Money-saving steps you can take as a tenant to trim electric and other utility costs

Lowering Utility Bills in an Apartment

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Lower Utility Bills for Apartment Dwellers?

How do I save money on utility bills in an apartment with a washer, dryer, gas stove, heat and hot water?

Yearly Maintenance Can Lower Bills

We have a large family (seven) and we use the washer and dryer daily. We have found that with a little early planning we save by hanging to dry (inside) those items that take longer to dry. Jeans, towels, tablecloths, sheets and blankets never hit the dryer at our house (except to fluff). Fortunately we have a great place inside along an oak railing, not easily seen by guests which also serves as our inside clothes line. This works especially well with my tablecloths, as they dry wrinkle free and looking "crisp" as if I had used starch and an iron! I love it. Of course, the towels and jeans get a "fluffing" in the dryer. After they have air-dried, they will usually only need ten minutes with a dryer sheet, if desired. Otherwise these items will feel a little too crisp (like cardboard). We know that this saves on our electric bill and we believe it prolongs the life of our dryer. Also, you should have your dryer cleaned yearly from excess internal lint, and your vents should be blown out for good airflow. This is about a $55 expense in our area.

The Cumulative Effect on Utility Bills

Washer: Use only full loads. Don't use hot water unless it is really needed. Most clothes will come clean with cold water. Detergent doesn't dissolve as fast in cold it seems. So put the detergent in first after you start the water and then add clothes a minute or two later to prevent soap spots on the clothes.

Dryer: Be sure to clean the lint trap after every load for most efficient drying. Pay attention to how long it takes to dry various types of loads and don't set the dryer for more time than is really necessary. Hang up and fold clothes immediately upon taking them out of a warm dryer to prevent a lot of ironing. That way, something heavier that isn't totally dry can complete drying on the hanger and still be wrinkle free.

Gas Range: Use high heat just until the pot starts to boil or optimum temperature is reached. Then turn the flame to low for the remainder of the cook time. Getting to the boiling point is faster with high temperature, but it takes much less to maintain the heat than to create it. Use properly fitted lids to contain the heat once established. Meals will cook thoroughly on very low heat if you use less liquid and leave the lid in place. Don't be tempted to heat the apartment with the oven on cold mornings.

Related: Clever Ways to Reduce Your Rent

Oven and Hot water:

  1. Use a whistling teakettle so you will know when the water is ready. By doing this, you will not boil it longer than necessary. Maybe get a water dispenser with hot and cold spigots. The hot water from them is almost boiling. This is great for tea and instant coffee or chocolate. Hot "Tang" is a great wintertime drink, also. Look for a recipe for "Russian Tea" using Tang.
  2. When using the oven, figure out how long it takes to preheat to the correct temperature, then don't turn on the oven too far ahead of time. Time it so that it finishes preheating at the time you will have the food ready to go into it. Remember to set the timer. If the oven timer doesn't work, get a kitchen timer that is loud enough to hear throughout the house, and always set it right away. Remember that the timer is the signal to turn off the oven, as well as a signal that the food is ready.
  3. In the bathroom, practice completing your shower or bath efficiently with the least reasonable amount of water. Don't run the water while you shave (face or legs). You can swish the razor in water to clean it instead of putting it under running water.

The cumulative effect of all these things together should make a noticeable difference in the utility bill.

Bring in the Professionals

Schedule energy audits with both gas and electric companies. There is a small charge on each monthly bill that goes towards these services. They will advise you on specifics for your apartment. Also, they often will wrap your hot water heater, insulate a window or two, install a door sweep, and give you a fluorescent light bulb. By having both gas and electric energy audits, you can learn from two different perspectives, and get two times the energy conservation stuff. Don't forget to stock up on a few fluorescent bulbs when they are on sale. They last much longer and use about half of the energy of regular bulbs.

Related: 12 Energy Saving Tips for Your Apartment

Household Hints

Washer and dryer tips:

Don't do small loads in the washer or dryer. Small loads use the same amount of power/water as large loads. Larger loads may take a little longer to dry, but the savings is still there.

Heating tips:

Wear warmer clothes in the cold months and cooler clothes in the warm months. If you have ceiling fans, use them properly to circulate the air in your apartment. Heated air rises and cooler air settles to the floor. The fans should be set to pull warm air down from the ceiling in the winter and to pull cool air up from the floors in the summer. Most fans have a directional switch on the side of the motor body. It doesn't take much to move the air, so one of the two slower settings should circulate it just fine without creating a chill effect from the air moving. With the warmer clothes and a throw blanket or two, you can keep comfortable without having to set the thermostat too high. Since you are in an apartment, you are limited on insulation options. But if you feel drafts coming from your windows or doors, request that your landlord repairs them.

Also, when you use your oven, after you are done with preparing your meal, let it cool down with the door open rather than closed. This will not hurt the oven, and the extra heat stored inside will make the kitchen nice and warm for a while.

