How to Conserve Energy and Reduce your Utility Bills

by ‐ Tags: alternative energy, building science, green living

I love winter. My passion, however, does not extend to the higher utility bills that come along with it, especially since moving into a house that was constructed in 1910 and is essentially a sieve. Despite 2012’s mild winter, our January heating bill reached $318 and last month we paid $187. Yuck.

As a renter it seems like there are very few things you can do to reduce your energy bill besides turning down the heat, or at least very few improvements that will pay off during your lease. This afternoon I sat down with Sean Shanley, our resident Building Scientist, who dispelled this myth and outlined some of the actions I could take to conserve energy and prevent another $318 bill.

Window film

Somewhat predictably, I have single-pane windows. If you live in an older apartment, you probably do too.

windows glazing types

If you’re in the single-pane camp, it’s worth it to install film for the colder months. Window film is large (transparent) plastic that adheres to your window frame and creates an additional air space for insulation. Window insulator kits cost around $5 per window and increase your window’s insulation up to 90%. If your windows are like mine, you may have the added satisfaction of seeing the plastic move back and forth with the wind.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of installing plastic every year, you can also try thermal curtains.  These curtains don’t do as well as the plastic because they don’t create an additional seal, but they are better than nothing.

Seal up leaks

Anywhere air can escape your house is presents an opportunity for savings! Try using draft socks, which sit on your windows or by your door, and air seal your baseboards (Sean suggests matching the caulk you use to your baseboard color).

Reduce your water usage

If you rent in Massachusetts, you most likely don’t pay your water bill. But don’t be tricked into thinking your water use doesn’t matter: if you pay gas and electric, you are paying to heat all the water that comes out of your tap and showerhead. Faucet aerators introduce air into your water, allowing you to maintain water pressure while actually using less. They cost about a dollar, and take around two minutes to install. Low-flow showerheads are also a worthwhile purchase. They can cost as little as $10, but if you’re worried about payback time, just re-install the showerhead that came with the apartment when you leave and bring yours with you. 

Change out your incandescent lights

Swap your incandescent lights out for CFLs. CFLs use 75% less than incandescent lights and you can now get the exact same quality of light you had with your incandescent light bulbs. 

If you’re worried about costs, employ the same strategy I suggested with the showerhead; save the bulbs that came with the apartment and take your CFLs with you when you go. Here’s a picture of Sean’s collection:


There are also a number of great discounts out there for energy efficient products. The MassSave program offers heavily discounted bulbs and you can track down similar programs in your state here. 

Interested in seeing whether I'm able to reduce my energy bill this year? You can check out my usage by clicking here and logging in. (Username: ReduceMyBill Password: lilyisgreat)