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How to Reduce Your Utility Bill Dramatically

How to Reduce Your Utility Bill Dramatically
Olivia Minnier
Content Writer

About This Article

In this article, we discuss ways to reduce your utility bill by upgrading and tuning up your HVAC system. Improve your indoor air quality, save money, and have more control over your home's comfort.

Are you still in a state of shock when your monthly utility bill comes? Have you bought energy-star-rated appliances, LED lightbulbs, wash clothes in cold water? Do you drive your family crazy when you tell them to shut the lights off?

At Fire & Ice, we know how hard you work to save on your monthly energy bills all year long. Heating and cooling your home accounts for a large portion of utility expenses. According to Energy.gov, the typical family spends $2,000 yearly on utility bills, and $875 goes to heating and cooling the house. To cut those bills dramatically, you must find a way to attack those costs.

Some simple tips you can take outside of what you are already doing to reduce your energy costs are the following:

  • Purchase and use all LED light bulbs in your home; these can save up to 90% of energy compared to a normal light bulb

  • Install a solar water heater. A water heater is one of the appliances in your home that uses the highest amount of energy. It runs for hours a day and can cost a lot in terms of your utility bill. While solar water heaters are expensive in the initial purchase, they pay for themselves over time.

  • Switch to a smart thermostat

  • Fix any leaking appliances or faucets

  • Replace any older appliances with newer, Energy Star-rated ones

If these solutions are not enough or you’re also looking to solve your at-home comfort concerns, a new HVAC system may be in order. One of the best ways to do this is to install a high-efficiency furnace. But what are they?

What Is a High-Efficiency Furnace?

First, let’s talk about the two main furnace types: electric and gas.

Propane and oil furnaces are still out there, but for our purposes, they both fall into the “gas” category. (And if you still have a propane or oil furnace and you have access to natural gas, a switch to gas would go a long way toward lowering your utility bills.)

By definition, an electric furnace is a high-efficiency furnace, even though we don’t really call it that. The reason it’s high-efficiency is that every cent you put into getting the air hot is being used. There is no waste, nothing to exhaust away from the furnace.

An electric furnace consists of an air handler that has heating coils added to it (sometimes called a heat package or heat strips). Electric furnaces work a bit like a toaster. The heated coils act in much the same way, glowing red when they’re hot. If there were an airstream flowing through your toaster, pushing the warm air into your home, you’d have a miniature electric furnace.

Gas Furnaces can be High-Efficiency

Gas furnaces, depending on the model and make, can be high-efficiency.

So when we talk about the definition of efficiency, we’re talking about the difference in gas furnaces: a standard-efficiency furnace versus a high-efficiency unit.

High-efficiency rates fall anywhere between 90% and 98% AFUE. Anything less than 90% is standard efficiency.

One more thing needs to be made clear. If your HVAC equipment is more than ten years old, it's a big reason why those bills are so high. If you have an old furnace or air conditioner, the only way you're going to cut utility bills dramatically is to upgrade to a newer and more efficient unit.

How is Furnace Efficiency Measured?

Furnace efficiency is measured in AFUE, which stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. It’s measured in percentages and calculates how much heat a furnace generates that goes towards heating your home.

Another way to look at it: If you spend a dollar to heat your home and have an 80% efficiency furnace, 20 cents of that dollar will be released from your home rather than heating it.

If you are not ready to upgrade or your equipment is reasonably new, let's discuss other ways to tame those utility bills.

Maintenance of your Furnace Helps Efficiency

Air conditioner, and furnace maintenance is the best and the only way to keep the equipment operating at peak efficiency. These mechanical devices are affected by the wear and tear they endure over time.  At Fire & Ice, we fight back by doing one of the most comprehensive tune-ups in Columbus, Ohio.

What Does a Furnace Tune-Up Include?

A furnace tune-up with Fire & Ice consists of many different steps, including:

  • Test for carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Test for gas leaks
  • Check air filter
  • Test & adjust safety &operating controls
  • Inspect flue pipe
  • Check for combustion leaks
  • Test gas valve operation
  • Check blower motor (& belt if applicable)
  • Test & tighten all wiring & connections
  • Adjust burner for maximum efficiency
  • Clean burners & inspect heat exchanger
  • Clean & adjust thermostat
  • Lubricate all motors, bearings, fans & circulators
  • Clean & adjust pilot assembly
  • Clean flame sensor 

Additionally, for both furnace and air conditioners, you will see us perform:

  • Lubricate all moving parts
  • Check refrigerant, record pressures/temp
  • Check air filter
  • Measure superheat to fine-tune the refrigerant level
  • Flush condensate drain to protect against overflow
  • Clean the outdoor condenser coil
  • Check blower motor (& belt if applicable)
  • Test temp drop at return & supply air
  • Amperage readings on all motors, test bearings
  • Test operation & condition of compressor contacts
  • Inspect capacitors & relays for rust & leaks
  • Tighten and test all wires & connections
  • Clean thermostat & confirm proper operation
  • Check outdoor disconnect (if applicable)

Maintenance Plans are a Great way to Keep Your Furnace Running Efficiently

A great way to keep up with your furnace is to sign up for a maintenance agreement. Maintenance agreements are a great way to ensure your system is running effectively and to resolve issues before they arise.

