Posted by: Anna Webb | June 22, 2009

How To: Save on Your Utility Bills


Utility rates continue to rise throughout the Nation. Every time it seems we get our monthly payment stabilized, a new fee or rate hike takes the wind out of our sails. Since sunny weather has arrived, I thought I’d share some tips on how I save on my utilities without giving up too much of my time, energy and common conveniences.

First, let’s take a look at your gas and/or electric bill. In Hawaii, these bills arrive separately whether you have gas delivery or haul your propane tank in every month to be filled. On mainland, however, you will likely receive your gas and electric bill combined. Those of you with air conditioning no doubt see a sharp rise at this time of year, so I’d like to share with you ways in which you can offset this nasty drain of your hard earned cash.

Clothes Drying

A clothes dryer either operates on gas or 220 electric and is running a race with your refrigerator as the second runner up responsible for sucking money out of your wallet each month. The air conditioner and dehumidifier vie for first place in this money draining race. Don’t get me wrong, I miss having a dryer sometimes, especially in the Winter rainy months here on Big Island. (Or when I’m in a hurry to leave and discover that the outfit I planned to wear is wrinkled and can’t toss it in for a quick fluff). Planning is key and I’ve learned to spot a nice sunny, breezy day early in the morning and capitalize on it.

Letting Nature dry my clothes is one of the most rewarding feelings I have experienced. There is absolutely nothing like the smell of freshly dried clothes outdoors. Yes, we can throw in dryer sheets and make them all fluffy and smell scented like the box of dryer sheets, but the smell of fresh air mixed with your favorite laundry soap and softener is hard to beat.

(If you know how to hang a clothes line and the optimal way to hang clothes – skip to the next section). First, there is some preparation required (please don’t “X” me out and move onto Facebook yet!). It’s not much preparation and should only take you a short period to to set it up. Bear in mind that clothes line and a bag of clothes pins are of a negligible cost at your local dollar store and an excellent investment.

First, locate the best spot in and around your home to hang your clothes line. If you wish to be considerate to neighbors who may find you clothes flapping in the wind offensive then include this in determining where you’ll hang your line. You’ll want a location that gets a fair amount of Sun throughout the day as well as wind. The combination of the two will dry your clothes within an hour. If you can only find a location that gets one or the other, opt for the sunny side but even a light breeze will do. You’ll also want it to be an area that is covered in case of an unexpected shower. There is nothing more frustrating than hanging up your clothes only to spot a rain cloud moving over soon afterward.

Next, determine how you will affix your line in this area. If it’s a carport, for example, you should have some nice solid wood on each side to attach it. The best way to secure your line is to use the “U” shaped nails (like large staples). Hammer it halfway into the wood on one side (take care not to position it too high and out of reach or two low causing the clothes to touch the ground). Take into consideration that heavy wet clothes will pull the line down by about a foot in the middle even if stretched tight. Also consider what is near such as bushes that could impede the clothes from blowing horizontal in a good wind.

Tie the line around the nail then hammer it into the wood completely. This affords you a nice tight end. Stretch the line to the other side of the carport and do the same, pulling the line as tight as you can when tying it. If you have the ability, secure the line in the middle. You’ll not want to stretch your line without a middle support further than 10 feet or so. It’s similar to hanging a curtain rod, if it’s past a certain length you’ll need a center support so it doesn’t sag too much in the middle. Bear in mind that even if you purchase one of those round pre-made clothes hangar/dryers you can save money by drying one load per week on the line vs. the clothes dryer.

Lastly, there is an art (in my opinion) to hanging clothes. If hung properly, there will be no wrinkles and they will dry just as beautifully as in any machine dryer. I do not recommend using hangars on the line as they will twist in the breeze and you’ll likely find your favorite blouse, shirt or dress on the ground.

To hang by optimizing your clothes pins, pin the clothing across by attaching two items to one pin. Obviously you have to start on one end with one article of clothing, then attach the second item pinching the end of it against the other side of the first, and clip. I prefer to hang shirts and blouses upside down. This allows for the larger bottom opening of the shirt to face the wind which blows through it like a wind sock. Experiment. There is no wrong way to hang clothes, but some techniques will allow the clothing to dry faster utilizing both the Sun and wind. Turn the clothes around and re-pin them after 30 minutes to let the Sun dry the other side.

Sounds like too much work? It’s no more work really than going in to check the dryer periodically. The initial work comes from hanging them. And, with a clothes basket full of one load of laundry it only takes about 10 minutes to hang them all. The time spent is refreshing and I personally find myself solving all the world’s problems in that short 10 minute span- lots of think time. Trust me, it’s worth it. But the real worth comes when you see your next utility bill and have extra dollars in your wallet.

The Refrigerator

There are a few tips regarding the refrigerator that can help you save money. First, know what you want to get out of the fridge when you approach it. Is it habit or something psychologically deeper that causes us to stand with the door open pondering what we want to retrieve? Are we even thinking of what it is we want or are we thinking we have a load of clothes in the dryer that needs checked? Ditch the old habits. When you open the fridge door know what you want, grab them all out at once and close it promptly. You’ll save big just changing this one simple bad habit. Share it with your family – make a game out of it or challenge each other to see who can get the items and close the door fastest.

