Managing your finances is something that every new homeowner is very familiar with. The effort of saving up a downpayment, navigating your way through the negotiation, and coming out the other side having paid cost, commission, and closing fees is an exhausting marathon of financial management and with your house purchased at long last, you can finally relax, take a breather, and let things coast for a moment. That is, until you fully realize what your current bills look like. On top of mortgage, you also have annual property tax, maintenance and, of course, utilities.
Among the little quirks, we come to know and love in our homes, like that squeaky stair or flickering light, are also the reasons why the utilities cost what they do. You might, for instance, be paying more for water because the water in your hot pipes cools and therefore must be run longer. Or you might be paying a higher power bill because your HVAC has smaller-than-usual filters that get clogged quickly. If, as a new homeowner with recently cleaned-out savings, you are currently looking for ways to reduce your monthly spend, lowering your utilities with smart homeowner decisions is one of your best options and we’re here to help.
The Water Heater
Your water heater is essentially a heating element and a large metal tank. The tank fills with cold water, the heating element runs until the water hits the approved temperature, and then settles until the water cools and needs heating again. It does this over and over, waiting to be ready to supply hot water. Here’s how to make this process cost less without reducing the quality of your hot showers.
Lower the Temperature
First, most water heaters are set to a higher temperature than necessary. This causes them to heat more often, to a higher temperature, and therefore use a lot more electricity than is necessary. To remedy this situation, set your water heater thermostat to 120 F. You won’t notice the difference, but your utilities will.
Put a Blanket on the Water Heater
When your water heater cools down, it loses efficiency and must engage another heating cycle. You can significantly extend the amount of time between power usage simply by keeping your water heater insulated. There are special blankets (water heater koozies) made to keep your water heater from losing heat.
Insulate the Hot Water Pipes
The reason you have to ‘run the water hot’ is because the water in the hot pipes has cooled. Along the same lines as the water heater blanket is foam pipe insulation and heat tape for your hot water pipes. This helps keep the water hot inside the pipes and can prevent freezing in the winter. Insulate the cold ones too while you’re at it just for freeze prevention.
Tap water isn’t 100% pure and small amounts of harmless sediment can build up at the bottom of your water tank. However, after being heated and cooled over and over again, this sediment can form a hard equipment-damaging mass. To prevent damage, costly repairs, and early replacement, have it flushed at least once a year.
Heating and Cooling
The vast majority of a home’s power is dedicated just to the heater, AC, and moving air through the vents (HVAC). A home is considered ‘energy efficient’ if the cold or heat doesn’t escape through cracks, leaks, and lack of insulation. By improving your HVAC efficiency and how well your house retains conditioned air, you can save a lot of money.
Add More Attic Insulation
Just like heat escapes through the top of your head, temperature can escape through your attic. Inspect your attic and decide if it needs more or new insulation. This is a fairly easy DIY project either way.
Replace the Weather Stripping
Weatherstripping tends to last about 3-5 years or, in other words, homeowners never remember to change it because the interval is too long. Unless there’s proof your weather stripping is brand new, replace it to remove the chance of cracks, ripples, tears, and air leaks.
Change Out Air Filters
The air filters don’t retain air, instead, they allow air through an intake or outflow. The force your HVAC system has to work to push air around the house is determined by how clogged the filters are. Change out your filters every 3-12 months (depending on the filter) to keep air flowing smoothly and cleanly.
Seal the Pet Door
Pet doors are one of the biggest hits against energy efficiency any home can have. They hang wide open and often don’t close all the way. If you have a pet door, make sure it seals closed all the way around. This is usually achieved with a rigid door and a magnetic latch.
You’ve likely heard a few tips on how to manage your thermostat to save energy. Whether or not you have a smart thermostat, it is worth your while to strategize so that the HVAC has the least work to do. Set it to cooler temperatures to achieve heating in the winter and warmer temperatures to cool to in the summer and adjust for day/night variation based on your region.
Washing and Drying
Doing laundry and dishes are unique because they affect both your power and water bills at the same time. With smart washing policies, you can get more out of every gallon and watt-hour without sacrificing ease or quality of life.
Run Full Loads
The dishwasher, dryer, and many washing machines have one setting: Run. They use the same amount of power and/or water to run a half-load as they would a full load and do the same quality work. You can save money on those extra loads by taking the time to combine and build up full loads to run all at once.
Use Smart Settings
Most modern machines have a number of settings to choose from and some are more costly to your utilities than others. For washing machines, turn down the temperature setting if you don’t need sanitizing hot for anything and let the machine know if you’re running a small load. Some can adapt and use less water. For dishwashers, don’t use the heavy setting in most cases and skip ‘heat dry’ in favor of simply propping the dishwasher open for half an hour after it runs or using a drying towel. For dryers, only use high settings for heavy things like blankets and towels that don’t dry easily.
Hang a Clothes Line
If you have a nice yard and don’t mind air-dried laundry, consider hanging a clothesline. This can be a pleasant way to spend an hour or two in the afternoon and saves all that power a dryer needs to spin and heat. For those of you who live in a neighborhood that has traditionally frowned on clotheslines, double-check the policies. Many HOAs have had to update their rules in favor of energy efficiency.
Finally, let’s take a moment for pure water conservation. Usually, it is an afterthought that becomes part of ‘energy efficiency’ but water is both a separate issue and a separate utility bill. There are a few specific ways to save water that have little to nothing to do with electricity.
Install Aerating Faucets and Shower Heads
Unaltered faucets pour a dense stream of water directly down the drain. Aerating faucets and shower heads effectively slow the water flow down and ‘spread it out’ by mixing it with air. This actually improves your experience of the water while using less at the same time. Most homes already have aerating faucets, but check your shower head and consider replacing old screens.
Know When to Water
Most homes achieve the majority of their water waste keeping the lawn green. Lawns need less water than you think and if you choose natural, local variations, they often need little more water than the climate naturally provides. Instead of setting a sprinkler timer, only water when the grass is looking a little crunchy.
Cover the Pool
And for those of you who have a pool, keeping it full and clean is a major homeowner expense. If you won’t want to pour your water bill straight into the pool every few weeks, consider a simple water cover to prevent evaporation when the pool is not in use. It also keeps bugs and leaves out.
Being a good homeowner isn’t just about fixing repairs and paying the bills. It’s also about optimizing the house to best suit your needs, lifestyle, and budget. While you might be able to afford higher utility bills, you will enjoy your new house so much more when a greater portion of your household budget can go to fun things like decor, yard toys, and summer DIY projects. Whether you’re a first-time or long-time homeowner, or are still looking for that perfect opportunity to buy your first home, think of me as a resource on all things real estate including how to be a truly great homeowner. For more information or to start working with a friendly Denver real estate agent ready to help, contact me today!