Ways to Save Money on Heat and Electricity – Rebekah Answered

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How to save money on heat and electricity?

DFA reader Rebekah asked:

What is the most efficient way to stay warm with electric heat that won’t break the bank? She thinks we should keep bedroom doors open during the day and I think we should close them. Also I’ve been going around trying to keep phone charges etc. unplugged because I’ve heard that they continue to use power even when they aren’t charging, however when I got online to today I came across some articles that said they didn’t really use that much… who should I believe? She also has heat lamps in the bathroom, does that use a lot of energy? What about space heaters?? Thanks Matt!

Lower your thermostat or go off the grid

Hi Rebekah, great question… and thanks for reading DFA.

Your desire to cut costs associated with heat and electricity mirror the same desires I had early in 2009.  Back then I too was looking for ways to cut costs wherever and whenever possible.  From your question I assume you are not looking for advice on large, costly home projects like improving basement insulation to increase energy efficiency, but rather frugal tricks you can employ right away.

Before I get into the tips, I’ll advise you not to use space heaters… they draw quite a bit of juice making them a less than frugal choice.  Regarding the bedroom doors… I’m not sure it makes much of a difference since the furnace likely heats the house the same regardless.

Here are a few practices we adopted back then that are still saving us money today.

  1. Turn your heat down – You may be used to a 72 degree home, but it is time to sacrifice in order to cut costs.  Last winter my wife and I moved our thermostat from 70 down to 64.  It seemed cold at first but our bodies acclimated much quicker than we suspected they would.  Nowadays we slip into a cozy sweater, fleece, sweatshirt, or even our Slankets (not Snuggie) instead of turning up the heat.  🙂  If your home is empty during the day, consider turning your thermostat down to around 58, then turning it back to 64 when you get home.  If you can afford it consider installing a programmable thermostat to do this automatically – they are relatively inexpensive and easy to install.
  2. Change furnace filters monthly – Depending on the type of filters you employ the can require changing as often as once per month.  If you have a very dirty and clogged filter you could increase efficiency quickly and easily by simply replacing it.  Filters are easy to change and cost very little.
  3. Off the grid Saturdays – This was an article I wrote and had published on FiveCentNickel.com that lays out how we go “off the gird” on Saturdays by committing to no TV time and limited use of all other electronic devices.  The benefits of this exercise go far beyond saving money… if you employ it you will read more, spend more time with family, and increase your productivity.  Frugal Dad also wrote about off the grid days and the benefits they can bring.
  4. Reduce standby power – The last tip I’ll give you is to simply encourage your idea to reduce your use of standby power.  Read the article I published last May that gives my detailed write up of the concept.

Simply being aware of costs will help you be more likely to keep them down.  Combine that awareness with the tips given above and you should see a noticeable difference in your monthly energy costs.

What do you think?

What are some tips I may have missed that Rebekah could use to cut her heating and electrical costs?

If you need personal finance advice… ask Matt Jabs.

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1 karyn

Combine all your cooking as much as possible and use the crockpot instead of the oven if you can.

Turn off the lights when they’re not necessary – really. I still see porch lights on all the time, even in the daytime!

Resist the urge to turn on the computer all the time – one of my own obstacles!

I like to practice my “no grid day” on Sunday – it coincides well with the observation of the Sabbath.

2 Matt Jabs

Thanks Karyn, great ideas!

3 Kyle

Reducing standby power can definitely help you save. Chargers probably aren’t the big deal though. You want to flip off your TV’s, Cable boxes, and computer equipment by flipping the switch on the surge protectors. All of these devices stay on even though you think they are off so the only way to stop them from sucking power is to kill it at the source.

As far as heating if your house faces south or you have southern facing windows you should open the blinds during the day to allow the sun to help heat your home, as the sun starts to set you should close the blinds to better insulate your windows. If the bedrooms are unoccupied then shut the doors and close the vents so the heat the is redirected to rooms in your house that you actually occupy. If the rooms are occupied open the blinds during the day and keep the door closed to trap the heat, then close the blinds and continue to keep the doors closed to keep the heat in.

One thing to consider when keeping doors open or closed is the location of your thermostat. Mine is in the hall which isn’t heated so if you close all of the doors you are going to over heat all of the rooms before the hallway gets hot enough to tell the furnace to turn off.

4 Fred @ One Project Closer

There’s several more options that you should consider:

1) Keep curtains shut when sun isn’t coming through them, but open them when sun is (you get the advantage of radiant heat in the winter).