Secondly, make sure your fridge is not located right next to your stove. If it is, see if it’s possible to rearrange it to another place in the kitchen. This is one of the biggest dollar signs on your monthly bill.

Third, keep all of your frozen foods together in the freezer. They keep each other cold in there and prevent the freezer from kicking on so often. Turn your temp down to a reasonable number on the dial. Not too low because food over 42 degrees fahrenheit in the fridge part of the appliance could cause bacteria growth. Conversely, if your produce is freezing around the edges you’ve got the temp set too cold.

Phantom Electricity Usage

What? This sounds like an opera or some sinister behind the scenes act. It is. Everything that is plugged into an outlet in your house, even if the item is turned off, is pulling a certain amount of electricity. Unplug your appliances in the kitchen. Yes, at first it’s a pain to discover you’ve made the coffee but for some reason it’s not brewing. You’ll catch on after a few mornings. Turn off the power strips to your entertainment center and computer desk. You’ll be amazed at how much all of this is yanking money out of your wallet. The blow dryer? Leaving the blow dryer plugged in is a danger in and of itself since they are usually left plugged in by a water source. Hello? Water and electricity don’t mix. Don’t tempt fate and always unplug the blow dryer.

I’m not being a stickler here. These are habits – a product of the age of suburbia. In eliminating these bad habits you can take the entire family out for a “stay-cation” at some point during the year.

Lightbulbs

Contrary to popular belief, light bulbs pull the least amount of energy in the home. However, if everyone leaves every light on all the time dollars are flying out of your purse. Switch your bulbs to the new florescent kind. The use a fraction of the power that traditional bulbs use and your bill will go down even more. Outdoor floodlights? Yes, there is no price to put on security but if you leave floodlights on all night at your house, you are throwing money out in the yard, not to mention contributing seriously to light pollution. Switch them to motion lights if possible. Engage the entire family to create a cohesive plan of change. Make a game out of turning the lights off. Give a prize to the family member that turns off the most lights. You can easily afford the prize and still stash away extra cash.

Water

Are you still with me? These things aren’t too much to ask are they? Not when collectively it means significant savings to you and your family, right? The water pump and the water heater represent the third largest consumption of energy in your home. Here in Hawaii, many homes have solar power at least for their hot water system. On mainland, it’s not common. No worries, as we say here. Do more cold water washes. Don’t let the hot water run so much when rinsing dishes. It uses less to fill the sink halfway to rinse off the dishes than to leave it running when rinsing. Also, don’t leave the hot water running when you fill the dishwasher. And, wash small loads of dishes by hand! Ok, well get the kids’ to do it. Then buy them a treat in return with the money you’ve saved.

The water pump kicks on every time you flush the toilet or run the water, hot or cold, for a period of time. Turn off the water when brushing teeth. Flush the toilet every other time. Take the car through a $5 car wash instead of washing it in the driveway. Just imagine $$ signs coming out of the spigot instead of water. Every little adjustment makes a difference.

Telecommunications and Cable/Satellite

How many of you are paying a phone bill, Internet bill, cable/satellite bill and wireless bill? I was. Consolidate! Most phone companies have “bundles” which includes a land line, Internet service, sometimes cable TV and wireless. Check them out. Time Warner offers Internet without cable and also offers telephone land line service in many areas. Decide what you want and what you don’t need. Cut your costs by as much as half of what you may be currently spending. All it will cost you is the time it takes to make the phone call and ensure that you are on the best plan for your families’ needs.

If you are paying separately for your wireless service, make sure you are on the most economical plan for your average usage. Saved up minutes are wasted money each month. Reduce your plan to fit your usage. With laws being passed to ban car usage of cell phones in many states, our usage will automatically go down anyway. Also make sure to take advantage of family plans if you have multiple users in the family.

Some of these suggestions may sound ridiculous or impossible for everyone to get on board with. However, when you can see a major difference in your utility bills and realize you can have extra money to spend elsewhere as needed, it provides quite the incentive for all.

Happy Savings!

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Responses

  1. 😉 I’m one of those who loves to hang clothes outside and I’m even more of a stickler than you….not only do I hang the shirts/blouses/Tees upsidedown and use 1 pin to hang two ends, put I like to hang all the towels and other items of the same type together, so that the line doesn’t look rag-tag….LOL – bed linens dried by sun and wind smell lovely!

    I too, follow some of your suggestions with the other appliances, etc, but also learned a thing or two today.

    Mahalo, Anna!

  2. LOL – I know Sonia. I have to say I do try to coordinate colors when hanging clothes on the line. Yes, there’s nothing better than sleeping on sheets freshly dried in nature’s breeze!

  3. Thanks for the tips. I had a good time with a little joke I pulled on my mom, explaining that a Solar Clothes dryer was available and that I was installing one that weekend. I sent her a picture of my sheets hanging out on the line and we had a good laugh. She loves to tell me that everything old is new again and this gave her another opportunity.


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