Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Saving Money on Electricity & Gas Bills

A friend of mine just told me about his gas bill for last month - a whooping $600+. Good thing that he lives in the house with 6 other housemates and the house is also an older house - so there are probably some leaks here and there which creating more work for the heater, hence more expensive payment.

Another fellow also is paying about $150+ per month for his electric bill per month.

I used to never really consider them as a big deal until I moved into a house, got married, and had a son. My expenses are piling up and I need to tighten my budgeting and do some cost cutting. One of the first area that I was able to successfully reduce is in the area of utility bills.

My gas bill used to be about $300 during the winter months and about $70 per month for the rest of the year. Last year, I reduce my gas bill from averaging $300 per month between December to March to about $150 per month (so about 1/2 of it used to be).

So how did I do it? Here are several tips that I found to be pretty useful...

I live in a 4 bedroom house, but we in most nights we only use 2 of the bedrooms: for my wife and I, and another room for my son. We use another room as my office and the last one as a guess bedroom. So keep in mind that the suggestions below may or may not apply to you in all situations - I am just providing tips that so far have been working pretty well for me and my family.

1. Get a programmable thermostat
This may cost you between $30 to $200, depending on how fancy you want to get with your thermostat. At least get a programmable one for both heat and cold air - and can be programmed based on daily basis. Some only has weekday or weekend setting. Depending on your need, get whatever suited for you. Mine is programmable by day and it is only $40 (one of the best investment in home improvement I have made).

2. I programmed it to turn down the temperature during the day on several days of the week where nobody is at home. Do not turn your heater off, but just lower the temperature. I lower mine to 10-15 degrees cooler than the regular temperature. So when I am at home, the thermostat usually shows 72 F and ~60 F when nobody is at home. You can program it so that it goes back up to the regular comfortable temperature 30 minutes before you are back home so you will come home to a warm house instead to a cold one. Obviously you cannot consider all possibilities, but try to get the "typical" schedule - and then program them it - you can override them as necessary.

3. If you are going away for a longer period of time (like on a vacation), lower your house temperature to the upper 40s F (but do not turn off your heater) and set it to come back up when you are about to come back.

4. If your household is like mine, where we typically are only using 2 rooms at night (or less), you may want to consider buying an oil portable heater. So at night, schedule your main house thermostat to lower the temperature to the 60s F and turn on your oil heater in your bedroom(s). That way, you are only heating the necessary rooms (typically your bedrooms) and not wasting energy on other unused rooms. I usually turn down the house temperature at 9:30pm and turn on the oil heater in my bedroom around the same time. Since the heat dissipates gradually in the main house so I won't notice much difference when I am walking into my bedroom (typically around 10:30pm) where the temperature is already picked up my the oil heater. My oil heater has a timer so it shut itself down around 7am, while my main house thermostat increase the temperature of the house around the same time (up to 72 F).

5. Reduce leaks. Make sure your doors, windows, etc are not leaking. You can buy weather strips at the hardware store to stop the leaks from doors and windows.

6. Install a ceiling fan. Heat goes up and ceiling fan helps to circulate the hot air from your heater better. You do not need to do this on every room of your house, but it will be very helpful to have it in your most used rooms in the house. Secondly, during the non-winter times, it can also give you some extra breeze.

There are other things you that requires much more money, such as replacing your windows with double layer windows, installing screen doors, fixing wall insulation, etc. I am going to get into those things in this post. Another thing you can do is put on an extra layer of clothing and lower the temperature. One of my friend set his daily temperature at 68 F during the winter months - and always wear a sweater or extra layer of clothing at home. Works great for him!

The principle is no different than "gas" - less usage means less payment.

1. Change filament based bulb with CFL bulbs. They cost more to buy, but they are worthy investments in the long run. Especially if you live in a house, where there are tons of bulbs. CFL bulbs usually cost you $2 per bulb but they also last longer than filament bulbs. In most cases, your average house filament bulb is a 60W bulb. Using CFL, you can get the same brightness with just 15W - that is 75% energy saving per bulb.

2. There are some light fixtures or lights that cannot use CFL bulbs. Light fixtures with dimmers cannot use CFL bulbs. Also, some of my lights are using fluorescent lights. In those areas, I would try to find the lower energy bulbs/lights (substitute 40W fluorescent with 34W, etc). Read more about CFL bulb here.

3. Always turn-off when unused. You can get a smart switch that automatically turn off the light when the room is unused for a period of time. OR ... you can just create a good habit of turning off the light when you are not using the room. In my house a good example of this is the kitchen, where there are 4 strips or 40W fluorescent light on the ceiling - totally to a 160W energy used when it is on. You can reduce the energy usage to 0 if you turn it off. Of course this also applies to other appliances and electronics, such as TVs, computers (or you can set it to hibernate automatically), DVD players, etc.


Leo said...

When u switched to electric portable heater, by how much did your electric bill goes up? (compared to without portable heater) mine went up by about the same as my saving in gas so I stopped doing that.

Joe said...

My savings was quite substantial: Gas bill went down around $120 but the electric bill went up around $75, so the saving was around $40+ per month during the winter months.

I think most of the savings also contributed by the usage of configurable thermostat, by setting the schedule accordingly. So when away (and during sleep time), lower the temp.

My gas & electric bill now are around $100.