At home during the COVID 19 Pandemic? Ways to Lower your Energy Bill and Reduce Water Consumption

This post was written and contributed by the team at Build San Antonio Green.

With schools, camps and most office buildings closed, many families have transitioned to spending more time at home. You may have noticed that spending more time at home has meant higher energy and water bills. In fact Big Sun Community Solar surveyed our employees that have families at home to see how their electric bills compared from March to May this year to the previous year. On average, electric bills increased by 30%. Here’s a snapshot of one of our employees with two kids doing online learning at home. 

Our team at Build San Antonio Green (BSAG) came up with different ways families staying at home can save on their energy bill and reduce water usage. You can also find a list of these tips on our Facebook and Instagram page.

How to Save on your Energy Bill 

There’s different ways you can save on your energy bill including making small behavioral changes to making larger investments. We’ve separated these tips into behavioral, low cost solutions and to investment options. 

Behavioral Solutions

  • Turn off lights when you leave an occupied room or your home. 
  • Take advantage of daylight by opening your blinds to reduce your lighting needs.
  • If home, use fans to feel 4° to 6° cooler.
  • Adjust your thermostat settings depending on your home occupancy.
  • A good tip to save energy during the months of May-September is to maintain your thermostat 2°-3° degrees lower between the hours of 3 PM- 7PM. 
  • Unplug your phone charger and similar devices when charging is complete.
  • Don’t keep a refrigerator in a non-air conditioned space because it will have to work harder to keep cool.
  • Run your washer, dryer & dishwasher only when they are fully loaded. This will also help conserve water! 
  • Check the setting on your water heater. The recommended setting for our area is 120 degrees.
  • Use cold water as much as possible when using a dishwasher or washing machine.
  • Set refrigerator temperature between 37° & 40° degrees Fahrenheit.  Set the freezer between 0° & 5°
  • Keep your fridge & freezer full, even if you just use bottles of water.  A full fridge uses less energy.
  • Use your microwave instead of your range to reheat food, this will not only conserve energy but will also help keep your home cooler in the summer.
  • Avoid placing appliances that give off heat, such as lamps or TVs, near a thermostat.

Low to No Cost Solutions

  • Swap out your home’s incandescent light bulbs for efficient LED lighting. Check out CPS Energy SaveNow website for available rebates. 
  • Install smart power strips to turn off your equipment when not in use
  • Change your air filters regularly to maximize your AC’s performance.
  • Install a low-flow shower head or faucet aerator to not only save water, but to reduce water heating costs.
  • Take advantage of CPS Energy’s Thermostat Rewards Program and reduce your heating and cooling costs by 40%. Rebates available for eligible WiFi enabled thermostats. 
  • Brush off any accumulated dirt off your exhaust fans covers if accessible to improve the performance of your exhaust fans. 
  • Locate air-leaks around your home (i.e. window sills, exterior penetrations, etc.) and caulk to help reduce air-leakage in your home. Check out the DIY Guide to ENERGY STAR® Home Sealing for more tips.
  • Add weather-stripping to all your exterior doors, including the door to your garage. 
  • Add a door sweep to your front door to reduce air leakage from your front door.
  • Adding insulation and weather-stripping to your attic access hatch or door will be of great benefit if attic access is located inside your living space and not in the garage.
  • Seal leaky door frames and windows to help with air conditioning and heating usage costs

Conservation Investment Solutions 

  • Inspect and clean your Heating & AC unit at least once a year to optimize your equipment’s performance.
  • Have a professional inspect your ducts for leaks and correct any issues to improve the delivery of your cooled or heated air.
  • When it is time to replace or update appliances or equipment, install ENERGY STAR approved appliances such as:
    • High-efficiency clothes washing machine 
    • High-efficiency clothes dryer
    • High-efficiency dishwasher 
    • High-Efficiency Heating and Cooling system
    • High-efficiency bathroom ventilation fans & kitchen range hoods
  • If replacing a natural gas water heater, consider a tankless water heater system.
  • When purchasing new entertainment products such as TV’s, DVD players, laptops, etc., look for the ENERGY STAR logo.
  • Check the insulation levels in your attic and consider adding more insulation if compression has occurred or attic insulation is missing. The current energy code requires insulation with a value of R-38 in the attic.
  • Install smart lighting switches around your home, preferably in the most occupied areas.

