Shelter-in-Place Life: Keeping the Utility Bills Down

Three of our biggest awesome household helpers when it comes to energy efficiency: our composting toilet, our hybrid (heat pump) water heater, and our awesome slow cooker.

One of the biggest things I learned early on as a remote worker was how my utility bills were affected. I remember laughing to myself in the first year of self-employment, realizing how much more TP I was buying because, well, I was home 10 hours more a day!

The reality check became even more dramatic when my husband and I moved to the country in 2018, to a home twice the size (with two stories instead of one, all bedrooms upstairs), with poorer insulation and primary heat source being an electric heat pump (not a mini-split, unfortunately, which I’d LOVE to have).  With that, we learned the first winter that our nice $40-45/mo electric bill would EXPLODE to several hundred dollars per month – and that was just keeping the house at a shivery 60 degrees!! So we were pretty stoked when we ordered what we thought was plenty of fuel (sustainable bear bricks) for our new high-efficiency woodstove, based on the amount a coworker of my husband’s suggested.

However, we ran out by mid-January! Why? Because we forgot that if we want to keep the furnace off and keep my fingers from freezing as I typed, I needed to be able to at least run a very small fire during the day to keep things going….something that someone going to work would not have to worry about. Lights, water, heat – all kind of essential when working from home.

Because of that, I thought about the shelter-in-place / quarantine restrictions so many of us are dealing with around the world and that many folks are going to be in for quite a surprise – especially larger households! – and some ways you can make – for free – an immediate impact…

  1. Turn your water heater temperature down!! Did you know the standard temperature on those things is set at 140 degrees? Stick your hand in something that hot and you’ll realize that’s cray-zee. Take it down to 120 and it will reduce your bill up to 10%. Ours is at 114 and I still don’t run the shower at full heat!

  2. You do NOT need to take a shower every day. Unless you are running a marathon each day, go to every other day, or even every 2 days if you’re just Netflixing half the day. Seriously, it’s actually bad for your skin to shower that often! And for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere where spring has just begun but the dry/cold often doesn’t go away for another month? It’s even worse. Wash your hands, yes, but you don’t need to take full-on showers every day.

  3. Do your laundry in cold water. All the decent detergents are set up for this, so unless there’s a special circumstance where only a hot water wash will do, change it to cold/cold. It’s also better for preserving the life of your clothes. Bonus: if you’re in a warmer climate, hang those clothes! What a great time to build a clothesline!

  4. Turn your thermostat down to 60 at night. Seriously. While that’s chilly during the day for many of us,at night our bodies don’t need as much heat to stay warm under the covers (and when you’re not utilizing the whole house, it doesn’t make sense to heat the whole house!). PS – Sleep in the buff? It may not feel dead sexy but put on some socks and it will make a tremendous difference I tell ya! Ideally, you have a thermostat you can program to do this but if not, put a reminder on your calendar on your phone 🙂

  5. Cook in large batches and love thy slow cooker. After heating/cooling, our major kitchen and laundry appliances are the next biggest energy hogs. Since many folks bought a lifetime supply of beans, why not take advantage of your crockpot or instantpot and make a whole vat of chili instead of one dinner’s worth? Next to the microwave, your slow cooker is the second most energy efficient way to cook! And honestly, I totally dig just throwing everything in the pot in the morning and coming back at the end of the day with the house smelling lovely and dinner ready not just for that night, but for leftovers the next couple days (not to mention my husband’s lunches since he is still biking to work every day at the co-op!).

  6. Don’t forget about the toilet! Seriously there will be a LOT of flushing, especially if you’ve got a whole family now stuck at home. If you don’t have a dual flush toilet already, put it on your list. Seriously, they’re $99 at Home Depot. That’s 20 trips to your local barista. That’s less than many of us pay to get our hair colored. That’s a cheap power tool. And it lasts forever. Until then? Here are a whole bunch of tips on saving water (including the ‘let it mellow’ option and, as we have in our master bathroom, a composting toilet).

  7. Homeschool offline! Just because there are online schools doesn’t mean you have to invest in a computer lab and try to suddenly mimic the public school system….not to mention strain the internet connection to the max and jack up your electricity bills. I’m for real! As the blogger – and homeschool alum – from Farm Girl Homesteading said to me recently, “Have them pick up a classic book and read it! Teach your kids to cook if they don’t already know how! Let them play games like ‘scrabble’ or ‘math games’ to sharpen their skills and still have fun!..Let them do stuff that is FUN and that they don’t even realize is learning! Because THAT is the stuff that will stick in their heads!” Another blog that I love is the Zen Habits one with Leo’s post on The Beginner’s Guide to Unschooling. What a great time to save money AND open your mind to the many ways of getting a schooling? You can still integrate certain online things, but don’t pressure yourself to become a clone of what’s honestly not the greatest school system here in the US (one look at what they teach us about American history should tell ya that, folks). Side note: While I don’t remember anything of consequence that I learned about geography in the public school system, I still to this day know the state capitals for ALL 50 states. Why? A Griswold-ian road trip when I was 7 involved a book my mom gave me on the states and their capitals…I was obsessed…and it stuck.

So….what are you doing to keep your bills down while sheltering in place?

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