Have you ever sat down and figured out how much it costs to run your house for an entire year? I do this every year at tax time (speak of the devil!) so that we can write off a percentage of our usage for running a business from our home office. I’m always amazed at how much it actually costs to power our certified “energy-efficient” home. I have a few ways that we’ve made some big cost-cutting changes to help our utility budget. And I’m not talking about LED bulbs, programmable thermostats, faucet aerators and shorter showers (though all of those things are great and you should look into them)…
Let me start by saying, if you’re looking to move into a new home, please take the extra step to call the utility companies and get a monthly average of all the utility expenses for the prospective house. When my husband and I were looking for a new home 7-8 years ago, we found a historic 1916 Colonial Sears Catalog Home (literally these homes were ordered from a Sears Catalog, all the materials except concrete delivered in a kit and then constructed on your lot for a flat fee) in the downtown district of our current neighborhood. Just like the one pictured above, it was three stories of handcrafted loveliness complete with a parlor and sun porch, a Juliet balcony and multiple fireplaces. I was immediately enamored and thought our home search was over. While walking through the house with my father as he pointed out the hot water radiator heating and original windows throughout the 3000-square-foot structure, he advised we check on the utility costs before making any final decisions.
The next day I sat down with pen and paper in hand and called the electric company first. Nothing could have prepared me to hear the customer service rep share that the budget plan payment on the account was $450. Y’all, in case you don’t know, that means if you don’t “budget” the electric payments, some months they’re much higher (like in the long, cold winters we have in Pennsylvania) and some they’re much lower, but to avoid those spikes and spread out the payments, the electric bill is $450 per month on average! I almost fell off the couch! I didn’t even bother to call the water or sewage companies then. That beautiful, vintage house was no longer a viable option. With all of the aesthetic repairs that needed done, replacing the heating system with something more energy efficient was just not a job we were willing to take on and paying over $5000 per year for one utility was unconscionable. Search resumed–a sad day indeed, but thank goodness, I made that call!
After not finding anything that fit our needs more than a year later in our search, we opted to build a new house. We went with Ryan Homes, a large builder on the East coast, for several reasons, one of them being a certified energy-efficient home. By who’s standards, I’m not sure—certainly wasn’t to our’s! One look at our electric bill and we knew our home wasn’t as energy efficient as we’d hoped it would be…
One of the first projects we embarked on was ripping out the 80-gallon electric hot water tank and replacing it with a sleek, tankless natural gas model. If you’re willing to spend a little money up front to save some in the long run, I’d highly recommend making the change. In addition to the 40% savings, we never run out of hot water and that’s a big deal when you have 6 people who all need the shower (plus clean dishes and laundry—little people make some big messes).
Now there isn’t much that the state of Pennsylvania gets right. We still can’t buy alcohol in most of our grocery stores; we aren’t allowed to purchase fireworks (but we can sell them to out-of-state visitors who promise not to set them off within state borders); and we still impose an 18% tax on wine and liquor sales that was originally implemented in 1936 to assist with the clean-up from the Johnstown Flood. We certainly have some crazy blue laws, but we have managed to deregulate the energy market here so consumers can choose their electric and natural gas suppliers. This can significantly help your utility budget!
For both our electric and natural gas suppliers, we have chosen Ambit Energy. They currently operate in the following states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, DC.
They offer a program called the Guaranteed Savings plan. Once the service is activated, you get your energy from Ambit for one year and at the end of the year, they calculate how much they charged you versus what you would have been charged by your local area’s supplier. If they didn’t save you 3%, they cut you a check.
You must renew your participation in the Guaranteed Savings program every year, and make sure you don’t forget (they do send 2 reminders). Their month-to-month variable rates are much higher when you’re not in the program—I forgot once and overpaid for electric service for 3 months before I realized why my bill had suddenly jumped so much. There is no contract and you can switch to another supplier of choice at any time without penalty, but you will forfeit any savings if you don’t stay the entire year.
They also give you travel rewards for every Kwh that you consume and even though I’ve been using Ambit for the past three years, I’ve never cashed out my rewards so don’t ask me how it works—haha! You can also earn free energy by referring your friends and family to join the program as well.
When you build a home with Ryan, they contract with Guardian Security Services to offer you things like an alarm system, hardwired smoke and CO detectors, central vacuum systems, surround sound, etc. Calling these salespeople unscrupulous would be kind. They sold us services for our alarm system that we didn’t need and locked us into an overpriced 5-year monitoring contract that we were told was only a 1 year (I read even the finest print on anything before I sign now–that was an expensive lesson to learn). If you make any changes to the account, it’s activates an automatic 5-year contract renewal—and the contracts are iron clad. So, after we dutifully paid our $49.95 a month for 5 years (ugh that’s my $3,000 mistake y’all), I called, emailed and snail mailed my cancellation notice to make sure the account didn’t renew for another 5 years. I then started searching for less expensive options.
We settled on something a little different than your traditional monitored system. We went with the Ring Video Doorbell Pro. It’s a motion-activated HD camera system with two-way audio that mounts like a traditional doorbell. The set-up was super simple—my (not-so-handy) husband had it up in no time. It pairs with an app on your smartphone so you can peek at a live view outside your door, get notified anytime there’s motion and chat with anyone who rings the bell. It even includes automatic night vision so you can catch who Ding-Dong-Ditched you in the middle of the night.
One of the features that I love is that you can override the loud chime inside the house and just have your phones notified so no more worries of the delivery man disturbing your sleeping baby!
For only $30 per year, all the video is stored on their cloud and we can access it as we wish.
Granted this is not a monitored system that can call the police for me, but I can set the motion-activated area and anyone who moves through will be caught on video and their image stored. And it costs me less than $3 a month!
So those are the big cuts we’ve made to our utility budget. Anybody have any other ideas, big or small? Please share them with me!