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How to lower your utility costs during COVID-19

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By Terri Williams February 15th, 2021
For business

COVID-19 has impacted energy consumption patterns.

COVID-19 has caused a lot of people to spend most – if not all – of their time at home. This includes employees who work from home, those who are unemployed or temporarily laid off, and kids who virtually attend school. As a result, consumers in Texas and around the country are using more energy at home.

Most people are accustomed to having higher utilities on the weekends since these are times when families are most likely to be at home.

However, a paper by Steve Cicala at Tufts University revealed how much residential utilities have increased since the outbreak of COVID-19. He analyzed one hourly data set from Texas residents from May 2019 to May 2020. He also factored in heating and cooling adjustments.

Cicala found that residential energy consumption was 16 percent higher during work hours. Also, since the pandemic forced people to stay inside around the clock, some consumers were not enjoying the usual decline in energy consumption that typically occurs on Friday and Saturday nights when they would go out to eat or go to the movies.

He also analyzed a second data set covering utilities around the country. Cicala found that residential consumption rose by an average of 10 percent during the second quarter of 2020. During the same period, usage among commercial companies dropped 12 percent, and usage among industrial companies decreased 14 percent.

The report also reveals between April to July 2020, total U.S. residential electricity consumption resulted in households spending $6 billion more than usual. For at least 20 percent of U.S. consumers, electricity bills were, on average, $20 higher a month.

Reducing energy consumption while working from home

Companies may save money when their employees work from home, and employees may be saving on transportation and clothing costs. However, residents are spending more on electricity consumption, making it an expensive alternative location.

“Naturally, spending more time at home is definitely going to increase utility bills:  more water, doors opening and closing, lights on all day long, more cooking appliances in use,” explained Benjamin Kolo, owner of Mr. Electric of Central Iowa. And, unfortunately, he says there is no way to eliminate all of the additional costs – but there are ways to mitigate some of the electrical costs.

“One of the main items in a home, now turned on for much longer periods of time, are lights,” said Kolo. One tip is to open your drapes and curtains during the day to let the sunlight in. Depending on where your home office is situated, this may provide enough light to turn off your ceiling lights.

But if you need to turn on your lights, Kolo says there have been significant leaps in LED technology. “Gone are the days of the retina piercing white light that was the only option with LED lighting, and today, LED lights can provide a large array of colors and looks that will satisfy any discerning palate – even that picky interior designer,” Kolo explained.

And more importantly, LED lights conserve energy. “A typical LED light fixture consumes at least five times less electricity and may last more than twenty times longer,” Kolo said. “Once you switch over to LED lights, you may never need to change another light bulb.”

Another tip is to check areas where your home’s heat and air may be escaping. “Insulating around exterior wall openings – since many of these openings are outlets and switches that allow air to flow – can also rein in your utilities,” he added.

Mark Dawson, COO of both Mister Sparky and One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, recommends lowering your thermostat during the day. “This one’s a no-brainer, but it’s the simplest way to directly lower your home heating costs,” he says.

“According to the Department of Energy, you can save around 10% per year by lowering your thermostat 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours per day,” Dawson continued. In the winter, this may mean that you’re working in a sweatsuit or long sleeve shirt and jeans, instead of a short-sleeve shirt and shorts.

Also, your ceiling fans can help in the summer and in the winter. You already know that in the summer, using fans can help circulate the air. “However, in the winter, flip the directional switch so that your fan blades turn clockwise, and run the fans on low speed in occupied rooms,” Dawson said.

According to Dawson, “This will create an updraft that will gently circulate the warmest air, which lingers near the ceiling.” However, regardless of the season, he recommends turning the fans off when no one is in the room. Ceiling fans cool or warm people, but not the environment itself.

 

Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

[Peshkova]/Shutterstock

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