How low can you go?

Tips for reducing your utility bills

If you have a good sense of what makes your utility bills go up, you may be wondering what you can do to make them go down, or at least keep them more consistent throughout the year. Here are some things you can do to manage your utility costs.

Lighting

Shine a (little less) light
Remember when you were a kid and your mom followed behind you turning off the lights? That’s your job now! Make sure to turn off the lights when you leave a room, and especially to turn them all off before you leave the house for the day. 

Bonus tip: double check the lights in your basement, garage, and attic to make sure they weren’t accidentally left on the last time you were in those spaces.

Heating and cooling

Set it and forget it for savings
Speaking of leaving the house, have you put your heating and cooling systems on a schedule? Most thermostats made today are programmable, so you can input different times and temperatures, and it will automatically adjust the temperature of your house accordingly. 

Let’s say you’re outside the home. You might set your thermostat for 70° at 6:00am when you wake up, then lower to 60° at 8:30am when you leave for work. At 4:30pm, set it to 70° for when you get home. Finally, lower the temperature again overnight. In the summer, you’ll want the opposite schedule: slightly warmer while you’re gone or sleeping, and slightly cooler while you’re at home and awake. Sound confusing? (Email) Check out this video for a step by step walkthrough. (Print) Go to www.indianola.com to watch a short, informative video.

Reverse, reverse (your fans)!
Did you know you can run your ceiling fan all year ‘round, and not just in the summer? Hot air rises, so reversing a ceiling fan’s direction in the winter (to clockwise) pushes the warm air near the ceiling down into the room to maximize the heat available. To change the direction, stand on a stool or small ladder and look for a switch on the base of the ceiling fan. Switch it the opposite direction to reverse the fan.

Don’t forget to switch it back when the weather warms up! In general, ceiling fans use up to 90% less energy than your heating and cooling systems, so try to use them first before you resort to the heat or air conditioning.

A final summer tweak: Make sure to close the blinds in the most sunny areas of your home when the weather starts to get warm. The sun shining in might be the perfect spot for your cat to take a nap, but it’s also bringing a lot of heat into your home. Your cooling unit will have to work harder, leading to higher energy bills.

Appliances

Use your dishwasher!
Wash your dishes in the dishwasher instead of by hand whenever possible. It might seem counterintuitive to use an appliance over doing it yourself, but think about it - washing everything by hand takes longer, and the hot water is running the whole time. This is draining both your energy and your water, so it’s a utility double whammy. 

Meanwhile, the dishwasher is designed to use the least possible amount of water. The most energy-intensive part of the wash cycle is actually the heat-drying feature, so just turn that off and open your dishwasher to let your dishes air dry. Turning off the drying cycle on your dishwasher alone can save 15% or more when you run it.

Do you really need your oven today?
Consider using the toaster oven or microwave, or even cooking outside on the grill instead of using the oven or stove when during the summer months. When you turn on the oven, the hot air continues to flow the whole time you’re baking. When you turn the oven off, the hot air has to go SOMEWHERE, and that somewhere is into your kitchen, which then needs more cold air from the air conditioning unit to balance out the hot air, causing the AC unit to work harder and use more energy. The same concept applies to using the stove: it causes the air around the stove to be hotter, which causes the AC to kick on, which in the end costs you more money.

Replace the heavy hitters
Are you already doing a lot of the things listed above, and not seeing much downward movement in your bill? It may be time to replace some of your older appliances. The worst offenders for energy usage are your air conditioner unit, refrigerator, dishwasher, and washing machine in that order. Don’t feel like you need to replace them all at once, but starting with your AC unit and going from there can be a step in the right direction.

Maintenance

Alright, so we’ve talked about small tweaks and lifestyle changes. Now we’re going to shift into the nitty gritty. These are all the places around your house where dirt and dust can build up and make your appliances run less efficiently, which leads to them costing more money.

    • Replace furnace filters: Replace on the proper schedule. Depending on the size of the filter that you use, it may need to be replaced every 30, 90, or 180 days. The packaging for the new filter will have a timeline for replacement printed on it, so follow that if you’re not sure. Generally, the thinner the filter is, the more often it will need to be replaced. This will not only improve the performance of your furnace, but it will also increase the air quality in your home.
    • Clean refrigerator coils: The cooling coils that make your fridge work can get pretty gross if you don’t clean them regularly, and this makes your fridge cool less efficiently and less evenly. This job is a bit labor-intensive, but luckily only needs to be done every nine to 12 months. Check out this video for step by step instructions.
    • Fix running toilets: Does your toilet sound like water is constantly trickling into the tank or leaking from the tank into the bowl? This sneaky sound is running up your water bill. To test if it’s the tank that’s an issue, put a drop or two of food coloring into the tank, and wait for an hour. If the water in the bowl has changed colors, it’s a tank issue. If the dye stayed in the tank, it’s an issue with the water line connected to the toilet. (Web) Here’s a video on how to fix eight common toilet leaks. (Print) Go to www.indianola.com to watch a video on the eight most common toilet leaks.
    • Blow out dryer vents: This is a big one, because not only does a dirty dryer cost you more money, it can also be very dangerous. Lint and dust buildup is a serious fire hazard. In addition to deep cleaning the vent once a year, make sure you’re emptying the lint trap after every load. Never cleaned the vents before? (Web) Check out this video for a step-by-step guide. (Print) Go to www.indianola.com to watch a short, informative video.
  • Don’t skip out on checkups for your HVAC systems: You should have a professional out to inspect your HVAC systems with every major season change. Here in Iowa, that means having them out in mid-fall, before you start running the furnace for the winter, and in early spring, before you turn on the air conditioning for the first time. Not only does this improve your HVAC’s energy efficiency, but it also improves the air quality in your home and ensures peak performance from your heating and cooling systems.

Energy Efficiency Programs

Programs from IMU
Did you know that IMU offers rebates on the purchase of new, more energy efficient items from appliances to lightbulbs? Visit our Energy Efficiency page to learn more and sign up.

Depending on the efficiency rating of your new unit, we offer up to $400 to help offset your upfront costs. Rebates are also available for smaller changes, like switching to LED light bulbs or installing a smart thermostat, like the Nest. 

ENERGY STAR Appliances
Whenever you replace an appliance, look for a new one that has the ENERGY STAR logo. This means its energy efficiency has been certified by the United States Department of Energy. Not only will this save you money on your monthly utility bill, but these appliances also last longer and produce less emissions than their non-ENERGY STAR counterparts, meaning they are better for the environment.

It may seem overwhelming to implement all of these changes, but remember: you don’t have to do everything at once. Little improvements can still add up to significant savings for you in the long run. 

Do you need help determining which changes you need to make? IMU offers residential customers a free energy audit! Call 800-545-0762 to request yours.