Lower Energy Costs During Coronavirus Quarantine-Free and Cheap Tips

energy efficient LED bulb

Cheap and Free Ways to
Lower Energy Costs
During COVID-19

It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic this year is causing life as we know it to grind to a complete halt. In the US, confirmed COVID-19 cases are currently spreading like wildfire, which is terrifying considering the lack of tests available. All experts are confidently stating that the actual number of cases is much higher. 

As we try to minimize the spread, most of the country is being quarantined to their homes as a preventative measure. Only essential businesses are open and any contact with others must be outside a recommended 6 foot area. This means that people are spending A LOT more time indoors, and although their bills may not reflect that yet, in the next few months, energy costs are going to skyrocket.

Ideally, this will be over quickly, but realistically, it doesn’t appear that way. At the very least, many group activities will be hindered dramatically. This means summer camps and sports for kids are out. Plus, travel as we know it isn’t looking like it’s going to be a safe option for a very long time. 

The harsh reality is that we’re probably going to be spending a good portion of our typical summer vacation months at home. And as the days get hotter, a lot of that time is going to be indoors. Stay at home orders and quarantines make this perfect time to examine ways to make your home more energy efficient. 

Probably the biggest reason to take a hard look at the energy efficiency of your residence is the lack of employment for so many people. Never before have so many in the US been instantly without income all at the same time. While the government bickers over stimulus bills, millions are waiting to see how long they’ll be out of a job. Now more than ever, it’s vital to look for ways people can lower energy costs. Implementing free and low cost ways to increase energy efficiency at home is a great first step.

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1. Hang Drying Your Clothes

This is something my wife and I started doing long before Coronavirus out of necessity. Now it has become our preferred method of clothes drying. 

Hang drying clothes is a great way to lower energy costs and increase energy efficiency. It can also help to improve the comfort level in your home by increasing the humidity (this is more beneficial in the winter), which also regulates the temperature. In the summertime, it’s easy to find a place to put up a line, even if you have the limited space of an apartment patio or porch. You can also place a line indoors, hang items on a shower rod, on the backs of chairs, or spread out in a closet on hangers.

Another great option to consider if you are living in an apartment without a washer or dryer is a small, in home portable washing machine. Amazon has several low cost portable washing machines that you can purchase, some even less than $100. When you think about trips to the laundry and the cost per load, this is an investment that would pay off very quickly. Not to mention, not having the inconvenience of sitting around the laundromat for hours. For me, avoiding the laundromat is more than worth the cost of a portable washer.

We’ve actually gotten into the habit of using our portable washer for a small load or two every couple of days. This actually makes it much less of a chore, plus it’s easy to find room to hang everything in our apartment. Whether you use a portable washing machine or go to the laundromat throughout the COVID-19 outbreak (and afterwards), hang drying clothes at home is a great way to lower energy costs. It will save you money, lower your carbon footprint, and make your clothes last much longer.

2. Use Cold Water More Often

It’s funny how something becomes a habit and you do it for your entire life without really remembering why you started in the first place. Washing my hands with only hot water is one of those habits. It wasn’t until I really began trying to find ways to be more environmentally friendly that I began to question why I was doing this. I really couldn’t remember why, but for as long as I remembered, long before Coronavirus, I had just turned on the hot only to wash my hands.

It probably doesn’t seem like much, but little things like only using cold water to wash your hands can make a difference, especially if everyone in your family does it. Plus, how many times have you turned on the hot, started lathering, and it finally gets hot as you finish rinsing. 

Also, if you do laundry in your home, using cold water on your clothes works just as well with a cold water detergent. Another way to greatly increase efficiency and lower your energy bills is to turn off the water in the shower when you’re lathering up. Saving a few gallons of hot water per day in the shower can save a lot of money on the yearly energy expenses.

Reducing the amount of time that your water heater is bringing hot water to temperature is a great way to lower energy costs. Sometimes little changes may not seem like they have much effect on the big picture, but a lot of little changes end up creating noticeable improvements on energy efficiency. And even if it’s only a few hundred dollars per year in energy savings, would you rather have that money in your pocket, or wasted down the drain?

3. Turning Off and Unplugging Electronics

I know that most people that own a home computer have probably never completely shut it off unless they were moving. This is something that I was personally guilty of for years. I still remember being in high school and walking into the classroom in the morning to a screensaver bouncing around. We grew up thinking that this was the correct way to treat electronics.

