This wrench might be worth more than you think
Do you know what’s awesome about frugality? You can go out this weekend, put in some elbow grease and start saving some money on utility bills immediately, and for as long as you own your house or rent your apartment. In my mind, saving $100 a month is just as good as, if not better than making $100 a month because you’ll never have to work for that savings again. You just get it for the rest of your life. It’s a one-time effort that keeps paying out. In contrast, most people on a salary can’t just go out and start making more money instantly.
One of the biggest costs in any home budget is energy consumption. Below is a list of 17 items I have personally tested and found to work extremely well at saving me money. In my case, it cut my utility costs 30% after I put everything into effect. This put me into the bottom 10% of all energy consumers for my location in Phoenix, Arizona. How do I know this? My electrical company sent me a notice to tell me so (Insert SRP bill). So I know this stuff works. It’s not theoretical, and for about an hour or two of work, it can save you real money over the course of a year. Without further ado, let’s save some money!
1) Window shade screens in the summer. Let in light in the winter.
This is one of the most underrated ways to reduce your cooling bill in the summer. Sunlight carries a lot more heat than you think, especially when it shines through the giant magnifying glass that is your window. In the winter you can capitalize on this same principle by letting in light, and thus heat from East, West, and South Facing windows.
A word of caution though – don’t go paying a company $400 to set up and install sun shades. You’ll spend a long time trying to recoup your costs on that. Windows are fairly standard sizes, and with a little bit of patience you can either find one that’s already made for your window size. Check Craigslist, a used building supply store, or just make one yourself using anyone of these kits.
I measured mine and bought a few window shades at my local USED building supply store (Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore) for about $7 total. All of the hot areas of my house cooled down dramatically and my air conditioner didn’t have to run as long to cool down these rooms, so it could cycle off more often.
Here’s how it works:
Summer: Focus on shading the East and West windows first.
Winter: Remove shades, open blinds and curtains in the daytime to let as much light as possible in to your East, West, and South facing windows.
2) Seal the gaps around your outlets, ceiling lights, AC/heat ducts. Cost: $10 or less.
Think of your house like a giant insulated cooler. If you crack the lid a little bit and start trying to blow cold or warm air into it, you will have to work a lot harder to keep it warm or cold than you would if the lid was closed and sealed shut. This is how your home’s air conditioner or heater works as well. All those tiny cracks in doors, windows, outlets, ducts, light fixtures, etc. add up. In fact, they add up to a hole about the size of a basketball on the average house.
Every time hot or cold air comes in from these cracks, your air conditioner or heater has to work harder to constantly cool or heat this new outside air.
The solution is simple and takes about an hour or so. Get some weatherized caulking, remove the outlet (turn the power off first), and duct covers, seal the gaps around the edges where the box meets the sheetrock. Additionally, check the weather stripping on the bottom and edges of your doors and windows. If you can see light through them, air is passing through. You can buy weather stripping for cheap at any home store in your area. It’s fairly easy to install. I promise.
3) Clean the coils on your AC condenser and heat pump. Cost: several gallons of water.
This is one that I do several times a summer to keep my A/C working properly through our dusty summers here in Phoenix, Az. It’s fast, simple, very effective, and if you’ve never done it, you’re in for a pleasant increase in the form of much cooler air. I was fairly surprised at the difference in air temperature I saw once I did this. This will work on heaters that use a heat pump style system as well.
A word of caution here: You will want to make sure the A/C quick disconnect is turned off and there is no power going to the unit. A second word of caution here: Don’t spray your coils with maximum pressure. It will bend and damage them. You simply need a gentle stream to wash the dirt and grim out. I like to start at the top and work my way down. Here’s a youtube video that may help get you up to speed.
4) Change your air filter monthly during heavy use. Cost: $2-$5.
I’m embarrassed to tell you that there was a time I never changed my air filter. By the time I located it, it was severely coated in dirt, hair, dust and crud to the point that air could barely pass through it. This greatly restricted the flow and effectiveness of my AC unit. You don’t ever want your filter to look like that. Change it monthly during times of heavy use. That’s all it takes.
5) Check and change/adjust your front and back door seals: Cost: $0-$15.
Try this exercise out to see if your door seals have leakage points. Have a friend shine a flashlight around the closed front or rear door while you stand inside the house (If it’s sunny out you may be able to simply do this on your own without the flash light). If you can see light shining through any gaps, then air is also leaking in or out. This may not seem like a big deal since the gaps are so small, but your heating or cooling system has to work harder than you think to adjust to this, costing you well-earned heat or cooling dollars.
6) Tune your Heat/AC registers. Cost: $0.00.
Don’t shy away thinking that this is some highly technical process. Like many things in life, you can make it as simple or complicated as you choose. The idea is that you want to balance the amount of airflow between your whole house. For example, let’s say it’s summer time. You have one room that’s constantly hot. You look at the register (the vent) and you notice that it doesn’t blow quite as hard as the other registers.
Conversely, you also have a room that is more than cool enough and seems like a wind tunnel when you’re in it. Adjust the vent in that room to slow the volume of air going into it. This will create a surplus of cool air to share with the other register that isn’t quite flowing enough. Voila, you should notice a small increase in the output of all the other ducts/vents on the line. Try this in every room to find the perfect balance for each area. Just don’t close any registers completely; this causes a lot of back pressure and most professionals advise against it because occasionally, it will cause a duct to come loose in older homes.
7) Time your heat/AC with the easiest time of the day for it to work.
Then just maintain that temperature. Cost: Free if you have a programmable thermostat. $20-$40 if you don’t. Think about your air conditioner or heater like a car trying to go up a steep hill. If you get up some momentum before the hill (Cooling in the early morning hours in summer or heating in the afternoon hours if it’s winter), it’s easier for your unit to keep up once it gets hot (afternoon in summer) or cold (nighttime in the winter). I like to use a programmable thermostat to tell my heater or air conditioner to get up some momentum during the appropriate part of the day. Then it can just coast when the more challenging part of the day comes.