Moved into a one-bedroom apt.... how can I keep the cost of the utilities down?

I’m used to living with roomates… well, they’re dirty scumbags who wouldn’t clean their dishes if Jesus himself came down and asked them to.

I decided to get a one bedroom, but I’m concerned about utility bills. I live in Southern IL, which is humid and hot. I’ve been trying to be smart about the AC and use as needed, but sometimes it’s unbearable.

Now another question is the “fan” feature on the ac/heat control box. We have the option of “Auto or On” When it’s on, does that mean it’s always running? Would this produce the same output as having the AC on? Does it even make that much of a difference? Is the auto feature something that actually makes a difference? What is “automatic” about it? When I set it to auto, I never even hear it turn on.

So, can anyone shed some light on this? What should I pay attention to to keep utility bills down since they’re on me. I’m a college student so it’s important. Take less showers? keep the water bill down, sure! but I’m not willing to compromise to that extent.

Does it really make a large difference if I leave a light on for an extra 20 minutes while I leave the room or the TV on? How about the computer (HP laptop) other things I can watch out for? I’m pretty fiscally conservative (since i have no money) so I’m trying to watch out for myself every way that I can.
Thanks, you crazy dopers and if you would like to contribute to my “poor college students apartment fund” I will be happy to provide you with a paypal account address :wink: I kid, I kid.

Advice? stories? help? Help me save some money here! :slight_smile:

Simple things like not having all the lights on at once will help a good deal. I’m not sure about your air conditioner questions, but you might consider asking your landlord what the usual monthly energy costs are for <month> at your apartment. Ask if he knows if what temperature the former occupants kept the place at in both summer heat and winter cold. He might know at least a general “average” figure. This will give you a ballpark figure to work with, so you can budget at least. Good luck, and congratulations on your new place. :slight_smile:

Call your local utility company. Most of 'em will come out and do an “energy audit” for you for free. They’ll give you all kinds of suggestions for saving money.

When we had it done for our house, they even replaced a bunch of our incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents for free.

Instead of running the fan on your a/c, get a small electric fan and have it blowing right on you while you’re sitting and working. Just the motion of the air will do a lot toward cooling you down. Why have air blowing all over the apartment when you only really need it in the vicinity of yourself?

Your refrigerator is likely one of the biggest energy hogs (ours is too) and there’s not much you can do about that other than try not to open the door a lot. Leaving a light bulb on doesn’t waste a whole lot of energy (but you might want to replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescents, which have the added advantage of not putting so much heat into the environment) but you should definitely turn off the TV when you’re not watching it. If you’re just going to the bathroom that’s one thing, but don’t leave it on as background noise while you’re off doing something else.

Laptop isn’t going to take much power. A desktop with a CRT monitor would, though.

As to the A/C: The ON feature means it’s on and it’s staying on, regardless of what the thermostat is set on. The air is going to blow until you freeze. AUTO means the fan goes on and off with respect to what temperature you’ve set.

If you’re hot, you’ve got windows, but I generally begin to remove clothing as the temperature rises. Note that those two methods don’t mix.

Do you have central air or a window unit? If you have a window unit and it’s in the living area (as opposed to the bedroom), you can close the doors to the other parts of the apartment to just cool the room you’re in. (That is, bedroom and bathroom doors shut.) If you have central air, then you can turn the temperature up 3-5 degrees – five degrees rarely spells the line between icky-sticky and cool as a cucumber. The same goes for the winter, only with turning the temperature down.

Try to save A/C for the hottest days, too. If it’s in the seventies, you really don’t need more than a fan and and a glass of ice water. You can also try opening windows on opposite sides of the apartment to get a breeze going. Drawing the shades during the hottest parts of the days can help keep your apartment cool.

I went through an August in Milwaukee with no A/C and only a couple fans in open windows to create a cross breeze through the apartment. I took a cool shower before bed every night and slept in minimal clothing with wet hair. The wet hair really did keep me cool. So did misting the sheets with a water bottle before laying down.

Otherwise, I suggest you do your studying during the hottest part of the day in the library – generally temperature-controlled.

We might be saying the same thing, but this is not quite the way that my window unit operates. “On” means that the fan is always blowing but the compressor is cycling on and off based on the thermostat. “Auto” means the fan and compressor turn on/off together. This means that you can use the unit as just a fan by turning the switch to “On” while also turning the thermostat up to a point where the compressor will never cycle on. The fan probably uses only a fraction of the electricity that the compressor does.

I’d be a little surprised if that were true – older refrigerators were pretty darned inefficient but the newer ones cost something like $50.00 or $60.00/year to run. (At one of my old apartments, the landlord replaced the refrigerator after I’d been there for six years and my electric bill dropped by $20.00/month. D’oh!) I suspect water heaters, air conditioners, and stoves pretty much eclipse the refrigerator cost.

