How to REALLY Save on Your Summer Utility Bills


I started this list last year when I read an article about “ten ways to save on your utility bills this summer” and thought, “This is freakishly lame! This magazine is really desperate for filler. They’ll print anything!” I then went to the forums at and started my own list. I invited others to add to the list with the goal to be to come up with 20 real things that could really make an impact on utility bills.

Biggest Utility Bill Saver: Stop Using the Clothes Dryer

#1: Make that summer heat work for you: dry your clothes on a clothes line. The idea of running a heater in your house in the middle of summer just seems downright goofy. Plus, those clothes dryers wear out your clothes about ten times faster. I once set up a clothes line and had some people that claimed to be “green” get upset because they felt it looked “trashy”. Here’s a news flash: those clothes on the clothes line are your eco flag! Wave it proudly!

There are racks for indoor/outdoor use. There are pulley systems to raise and lower clotheslines. People use carports or decks to dry clothes (because 90% of drying clothes is the wind – the sun doesn’t play a very big role). I once had somebody tell me that if you leave your clothes out in the sun, they will get sun rot. My response to that is that when those people are in the sun, they damn well better be naked! We have a huge thread at talking about dozens of ways to dry your clothes without a dryer.

Small Changes in Cooking Habits

You stay cooler and you can make a significant impact on your utility bill.

#2: Cook less.  I like to think of cooking as a cool season effort. Something that doubles to warm the house. In the hot season, I prefer to pull meals together that are good served cold. I’m not saying to not cook. Just cook less. Some folks might cook half as much in the summer. Others might cook 10% less. I know that there is a kind of beef from The Good Food Store cold case I like to serve in the summer with a pepper jelly.

#2.1: Eat your corn raw! Try it! It’s good! And it saves a lot of cooking.

#3: Haybox cooking. You don’t need an actual bale of hay or straw to do this. In fact, the most popular way I have heard of people in the United States doing this is with a plastic tote filled with towels. Just get your stuff hot and then put it inside the mountain of towels. Your food stays hot and continues to cook without any more heat.  There are things you can make or buy to do haybox cooking, but the towel thing seems to work so good, why bother with anything else?

#4: Use your BBQ, crock pot and/or propane-burner to cook outside.

#4.1: As long as you are cooking outside, how about a little outdoor kitchen? It doesn’t have to be anything fancy.

Save Water

Missoula is moving to metered water. You might want to become aware of ways to save water.

#5: With proper lawn care you can have a green lawn all summer without watering it.

#6: Use permaculture techniques to reduce water needs for your garden. Once you have a full permaculture system in place, you shouldn’t need to water, fertilize or worry about anything other than harvesting. The most popular place to start with these ideas is hugelkultur.

Keeping Your House Cool on the Cheap

I’m guessing that most people in Missoula don’t use an air conditioner. So this is directed at those that do (and those who don’t can live, perhaps a bit more comfortably, while not seeing any extra utility savings).

#7: Grow trees around your house. Lovely shade. It could be a long term investment, but with some permaculture / horticulture tricks, we can get those trees to grow a little faster for you.

#8: Layers of shade inside and outside. This is worth a blog of its own. There are so many things you can do. And for every style of roof (yes, even the three tab stuff, or cedar shake, or metal) you could do a rooftop garden which will cool the house tremendously.

#8.1: Hang something (blinds) from your eaves outside to block direct sun access through windows.

#9: Vent your attic space. It can get to 140 degrees up there!

#10: Open your windows in the evening /morning and keep them closed during the day! I suspect that everybody knows it. I have to mention it because I have seen too many people not practice it.

#11: Use oscillating fans, pointed at the people. A fan without a person is almost always a waste of power.

#12: Drink more water! Cool water goes in. Hot “water” comes out.

More Utility Savings Bits and Bobs

#13: Keep your fridge full and dust the coils.

#14: Cool wash your dishes by hand – the right way. This could be a whole different blog. Less water means less water bill AND less hot water. In a nutshell, watch this video:

#15: Put motion detectors on your outside flood lights. I once lived in a duplex that shared an electric meter. The woman on the other side had the switch for the outside flood lights. She would leave the lights on outside all night. And then she would accidentally leave them on 24 hours a day. For weeks. My math showed that it was costing about $1.50 per day to do that. $45 per month. Motion detectors would have cut that to less than a dollar per month.

#16: Keep your water heater set to 140 degrees. 115 degrees is the optimal breeding temperature for Legionella Bacteria which causes 85% of all pneumonia. If you want to save money with your water heater:

#16.1: Use less hot water.
#16.2: Insulate your hot water heater.
#16.3: When your current water heater dies, replace it with a smaller hot water heater.
#16.4: Insulate your hot water pipes, so that people using a sink/shower will get hot enough water sooner.
#16.5: Turn off your hot water heater when you leave for more than a day.
#16.6: Solar hot water heaters work well, but most of them are Legionella problematic.
#16.7: A really interesting thing to consider along these lines is Jean Pain’s work with heating water with composting organic matter.

The Light Bulbs You Have Now are Fine

Northwestern Energy keeps harping on how the biggest way to save energy is to throw away your incandescent light bulbs and buy fluorescent light bulbs. That’s a big steaming pile of horse potatoes. I know that if I switched all of my light bulbs to fluorescent, and they worked as well as claimed, I might save about 40 to 50 cents per month. Yet, by using a clothesline instead of a dryer, I save about $8 to $12 per month. That’s just me. I suppose a family of four might use twice as much light and four times as much laundry.

Utility Savings Summary

There’s more. Lots more. Enough to fill several books. A lot of the things we are being told are ways to save energy are really ways for people to buy stuff and make some company more money. Magazines and television shows are now getting loaded with this crap in order to sell stuff. It’s getting hard to tell the difference between what really saves you money and what is just advertising for something.

Please take a look at my article on How I Cut 87% off of my Electric Heating Bill which was built from a thread at called Making the Best of Electric Heat. This article is rooted in the thread 20 ways to REALLY reduce your summer utility bills which has a lot more information.

*Photo of clothesline by Peter Blanchard.


BIO: Paul Wheaton is is the tyrannical ruler of two on-line communities. One is about permaculture and one is about software engineering. There is even one for Missoula. Paul has written several permacutlure articles starting with one on lawn care that he presented at the MUD Project 17 years ago, including articles on raising chickenscast iron and diatomaceous earth. Paul also regularly uploads permaculture videos and permaculture podcasts. In his spare time, Paul has plans for world domination and is currently shopping for a hollowed out volcano in the Missoula area, with good submarine access.

See all of Paul’s contributions to MakeitMissoula on this Blog Homepage here