First Person: Managing Our Utility Costs

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It often seems to me that people are controlled by their utilities rather than it being the other way around. People set their thermostats for a certain temperature and that's that. Rain or shine, windy or cloudy, that's the setting. They don't pay attention to when the furnace is running and when it isn't, when the air conditioning is coming on and for how long, and similar factors. And this can lead to much higher utility consumption -- and costs -- than is really necessary. The utilities are managing the people, rather than the people taking control and using their environment to their advantage.

I'm a strong believer in not wasting things. Whether it's food, time, or energy, I prefer an efficient lifestyle. This works out in a way since it not only allows me to more effectively manage our utilities, but it helps us keep our costs very low in the process. Our combined natural gas and electricity costs for our condo tend to average right around $75 a month.

Meter Readings and Consumption Numbers

Understanding meter readings and the consumption of utilities can provide users with a better feel for exactly what it takes to heat, cool, and otherwise run a home when it comes to utilities. Reviewing these numbers throughout the year can help get a grasp upon how seasonal changes affect usage. Depending upon the region, this can create quite substantial fluctuations in energy consumption.

Having a better understanding of our consumption throughout the month and year by being able to read our meters helps us look for ways to reduce our consumption by doing things like sectioning off rooms and/or closing vents, raising or lowing our thermostat, opening or closing windows or blinds, and using box or ceiling fans or portable heaters.

Knowing how to gauge our meter reading can also save us in other ways. Just a few months ago I saw our natural gas consumption reading on our bill spike for no apparent reason. Since the meter for this utility is placed in a hard-to-read area, after reading it myself, I quickly understood the reason for the spike. The meter reader had misread it by exactly 100 units. Therefore, through our natural gas account online, I began doing our own readings since my readings are typically more accurate, having just one meter to read as opposed to dozens or even hundreds.

Water Usage Tracking

Water usage tracking has played another significant role in our being able to manage our utilities rather than them managing us. While our water/sewer bill is now a part of our condominium association fee, it wasn't always this way. In our first home -- a single-family unit -- we quickly realized some important things about water consumption and tracking. The main takeaway from this education was that not paying attention to consumption rates could quickly burn us financially.

This fact hit home when our bills started arriving after we moved in. They seemed quite high, much higher in fact than I had expected. Therefore, I started tracking our rates compared to what we should have been using. I measured toilet flow per flush, number of flushes per day, number of showers per day, and similar water use considerations. I found rather rapidly that there was a problem somewhere. It turned out that our downstairs toilet was leaking, and in the process, costing us extra hundreds of dollars on our water/sewer bill. A $4 fix remedied all that, but it was a valuable lesson in just how we could be and should be managing our utilities rather than vice versa.

Unplugging What and When

I'm sure there are plenty of people out there that know about energy vampires but do little to combat them. These "drainers" of energy -- even when they aren't being used -- can add additional costs to our utility bills for doing absolutely nothing. By understanding and monitoring our consumption, and even by knowing how many energy units the products and appliances around our home consume (many have a label posted somewhere upon them with such information) or even just going online to research what the standard products consume when being used or when off, we can determine how many energy units these products are consuming and whether it's worthwhile to turn them off or unplug them completely to save additional energy. Some of the big ones are cable boxes, DVRs, DVD players, and certain kitchen appliances like our toaster oven and coffee maker (more as a guard against accidentally leaving them on than the energy savings).

Knowing what to unplug or turn off and when also helps us maximize ambient lighting/heating/cooling through doing things like opening or closing windows, vents, and blinds. It also benefits us when going on vacation through unplugging certain items that might continue to use energy unnecessarily or turning our hot water heater down to the "vacation" setting.

In these ways, we're enabling ourselves to manager our utilities rather than letting them control us through excess consumption, and in turn, higher bills.

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The author is not a licensed financial professional. The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader's discretion.


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