Beat the Utility Bill

Posted on February 3, 2023

Most of us recently received our utility bill for December’s usage. Ouch! With some very cold days, Christmas lights, and the darker days forcing interior lights to be on by 5 pm, December usage often makes for a fatter January bill.  

So what can we do? Short of moving to the equator? 

There are a few simple actions that can help reduce the heating and electricity use in your home, without going through major renovations. These tips are applicable if you rent or own, live in an apartment or house, and should make your home a little more comfortable. Though we notice the energy loss most in the winter, what keeps out the cold can also help keep out the heat in the summer. 

  1. 1. Find the draft: Windows, doors, and skylights account for up to 25% of energy loss in your home. Walk around your home and feel around the windows and doors. If there is a draft coming through, then you have a problem area. Calking or spray foam will help to seal up any cracks in the walls or spaces such as around the dryer vent. This task may also require you pulling off the baseboards in your home. Cold air can get in there, too, so don’t forget to check for cold spots. Exterior wall outlets are another hidden area that may be causing your home to cool off faster. Weather sheeting is another inexpensive way to seal out the cold from window frames. Any hardware store will have the tools you need to seal up drafts around windows, doors, and in walls and the staff should be able to offer some advice for the inexperienced DIYer. Of course, googling “how-to seal drafts in your home” is also an option. Here is a post from Home Depot with some simple but helpful solutions.    

  1. 2. Turn the heat down at night and when no one is home, but only by 2 or 3 degrees: People sometimes ask us, “I turn my heat down to 10 degrees at night or even off, why is my bill so high?” The answer comes down to all that savings you acquired while the heat was low is eaten up as the furnace works overtime to heat the house back up to a comfortable level. The greater the difference the more lost during re-heat. Keeping the thermostat within 2 to 3 degrees is the most efficient. If you are going to be away for a long period of time, then it is worth setting the thermostat lower, but otherwise, make adjustments within that 2 or 3 degrees. A programable thermostat can also help you save on energy use. Set it and forget it! Depending on your comfort level programmable thermostats can be installed DIY style. Lowe’s has a very easy to follow video accessible online.   

  1. 3. Change your furnace filter: A dirty furnace filter restricts airflow and causes your furnace to work less efficiently. On average, the furnace filter should be changed every 3 months, but in homes with pets that shed, indoor smoking, or residence prone to allergies and asthma, the furnace filter will need to be changed more often. It’s easy to get busy and forget when the last time it was changed, so add a calendar reminder to your phone, computer, or daytimer to keep you on track. There are also reusable furnace filter options on the market. They require regular cleaning, which consists of pulling it out and spraying it in a shower or large sink; easy maintenance. The upfront cost of one is higher than a pack of disposable filters, but it pays for itself in less than 2 years, quicker if you have to change your filters more often.   

  1. 4. Phantom power: Phantom power is the electricity used by appliances when they are turned off and can account for 10% of your electricity bill. Your TV, phone charger, coffee maker, and printer are all using energy even when you are not using them. One of the simplest ways to combat this is to unplug devices and appliances when not in use. To make this even simpler, add power bars where you can plug in multiple devices in one area, or in areas where the outlet is hard to reach, and you only have to flip off one switch when you leave in the morning or go to bed and one when you are actively using the appliances in your home.  

If you want to learn more or have questions, Green Calgary, in partnership with ENMAX, is offering Energy Efficient Futures workshops free for the public. You will hear more details on how to reduce energy use and get the chance to create an energy plan for your home. Interested? Sign up for one of our workshops happening February 6th or March 15th. Missed these dates? Check out our website for future workshops or tell your community association to book one for your community.  

If you have a question about energy efficiency, we’re also hosting a Q&A in February on this topic. Submit your questions here and sign up for tips for home through our newsletter.