Now we know that many of the electronics that we use, even sporadically, around the home can waste significant amounts of energy when they’re running idly. Computers are a big culprit, but other appliances like televisions, blenders, power tools, and even lamps can waste electricity by just being plugged in when not in use. 

Something else that’s becoming more and more of an energy waster are smart appliances. It seems that nearly every electronic device you have in your home wants to connect to WiFi these days. And these devices are constantly connecting to the internet to search for updates. This means they’re continuously running, using unnecessary electricity when not in operation.

Unplugging rarely used items will help, but powering off computers and laptops will result in the largest efficiency increase. This is also one of the easiest ways to save money on your electric bill. All it takes is the minor inconvenience of bending over and pulling a plug.

4. Change Your Sleep Schedule

Since we’re talking about ways to save money during stay at home orders due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re going to assume that work and school are both being done at home. This also means that many service jobs like restaurants are probably closed, meaning no late nights bartending or cooking food, for example. 

With that assumption, many people currently have a lot more control over their daily schedule. As someone who worked in restaurants for years, I know that it’s nearly impossible to be an early riser if you’re closing down a dining room until midnight. If you’re not currently working, or working from home, it’s a great time to take advantage of setting your own sleep schedule.

By adjusting your awake time to coordinate with daylight hours, you’ll take advantage of natural light, causing you to minimize your use of electricity. It can also have a positive effect on how you spend your free time as well. And more sunlight in your life, even if it’s through a window, can have a positive improvement on overall mood.

Personally, I love to be outside for recreation. Even though we’re social distancing from others because of Coronavirus, there are plenty of things to do outside that don’t involve physical contact. If you spend your awake time in the evenings after it gets dark, your recreation generally involves staring at a screen. If you choose to be awake during daylight hours, it’s much easier to find activities that are more productive and psychologically beneficial.

5. Improve Your Outdoor Spaces

This is partially related to the last tip about changing your sleep schedule. How do you entertain yourself in the daytime if you’re used to having most of your free time at night? One way is to give yourself more reasons to be outdoors. 

It’s pretty easy to see why people who are suddenly being asked to stay indoors due to Coronavirus might get a little stir crazy. We’re used to being out and about all day, interacting with people, completing daily tasks. For the first few days of quarantine, everyone is excited to have the time to relax. For most of us, this can become extremely boring very quickly.

If you have the space, improving your yard or patio can make a big difference on how much time you spend outdoors. If you’re able, grilling and having dinner in the backyard can break up the monotony. Creating a comfortable area on your apartment deck can also be a nice change up when working on your laptop. Turning off all the lights inside and reading a book outside with the cool spring breeze blowing is a great way to increase energy efficiency. And having a glass of wine outside in the evenings is much more energy efficient than vegging out in front of the television binge watching Netflix. 

Creating a comfortable, welcoming space outdoors can be done for free by just relocating a chair and a small table. Or you could go all out with the best patio furniture. Whatever you decide to do, the more time you spend outside, the more you’ll save on energy bills. It will probably improve your happiness as well.

6. Check Furnace Vents for Obstructions

Although this is a less common issue, if you do have something blocking a vent passage in your home, it can cause a significant loss of energy efficiency. It’s also one of the easiest areas to check.

Keeping vents clear is very important to maintaining the climate in the entire home. If the vent in your living room is blocked, you’ll need to increase the heating and cooling systems to keep that room at the same optimal temperature. This will significantly reduce energy efficiency.

According to SF Gate, the best way to check furnace vents for obstructions is to turn on just the air and check each one. As you walk around the home, try to notice if the same amount of air is coming out of each vent. If you notice that one isn’t blowing as much air as the others, there may be a blockage.

Depending on where the blockage is located, you may be able to fix this yourself. Otherwise, you’ll need to call an HVAC professional or an insulation company. You can generally locate the obstruction with a flashlight by removing the vent cover and looking to see how far down it goes. Sometimes, depending on your ventilation system, you may need a small mirror to get a visual. I recommend a small makeup mirror if there’s one available.

Once the blockage is located, you’ll have to find a way to remove it. If it’s out of physical reach, try a fishing pole with a three pronged hook on the end. The pole should be able to bend into a tight crevice, and the hook will catch whatever is blocking the vent. 

7. Sealing Around Windows and Doors

Everything up to this point have been ways to lower energy costs and increase energy efficiency that cost absolutely nothing. This next one isn’t free, but it’s about as low cost as you can get.

