Shrink Your Utility Bill by Plugging These Surprising Home Energy Leaks

by Mikey Rox on 24 October 2013 5 comments

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average family spends more than $1,600 annually on utility bills. This breaks down to about $133 a month. (See also: How The Rest of the World Saves Energy)

After a close evaluation of your utility bills, you may discover that your annual energy costs are higher than the average. There's plenty you can do to lower your costs. And while you probably know the benefits of buying Energy Star appliances and replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFL bulbs, you may be unaware of these surprising routines that drain energy and ultimately increase energy costs.

1. Icemaker

I didn't know this was possible until recently, but you can turn off the automatic icemaker on your refrigerator. Having the icemaker on is certainly  convenient, because you don't have to fill ice trays. And if you're entertaining guests, an icemaker ensures a generous supply of ice. Yet, there's a price to convenience.

Automatic ice machines work around the clock, constantly draining energy, and they can increase your refrigerator's energy use by 14% to 20%, says Energy Star. But if you turn off your icemaker feature and make your ice the old-fashioned way (with an ice tray), that's extra cash in your pocket.

Look for an on/off switch on the front of the icemaker, or check your manual for specific instructions.

2. Hand Washing vs. Dishwasher

Hand washing may clean your dishes better, but if you're looking for ways to conserve energy, you better learn to love your dishwasher. (See also: Top 5 Dishwashers)

You need hot water to clean dishes. And since it takes energy to heat water, it only makes sense that the more hot water you use, the higher your energy costs.

Maybe you feel it's greener and more cost-effective to give your dishwasher a rest and hand wash your cups, forks, plates, etc. But at the end of the day, it's all about consumption. And since the average dishwasher uses only about 4 to 6 gallons of water per cycle, and the average faucet outputs 2 gallons of water per minute, running your dishwasher can save time and money.

3. Electric Ovens

Large electric ovens require a lot of energy, and if you use your stove every day of the week, this will drive up your energy costs. Of course, you have to eat. If you do the math, cooking your own food is probably cheaper than grabbing a bite to eat. So even though the oven is one of the biggest energy drains in your house, you really don't have much of a choice, right? (See also: 19 Tips for Efficient Oven Use)

Well, not exactly. There is no rule that says you have to use your oven when preparing meals. Several vegetable and meat dishes can be prepared with smaller appliances, such as a slow cooker, a microwave, or an electric grill. You can use a toaster oven for meals you would normally cook in the oven, or maybe a rice cooker or steamer for items you usually prepare on the stovetop. Switch to smaller appliances, and you can use about 75% less energy.

4. Taking a Bath

Maybe you prefer a nice hot bath instead of a shower? Sure, baths take longer, considering you have to wait for the tub to fill with water. But what better way to relax and recharge after a long day? (See also: Easy Ways to Have Energy After Work)

An occasional bath isn't going to skyrocket your utility bills. However, if this becomes your nightly routine, expect your energy costs to be slightly higher than the average household.

Just like running your dishwasher, the cost of taking a bath all boils down to water consumption and the energy it takes to heat the water. Water constantly flows while showering, and like many others, you may feel that baths use less water and energy. But when you compare the average water usage for showers and baths, the facts might comes as a surprise.

The average bath requires 30 to 50 gallons of water — a major energy drain, especially when a four-minute shower with a low-flow head only uses about 10 gallons of water. Not bad considering how a family of four can each take a quick shower and use less water than a single bath.

5. Empty Fridge and Freezer

If you grocery shop every Saturday and only buy enough for a week, you may not have a stockpile of food in your fridge or freezer. You're probably thinking — what does my shopping routine have to do with home energy?

Well, there's a connection. The less you buy, the less items inside your refrigerator — and empty space doesn't exactly save energy. Emptiness provides just enough space for warm air to circulate — an energy killer.

The temperature in your kitchen is obviously warmer than the temperature inside your refrigerator. When you open the door, warm air rushes inside; the fridge then works extra hard to maintain a cool temperature. But when you keep your fridge and freezer fully stocked, this doesn't leave much room for warm air. The cooler your fridge stays, the less energy it uses.

Do you know of other surprising energy drains not listed here? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture
Len

Few things that I know of that surprised me...

a toaster.. constant draw if plugged in (and slight fire hazard)..I used a electric meter and couldn't believe it... same with the toaster oven.. even when not in use.. drew some watts.

computers.. I actually saved $30 the first month I put my computer into sleep mode from 1am to 8am which included monitors.. I saved another $10 a month by switching to a Mac Mini from a huge beast of a home-built i7 PC Tower... laptops use a lot less than that.

biggest surprise on the opposite end..

lightbulbs..

I changed them all up to CFL's .... didn't notice a huge difference in my bill.

Summary.. it's the constant on products that really add-up.

Guest's picture
Guest

I wonder how that could be when the icemaker only makes ice as you use it. When the icemaker is full, no ice is being made and it would seem no extra energy being used. And the fact that you do not have to open the door to the freezer to get ice with a through the door ice dispenser would seem like an energy saver to me. The cold air from the freezer does not get lost into the room and the freezer does not have to be cooled back down.
Also, nowhere on the Energy Star website could I find the 14-20% increase in electric use you say it adds.

Lars Peterson's picture

Yeah, the Energy Star site is a little clunky and it's hard to link to some of the data directly.

The detail on the 14%-20% increase in energy usage for the icemaker is hidden behind the "Buying Guide" tab on that page.

Here's the actual guidance:

"Consider skipping the ice-maker and dispenser.
Automatic ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers increase energy use by 14-20%. They also raise the purchase price by $75-250."

Guest's picture

Never thought about the empty fridge before. Looks like I need to make less trips to the store and stock up more when I do go. Plus you would save some on gas making less trips!

Guest's picture
Amanda H

I always read the opposite - your fridge shouldn't be too full but you should stuff your freezer.