Market Overview

First-Time Homebuyers: Make Sure To Winterize


Winter is officially and fiercely underway at this point, and for homeowners, that predictably means higher utility bills.

For first-time homeowners especially, the places you can cut costs may surprise you.

According to the National Association of Realtors®, the typical first-time homebuyer for 2015 was the Millennial, with a median age of 29. Gen Xers comprise the second largest percentage at 27 percent, and subsequent generations likewise decline in percentage distribution.


Source: NAR®

Utility Bill Variance

While it is all but impossible to predict exactly how specific utility bills will move throughout the year – due in part to national trends, geography and weather severity – year-to-year patterns emerge uniformly, according to Duke Energy Corp (NYSE: DUK).

Duke explained seasonal changes, "The cost of electricity in the home varies with seasonal use. In most homes, more electricity is used during summer and winter than in fall and spring. Summer means increased use of electricity for air conditioners, fans, refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers and washers and dryers. In the winter, higher bills are commonly a result of hot water heating, home heating, additional cooking, lighting and home entertainment."

Regarding winter's unique consumption trends Duke commented, "The water coming into the water heater in the winter is colder so requires more electricity to bring it up to the desired temperature. And even where oil or gas is used to heat the home, electricity is needed to operate the pump and fan motors on the furnace. Nights are longer in the winter, requiring use of lights about twice as long as in the summer. Also, most families spend longer hours watching television."

"Any one of these reasons isn't too important by itself, but together they help explain why so many people find their electric bills higher in summer and winter than in spring and fall."

Ways To Lower Utilities This Winter (And All Year Long)

Energy consumption is a tricky thing to grasp. With so many factors influencing each month's bill, it's easy to lose sight of how individual usage comes into play for your bill. With regional rates and anticipated bill variance, pinpointing areas where savings can be found may seem elusive.

However, there are general ways to cut costs throughout the year and ways that will help diminish unnecessary spending during higher-consumption seasons.

Year-Long Adjustments

  • Slay "Energy Vampires": Some devices use electricity whenever they are plugged in, regardless of if the device is turned on or off. According to Duke, these vampires can "account for up to 20 percent" of that monthly bill. Look for devices that have joining "bricks" (those black boxes between the outlet cord and the device cord) and "wall warts" (devices that have larger than average plug connectors, like cell-phone chargers).
  • Maintain Up-To-Date Appliances: If your home appliances are not functioning at their best, or are extremely out of date, they can suck unnecessary energy to meet demands. Each year, check your water heater and a/c units. When your larger appliances reach the end of their lifespan, consider upgrading to more energy efficient models.
  • Weatherize The House: While there are additional things you can do each season to counteract seasonal drains, there are general ways to help your home conserve energy. Air leaks, regardless of the season, will make your appliances work harder; make sure your windows, doors and utilities' entrances are properly sealed. Make sure nothing is obstructing the outdoor vents to your appliances. Check the home's insulation and remember that for insulation to work most effectively, it needs to be "open," meaning it is not pressed or crushed between the wall and layers of wood.
  • Use Dryer Balls: Those small plastic, nubbed balls actually can improve dryer efficiency, cut down drying time and help tumble fluff your laundry. Best of all, they are very cheap and can eliminate the need for dryer sheets.
  • Replace Draining Light Bulbs: 75W incandescent bulbs use 76 percent more energy than 18W CFLs.
  • Adjust The Thermostat: By just moving your thermostat two degrees higher in the summer, 2 degrees lower in the winter and back 10 to 15 degrees eight hours a day, the Department of Energy estimates an annual saving of 5 to 15 percent.


  • Tune Up Your Heating System: Make sure that by peak winter, your heating system is working optimally. Having efficient appliances can save hundreds a year and thousands over the appliance's lifetime.
  • Turn On The Humidifier: Especially in more arid climates, the added moisture in the air will help you feel more comfortable at lower temperatures.
  • Open Blinds/Shades: If you have sun-facing windows, make sure to keep them unobstructed so the sun can naturally heat your home.
  • Weather Stripping: Make sure all windows and doors have adequate weather stripping; depending on your climate, stripping can dry out, crack and be essentially useless just over the course of a year. Also look for adjustable thresholds on your doorframes; some have a series of screws that can be adjusted to reduce the gap that naturally occurs when wood shrinks in the cold.
  • Replace Air Filters: It's just one more way to ensure that your appliances are working efficiently and it costs just a few dollars.
  • Blanket Your Water Heater: It's easy to forget that the water heater itself can seep energy by warming your utility closet instead of your home. Eliminate this leak by covering your water heater with an insulated blanket.

Remember that it's never too late or out of season to look at your spending habits and revamp your savings' techniques. For help drafting and executing your unique budget, reach out to those around you for help; call your financial advisor today.

Image Credit: Public Domain

Posted-In: Budgeting duke energy energy first-time homebuyers Gen XEducation Personal Finance General


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