How to Keep Your Utility Bills Down During Quarantine
Keep costs down while staying home with these energy-efficient tips.
As the bulk of the country continues to stay inside and practice social distancing for the foreseeable future, it’s important to fill the day with small tasks that bring you joy. For my boyfriend and me, it’s catching up on chores, watching a lot of television, and saving money on takeout by whipping up dinners from scratch. Affordable fun: What could go wrong? Well, our seemingly low-cost quarantine lifestyle came to a screeching halt when we received our utility bill.
It made sense to see a slight uptick in our utilities bill. We’re not going to our respective offices or hanging out with friends outside the home, so we’re using our appliances around the clock. But hundreds of dollars above our standard fee? Let’s just say, we both experienced a bout of sticker shock.
While we quickly discovered the culprit of our outrageous bill—the old heaters along our baseboard—it turns out there are plenty of other seemingly harmless habits that can wreak havoc on your energy consumption and undermine any energy-saving tips you’re trying.
Cisco DeVries, an energy expert and CEO of OhmConnect, a San Francisco–based company that’s dedicated to helping people rethink how they use their appliances, knows a thing or two about living in an energy-efficient space. To help, he’s sharing his expert tips for keeping down your bottom line during quarantine. (It’s not as difficult as you’d think.)
Did you know your utilities bill doesn’t solely depend on how much energy you use, but when you use it?
“Most people often don’t think about the environmental and financial impact of their usage,” DeVries says. “During the day, energy is from natural sources such as wind and solar power. However, to meet demand at 6 p.m., our energy is much more likely to be supplied by fossil-fuel power plants, which release CO2 into the atmosphere.”
Not only can powering up your appliances later in the day rev up your bill, but DeVries says that the fossil-fuel power plants that supply late-day energy can produce up to three times as many carbon emissions as a conventional plant.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make your wallet and Mother Nature happy. For starters? Take care of those machine-reliant chores—such as cooking with your oven or doing a load of laundry—earlier in the day. According to DeVries, it’s a small tweak that can lower your bottom line and reduce the emission of pollutants like CO2.
Or if you want to make a lasting change, DeVries recommends adjusting your utilities plan.
“Most Americans could save money if they can switch to [their] utility’s time-of-use energy, which charges ‘peak’ rates from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. but much lower rates during other times,” he says. “Under a time-of-use energy plan, you can save hundreds of dollars a month just by changing the time of day when you use an appliance.”
As my cautionary tale suggests, leaving your heater on around the clock will cost you a pretty penny. But your air conditioner can do just as much damage.
“Air conditioners are one of the main culprits,” DeVries says. “They account for approximately 16 percent of our home energy use.”
Instead of turning to your heater and air conditioner, think critically about your climate control habits. Do you really need to blast the AC all day when there’s a cool breeze outside? Why burn up your bank account when using your heater for 30 minutes can successfully warm up a room? Or will lighting a few candles and pre-heating your oven before you cook lunch get the job done?
If you want to invest in keeping your home the perfect temperature, DeVries recommends picking up a smart thermostat, which automatically adjust its settings for you.
Unless you’re ordering takeout for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there’s a good chance spending more time at home equal spending more time cooking. But all those batches of banana bread will require you to run your dishwasher more than normal.
According to the United States Energy Information Administration, U.S. dishwasher use in 2019 used eight billion kWh of electricity, three billion kWh less than washing machine usage. Still, all those dishwasher loads can quickly add up.
To keep costs down, DeVries recommends completely filling up your dishwasher before running it. Dishwashers use the same amount of energy no matter how full they are, so you might as well make the most of each load. You can also turn off the heated drying setting or skip your machine’s drying step altogether.
“Unless you desperately need to use the clean dishes right away, just open the dishwasher door after it has completed its cycle,” DeVries says. “After an hour or so of air flow, it will be dry and you will have saved a bunch of money.”
Oh, and as for your laundry machine? Wash your clothes with cold water. According to The New York Times, approximately 90 percent of your machine’s energy goes to simply heating up the water.
Beyond those big appliances, there are plenty of smaller appliances that take up a lot of energy—even when they’re turned off.
“Cable television boxes have become the second biggest energy user in many homes,” DeVries says. “A cable box with a digital recorder uses nearly as much energy turned off as it does when it is turned on. We call these appliances ‘energy vampires.’”
But just because you still have cable doesn’t mean you’re destined to receive a high utility bill. Services like OhmConnect can automate your smart devices and help you power down those sneaky appliances.
“You can tackle those energy vampires by putting a smart plug on your cable box and then setting it to automatically power down overnight when you aren’t using it,” DeVries says.
An affordable energy-saver you can have shipped to your door? That sounds like a win-win.