The sooner you start thinking about maintenance the better because HVAC systems eventually break down. Even the best ones. Maintenance can prevent that. That’s the obvious side. Even when your system is working at its absolute best, it still needs maintenance.

If we use your air conditioner as an example, the outdoor condenser will get dirty. This is an inevitable aspect of having a conventional A/C unit with an outdoor unit. Therefore, it needs to be cleaned professionally to ensure proper operation.

The fear is that it seems to be working fine, so maybe you skip this cleaning for a year or two. Once you start to ignore this responsibility, the efficiency of the air conditioner will drop by approximately 10% each year.

Furnace maintenance is no different. You likely already know that your filter needs to be changed regularly, but other items must be performed periodically to keep it running well over time.

Remember that most homeowners only purchase one or two HVAC systems in their lifetimes, so it’s essential to maintain the investment. Additionally, manufacturers only honor their warranties for up to ten years. The other decade of your HVAC system? That is on you.

Additionally, for a manufacturer warranty to be valid, most manufacturers require that regular maintenance be performed on your system and that there is a record of it; otherwise, you can run the risk of voiding your warranty.

That leads us to the importance of getting regular inspections and check-ups on your system.

What is a Maintenance Agreement?

A maintenance agreement is very simply an agreement to maintain a product. For HVAC, this means you will be paying a certain amount for the expectation that your machine will be serviced and provided for.

At Fire & Ice, we offer three different service levels for our maintenance agreements. All include a warranty period of one year for the better level, two years for the best, and three years for the fantastic level.

We also offer priority service for all three levels with hour time limits for each. For better, we offer a 36-hour priority service, 24-hour priority service for best, and same-day service for our fantastic members. Discounts are also included with the plan on equipment repairs and accessories. They are offered at 10% for the better level for equipment repairs, 5% for accessories, 20% for best for equipment repairs, 10% for accessories, 30% for fantastic for equipment repairs, and 15% off accessories.

All plans also include money off equipment replacements. Better members get a $50 replacement credit, best gets $75, and fantastic gets $125.

Benefits of a Maintenance Agreement

For a complete list of services in our available maintenance agreements, check out our Services Page.

Rather than exhaustively re-list examples from the link above, below, we talk about a few critical aspects of the plans, and why they exemplify the desirable traits you want in a maintenance plan.

Priority Service

All of our maintenance agreement customers get access to priority service when placing a call for tune-ups or service. Depending on the level you choose, you can even select which technician you have or pick a time on a Saturday.

Repair Warranty

Repair warranties for replacement parts sometimes last as little as 60 days from the manufacturer. With our three maintenance agreements extending this warranty to, respectively, one, two, and three years, there’s peace of mind knowing that a repair wasn’t done just to collect a paycheck and get it running for a short while. If we aren’t confident the repair will last for years, we won’t do it, and you’re covered either way.

Lifetime Workmanship Guarantee

Guarantees like this are rare in the industry. Ours states the following:

“We guarantee the following items for the lifetime of the equipment against defects in materials or workmanship from the date the system is installed:

  • All ductwork we install
  • All ductwork insulation we install
  • Other items we install, include sheet metal straps, clamps, fasteners, hangers, locks, drivers, drain piping, and fittings
  • All high-voltage electrical wiring, wire nuts, straps, ties, and connectors we install
  • All refrigerant piping we install (does not include the cost to gain access to underground or other inaccessible piping)
  • Refrigerant insulation we install
  • All equipment pads, stands, jacks, and vibration elimination devices we install

Proper maintenance is what allows us to offer this unique guarantee. The only requirement to keep this protection in force for the lifetime of the equipment is to renew your annual maintenance program when due.”

And if you think that these are empty words, I can again promise you that we’ve honored this agreement on those rare occasions when the work is done improperly. We pride ourselves on attention to detail, but no HVAC contractor is beyond fault. Having a guarantee like this is protection for the customer.

No Overtime Fees

If a contractor is paid by the job, you risk them doing a quick, poor job simply to rush to the next one. But if they’re paid hourly, a homeowner might worry about extended time. Protections like this are designed to hold a repair technician accountable, hold a company accountable, and standardize costs for customers.

Collective Energy Savings

Things like equipment tune-ups, free filter replacements, and evaporator or blower cleanings add up. All the reasons we discussed earlier apply to these common tasks, and guaranteeing that you’re having them done when they’re needed (often at a reduced cost) is going to benefit you over the life of your system.

Not to mention how this translates to your overall comfort.

Let Fire and Ice Help You

By all means, keep utilizing other tactics to cut those high utility bills in your home. But if it's time to do more and attack the problem aggressively by installing a new furnace, a tune-up, or signing up for a maintenance plan, give us a call. If you live in the Columbus, Ohio, area, check to see if you’re in our area by using the zipcode map below.

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