5 Ways to Stop Sweating the Utility Bill
There’s an age-old argument about whether something new is better than the old version just because it’s more recent. While it’s probably not always the case (as evidenced by the remake of Ghostbusters), the claim of newer being better definitely applies to things like heating, air conditioning, and lighting. And while the Ghostbusters remake probably had you cringing, the new technology won’t, because it makes for lower utility bills. Yes, you heard that correctly: things just got cheaper.
1.Stay warm. Cuddle more.
There are a myriad of great green-energy solutions you can take to reduce your energy costs, become more energy efficient, and reduce your carbon footprint. The first step to reducing demand is conserving energy. This means doing no-cost, commonsense things like turning off lights and equipment when you’re not using them or raising the thermostat a few degrees in air-conditioning season and lowering it in heating season. Once you’ve reduced your energy usage through conservation, it’s time to look at energy efficiency. Measures like LED lighting and high-efficiency HVAC systems and controls are great ways to chip away at your utility bill.
Any discussion of lowering your utility bill must start with LED bulbs. Their economic advantages are huge, but let’s look at the biggest savings category first. Electricity is the biggest expense related to lighting, and LEDs use about 75% less electricity than incandescent bulbs and 30% less than fluorescent. This means that you’d save $750 of every $1,000 that you’re spending to power incandescent lights, and $300 for every $1,000 you’re spending on fluorescents. That’s a significant saving for any home or business, but especially for those that use a lot of indoor and outdoor lighting.
The other major economic advantage of LEDs is their long life. Because they need to be replaced much less often than other forms of lighting, the capital costs and maintenance expenses for your lighting system can both be significantly reduced. A typical incandescent bulb lasts about 1,000 hours, and a comparable fluorescent fixture about 10,000 hours. LEDs can provide light for 25,000 hours—some manufacturers even say 50,000 hours, but it would take nearly six years of continuous operation to prove that, so we’ll go with the more conservative estimate here. While LEDs do cost more than those other forms of lighting, their lifespan more than offsets the initial cost, since you’ll be buying fewer.
Those of us who live in hot areas where air conditioning is a necessity and not a luxury know the bill burden at the end of the month. Good news is here, though: Advances in energy-efficient HVAC technology in the last few years have largely been driven by customers’ desire to reduce their energy costs, protect the environment, and make their buildings healthier and more comfortable. Manufacturers have responded to these wishes by incorporating state-of-the-art technologies into their designs. These include not just improvements in the components of HVAC systems, but the integration of “smart” thermostats, energy management systems, and automation that can diagnose problems with the system and alert the homeowner or building manager when maintenance is needed.
And while this is all about beating your bill, we can’t ignore the perks that Mother Nature gains from your investment in the newest HVAC equipment. While the measures listed above help the environment by reducing the amount of electricity that must be generated – and the greenhouse gas emissions that go with it – new HVAC technology also uses refrigerants that don’t contain ozone-damaging chemicals (and which also save energy because they require smaller compressors) and incorporates energy storage or renewable energy resources like solar and geothermal. Even the environment inside the building is improved, because many of today’s HVAC systems include advanced air filtration systems that clean the warmed or cooled air of dust, pollen, and other particulates before circulating it through the building.
4. Give up control.
Let’s say you’ve got the newest HVAC system and are reaping the rewards. You can take it one step further. Incorporating an energy-management system into your building’s heating and cooling functions will maximize your energy savings. An automated control system will constantly monitor temperature and airflow throughout the building, and automatically adjust them to ensure maximum efficiency. These systems can even be connected to apps that let homeowners or building managers monitor HVAC performance through their phones and adjust it remotely. Energy-management functions can also be incorporated into a more all-encompassing building control system that monitors lighting, security, fire protection, and other operations as well.
5.Get off the grid.
Once you’ve lowered your business’ energy usage as much as possible through conservation and efficiency, it’s time to think about going solar.
The cost of solar PV has declined steadily over the last decade, thanks largely to an increase in demand for solar panels, which reduced manufacturing costs, and advances in technology, which led to greater efficiency. The Solar Energy Industry Association estimates that the prices of solar systems in California have tumbled 55% in the last five years.
The cost of a solar system depends on several factors, including the size, the quality of the equipment, and the physical characteristics of the building. Your solar installer can crunch the numbers and show you exactly what your system will cost, how much you’ll save on electric bills, and how quickly your investment will be repaid. But you’ll not only be saving money – you’ll be saving the planet too. By using solar power, you’ll reduce the fossil fuels burned in power plants that produce carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions. And you can’t put a price on that.
Behavior change, and technological investment are just two ways to save money on your utility bill. And believe it or not, your utility company wants you to save – so much so that they have incentive programs offering rebates and financing options that will significantly reduce the cost of installing these technologies. Ecology Action is leader in this space and can help you figure out how to chill out, get lit, and beat your bill. Learn more at ecoact.org/energy-watch.