You've bought your home, your mortgage is in place -- and then your first utility bill arrives. Ouch! While you can't control winter's natural gas or heating oil prices, you can do several things to take the bite out of water and electric bills in the warmer months.

  • Seal it up. If your home isn't brand-new, make sure you have ample insulation in your attic, and be sure your doors and windows are caulked and weather-stripped so cold air can't seep out. You may be able to cut your energy bill by as much as 30 percent.
  • Fill up on filters. Change air-conditioning filters once a month, not every three months. A dirty filter forces your a/c to work harder, costing you more money. Unless you're sensitive to dust or other indoor allergens, inexpensive filters will do the job just fine.
  • Create a breeze. Ceiling fans help circulate your a/c's cool air so your room stays cooler longer -- and so your a/c doesn't need to kick in as often. Fans also let you keep your thermostat set at an energy-saving 78 degrees.
  • Ignore the view. If you're not enjoying the scenery, cover your windows to keep cool air in and warm air out. Insulated drapes or blinds and/or UV-cutting film on your windows can help cut costs.
  • Pick plants wisely. Before you put plant or prune, think about how the sun affects your house. You may want a huge shade tree rather than a low garden of beautiful flowers near your south- or west-facing windows. If you xeriscape -- select native, drought-tolerant plants -- you'll save on your water bill.
  • Give an inch. Set your lawn mower to cut your grass 2 to 3 inches high. Taller grass actually needs less water because the soil doesn't dry out as quickly. Reduce your water bill -- and preserve your yard -- by watering lawns early in the morning. If you turn on sprinklers mid-day, the water is absorbed too quickly; you'll either have to use more water or end up with dying grass. If you water in the evening, the grass stays moist too long, which encourages lawn diseases. Use a sprinkler timer to make life easier.
  • Choose lighting wisely. Summer means more daylight hours, so don't be so quick to turn lights on when you get home. Lights not only use up electricity, but the bulbs generate extra heat. Try three-way fixtures or fluorescent bulbs where possible so you can choose to use less wattage. Instead of leaving the bathroom light on all night, let low-wattage night lights light the way. In the dining room, put your chandelier on a dimmer switch and go with 15-watt bulbs instead of 40-watt.
  • Automate it. If you have trouble remembering to turn lights off, put them on timers or motion sensors. You can do this with exterior lights, garage lights -- anything. A motion sensor on the bulbs in your basement laundry area saves headaches as well as money: no more struggling to reach the light switch when your hands are full.

    These all may sound like small changes, but they really do add up -- and cut down the bottom line on your utility bills.

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