Many homes, even newer models, have noticeable gaps around windows and doors. Even if the residence was built well, there could still be some settling in the foundation that can cause small openings. These little areas can be a vacuum for wasted energy, especially with Coronavirus is causing you to spend much more time at home.

A great way to increase energy efficiency and save money is to seal up these gaps. There are many products that you can purchase from sealants to foam adhesive strips that will do the job. And the best part is that you don’t need much experience to do this yourself. 

If you’re inexperienced, I would recommend going with foam strips, but even liquid sealant can be installed by pretty much anyone, aside from a little mess. Sealing up windows and doors will have a positive effect on the comfort and the energy efficiency of your home throughout the year. So while you’re sitting around social distancing, trying to find a way to not go crazy with boredom, grab some window and door sealant and jump into a project that will greatly reduce your energy costs.

8. Thermal Curtains and Covering Windows

There are many positive effects of replacing the windows in your home with better quality models. However, this isn’t always an option, especially if you’re out of work due to the Coronavirus pandemic. If you’re strictly looking for the most inexpensive ways to save money on your energy bills, simply covering windows to block the sun can make a huge difference in the warmer months. Also, covering them with something thick can help keep your home warmer in the winter as well.

An inexpensive option that will also improve the look of your home are thermal curtains. Thermal curtains are specifically designed to increase the energy efficiency in your home throughout the year. They are thick, heavy curtains that block the sun in the summer and keep the cold out in the winter. There are also many different options and designs that will match the theme of your home.

One last thing to consider is the possibility of changing things outside your home to block out the heat of the sun. Trees, shrubs, and window coverings are other options that can have a positive impact on heating and cooling costs. Obviously, if you do decide to plant a tree to block the sun, you may have to wait awhile to reap the benefits.

9. Change Furnace Filters (Lower Grade)

Changing the air filters in your home on a regular basis is something you should be doing anyway, but if you haven’t, now is a good time. Most filters recommend that you change them once every one to three months. If you’re stuck at home all summer due to stay at home orders from Coronavirus, you may want to increase this.

Not only does a clean filter reduce the strain you put on your system, it lowers energy costs by allowing it to work less to produce the same results. This can also have a positive impact on keeping pollutants and allergens out of the air. People with allergies like myself will appreciate the benefits of a frequently replaced air filter. And considering that COVID-19 can do serious damage to the respiratory tract, it makes sense to keep the air in your home as clean as possible.

One last thing to consider is possibly lowering the MERV rating of your air filter. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and it’s listed a 1-16 on the outside of your filter. The higher the MERV rating, the more powerful the filter. Oftentimes, people use a much higher rated filter than is necessary or recommended. Many heating and cooling systems, especially older models, aren’t equipped to handle such a strong filter. Having a filter with a MERV rating that’s above what’s recommended means that your system is working harder than it should be whenever it’s running. This could in fact be worse than a dirty air filter, and wasting you a bunch of money.

If you’re looking for a single filter, most grocery stores will have them in stock. Plus, they will be open as an essential business during COVID-19 shutdowns. But if you want to purchase a pack of several filters, Amazon has some amazing deals on multi-packs of filters.

10. Energy Efficient Light Bulbs

If your purpose for reading this is to strictly save money on your energy bills, replacing every light bulb in your home may seem a little out of reach. But switching over to energy efficient light bulbs should be something that you try to implement, even if it’s gradually, if you really want to improve the efficiency of your home and save money.

If you do have the money, I would suggest purchasing low wattage or LED light bulbs for your entire home. There are some great deals on multi-packs on Amazon if you purchase in bulk. By changing over all of your bulbs at once, you’ll see a more noticeable difference on your electric bill. 

We’re not going to lie and say that you’ll immediately save $50 per month on your electric bill by switching to low wattage light bulbs. But over time, you will save money. Also, some of these bulbs can last years longer than regular light bulbs. This means you won’t have to purchase light bulbs again for a very long time, which helps reduce landfill waste as well.

11. Low Flow Shower Head

Depending on where you live, the cost of your water bill can vary significantly. Many people who have well water may not have to pay for water usage at all. So is a low flow shower head really necessary to improve energy efficiency in your home?

The answer is a firm yes. 

