Top Tips for New Homeowners to Manage Utilities Expenses

You dreamed for years of owning your own home, and now you’ve finally done it. You saved the down payment and qualified for a mortgage with terms you can handle. But if you move in right before the deepest cold of winter or the peak of summer, you might be in for a surprise. Utilities cost a lot more for a house than for an apartment. Here are some ways to cut back on energy bills.

Use Your Appliances Wisely

Don’t use appliances that generate heat at night in the summer, but instead during the day in the winter when you don’t mind things warming up a little. Avoid using your oven and range in the summer and go with your outdoor grill or even a slow cooker instead — slow cookers use a lot less energy. Give your dryer a break and air dry your laundry if you have enough space to hang it up. All of this helps balance out the increased bills for heating and air conditioning a larger home.

Buy New Light Bulbs

Jeff Wilson, HGTV host and author of “The Greened House Effect,” suggests replacing your old incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs with new LED bulbs. “It will save you up to 90 percent on lighting costs.” And yes, you’ll still want to turn those new light bulbs off when you leave the room. 

Find the Air Leaks

Air leaks wreak havoc on your heating and air conditioning bills, and almost all homes have them. If you leave them unattended, you could lose as much heat and cooling efficiency as you would if you left a window open all year long. 

Seal around windows and doors with caulking or weather stripping, as well as in places where pipes come in or out of your home. The tops of basement walls are likely spots for air leaks, too. This relatively simple effort can cut your energy costs by up to 30 percent, depending on just how leaky your house is.

Enjoy Your Fireplace

That fireplace you fell in love with — the one that sold you on your new house in the first place — can draw about 24,000 cubic feet of warm air up your chimney each and every hour you use it. And this isn’t fire-warmed air, but furnace-warmed air, something you don’t want to waste, especially when you consider that cold air comes right back down your open chimney after the hot air has gone up.

This is not a good reason to turn your back on your fireplace, however. Open a window a crack when you build a fire and close the door to the room. This prevents the fireplace from pulling warm air from the rest of the house — and remember to close the damper when you’re not using it.

Your Water Bill(s)

“They say you pay for your water three times,” Wilson says, “once to buy it from the utility, once to heat it and once to dispose of it as wastewater through your sewer bill. To save money on both water and energy, use faucet aerators with flows under 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm) and shower heads with flows under 2.5 gpm. Newer technology means these low-flow fixtures deliver a satisfying flow without wasting water.”

Keep in mind that if you set your water heater at 140° F or higher, it can cost more than $400 over the course of a year to bring water up to that temperature. The cost of heating water accounts for about 11 percent of a home's utility bills. 

A nip here, a tuck there and a little extra effort when you leave a room can make your utility bills a lot more manageable. Spend the savings on decorating your new home instead.