How to Reduce Water Consumption

As we move into the hottest months of the year, our water usage may increase because of the amount of water we’re using for watering our grass and plants but also for outdoor play. We have outlined ways you can conserve water indoors and outdoors all year long.

Indoor Water Usage

Behavioral Solutions 

  • Turn off the tap when you are brushing your teeth or shaving.
  • Take a shower! Taking a shower uses much less water than filling up the bathtub, just be sure to try to keep your shower under 5 minutes long.
  • Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrape them clean.
  • Use the garbage disposal sparingly. Instead, compost vegetable food waste and save gallons every time
  • When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run. Fill one basin with wash water and the other with rinse water 
  • Dishwashers typically use less water than washing dishes by hand. Energy Star certified dishwashers save even more water and energy.
  • Use a moisture meter to determine when your house plants need water. Plants typically suffer from over watering rather than under! 
  • If you have an active aquarium you can utilize the aquarium water as an excellent water source for your house plants while doing water changes.
  • Eat less water-intensive foods. Our diets account for roughly half of all the water we use. All food has a water footprint, but some are much larger than others. Eating less beef, one of the most water-intensive foods, is a smart place to start. Shifting away from animal products to a plant-based diet can shrink your water footprint significantly.

Low Cost Solutions 

  • Replace your shower head with a WaterSense labeled shower head. They can save you up to 750 gallons a month.
  • Look into purchasing a dual-flush toilet. It has two flush options: a half-flush for liquid waste and a full-flush for solid waste. They cut down in the amount of water it takes to flush your toilet.
  • Install water-conserving aerators on all your faucets.
  • Check for any toilet leaks; place a few drops of food coloring in the tank of your toilet, if the color shows up in the bowl without flushing, you know you have a leak.
  • Check for water leaks in your lavatory sink fixtures and shower fixtures & grab a wrench and fix those leaky faucets and fixtures. It’s simple, inexpensive, and a leak can cost your 140 gallons of water in a week.
  • Insulate your water heater’s pipes to avoid wasting water while waiting for hot water to flow.

Outdoor Water Usage

Behavioral Solutions 

  • Watering your yard first thing in the morning is a great first step to water-efficient landscaping.  Avoid watering your yard in the middle of the day.
  • An easy way to save water is to use a bucket and sponge when washing cars and bikes. 
  • Plant species native to south-central Texas. (These can be found on the Garden Style website from SAWS or contact the Texas Master Gardeners)
  • Avoid watering on windy days as it can push the water to the sidewalks and too much of it can be lost to evaporation.
  • Adjust your sprinkler heads so that the water lands on the lawn or garden where it belongs and not on the sidewalk or street
  • Use greywater for irrigation and plants.
  • Leave lawn clippings on your grass. This cools the ground and holds in moisture.
  • Let your lawn go dormant (brown) during the winter. Dormant grass only needs to be watered every three to four weeks.
  • Control weeds to reduce competition for water in the garden. Weeds use water, too! If you don’t weed, the garden invaders will take up water meant for your plants. A good layer of mulch around your plants not only conserves soil moisture but helps keep weeds under control.

Low Cost Solutions 

  • Use a layer of organic mulch on the surface of your planting beds to minimize weed growth that competes for water. 
  • When sprucing up your front or backyard, consider xeriscaping. This landscape method uses low-water-use plants.
  • Use drip-irrigation systems for bedded plants, trees and shrubs.
  • To avoid excessive evaporation, use a sprinkler that produces large drops of water, rather than a fine mist.
  • Start a compost pile. Using compost in your garden or flower beds adds water-holding organic matter to the soil.
  • Install drip irrigation systems where possible so water goes to the root of a plant.
  • Place a layer of mulch around trees and plants to slow down evaporation.
  • Take advantage of the shadows cast by trees and the home itself to place shade loving plants that don’t need full sun and to slow down evaporation.
  • Harvest rainwater for watering vegetable beds. Use rain barrels or a catchment system to capture valuable rainwater from your roof. Plants prefer untreated water, so your garden will be healthier while you cut your water bill.

To keep up with the latest tips on reducing your energy bill and reducing water consumption, make sure to follow BSAG on Facebook and Instagram. For more information about Build San Antonio Green and our programs visit us online at www.buildsagreen.org.