Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Saving Money Part I: Utility Bills

I like to save money. Anybody who knows me knows that. I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of finding new, exciting, maybe event a little bit ridiculous ways to save money. Natalie is all too aware of this and many of my most... ahem... interesting ideas have been shot down.

Having paid utility bills on my own for 3 years now (I am sooo experienced in life!), I have a few pointers and a few things we have done, so you can know how to save as much money as you can and maybe having a little fun as you do it.

1. When Natalie and I lived in a top-level apartment, we had a 16' vaulted ceiling in the living room which caused the A/C to run constantly. Our solution? I devised a simple safety pin/old comforter/Velcro contraption. Slap the blanket to the entrance of the hallway and you're good to go.

I'm pretty sure this was a non-typical situation, though. A/Cs are generally sized correctly for the areas they cool, and if an A/C cycles too much it doesn't run as efficiently as one that has a larger area to cool and runs in longer cycles.

2. Install a shower shutoff valve. Lather up while the water waits for you! Cheap, practical, and a good way to remove any enjoyment you may have derived from showering.

3. Set your thermostat closer to the temperature outside! Fans in the summer and blankets in the winter are you friends. What I've heard is that every degree can be up to 1% off (some say 3%) of your electric bill, unless you already keep it at a reasonable temperature. I don't think going from 85 in the summer to 87 is really going to save that much more.

4. Electricity in Texas is deregulated-- that means (from what I understand about it), depending on where you live (I know, for example, that Denton only has one choice), you can choose your electricity provider. In our apartment with the giant vaulted ceilings, we used Green Mountain Energy, who charges higher rates because the power they deliver is renewable (which, apparently, is debatable). When we moved into our house, we switched to Champion Energy Services and ended up saving 35% on our rates, the net result being that the electric bills in our nearly 2000 square foot home are about the same as our 700 square foot apartment.

5. Get a power monitoring device. There are a lot of options out there, but I've only looked into the following:
  • Kill A Watt This device goes between your appliance and the wall and shows you exactly how much energy it's using. Some simple math (watts recorded*time/1000*cost per killowatt hour) and you can see how much everything in your houses costs to run!
  • PowerCost Monitor This one's a little different-- one part goes on the meter outside and one part stays inside with you and tells you how much energy your whole house is using at any given moment and calculates how much you're spending at the same time. Pretty nifty and probably effects your behaviors since you can see the money trickling away.
Anyway, there's just a few things that can help out. I may also consider solar panels as their price hopefully comes down, but at the moment Natalie and I just don't use enough electricity to offset the cost in the next 10-20 years.


50s Pam said...

Very informative post. I might have to get that Kill A Watt and PowerCost Monitor.

Do you have a website you've found that helps you determine the payback calculation on solar panels?

Graham at Chadwell Chronicles said...

Seems like a fair estimate-- it would cost us about $10,000 after incentives to produce enough electricity to cover 75% of our needs. That means it would take us about 33 years to get a return on investment.