie Watts - 8 months ago

Some good tips and info there, thank you. Can I just add a little something? I am like you and always looking for ways to save on energy costs, only putting the heating on for 5 or 10 minutes in the cold winter to “take off the chill” of the house, and spending the rest of the time dressed in thick sweaters and covered in blankets. My mother-in-law to be is the same. However, an incident this March has made me very wary of my frugal ways! We went to visit my mother-in-law (to be) on a Saturday instead of the usual Sunday, my mother had passed over, and we wanted to tell her in person, rather than over the phone. Good job we went, another hour and she wouldn’t have been here either! It was colder in her house than outside, and she was suffering from hypothermia. She spent weeks in hospital and has now made a good recovery, she was very lucky. I didn’t know much about hypothermia before this incident. I do think it is worth a mention though. There comes a point when suffering from it that you start to feel very warm, and start to take clothing layers off. (My mother-in-law (to be) was sitting with a thin top on!)
This happened in suburban England, and goodness knows how much colder it gets in the exposed areas in Canada and the USA. Just thought it would be worth a mention. I don’t know what the answer is, I just know I am more aware of the risks.

    Marie - 8 months ago

    Oh, my YES, use common sense. If your household includes the elderly, or very young children, or disabled people who cannot move around easily if they are feeling cold, then turn up the heat. This is why I said the lowest temperature at which you feel comfortable and perhaps that should be edited to say that the most vulnerable in your home needs to be comfortable (maybe with some space heating, slippers, a cozy blanket). If I am moving around the house, doing housework, perhaps some canning, and the children are not home, perhaps I can have the temperature at 15C. But if the children are sitting around the table doing homework, or we have an elderly guest, or someone is sick, the heat may need to stay closer to 21C. (Americans – I’m sorry I’m not converting right now. 21C is generally considered room temperature)

    I’m not sure how old your mother-in-law was, but does she need to have someone living with her, if she could let it get that cold in her house? I think no one is likely to suffer hyperthermia at 15C – my children play outside barefoot at that temperature. 🙂

      Carol L - 8 months ago

      Also, turning up and down the furnace is going to get more costly as the electricity has to kick on and off. I used to do the same: my home was built in 1945 and with no insulation. I used to do just that, until I realized it was NOT cost effective, and now, I keep it at 68* ALL the time, except when summer comes, and then I turn it off, and cover the register with blankets so the heat doesn’t come through the vent in the floor. MUCH more cost effective!

      Also, I close of the stairs to the upstairs (not used except for storage) to allow all the heat to remain downstairs.

      Another cost savings is to close off rooms not in use. If my nose starts to be cold, I turn the heat up just a bit…remember I have no insulation, so the colder it gets outside, the colder it gets inside, so I do sometimes have to make adjustments. I’m frugal, but I am not going to SUFFER just to save a few $$$.
      I have found, that to fill my heating oil costs about $400-$500 per fill when nearly empty. I have a system that works for me for my finances: the first month was a REAL hardship, but since then it is a breeze!
      Take your monthly bills and (since I’m paid every two weeks) divide that in 1/2. The first month you have to pay the entire bill and then add another 1/2 to that. After the first month, just pay 1/2 of your normal bill (I rounded it up a a bit, so only $1 totals, no change)
      SO… with my heating bill, I don’t use ANY in the summer, but still pay as much as I can. (my “bill” for my heating is about $50 a month, but will pay that if I can during the summer or cut back to $25. if needed, or even, since I now have a HUGE credit with them (over $400!) not pay at all. The reason for the credit is that often there are THREE pay period for me in one month, but I still pay the same, so sometimes you will have a credit with your payees. I wait until this amount gets to be the entire price of the bill and then I can skip a payment.
      I sent out a note to all of my payees letting them know what I was doing so they would know why they were only getting a partial payment … they were all ok with it, and my heating oils company stopped charging me interest when I could only make a partial payment…they don’t give me interest back, but I am ok with that!
      Sorry this is so long, but I think it could really help someone out there who may have a similar situation.
      Of course, you may not want to have that huge credit with a payee, but I hated those months where the bill was so high and I would have to scramble to pay it in one check! Now I know if I have a tight money situation, I could get an almost empty barrel filled and not be out money for food!
      Thanks for all the great tips!

