University of Idaho Extension

Cutting Utility & Energy Costs

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"Promotional bundles might allow you to try out some add-ons....But you might be automatically billed for those extras when the promotion is over."

Save money on your telecom (cable, Internet, and phone) bills by bundling them if you currently have separate premium levels of TV service, standard-speed broadband Internet service, and telephone service with a variety of calling features. Before you bundle, ask the company:

  • What's the total cost? Have them calculate and itemize a bill for the first and second month, then trim extras you don't really need.
  • Are there service limits? Are "unlimited" telephone calls and data access truly not limited?
  • What's the post-promotion rate? Promotional bundles might allow you to try out some add-ons, such as additional TV channels, at no extra cost. But you might be automatically billed for those extras when the promotion is over, unless you instruct the company to cancel. Near the end of the promotion, review the package and decide whether you want the premium services that were included at the outset.
  • What are the consequences of dropping or changing services? Ask about penalties or other problems that may occur if services are dropped or modified prematurely.

Not using all of the minutes in your cell phone plan? Consider changing to a "pay as you go" service. A prepaid service allows you to purchase the number of minutes you need without a fixed-term contract and a monthly bill.

Heating & Cooling

Cut your heating and cooling costs by:

  • Using portable or ceiling-mounted fans to move warm air. In the summer, adjust the ceiling fan to rotate counter-clockwise to lift hot air up. In the winter, adjust it to rotate clockwise at a low speed to force warm air down into occupied spaces.
  • Closing heater vents to prevent unnecessary heating or cooling of unused rooms.
  • Taking a look at your furniture arrangement. Make sure vents and radiators aren't blocked by sofas or other items.Use a programmable thermostat
  • Installing an ENERGY STAR-rated programmable thermostat. In the winter, set the temperature 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit lower when occupants are sleeping or gone.
  • Checking your filters every month, especially during heavy-use summer and winter months. Clean or replace dirty furnace filters, and clean the outside coil on your air conditioner.
  • Caulking and sealing walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, and ductwork. Use draft blockers along the bottom edges of exterior doors.
  • Insulating older water heaters and pipes. You’ll waste less water while the water heats up.
  • Auditing your home energy use with the ENERGY STAR Home Energy Yardstick or the Home Energy Saver.
  • Using window treatments to control heat and cold. In winter, let the sun shine in during the day and close the window treatments at night to prevent heat loss. In summer, close window treatments in the early morning to trap cool air.
  • Getting help paying your utility bills. Contact your utility company for energy and/or weatherizing assistance at Energy Assistance.
  • Checking utility company Websites. Utility companies promote energy efficiency programs that help customers save energy and money.


Cut your water bill by not wasting it. In the average household, nearly 40% of the water gets flushed down toilets; more than 30% is used in showers and baths; laundry and dishwashing take about 15%; leaks claim 5% or more, which leaves about 10% for everything else.

  • Use the wastebasket instead of the toilet for trash.
  • Take short showers, not full-tub baths. Install water-saving low-flow showerheads.
  • Turn off the tap while washing your face, brushing your teeth, or shaving.
  • Don't pre-rinse dishes; run your dishwasher and clothes washer only when full. Use water- and energy-saving settings, such as air-drying the dishes.
  • Compost food scraps—garbage disposals use almost as much water as an additional family member.
  • Learn where the master shut-off valve is located. If a pipe bursts, a quick response will save gallons of water and damage to the home.
  • At least 50% of total water consumption for an average household occurs outside. Use a broom—not a hose—to clean off sidewalks and driveways.
  • Water the lawn deeply and infrequently during the coolest time of the day to promote a deep root system. Avoid watering when it is windy, hot, or raining.
  • If you wash the car at home, don’t let the hose run. Use a trigger nozzle to stop the flow automatically.


Heating water to launder clothes accounts for 80-85% of the energy used. Drying a typical load of laundry in an electric dryer costs 30-40 cents, compared to 15-25 cents in a gas dryer (depending on utility costs where you live).Save energy by using cooler water

  • Save energy by using less water and cooler water. Unless you need to sanitize clothing or remove oily stains, the warm or cold setting will generally get your clothes clean. Always use cold water for rinsing clothes.
  • An ENERGY STAR washer costs more to purchase but uses less water and about one-third the energy of typical machines.
  • Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.
  • When buying a new dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor; it will turn off the dryer when the load is done. Over-drying your clothes wastes money and wears out the clothing.
  • Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation. A dirty filter can increase energy use by up to 30%.
  • Periodically inspect your dryer vent to ensure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire.
  • Save even more money by air-drying your laundry on a clothesline or folding drying rack. To fluff towels or remove wrinkles, use the air-dry cycle on the dryer for 5 minutes before hanging damp laundry.

Silent Electrical Leakage

A major electronics store estimates that leaving electronics plugged in can cost households anywhere from $70 to $1,300 annually.

Most idle appliances like TVs, computers, game consoles, microwaves, cable boxes, cordless phones, CD players, and cell phone chargers continue to consume energy even when turned off. This "vampire power" phenomenon keeps display clocks lit and memory chips and remote controls working, but it can account for about 40% of your total bill. A major electronics store estimates that leaving electronics plugged in can cost households anywhere from $70 to $1,300 annually.

  • ENERGY STAR appliances may reduce wasted energy by up to 75%.
  • Turn off computers during long periods of non-use; this cuts costs and improves the item’s longevity.
  • Save time by purchasing power strips; turn off a number of electronics at once by flipping the power strip switch.
  • Unplug electrical appliances (phones, TVs, clocks, radios, etc.) in seldom- used rooms.
Developed by:

Linda S. Gossett
University of Idaho Extension Educator-EFNEP
State EFNEP Coordinator
5880 Glenwood Ave.
Boise, ID 83714
(208) 376-1036

2014 Update by:

Nancy M. Porter, Ph.D.
Extension Personal and Family Finance Consultant
University of Idaho
(864) 650-8289

Other credits:

Educational Communications,
University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences:
Editing: Marlene Fritz, Communications Specialist, Boise
Web Design: Jacob Peterson, Web Designer, Moscow

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