Even with free water, unless you take ice cold showers, you’re still paying to keep the water heated. Heating water requires gas or electricity, which costs money. Also, if you live inside city limits, you most likely pay for wastewater removal and treatment as well. Since the city can’t really measure how much water is going down your drain, they base this number on your water usage. In Austin, our wastewater cost is generally only a little less than our electric bill, and higher than our actual water bill.

If you and your family are stuck at home due to Coronavirus, it’s a perfect time to start practicing more positive behaviors. There are less distractions without trying to rush off to work and get the kids ready for school. Along with this, installing a water saving shower head will assist with these positive changes.

The science behind low flow shower heads has evolved drastically over the years. We switched ours over years ago and it is infinitely better than the old, water wasting shower head that we had. We purchased an overhead low flow shower head which feels amazing, uses less water, and rinses us off a lot faster.

energy efficient low flow shower head

12. Home and Attic Insulation

The next item on our list could offer the biggest increase in home energy efficiency, but it could also be the most costly up front. Of course, depending on how handy you are around the house, it could be a simple fix. 

Proper insulation in the home is probably the single most important way to reduce waste and lower your energy bills. Older homes often have poor insulation that simply needs replaced because it’s dated. Other times, high quality insulation just wasn’t installed in the first place (people often don’t realize it, but many homes and apartments are built for the sole purpose of turning a profit, and the builders cut corners whenever possible). Also, even though nobody wants to think about it, rodents love to tear up old insulation leaving gaps that cost you money.

If you have the ability to check your attic, crawlspace, and other areas of your home that are insulated, you should do so. Other ways to tell if your insulation is bad:

  • Different temperatures in different rooms
    • If your home is insulated correctly, the entire residence should be the same temperature, both upstairs and downstairs
  • Drafts
    • If you can feel cold drafts in the winter or warm drafts in the summer, you definitely have an insulation problem
  • High energy bills
    • This can be difficult because you may have had poor insulation in your home for years, but if you think it’s high, there may be an issue. Another option is to ask a friend or neighbor with a similarly sized residence. If the apartment next door has an electric bill that is $50 less than yours every month, you probably need new insulation.
  • System constantly running
    • Even when it’s really hot or really cold, your HVAC system shouldn’t shut off then turn back on right away. If this happens all the time, you have bad insulation
  • Damp or Cold Walls
    • If your outer wall, ceiling, or floor feels cold or damp in the winter, it’s a clear sign of bad insulation. Similarly, in the summer, if it’s excessively warm, there’s probably an issue

The importance of proper home insulation can’t be overstated. I’ve personally lived in homes with really bad insulation. In Texas, in the summer, there have been times when our electric bill was over $200 because the air conditioner was running. After speaking with neighbors, we realized that we were wasting over $100 per month at least on unnecessary energy costs. There are a lot of things I’d rather spend $1200 per year on other than cooling the outside of my home.

13. Smart Thermostats

Smart thermostats are a relatively new invention to come around in the era of the iPhone, but even a basic programmable thermostat can help save a lot of money. Well, when we’re actually leaving the house occasionally.

The fact is, we won’t be on Coronavirus restrictions forever and investing a little money in a smart thermostat can have serious benefits on your bills. The features vary from model to model, but some of the newer smart thermostats can actually use your family’s cell phones to tell when people are outside the home and turn themselves down.

The costs for a smart thermostat can range from about $50 to over $200, but even the most expensive models will pay for themselves after several months. Here’s a comprehensive list of the best smart thermostats available now. Keep an eye on pricing because many companies will be offering big discounts to combat a drop in sales.

14. Bonus-Energy Efficient Appliances

Now may not be the best time for everyone financially to start thinking about energy efficient appliances. But if you are in a position to consider replacing some of those old electricity hogs, there will most likely be plenty of sales in the near future. 

People under preventative quarantine and home restrictions from Coronavirus have put a huge damper on in store retail sales. It’s no secret that Americans love to shop and social distancing has really restricted one of their favorite pastimes. To make up for this, you may soon see some outstanding deals on power saving appliances. 

Also, if there is a recession, and it looks like there may be, keep an eye out for deals. Whenever there is any recession, companies try to keep their sales up by drastically lowering prices. If you’re in a decent financial position, replacing inefficient appliances and electronics may be possible at a highly discounted rate.

If you’re looking for the most energy efficient appliances, look for the Energy Star logo. Energy Star is a federal government authority on assuring appliances meet efficiency standards. Updating appliances with more environmentally friendly models with help lower energy costs now, and for many years into the future.

energy efficient Energy Star Label