Saving money on your utility bills doesn't have to mean wearing your winter coat inside or forking over the money for a new heating unit. There are lots of inexpensive ways to keep costs down in your home, so you can comfortably wear your pajamas. But that may not be all it takes to keep your rates under control this year. 

The Wall Street Journal reported several years ago that, according to the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, utilities in nearly half the states were requesting higher monthly fees on consumers. The rise of renewables is only putting further pressure on the utility companies. The largest utility in the country, PG&E, which services 16 million homes, has increased its rates by 30% over the decade leading up to 2019. PG&E hopes to increase rates by 22% over the next three years. 

Utility companies will continue to push back against decreased energy use and the adoption of other sources, such as wind and solar, by seeking other ways to get more money from their customers. Read on for advice on both fronts.

Newest Attack on Your Energy Bill

As the Wall Street Journal reported on October 20, 2015, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center reports that "utilities in at least 24 states" have requested higher monthly fees on consumers for the fixed costs of keeping electricity flowing through the grid. Fee increases could rise as high as 68% in Indiana and 50% in Connecticut, hitting hardest on low-use consumers such as the elderly and poor trying to save money by keeping thermostats low and those who have invested in energy-saving appliances. An accompanying U.S. map published with the article showed that only 9 states didn't have a proposal in the works or expected in the future.

State legislatures rule on public utility requests to raise rates so that's where consumers should focus if they're concerned that they might be badly hit by these proposed changes. Check your state and state representative for the latest on possible changes in how you might be charged.

In the meantime, use the following techniques to keep utility costs as low as possible, now that air-conditioning season has been followed by heating season in most parts of the U.S.

Six Ways to Keep Bills Low

1. Perform an Energy Audit

An energy audit is an inspection of your home for ways to shrink your utility bills, normally by eliminating unnecessary usage. For instance, if you see space above your outside doors, you can assume that, in the winter, cold air from outside is entering, and hot air is escaping.

A simple energy audit you can perform yourself includes looking for air leaks—open space around doors or windows, checking insulation levels, tallying light bulb wattages, and checking and changing filters in your heating and cooling units. 

You can also hire a professional energy auditor, or if you are a renter, ask your apartment landlord to send a maintenance team member to perform an audit. Also, consider calling your utility company, which often employs an energy auditor who will come to your home for free.

2. Install a Digital Thermostat

Heating your home is expensive, so there's no reason to pay for your heat when you're not at home. Purchase a digital thermostat from a home improvement store for less than $100. Then, program your thermostat to increase the temperature in your home half an hour before you arrive from work.

How much can you save? According to the Department of Energy, you can save 10% to 15% of your heating (and cooling) bill on an annual basis by reducing the temperature in your home by 10% to 15% for eight hours a day. This is approximately a temperature reduction of 70 degrees to 60 degrees while you're gone during the day.

Save even more money by reducing the temperature while you sleep under a heavy comforter or thick blanket at night. You can program the thermostat for a nighttime temperature that will return to the daytime temperature before your alarm clock wakes you up in the morning.

Although programming a thermostat can save you money, remember not to reduce the temperature too much while you're gone, especially if you have family or indoor pets at home during the day. If you are a renter, ask your landlord or apartment manager for permission before installing anything in your home.

3. Caulk and Weatherstrip Windows and Doors

Caulking and weatherstripping are the easiest and cheapest ways to reduce energy bills. This is because you are letting outside air directly into your home through cracks around doors and windows, causing your heating or cooling unit to work harder to keep the room at a comfortable temperature.

Air sealing a home can reduce heating and cooling costs by 20% according to statistics from the Alliance to Save Energy.

4. Improve Insulation in Attics, Exterior Walls

The Alliance to Save Energy also notes that adding extra insulation in your attic and exterior walls can reduce your heating and cooling costs by up to 30%. Insulation can be bought relatively cheaply. Virtually any home's attic can be insulated for a few hundred dollars, or less if you do it yourself. Installing insulation in exterior walls is more complicated and should be done by a professional.

5. Ask Your Utility Company About Pricing Plans

If you are in an area of the country that allows you to choose a utility provider, that provider might offer various pricing plans. One plan might offer lower pricing if you agree to be a customer for six months to one year. This is because the company is afraid of losing your patronage to another service provider. Be careful when you sign this agreement because if you decide to cancel within the time frame, you might have to pay a cancellation fee.

6. Switch Light Bulbs

Switching from incandescent to CFL (compact fluorescent) or LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs can save substantially on lighting costs. If you're still using old bulbs you tucked away in your utility closet, now's the time to make the switch. LED bulbs use even less energy than CFL bulbs. Experiment to find the kind with the light that looks best in each place you use bulbs.

The Bottom Line

You can hang up your winter coat and still be comfortable in your home, all while decreasing your utility bill. All you have to do is cut back on utility usage that doesn't have any benefit to you, such as letting heat escape through air leaks and leaving lights on in empty rooms. Your pajamas will thank you for it.