7 Ways Remote Workers Can Lower Their Energy Bills

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Working remotely offers plenty of perks that can help save you money, like eliminating your commute and making it easier to prepare homemade lunches

But if you work from home, you may have noticed that your energy usage — and your utility bills in general — have gone up since you stopped going into the office. It’s normal to use more electricity if you’re home more than you used to be. But there are plenty of strategies you can use to cut down on your energy use and save on your electric bills

Here are seven ways you can save on electricity costs, while still enjoying all the benefits of working from home.

How working remotely impacts your energy usage 

When you’re at your workplace, your employer covers the costs of everything needed to keep the workspace comfortable. Things like lighting, heating, cooling and otherwise powering your workspace, are all paid for by your employer. When you work from home, those costs are on you, and they can add up quickly. 

A 2020 study from the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute found that energy use in American homes increased by 10% in the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as millions of people shifted to remote work. This translated into an additional $6 billion in residential electricity bills nationwide. That’s about an $11 increase in monthly electricity costs per household, according to the study. 

Working from home could mean you’re turning on lights or running the heat or air conditioning in rooms you didn’t before. You’re also likely drawing more power from smaller electronics and appliances like laptops, monitors, desktop computers and even your coffee machine. Larger appliances like your oven and microwave might get used more often around lunchtime, too. If multiple people are working in your home, this can double the cost.

“It can definitely be a big transition,” Marco Radocaj, owner of Balance HVAC, an HVAC service company in Vero Beach, Florida, told CNET. “You’re home more, so you may notice problems you may have never noticed before.”

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7 ways remote workers can save on electricity costs

Some costs of working from home, like internet bills, can’t be avoided. But there are still plenty of ways remote workers can shrink their energy usage and save on electricity costs.

1. Use natural lighting 

If you work during the day, you might be able to take advantage of the sun’s natural light. Something as simple as opening window shades or moving your work area to a sunnier part of your home can make a big difference. 

For as much daylight as possible, try to set up your workstation near south-facing windows. This should net you sunlight all throughout the day. If you work at night, consider swapping overhead lighting for task lighting, like a desk lamp.

2. Check time-of-use rates

In many parts of the country, utilities sell their energy under time-of-use rates. This means that electricity costs rise and fall throughout the day, depending on the demand for electricity. You’ll pay more for electricity during peak hours, when the demand for electricity is at its highest. Peak hours are typically in the early morning (between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.) and evenings (between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.). However, it’s important to check with your utility to be sure.

If your utility does charge time-of-use rates, “make sure you’re not running heavy [energy-hungry] appliances during those times,” Andrew Prchal, president of Gunner Roofing in Stamford, Connecticut, told CNET. “I used to wash my clothes at night to make sure I wasn’t using too much on-peak energy.”

You may not be able to avoid powering essentials during peak hours, like your fridge, but it’s a good idea to avoid turning on appliances like dishwashers, washing machines and electric clothes dryers during those times. Instead, handle those tasks on work breaks during the day or late at night to take advantage of lower rates. 

3. Dress for the weather

One of the benefits of remote work is not having to dress for the workplace, making it easier to wear clothes that keep you comfortable during your workday. Bundling up in a few layers or cozying up with a blanket during the winter can help you save some money on heating costs. 

Similarly, dressing down a bit in the summer might help curb the temptation to crank up the air conditioner. This can add up to serious savings over time. 

4. Keep your HVAC system in shape 

Your HVAC system may get a break for a month or two during the shoulder seasons. But during summer and winter, it’s probably on every day. If you’re working from home, you’ll need to keep your workspace at a comfortable temperature for much longer than you’d normally have to. 

The cost of cooling a given space can seriously add up. Air conditioning accounted for nearly 20% of residential energy use in the US in 2020, according to the Energy Information Administration. To cut down on energy costs, you’ll want to keep your HVAC system clean and well-maintained. This means cleaning or replacing filters regularly, keeping outdoor units tidy and scheduling an annual maintenance checkup with a professional. 

“It’s rare that people remember to clean or switch out their filters, and it’s even more rare that people even think about that outside component,” Radocaj said. “But little things like rinsing the coil off with water once a month and keeping it clean can make a big difference.” 

Radocaj also recommends checking that dampers and grills are open to allow for maximum airflow. Shading southern-facing and western-facing outdoor AC units or heat pumps from the harsh sun can make a big difference in hotter climates too. 

5. Energy-saving window treatments

You might already have an energy efficiency measure in place and not even know it. Things like drapes, blinds and other window coverings can help keep your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

“Shades and blinds are a big one,” Radocaj said. “If you can limit the amount of sun coming in, especially on really hot sides of the house, it makes a big difference.”

You can go one step further with energy-efficient window coverings, like installing insulated cellular shades, window quilts, thermal curtains or window films. Look for products rated by the Attachments Energy Ratings Council, a nonprofit public interest group, for the biggest energy savings. 

6. Think in zones

You’re using more energy when working from home, but you’re likely using that additional energy in one or two specific rooms of your home. If your home’s HVAC is zoned — meaning you can condition the air in different areas of the home separately — you can stay comfortable in your home office while saving energy by setting the thermostat back a few degrees in the rest of your home. 

Focusing your effort on your home office space can also make energy-efficiency measures more affordable. For example, you could install solar blinds or other energy-efficient window treatments in just your work area. You could also run a fan in the summer or a space heater in the winter, instead of heating and cooling your entire home.

“Instead of working in several different parts of the house, we might select a designated area where we can upgrade the window blinds, but you don’t have to buy window blinds for the whole house,” Prchal said. 

7. Smart thermostats 

Getting a smart thermostat can help you cut energy costs from heating and cooling even further. These WiFi-enabled devices can learn to condition the air in your home based on your habits and even turn on when a person enters a room. If time-of-use rates are a factor, a smart thermostat can cool down your space during off-peak hours, then turn off when peak times kick in. 

“I love smart thermostats,” Radocaj said. “They’re very user-friendly, and the interface is often on your phone, which is a very familiar platform. I’m a huge fan of anything that’s going to give you more control over your HVAC system.” 

Tax incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act can cover a portion of the cost of a smart thermostat. Your utility might offer its own rebates too. 

Other ways remote workers can save on electricity costs

If you’re ready to make big changes toward making your home more energy efficient, consider replacing leaky windows, installing solar panels or upgrading an aging HVAC system. A great place to start is by simply getting a home energy audit

A professional auditor can inspect your home to identify the places where upgrades will make the biggest difference in your energy usage and your monthly bills. The Inflation Reduction Act will cover up to $150 of the cost of an audit, and many local utilities offer free or reduced-cost audits to customers. 

There are also plenty of other everyday energy-saving tips you can use to trim down your electric bill, like running only full loads of dishes and laundry, using smart plugs and smart power strips, installing ceiling fans and switching out incandescent light bulbs for LEDs. In your kitchen, you can keep things cooler in the summer (and keep your air conditioner from running as much) by using your appliances thoughtfully. An air fryer, for instance, will heat the house up a lot less than an oven.

“Maybe use a little toaster oven as opposed to turning on a full-sized oven that will heat up the whole house,” Prchal said. “There’s a lot of small things that we can do.”

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