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Expert Interview: How to Keep the Cost of Utilities Low During Winter

As cooler days draw nearer, the cost of comfort is rising. During winter, the cost of utilities increases due to the extra consumption of electricity and gas. With holidays, gifts, and parties right around the corner, winter already marks a larger spending on your budget. As such, keeping your expenses in check is necessary, and one way you can do that is to watch your consumption habits during the colder months.

First of all, you should be aware of how much you’re usually spending on utilities, in order to calculate your average consumption. Depending on where you live, what types of appliances you have, and what your habits are, the costs will vary. Check the averages for your state in our previous article on apartment utilities breakdown.

energy gas usage winter

Generally, the trends in energy consumption are cyclical; electricity use has two peak seasons—during summer months and winter months—because of the HVAC systems, but throughout the year there is uniform distribution regarding the electric bill. However, natural gas consumption peaks during winter months and the difference compared to the rest of the year is significant.

increase in energy consumption

Image courtesy of U. S. Energy Information Administration / Monthly Energy Review October 2019

Advice from Experts

There are many ways in which you can save on electricity, gas, and water usage, and if internalized, these habits will help you throughout the year as well. We asked a couple of experts what you can do during winter in order to keep utility costs low.

Holly McQueen, vice president of GMH Capital Partners, considers that the best way to monitor your consumption is to oversee the thermostat. “You can set the temperatures for when you are active in the home, when you sleep, and when you’re away.” Elaine Doughty, utilities manager at Morgan Properties, recommends setting the thermostat to “78F in the summer and 68F in the winter—every degree of extra heating or cooling will increase energy usage 6% to 8%.”

thermostat setting 68 degrees

“If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, you can save almost 10% by lowering the temperature between 7 and 10 degrees when you are away for long periods (such as an 8-hour work shift)” suggests McQueen, and she also adds that “if you have a heat pump, which is common for apartments in the south, reducing the temperature at this rate can increase costs significantly. We recommend reducing just 1 to 2 degrees instead, to avoid the emergency heat setting from turning on.”

Experts recommend that you change your HVAC filter regularly to make sure the system is working properly, and if there is a ceiling fan in the apartment, it’s best to reverse the rotation of the blades during winter. McQueen explains that “warm air rises, so you want the ceiling fan to push the air downward.”

Another area where a lot of energy is used during winter concerns hot water. McQueen says that “renters can expect to save 3% to 5% of their energy bill for every 10 degrees they reduce their hot water”, and Doughty recommends washing clothes in cold water, when possible.

hot water consumption

If you’re doing these things and you still consider your costs too high, then perform an energy audit to see where you’re losing heat. Look for air leaks and try to find where draught is coming in from the windows; inspect your heating equipment and lighting systems, as well as the efficiency of your appliances and electronics.

You can hire a professional or talk to your landlord about having an audit done for the apartment, in order to better insulate and ventilate it.

Practical Tips

As utilities manager, Elaine Doughty gives some more energy-saving tips:

  1. During warmer months, close blinds, shades, and drapes on the sunny side to keep the home’s temperature cooler and reduce the work on your A/C. Open the shades during cooler months to let the sun warm your home.
  2. Use your microwave instead of your stove when cooking.
  3. Don’t peek in the oven while baking—each time the oven door is opened, the temperature can drop by 25 degrees.
  4. Don’t leave your computer on all day long.
  5. Refrigerators and freezers operate most efficiently when full, so keep your refrigerator and freezer as full as possible, to keep the airflow fluent. Use water bottles if necessary.
  6. Turn off lights when they are not in use. Lighting accounts for about 12% of a typical residential utility bill.

With such matters, the most important aspect is being informed. As long as you know the costs and you control your consumption habits, you’ll find it almost intuitive to cut down on utility costs. Integrating a more mindful attitude towards energy usage will help lower your costs and your carbon footprint, making your home greener and more efficient.

Mihaela Buzec
Mihaela Buzec
Mihaela Buzec is a senior writer and online content developer for RentCafe. She covers topics about everything related to the renting lifestyle, from decorating and interior design to finding the right apartment, frugal living, money saving advice, and more. She dives deep into topics of interest, writing well-researched comprehensive guides on subjects such as renting with pets, saving on utilities, or avoiding rental scams to help renters stay informed and live smart. Mihaela holds a BA in English and German Language and Literature, an MA in Current Linguistics, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in neurolinguistics.

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