Energy bill too high? Experts weigh in on how to cut costs

Jenna Careri
By Jenna Careri April 25th, 2019
For business

Energy bills notoriously cause pain to wallets, and between climate control, televisions, refrigerators, and all the other devices people rely on daily, it’s no surprise.

“Energy usage is no small expense; the average American household spends upwards of $2,000 in energy costs,” said Logan Allec, CPA and owner of the personal finance site Money Done Right.

He breaks down the top three biggest home energy users this way:

  • 40 percent for heating and cooling
  • 30 percent on appliances and electronics
  • 10 percent on lighting

No surprises there, so why is it so hard to cut costs?

Allec has an explanation: “It’s also a bit more subtle than other forms of waste. For example, if you buy food that goes bad because you didn’t eat it, you have to physically throw that food into the trash can.”

But cutting energy waste is possible. From small everyday changes to bigger investments, most homes are full of opportunities for consumers to pay a little less on their next bill (which can also be really confusing, so learn how to read it here).

Invest in long-term energy savings

Though upfront investments can be expensive, it is an option worth considering for those looking to maximize long-term savings. An energy efficiency project might even qualify for a lower interest rate.

“Many renewable energy systems, which include solar electric systems, geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, and more, carry a hefty price tag,” said analyst Sean Messier of Credit Card Insider. “But the reality is that the savings you’ll reap over your system’s lifespan will generally make up for the cost of equipment and installation in just a few years.”

Messier suggests looking into tax credits attached to renewable energy systems, which can run as high as 30 percent. Replacing windows and updating HVAC systems are other big projects that can reduce a home’s energy consumption.

Start saving fast with a quick fix

When big projects aren’t in the budget or aren’t possible because the residence is a rental, try to focus on quick fixes that won’t break the bank – or a lease agreement.

“Even if you rent and have no ability to replace many of these fixtures in the home, if you use incandescent lighting, replacing those bulbs can have a less than one-year payback and still land you energy bill savings,” explained CPA Riley Adams from Young and the Invested. CFL and LED bulbs, as Adams notes, cost more up front.

Adams also advises caulking any cracks in window and door framing and reinsulating attics to avoid big replacement costs. Be on the lookout for drafts, too, both from obvious sources such as under doors and less visible insulation gaps.

“Drafts are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home,” explained Mark Tyrol, president of Battic Door Energy Conservation Products. “Imagine leaving the windows open all winter long – the energy loss, drafts, and wasted energy.”

He suggests paying attention to high-draft areas such as pull-down attic stairs, whole house fans, fireplaces, and clothes dryers. These holes and gaps are often easy to fix with vent and fan seals, fireplace plugs, and attic stair covers, which can all be found for under $100.

Cut costs day by day

Much of cutting energy bills boils down to simple everyday switches, like maximizing time-of-use pricing and not leaving the lights on overnight.

That goes for televisions, computers, and other energy vampires, says financial blogger Alayna Pehrson of BestCompany.com.

“Lighting is important, but many people tend to leave their lights on overnight or use main lighting systems instead of lamps in the evening,” she said. “Additionally, many people leave their home-based electronics plugged in 24/7 like their desktop computers, chargers, etc. These little things can lead to big energy waste.”

Pehrson suggests using a lamp instead of the main lighting system if you really need to leave a light on and using a fan instead of air conditioning to cool a room down. When it’s cold out, wear more layers or grab a blanket instead of tapping the thermostat.

Avoid energy disasters with frequent maintenance

It’s also a good idea for homeowners to do a sweep of their homes each season so they can catch potential issues before they become expensive problems.

“Most people either forget to do certain preventive tasks or just don’t know that things need to be done,” said John Brodrozic, co-founder of the digital home management platform HomeZada.

He suggests cleaning lint from your dryer, keeping your A/C unit free of overgrown bushes, and making sure your HVAC system ducts stay well insulated. Use a home maintenance app such as HomeZada’s or go old school and write a to-do list to stay on top of monthly and seasonal home tasks.

For those who are not sure where to get started with maintenance, a home energy audit can pinpoint key areas for improvement.

“One of the best ways to determine where you are losing energy in your home is through a home energy audit,” said a spokesperson from the DOE’s Energy Saver platform. “You can do a simple DIY audit, but a professional auditor will help pinpoint the areas of your home that are losing the most energy, and they can discuss which improvements will give you the most bang for your buck.”

Homeowners also can use Choose Energy’s Energy Estimator to calculate their energy usage and decide on the best plan of attack for their homes.

“The energy audit is similar to creating a budget for the home,” said Choose Energy President Jeff Mumford. “You have to know where your money is going so you can know how to spend it efficiently. With energy, you have to know where you’re using it to know how to save it.”