Updated: May 27
Utility bills are on the rise and Colorado homeowners are bracing for what could amount to HUNDREDS in recurring charges. Utility providers across the state began announcing price hikes after distribution interruptions and an unseasonably long winter caused a dramatic spike in natural gas prices. Now, Colorado's Public Utility Commission is investigating the surcharges while the Governor is demanding consumers not be asked to shoulder extra costs. In the meantime, customers can expect increases of up to $300+ over the next 12-14 months, and that's on top of the usual price hikes associated with summer air conditioning costs.
While living completely "off the the grid" isn't a reality for most of us, paying closer attention to your annual usage and making small, every day changes can reduce your overall energy demand. Don't settle for higher costs and take control of your monthly bill once and for all with these easy, affordable — even free! — energy-efficient solutions:
Find your baseline
Compare your most recent utility bills to the same time period last year — focusing on peak summer and winter seasons — to figure out how much energy you're actually using. If you're new to your home, try to find the average utility costs by asking neighbors, real estate agents, previous residents, etc. for the closest estimates. You can't know how much you're saving without knowing how much you've paid in the past!
Make everyday changes
Reducing home energy demand is a simple as flicking a switch, literally. The Energy Resource Center in Colorado Springs says turning off the lights when you leave a room, and keeping electronics like computers, televisions and radios from running in standby mode is a great place to start — turn them all the way off! In the same vain, go one step further and unplug any electronics and appliances you don't use on a regular basis, like coffeemakers, game systems, home printers, etc. Believe it or not, these types of devices can still draw power even when they're not in use. All you have to do is plug them back in when you're ready to use them again!
Cool and Heat your home efficiently
More likely than not, your home's HVAC systems make up the majority of your home energy costs. Cutting costs associated with your AC, swamp coolers, furnaces, etc., may feel like a losing battle, but it's easier than you may think. The U.S. Department of Energy says you can save as much as 10% in a year by setting your thermostat 7-10 degrees back from its normal settings for 8 hours each day. Programable thermostats make this really easy to do by storing multiple settings throughout the day — just reset your thermostat to run a peak efficiency when you're away from home, then back to more comfortable settings when you're back home. All in all, the closer your thermostat setting is to the temperature outside, the more cost savings you'll see, but you don't want to sacrifice comfortability. Determine just how cool (or warm) your home can be before you're uncomfortable and use those temperatures as your default settings.
The next step is maintaining a comfortable indoor environment while reducing strain on your cooling systems. Whole house fans and attic ventilation are designed to do just that by cutting AC usage by as much as 90%! Using natural airflow at optimal times per day and removing superheated air trapped inside your home, energy efficient attic fans and vents can save you hundreds on your home cooling costs, extend the life of your current HVAC systems, and deliver a return on investment in as little as one day. Solar attic fans and vents take your savings even further by qualifying for a 26% federal tax credit, too. It doesn't get much better than that!
Optimize your home appliances
Convenient as they are, appliances like dishwashers and washing machines can end up costing a lot more than you may think, especially when used incorrectly. Avoid running your washing machine and dishwasher until you have a full load, and consider air drying clothing and linens on a clothesline when weather permits to reduce the demand on your electric-powered dryer. Minimize your oven usage during the summer months as well, as the residual heat from opening and closing the oven door can cause your home cooling system to kick on more frequently than it would otherwise. While home appliances are becoming more and more efficient, with "high efficiency" settings and the like, optimizing usage is still the best way to trim a little bit more off your monthly energy bill, and the savings really add up.
Reducing your home energy demand incrementally won't result in hundreds in savings per month, but it will pay off in the long run and help offset price increases now and in the future. With a little more awareness, a few easy changes, and optimal home appliance use you can take control of your utility bill once and for all!