Lights are only a big deal in the aggregate. You can figure it out for yourself – a 100 Watt light bulb takes up a tenth of a kilowatt, so if you’re being charged 10 cents a kilowatt hour, it only costs a penny per hour per bulb. Not much. But if you leave ten lights on all the time, it adds up to $70+/month. In a one-bedroom, however, you aren’t going to be keeping a lot of lights on.

(IIRC),Electricity isn’t just about how much you use, it’s also about how much you’re using at one time. The rate is based on the peak demand so if you have the A/C, the TV, lights, and the computer on for an hour at the same time, your monthly rate is going to be higher than it would be if you only used one of these per hour for four hours. It’s gauged by how much demand can be placed on your energy company at one time.

Here’s a PDF about ways to save energy from Xcel Energy.

Get in the habit of turning off lights, TV, radio, etc. when you leave a room. It is just amazing how much that one habit saves on the electricity bill.

Don’t do laundry unless you have a full load. Make sure you keep the lint trap on the dryer as clear as possible.

Push the a/c settings up a degree or two during the summer and down a degree or two in the winter. And buy a programmable thermostat. Set it so that it lets the temp go up in summer or down in winter while you are not in the house, then goes back to normal about a half-hour or so before you get home. A ceiling fan or a floor fan helps, too. Keep the filters changed on a regular basis, too.

Clean the coils on the back of the refrigerator at least once every 60 days. Yes, it’s a pain. It’s worth it.

If you’re by yourself, run a fan pointed right at you instead of running the air conditioning. Unless it’s really beastly out, you should be cool enough and will save some money. When I was a kid, I would put a box fan in one of the two windows in my bedroom on hot, humid summer evenings, with the other window open and the door shut. It was amazing how cool the room would get, since the humid air would be circulated out of the room.

If you have a washer/dryer hookup and appliances in the apartment, learn which items wash well in cold water, I use hot water only for bleaching whites. If you’ve got a bit of space to work with, like a mini-utility room, hanging things to dry means less energy/gas running the dryer. Remember that last load of laundry and finish it, as opposed to forgetting it and re-washing to rid it of the mildewing smell.

I went thru a summer and autumn pregnant in a one bedroom apt with no air conditioning, keeping the place cool is a lot easier than cooling it down. Find all the ways you can to make your AC work more efficiently, like window coverings that block heat. Watch the weather reports and spend a few hours on a rainy day cooking great batches of stuff to freeze in dinner-sized servings, it’s cheaper (arguably better) eating anyway and a few seconds in the microwave won’t heat up the kitchen every evening like the stovetop or oven will.

Not an energy saving idea, per se, but get on a budget plan with your utility. That way at least you know what you’ll pay every month. Then at the end of the year, you’ll either owe them if you have a “use balance” or a credit if you’ve overpaid.

I hope you don’t have a southern exposure. They make a small window-shaker work hard for not much cooling (if that’s what you have).

Keep your lights off

cook one or two days a week and package everything in the freezer. You’ll save a ton of money.

Buy clothes at resale shops.

USE COUPONS. But only on items you really use.

Join Blockbuster’s on line thing. You can watch a lot of movies for $15/mo.

Organize pot luck gatherings with your friends.

Good advice all around. I have one question though: How old is your A/C?

In my summertime experience, the difference in energy savings between an old, inefficient A/C unit and one of the (much more efficient from the very start) newer ones can be greater than all of the other energy saving things you can do combined.

Wow, that’s depressing, and scary, since I have a quite old refrigerator.

Get into the habit of turning off not only the lights when you leave the room, but umplugging the programmable coffee pot after you use it. Turning off the computer/laptop when you don’t need it and even unplugging your alarm clock and resetting ( or have battery backup) every night.

These little things do add up.

If you have a southern/western exposure, you may be able to buy some clingy film to shade the window from the sun. A good set of insulated drapes (www.adoptadrape.com) can drop the temps considerably when you are not there. (Leave window open, close drapes.)

Shower with the door open to prevent mildew build up.
I wash only in cold water ( and my water is free! YAY for well water) and everything looks dandy.

Lots of good stuff already.

Most of the energy a given electric item uses ends up as heat. That is, the heat from a 100-watt lightbulb is over 90% of the electric usage and the light is less than 10%. So then for the AC to cool the room back down it takes more power than the lightbulb took to heat it up (since there’s no such thing as 100% efficiency). So for every dollar of electricity for light you’d also spend $1.20, maybe $1.50 for the AC to counteract its heat. More incentive to turn things off.

Fluorescents that use 27 watts to replace a 100-watt incancescent bulb make a lot of sense. An efficient refrigerator or AC unit is good; see if your landlord can see the way to replacement if one of them is old and depreciated anyway.

Another strategy is to open windows and air out the place when you first wake up, then close windows and drapes before 9:00 AM, making your apartment into a big box full of cool morning air. Then turn on the AC for an hour toward the end of the afternoon, if you need to.

If the apartment has two exterior walls facing south and west and is on the top floor it’ll be hotter than if it has one exterior wall facing north.

In the winter the drapes will help keep in the warmth, and the fewer the exterior walls the more sheltered.