2) Get a programmable thermostat. Make sure to find one that appropriately manages a 2-stage heat system for maximum efficiency. In an electric heat setup, you want to make sure your furnace comes on as little as possible while the heat pump does the heavy lifting. In order for this to work, you cannot raise the temperature in a “spike” (e.g. move the T-stat from 65 to 70 degrees all at once). Newer programmable thermostats allow you to set different heat times but will manage the system to try to use the heat pump as much as possible.

3) Increase the insulation in your home, especially in the attic. more than 40% of a home’s heat loss is through the attic. You can lay additional fiberglass batts, blow in cellulose, or even replace what you’ve got with something like closed cell foam. The fiberglass batts, in particular, as a very cost-effective solution. For an under-insulated space, they’ll pay for themselves in as little as 12 months.

4) Increase the weatherproofing on your doors and windows. Drafts are a killer for staying warm. If you have the luxury of an infrared thermometer (about 50 bucks at the big box), you can point it around your house to see where drafts are coming from.

5) Don’t use a fireplace unless you have a heatilator insert or something similar. Fireplaces move warm air from inside the house and send it up the chimney. The return in radiant heat from the fire does not make up for the lost energy that escapes with the smoke.

6. Make sure to insulate every space you can – this includes things like the rim joist in an unfinished basement (the place between the rafters), which is a notorious heat drain on a house.

7. Space heaters can be a good option, especially for a large home, as long as they are accompanied with an overall lower thermostat setting. Space heater efficiency is up-for-debate though, because the way they produce electricity is resistively, which, like the inside furnace in the basement, is less efficient than a heat pump.

Hope these tips help!

5 Nancy K

I just cooked my complete meal in my solar oven today. Pork shoulder loin and braised cabbage and carrots! It was delicious. Solar ovens/cookers are easy to make or can be purchased.

6 Financial Samurai

Honestly, I think the absolute BEST BEST way is to move to California, or better yet to Hawaii. 🙂 I’m not kidding. When I was in Hawaii last month for vacation, it was 68-70 at night with tradewinds blowing, and 74-77 during the day. Zero heating bill!

7 Mark

solar oven is goo for cooking and also easier to cook with that oven.

Guarantor Loans

8 benedictus

Hi, my first two suggestions require a little extra time and effort but have helped us cut down on our electric bill a good bit.
1) Instead of using the dryer to dry our clothes, I’ve been hanging our clothes outside on the line. They come out a little stiffer than by using the dryer but smell so fresh when you bring them in. On days when the weather didn’t allow me to hang them outside, I hang them in the bathroom on the shower curtain rid or on the kitchen counter and tile floor.
2) Our dishwasher broke about a year ago and we couldn’t afford to replace it so I’ve been handwashing our dishes ever since. We noticed a big savinge from both of these changes which gives me the incentive to make the extra effort.
3) My husband recently got a second job at a well-known appliance store and in training they taught him that the TV was the biggest consumer on an electric bill. Keep the TV off when not in use or even go so far as to unplug it when not in use or during the day when you are away at work.
4) Turn all lights off when not in use and get in the habit of turning off the light every time you leave a room.
5) We too, have tried not to run the heat or air until it got completely unbearable. Then we would only run it long enough to take the chill off or to circulate cool air then it stays off again. We adjust our clothing accordingly and have also suprisingly adapted. We also leave it completely off when not at home. We do need to look at getting a programmable thermostat though – that was a great idea!

All the little things add up. Thanks for a great article and great comments!

9 H Lee D

Our entertainment system is on a power strip, and we just turn the whole strip off when it’s not in use.

Does your electric company have different rates for use during different times of day? We switched to a “time of use” plan and are careful not to run dishes, washing machine, etc. during peak hours. This has saved us some money.

We’re also clothes-on-the-line folk here most of the time. There are a few items that will go in the dryer. We don’t have enough room indoors to hang an entire load, but our dryer is bigger than our washer, so we’ll wash two loads and dry them together.

I’ve heard that putting a tennis ball in the dryer makes clothes dry faster, but I’ve never tried it.

Keep your freezer full. If you don’t have food to fill it, put bottles of water in there or something. It maintains frozen foods more efficiently than frozen air.

10 PT

You snuggie wearing dude. Move to the South. You’ll save a ton on heating costs. 😉

11 Matt Jabs

Slanket… not Snuggie! 🙂

Yeah, suppose I’m missing the boat living in the frozen tundra.