Hot water:

Always fill your dishwasher completely before you use it. If you only have a couple of dirty dishes, then wash them by hand and either towel dry them, or let them air dry in a rack. Dishwashers use a lot of hot water and electricity. Check and see what temperature your water heater is set for. If it is anywhere above 110 to 120 degrees, then it is just too hot. You can't use water that hot for anything, so have it adjusted down. Also, request that a water heater blanket be installed. If your landlord isn't willing to do this, see if you can get permission to install one yourself. If you can see any exposed hot water pipes, then insulating them is advised as well.

Related: How Much Renters Insurance Do You Need?

Keep Time to the Minimum

Only run a full load in your washer, but don't over fill. Also read the directions on your soapbox. Many come with a free scoop than encourages you to use much more than you need too. This will save money in laundry soap and repair bills to your washer. Also use cold water most of the time. Experts say unless you are washing whites or diapers (or similar), the hot water from the tap doesn't do any better a job than cold water. And the warm water doesn't do a thing.

Again only run a full load in the dryer. For towels and clothes, dry maybe half way to get them soft and then hang them. Or if slightly stiff clothes don't bother you, string a line in your bathroom or kitchen and dry your clothes there. Again, if you have cloth diapers, its best to dry in the dryer on high heat to help kill any germs that survived. In my area, gas dryers are much cheaper than electric, but that may not be an option for you. My dryer has several setting options, and the "timed" option is the best. This options lets me decide how long my clothes are heated and dried, rather than a long preprogrammed cycle. I find that by using the 30 minute setting, my clothes are dry, and it's less than half the time of the preprogrammed cycle. If your dryer doesn't have this type of option, set a small kitchen timer for say 20 minutes and check your clothes. You may be surprised how fast it dries. Keep checking until you figure out how long it generally takes.

Can you turn the pilot light off of your gas stove? Maybe keep one light on one of the stoves and turn the others off? And remember it costs more to re-heat on the stove than it does to re-heat in the microwave. I'm not saying cook in the microwave, but leftovers are leftovers.

The easiest item is heat. Put on a sweatshirt and thick comfy socks. If you spend a lot of time in one room, could you use a small electric heater rather than paying heat for the whole place? Don't let it run while you are sleeping because it is a fire hazard. Get an extra comforter instead. Wool is very warm.

If you have a dishwasher, you don't need to wash your dishes in hot water first. Or you could save even more by doing them all by hand, and only sending them through the dishwasher once a week. It really doesn't take as much time as you would think. By filling up the sink and turning the water off, it will save quite a bit. Also, get a low flow showerhead. They cost less than 10 dollars for a basic model and it really does cut the amount of water you need/use. But the water is squeezed through tiny holes so you still have the pressure of a high flow showerhead.

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Ideas from an Experienced Apartment Dweller

Apartments are notoriously under-capitalized when it comes to energy saving investments. The landlords don't invest in anything that won't benefit their own bottom line. I've lived in all kinds, new and old, but recommend home ownership in the longer term, for the control it allows you to have on your overall living situation. I save energy not only for its benefit to me (saving money) but for the environment, which all too often ends up paying the lion's share of the costs. Here are my tips:

  • Location is everything. If you are in a multi-story building, choose a middle floor level and "share" heat with your neighbors through the walls, because you will never have to heat as much as those on the top and bottom floors.
  • Hot water costs money and energy. Save it.
  • Run only full loads in the washer. This saves on hot water use. Consider air drying certain items by hanging them up. Usually with forced air gas heat, there is a lack of moisture anyway in the home in winter, so this will help your sinuses stay humidified.
  • Purchase a water saving showerhead, which can be taken with you in the event of a move later. This saves on hot water use.
  • Turn down your water heater to 120 degrees. Most are set too high. You take a shower and use cold water to cool down the hot you just paid to heat. Why? Use a thermometer to test hot water at the tap.
  • Your lights are significant energy users. So, invest in Compact Fluorescent lightbulbs for your lamps and even ceiling fixtures. If you haven't noticed, they come in warm white colors now and don't flicker when turned on. They save 75% of the energy a standard bulb would use. You'll almost never have to change bulbs again until you move! Save the standard bulbs from ceiling fixtures, etc. to replace when you are ready to move out. Save the CFL bulb packaging to help safely transport the bulbs to your next residence whenever that may be.
  • If you have a halogen "torchiere" lamp (150 or more watts, fire hazard and energy squanderer), toss it now and get a dimmable fluorescent look-alike floor lamp. You could save enough in less than a year to pay for the lamp, and avoid the inherent fire dangers and smells of burnt dust and occasional moths that inevitably get inside the halogen fixtures.

Space heating smart strategies:

  • Closing drapes and even miniblinds will help save energy at night by insulating windows and keeping heat in.
  • Set back your thermostat at night and when you are not home. This can be done manually on any furnace. You could talk to the landlord about a digital setback thermostat. They cost about $50 on sale and could save that much in the first year if you are like me. Having a digital t-stat also helps with the "thermostat wars" of wintertime between cold and warm-blooded household members.
  • Wear a sweater or sweatshirt and set the thermostat at 67 instead of 69 or 70. I think that I have read that every degree cooler can save 10%.
  • Insulate against drafts. If you have a slider door that leaks air, a plastic sheet can be installed for the season to stop this heat loss. A "draft dodger" in front of the entry door threshold can keep air from going outside overnight.


Reviewed January 2018

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