        Tricia - 8 months ago

        Your situation sounds much like mine; a 1940 home (there are 21 windows) with little insulation I cannot afford to replenish or add. In addition to paying the ‘regular’ bill for my utilities, phone, and of course, the car insurance I’ve paid extra. Those tougher months aren’t weighed down with those payments. As most of the cold air comes in through the windows, I’ve chalked, and in the colder months I cover them with blankets.

Suzy - 8 months ago

Great post

re the oven. Most ovens have light which will stay on, and burn out/burn electricity if door left open.

Besides, your home will benefit from oven residual heat regardless….that heat is more slowly released if door closed.

Wanda Husak - 8 months ago

Love the new email format. Some great suggestions and links. We do many of the suggestions already, but there were some that we had not considered and will look at incorporating.

Thank you

Meena@ AnchoredinSweets - 8 months ago

I love woman who knows how to save money. =)

Karen - 8 months ago

Thanks for all the suggestions! I was surprised at how many of these things we currently do. I just added a few more to my to do list. We have and it can be pricey, so we try to do as much as possible to save. I will bee ordering the non-electric mattress pads and giving them a try. We currently have a heated mattress pad and boys have electric blankets. This might save on my electric bill if they work well. We set our heart to go down to 55 at night while we’re asleep and it comes back up before anyone gets up. Once everyone is up and around, it goes back down and we use an electric heater if we get chilly.

Carol L - 8 months ago

On the clothes in cold water: my cold water, in the winter gets as cold as it is outside, so, often nearly frozen! Then it takes hours to do just one load. I have to use warm at the least… know that is not the same for most people, but for those of us on wells, it most likely is…I use a bit more electricity running ALL loads through the spin two additional times, cutting the drying time to nearly nothing. (that’s when I don’t use an indoor dryer to hang them in the winter)
Diverting the dryer heat is sometimes not a good option as it is MOIST heat, and if you have mold issues, will only make them worse.
Lots of good hints here, and I just read that WARM water to drink is actually healthier than cold!!!!

Something I just learned about geothermal systems is they use WATER to operate! You will be sprinkling your lawn YEAR ROUND, and often! (my neighbor has one and I asked him why he was watering his lawn at noon in the summer and it was going 365 a year….)

Mensa141 - 8 months ago

1. Get rid of leaks not only in the fireplace flue but at your doors and windows. Also seal your electrical outlets on the outside walls. Homedepot/Lowe’s sells a foam pad that fits behind your electrical plate for switches or outlets to help seal those pesky drafts.
2. Ditch the electrical hot water heater for any kind of gas heater. Heating hot water costs less than $5 a month for natgas opposed to $30 a month for electric. Remember that someone has to burn gas or oil to make that electricity to have all the transmission losses to get it to you so you can waste electricity on heat. Not a good idea for any heat!
3. Blow in more insulation in your attic. Check area codes to learn the number of inches of insulation your area should have then put in a few inches MORE.

goplastic1 - 8 months ago

those of us further south, Illinois, USA, are money ahead to install windows that block uv light. this stops the heat from sunlight in the winter, but more importantly in the summer when running ac. i have replaced my living room picture window and it is no longer the hottest room all summer. i do open the curtains for natural light every morning. Back when i lived in new hampshire, USA, people there typically went for triple paned replacement windows without the uv block because of the colder winter and cooler summer.
also, i have read that new water heaters may not be more efficient with added insulation. i know from thermodynamics class that this is possible (head scratching but possible) but i haven’t looked into it yet. since my water heater is in the house my priority is to insulate the pipes in the crawl space.

    Marie - 8 months ago

    I’ll admit that I don’t know the needs of those further south where it’s warm all the time. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live in the south! 🙂 You’re right, though – the needs are different. We tend to need to block the cold and keep the heat out while it seems more urgent for you to keep overwhelming heat out.

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