Saving On Your Utility Bills

Utility bills are an expense many individuals struggle with. Find out what services are available and general tips to cut down on your utility bills.

Monthly utility bills are a great deal of stress for many Americans. Utility bills cover many services, with the most common being energy, water, sewer, heating and natural gas bills. Individually, many of these costs are manageable, but all the costs quickly add up, often costing several hundred dollars each month, based on where you live. If you are struggling with your utility bills, there are several ways you can cut down on these monthly costs. Some of the methods involve making changes around the house to become more energy efficient, while others rely on government assistance programs.

Eligibility for these assistance programs is largely determined by your finances. If you are a certain percentage below the poverty limit, or are enrolled in other assistance programs, you qualify for assistance. These requirements vary depending on where you live. More information about reducing your utility bills each month is covered below.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

LIHEAP is one of the largest government assistance programs to help with utility costs. The program specializes in reducing home energy bills, staying warm or cool depending on the season and making minor home repairs to improve weatherization. LIHEAP receives federal funding, but it is operated on a local level. As a result, the exact benefits of the program greatly vary depending on where you live. For example, in some states, LIHEAP will directly pay for your energy bills for a set period of time. In other states, LIHEAP only intervenes when your utilities are shut off, ensuring they are turned back on until you have a chance to get back on your feet.

LIHEAP funds can also be used to make repairs around your house. These repairs must be below a certain limit, and must make your home more energy efficient. Some examples include installing insulation so you are less reliant on heating, or repairing windows and doors to keep the heat in. Fixing broken or inefficient air conditioners may also be covered by LIHEAP.

Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)

The WAP is run by the Department of Energy. In order to be eligible, you must either be a senior citizen, disabled or have at least one child. If you receive SSI, you are automatically eligible for the program. WAP partners with local groups to make repairs to your home. If your application is accepted, these groups send someone to complete an energy audit of your home. An energy audit is a series of tests to determine how much energy your home uses. During this process, the auditor looks for potential safety issues and identify areas where you are losing money due to energy inefficiencies.

Once the energy flaws are spotted, the next step is to work with contractors to make change around your home. This includes sealing air leaks, replacing insulation or repairing your furnace. How much is covered varies greatly based on where you live.

State Assistance Programs

In addition to federally funded programs, there are many state assistance programs to help reduce utility costs. For example, many states offer either free or discounted heating options for low-income households. Some of these programs are only available during select periods, such as offering heating during the winter months. If you use firewood to heat your home, your state may have options to offer pallets or seasoned logs for the winter.

States also partner with nonprofit groups, commonly referred to as Community Action Agencies. These groups offer a number of energy assistance options, ranging from help paying bills, getting your utilities turned on and receiving emergency assistance during extreme weather conditions. Some agencies also provide legal assistance, if you feel your utility bills were unfairly raised or you are being incorrectly charged for your utilities.

Negotiating with Energy Companies

One of the most straightforward ways to reduce your utility bills is to speak with your providers. Utility providers care about profits, but they are not making any money if you are unable to pay your bill. If you have been a customer for a long period, you have a better chance of making a deal, especially if you are normally on time with your payments. What assistance is offered varies based on your financial situation and the company. For example, some companies will waive a late payment or even offer a free month of service.

Water Changes

There are several changes to make to your water usage to cut down on your utility bill. The first is to adjust your hot water heater. Many water heaters produce too much hot water, which results in you leaving the water on for longer waiting for it to cool down. A great way to prevent this is setting your hot water heater to 120 degrees.

Another helpful change is washing your clothes on the cold setting. While hot water is technically better for cleaning, your laundry detergent does the bulk of the work. Washing machines are also notorious energy drains and use a great deal of water. Heating water is much more expensive, especially with larger laundry loads.

Smart Power Strips

Another way to cut down on energy costs is to use smart power strips. These power strips detect when a device is in use. After a set amount of time, if the device is idle, the power strip will turn off. This is important because many digital devices, such as television, video game consoles, speakers and computers use energy while they are not in use.