Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Lowering our utilities

I know that this may seem small to some people, but I am downright excited that we have managed to lower our utility bills for the first time in several years. I thought that we were already being frugal when we were in law school. There were summers where I almost couldn't concentrate because the temperature just felt either too warm or cold depending on the time of the year. Now we keep our thermostat set to 78 degrees in the summer and 68 in the winter, both comfortable temperatures for us, and our bill is still lower! I am not sure how each thing we tried factored in, but I thought it would be worth it to list what we did.

First, here are some figures to show what we were paying about a year ago. We had just gone on the average plan to keep our expenses in line, and our average payment (based on the year's previous 12 month's worth of bills) was as follows:

Electricity: $105
Gas: $ 77
Garbage/Water/Sewer: $91

Total: $273

But over the past year, it steadily began to drop.

Electricity: $98
Gas: $63
Garbage/Water/Sewer: $77

Total: $238

The difference between last year and this year: $273-$238 = $35 per month, or $420 per year

That's kind of encouraging!

The strange thing is, last summer it felt much more uncomfortable in terms of heat. Granted, this year we have generally had a cooler summer, but our gas bill, which is primarily for water heating and heating in the winter, has also dropped. I was surprised by the difference it was making, and I expect that the average will continue to drop a little more as our habits have an effect on the rest of the year.

Here are the changes that I think made a difference:

1. We switched to CFL's. I think we put these in during March and spent about $30 for 16 bulbs. Our kitchen and family room lights use 3 bulbs each, and we have bathroom lights that are constantly left on by the boys (in fact, let me get up to turn one off right now).

2. We started to turn off the power strips to our television and printer when not in use. I really didn't think this would make much of a difference, but it seems our monthly usage has dropped noticeably since we started to do this.

3. I was careful to turn off ceiling fans when not needed. For some reason, I thought that ceiling fans cost almost nothing and would even leave them on at night, which would have been fine if they were in our bedrooms, but they were in the family room and kitchen - forehead smack - so I started only turning them on when we needed them.

4. We got our A/C serviced and cleaned. A few weeks ago after we painted with Kilz oil-based primer, I started to notice a burning oil smell downstairs. I was worried that the fan blower to our A/C was burning out, so I called an A/C tech to come out. He inspected it, said everything looked fine, but his partner told us that our A/C unit outside was pretty dirty. They cleaned it and told me to keep it clean in the future (and that I didn't need them to do it). I feel like our house is even cooler now, even though our electricity bill has dropped and the heat index here has been close to triple digits for the past few weeks.

5. We turned off our pilot light for the heater during the summer. It turned out that the pilot light was the cause of the burning smell - the oil-based paint fumes were burning when they hit the light, and the blower distributed the smell. We haven't changed our water heater temperature or other rates of gas usage much, so I think that this helped a little on the gas bill.

6. I inspected our garbage part of our bill and made a phone call. For awhile, I was frustrated that our garbage bill had gone up since we had moved here. I thought that part of it was due to the fact that our city had finally added recycling in, but still, it seemed unusually high - $91/month at times. Then I got out an old bill one day and compared it, line-by-line, and noticed that the one difference was that in older, cheaper bills, there was a "1 90-gal" line, vs. the current "4 90-gal" line. After some research and phone calls, I finally figured out that we had been charged for over 2 years for 4 90-gallon garbage cans worth of trash, all because our neighbor put his cans right next to ours, instead of on his own driveway. Now, part of this was the garbage service's fault, because we had always done that before and had never been billed, but apparently at some point the collectors decided that all that trash was ours (even though they were billing him too and not picking up anything on his driveway). The good news was, however, that they not only changed the bill back to its' lower fee, they also refunded us over $270.

Now, of course some of these things could have been dependent upon the weather. While our summer has definitely heated up, it has definitely been a cooler summer in general, but I am grateful that we have found a way to lower our total monthly utilities bill by over $30 a month. Our electricity company recently got approved to raise their rates, so it may go up a little, but it makes the savings even that much more important.

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