The odds are good that you’re spending more time at home right now than ever before. Maybe you’re working from home. Your partner is working from home. Your kids aren’t in school. Your pets are on top of you. And that’s a lot to handle on its own.
But one of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic that most of us haven’t seen yet is the impact on our utility bills. While it may be a minor concern amid the global health crisis, some people may be concerned about their income during this time at home. And a surprisingly high utility bill is the last thing you need on your mind when you’re already stressed about our overall situation.
We won’t tell you to turn off the TV or sit around in the dark, mostly because TVs are pretty energy efficient these days and you probably already changed your lightbulbs to a longer-lasting option. Here are a few energy saving strategies you may not have considered yet.
Avoid peak rate times
Log into your utility account and look for peak rates or “time of use” rates, advised Brett Joerger, CEO of Westhaven Solar in California. Your rates can double during those peak times, so choosing the right time of day to, say, do a load of laundry could impact how much that spin cycle costs you at the end of the month.
Knowing your peak hours can help you then optimise the rest of your home. Joerger recommended setting your programmable thermostat to keep the house a little warmer or cooler during those off-peak times when you’re home, then being more frugal with the thermostat during peak periods.
That goes for your kitchen, too. If you want to bake a cake, maybe you can do it at 5 p.m. instead of at noon, or vice-versa.
Boost your appliances
Since you’re home, why not make sure your appliances and energy systems are running in tip-top shape? Joerger said anything with a motor is going to use up the most energy—think freezers, HVAC units, and pool pumps—so you’ll want to optimise those energy drains as much as possible.
Vacuum under and behind your fridge to keep the condenser coils clean and working well. These coils disperse heat, but if they get gunked up with dust and pet hair, the fridge has to work harder to keep your food cold.
Change your air filter if you have a spare hanging around and you’re past-due for a switch (which you probably are). Keeping your filters fresh in a central air system can reduce your energy consumption by 5%-15%, according to the Department of Energy.
Turn down the heat
Have more dishes to do? Finally attacking that pile of laundry?
“One of the biggest uses of energy that people generally don’t realise is the hot water heater,” said Peter Callan, president of energy efficiency company Lantern Energy. “So make sure you run dishwasher and washing machine only when full.”
Another quick DIY task you can complete is to turn down the temperature on your hot water heater. The Department of Energy says it’s a two-hour project, but in my experience, it’s more of a quick half-hour. Decreasing the temperature by 10-20 degrees (don’t go below 120ºF) can reduce your energy costs by up to about 20% annually.
Check your fans
If you have ceiling fans, now is a great time to wipe down those blades to make sure you’re not spinning around built-up dust all day. And while you’re up there, make sure your fans are set to the right direction for the season. If you’re still running the heat where you live, make sure your fan turns clockwise to push warm air down. If it’s warm, you want those blades to go counter-clockwise.
Fans don’t cost a lot to run and help by making you feel cooler (or warmer), so you can then save money by adjusting your thermostat a few degrees.
Turn off the faucet
You’d be amazed at the amount of people who still leave the water running while they brush their teeth for a very thorough two minutes. But this is no time for shame. If you’re one of those people, consider this: Turning off the faucet while you brush could save you about $US65 ($113) on your annual water bill.
I’ll leave the handwashing tips to the experts right now, but the other place you might be able to save some water is in the shower. Maybe you usually shower at your gym every morning before work, which means you’re lathering up at home more. I’m a fan of a long, luxurious shower myself, but while you’re sitting at home you might be wondering if you should cut back.
If you so dare, you could turn off the water while you’re soaping up, then turn it back on to rinse. Or choose a day of the week to a timer and challenge the kids (or yourself) to see who can take the shortest shower. If these sound like nightmare scenarios, consider skipping a shower every few days. If you’re not as active as you usually would be, you’re probably not that gross.