12 Ann

1. Switch over to fluorescent bulbs wherever you can. From what I understand you cannot use them in fixture that dim, but there are some you can use in outside light fixtures even in colder areas (like in MA where we hit single digits last week). The outside fixtures take a few seconds longer to become fully lit when it is cold outside, but other than that they work just as well as the regular bulbs.

2. Don’t know if you heat your water with electric, but turn the thermostat down on the water heater. In conjunction with that, install a shut-off valve on the shower head and shut off the water except for getting wet & rinsing off.

3. Use task lighting. Instead of turning on the overhead light fixture when I am working at the desk/computer, I bought a $5.00 desk lamp at a discount store that works great & has only one light bulb in it instead of four. Also consider a small reading lamp or even a battery-operated book light for reading.

13 thisisbeth

I bought a couple of LED light bulbs to replace some incandescent bulbs in my house–they’re in recessed lights that have problems with overheating florescent bulbs. They’re more expensive, but more energy efficient–and don’t require special recycling like florescent bulbs. That’s almost a curse of florescent bulbs lasting so long–I have to wait until they burn out to replace them with LEDs!

14 BG

thisisbeth) I have recessed lights that I put CFLs into, and they all burned out within two years (supposed to last 10) — huge net loss. Perhaps I could try the LEDs instead, not from a cost POV though — these lights are hard to get to, so something that lasted years would be great.

As for space/floor heaters, they are good savers if you only need to warm your bedroom. Turn-off the thermostat, close the doors, and turn on the space heater.

One other thing, you can purchase a device called Kill-A-Watt (about $20 I think), that will tell you how much electricity phantom devices use when they are off (TVs, chargers, etc). But, don’t be surprised when you find out that your phone chargers, laptop chargers, and other similar things, consume ZERO watts when left plugged in. If attached to the phone, they will consume more, but if not attached, practically nothing.

The biggest user of electricity in my house is probably my side-by-side refrigerator. Best fix for this would be to convert to a floor model (with door that opens on the top), so all the cold air doesn’t spill out onto the floor when you open the door. Unfortunately, I don’t have room for such thing.

15 MD

I think I’m going to have to agree with Mr. Samurai and PT. I think the move could be very expensive though.

Btw, love the new beard.

16 H Lee D

Depending on where in the south, you’ll save on heat but not so much on AC (says she who lives in Phoenix who hears her heater running as she types).

I remembered another thing I used to do when I was tight on cash: I would take all my showers at the gym. Go, workout, shower, come home. It also ensured daily workouts, however small 🙂

17 Craig

Now if your snuggie was a cool PSU snuggie like mine is then your picture would be better.

18 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

Drop the heat at night to the lowest level possible (to not allow the pipes to freeze) and get a space heater or electric blanket for the bedroom(s). The space heater will be counter productive if you need one for more than 1 or 2 bedrooms.

On sunny days when your home, lower the heat to the minimum during the warmest part of the day.

19 Jason @ One Money Design

Wow! 64 degrees? You guys are machines!!! 🙂 Seriously, there is definitely a big savings in turning down the heat. Just when we think we’re cold, it’s always good to step outside and then come back in for a nice warming (even at 64). Love the off the grid idea. Touch to do with two little ones around, but hey, that’s all the more opportunity to get the family involved in doing something creative, or going to the park. My favorite idea: if you’re not in the room, there is no reason for the lights to be on. We catch ourselves leaving lights on quite often. Now we even have our daughter trained to correct mommy and daddy. 🙂

20 DB

I know this is not feasible for most people, but we have a wood-burning insert in our fireplace, and we heat our entire 2000 sq. ft. tri-level home with wood. Our home is on 20 heavily-wooded acres, and I selectively harvest all my own wood (I won’t cut standing live oak or maple – mostly just poplar and dead-standing and deadfalls). As a teacher, I have the summer off, and I spend many of my summer days out in the woods cutting, hauling, splitting, and stacking wood. We have not sent a single dime to the power company for heat for over four years now. It’s hot, sweaty work, but great exercise – plus it’s excellent heat on a cold Michigan night – like tonight!

21 Rebekah

Great tips! Thanks

22 Dollars Not Debt

CFL bulbs in the most used lighting is a huge win for me. It has saved me about 20% on my electric bill. Also, buy a kill-a-watt thingy to track usage. It gets addictive to see what uses watt.

23 Matt Jabs

Yeah my wife and I use TED (The Energy Detective) and also love discovering and limiting energy hogs.

24 George Thistle

People nodays just whack the heating on at the slightest breeze. It’s really not necessary, put a jumper (or 2) on and save the planet!

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