10 Ways to Save Money on Utilities

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Here are some of the easiest ways to spend less on utilities.

Unless you live off the grid, making monthly utility payments is a necessity of life. According to Energy Star, the typical U.S. family spends more than $2,000 a year on home utility bills. While the amount you pay depends on home size, the climate in which you live, and your home's energy efficiency, utility bills are also impacted by everyday habits. Here are 10 easy ways to minimize the percentage of your monthly budget you dedicate to utility bills.

1. Change air filters

Those filters in your furnace and air conditioners are designed to prevent dirt, dust, and other air pollutants from recycling through your home. Once a filter becomes clogged with debris, it requires more energy to run your HVAC system. Mark your calendar to change filters every 60-90 days.

2. Lower the temperature on the water heater­­­­

Water heaters are the second-highest energy thief in the home. Keeping the temperature at 120 degrees Fahrenheit can trim 6% to 10% from your energy bill and leave more money in your bank account. Never set the temperature below 120 degrees, because it allows dangerous, unhealthy organisms to grow inside your water tank.

There are a couple of additional advantages -- 120 degrees slows mineral buildup and corrosion in the water heater and pipes, and poses a lower risk of scalding than the common 140-degree setting.

3. Clear air vents

Locate all the vents in your home. Are they open and clear of obstruction? If there are toys, furniture, or other things blocking a vent, clear them away. The easier it is for air to move through the home, the less energy it requires.

4. Stop air leaks

One of the most effective, least expensive things you can do to increase energy efficiency is replace caulk and weatherstripping around doors and windows every two years. While you're at it, take on this (oddly satisfying) task: Walk around the exterior of your home with a can of spray foam insulation. Fill gaps around windows, cement and bricks, ground pipes, and chimneys.

5. Unplug vampire electronics

As much as some may laugh at the idea, it makes sense to unplug electronics. Many continue to use a small amount of energy when connected to an outlet -- even if they're not being actively used. Energy.gov recommends unplugging electronics or using a power strip for things like televisions, stereos, computers, and large appliances.

6. Update light bulbs

There's a good reason Energy.gov and Energy Star recommend LED light bulbs. They may cost more, but they use up to 75% less energy than traditional bulbs and last 25 times longer.

7. Use a programmable thermostat

A programmable thermostat allows you to schedule when your HVAC system cranks up. For example, if you're away at work all day, you can program the thermostat for lower in the winter or warmer in the summer while you're away. Energy.gov reports that you can save up to 10% a year on your heating bill by turning the thermostat seven to 10 degrees lower than it is normally set for eight hours a day.

8. Outsmart your dishwasher

Did you know that modern dishwashers work better on unrinsed dishes? That's the word from Consumer Reports. In fact, pre-rinsing your dishes sends the wrong message to the dishwasher's sensor, indicating that the dishes are clean and require only a light wash. To save work, water, and energy, don't pre-rinse (unless your dishwasher was built before 2011) and wait until it's full before running a load. You can save even more by air-drying dishes rather than using the drying cycle on the machine.

9. Adjust laundry habits

Make it a habit to wash your clothes in cold or warm water. Energy Star says that nearly 90% of energy consumption from a washing machine is due to heating the water. And if you're not doing so already, clean the lint trap in the dryer with every use. Like the vents throughout your home, the dryer requires proper airflow to improve energy efficiency.

10. Have an energy audit

Call your energy company to set up a free energy audit. This can help you identify energy-sucking areas that need attention.

If you must pay utility bills, you might as well spend as little as possible. That way, you have more money to save or invest in your future.

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