Dear Dot: How Can I Reduce My Utility Costs?

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Dear Dot,

The cost of my utilities is steadily going up. What can I do to reduce what it’s costing?

–Nina

Dear Nina,

The Short Answer: Living lighter on the planet shouldn’t be a matter of spending more money but rather less. That’s not to say that electric vehicles and solar panels and clothing made from natural fibers aren’t all positive things — they are! It’s rather to say that they are not the only way to address climate change. A far better solution is to look at where we can cut back. 

You have come to the right Dot. It has long been my insistence that living lighter on the planet shouldn’t be a matter of spending more money (hybrids! Solar panels! Organic cotton!) but rather less. That’s not to say that electric vehicles and solar panels and clothing made from natural fibers aren’t all positive things — they are! It’s rather to say that they are not the only way to address climate change. A far better solution is to look at where we can cut back. As Dot has been known to say, if you want to talk to an environmentalist, find someone who lived through the Great Depression. Which brings us to your question:

Just as we can get our vehicles to consume less fuel simply by leaving them in the driveway (and instead walking/biking/rollerblading/busing/carpooling/the list goes on), we can consume less energy in our homes by taking some very simple steps:

• Turn up the temp: If, like ninety percent of the homes in the US, yours has air conditioning, bump your thermostat up a few degrees to 78°F (bump it up another 4 degrees to 82°F when you’re sleeping and 85°F when you’re away from home). We have become acclimatized to houses that feel like deep freezers, but ideally there shouldn’t be a big difference between outside and inside temps — just enough to keep you comfortable. 

(A caveat, however: If you have heat pumps  — and hurray for you if you do, Nina! — you can turn the thermostat up when it’s in AC mode without issue. But you cannot do the opposite and turn it down when it’s in heating mode. Instead, when it’s heating, maintaining a moderate setting is the most cost-effective practice. Specially designed programmable thermostats for heat pumps are increasingly available, and they make setting back the thermostat cost-effective. Otherwise, set a moderate temperature in the winter and leave the device alone for the most energy-efficient use.)

• Cold water for the win: Wash your clothes in cold water and let the sun dry them (or use an indoor drying rack). Longtime readers know that Dot loves her clothesline — all the convenience of a dryer without the energy consumption, plus the added benefit of clothes that smell like a fresh summer day. You won’t find that smell in a bottle, Nina, no matter what the ads tell you.

• Eliminate phantom power: Dot has already exposed this phantom for the energy thief it is. 

• See the light: Dot hopes there are no CFL light bulbs (or — gasp — incandescents) in your house but if there are, switch thee to LEDs immediately.

• Think small: Use energy sipping appliances over the energy hogs: consider greater use of your slow cooker, your air fryer, your toaster oven. Added bonus: None of them get warm enough to heat up your kitchen, making them perfect summer appliances, if you must cook at all!

• Try WattBuy. WattBuy’s goal is to help you save money on your utility bills by making you aware of alternatives to the default power provider and letting you know if there’s a clean energy provider you can opt into instead. 

• Explore the IRA: Consider what’s available to you via the Inflation Reduction Act’s rebates and incentives. Rewiring America can point you in the right direction.

Frugally,

Dot

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