Written by Nick...
If you're ever going to be truly free, you have to reduce your reliance upon the utilities. You cannot be free if a third of your income or more goes toward keeping your lights on and house heated.
This step is where things get a little more "difficult." If you haven't made that most important step then you won't be able to do some of the things in this step. But read on ...
First thing is to change how you light your house. If you must have electric lights, then switch to compact fluorescents. They last much longer than incandescents and they'll save you a couple bucks on your electric bill.
But here's where we get a little radical. If you can, throw out electric lights altogether. I don't suggest oil lamps because they have parts that can break or need to be replaced and you also have to purchase fuel. I suggest candles. They are the only form of lighting that you can fully make yourself if need be. We have not switched to candles yet, but it's on our to-do list.
Here's some more tips for lowering your electricity bill ...
Get rid of/turn off the air conditioner. Despite what you may think, you do not need an A/C unit. Once your body gets used to the natural weather you'll wonder why everyone else are such wimps that they can't stand it. Our bodies were meant to be in such weather. Dress appropriately for the weather, get yourself a good, old fashioned bandana and when you get too hot soak it in cool water and drape it around your neck.
Turn off the hot water heater. Chances are good that you don't need 40 or more gallons of water kept hot 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Water heaters waste tremendous amounts of energy. Noel and I now use our tea kettle to heat what little hot water we need. On average, we heat about two kettles a day ... that's it! Even better would be to purchase or construct yourself a solar water heater. You can buy one at WallyWorlds for about $6, or you can take an old milk jug and paint it black. Either way sit it out in the sun, and voila free hot water.
Look at all the appliances in your house which do not need to be on constantly. Like your computer, TV and stereo. If you have newer models and they are plugged in they are drawing energy. It may be only a small amount, but it adds up. And why should you pay to have the thing off? Get yourself some powerstrips with switches for those appliances and when you're not actually using them, turn the switch on the strip off. Every little bit counts.
Try to get rid of the fridge and freezers. It's hard to do, Noel and I are still researching and planning. But hopefully we'll be able to get rid of at least the freezer by next year maybe even the fridge too. We're looking at canning and drying our meats. There are other methods available (such as salt curing) but information on them is scarce and hard to come by. We'll write more when we go further down that road.
Don't use the clothes dryer. They also use tons of energy. Get yourself a clothes rack or string some line between two trees. Never pay for something you can get for free!
This might fall into either elec or gas depending but for us we were using gas to heat our home. Stop. Install a woodstove. Find a handful of folks that will let you cut wood on their property, and you'll have all the free heat you can use. The one tree we felled earlier will probably heat our home for at least two maybe even three months this coming winter. There is no reason to pay to heat your home.
This one's a little harder than the rest, cause you just can't go without water. But there are things you can do that will cut, or if you're lucky eliminate, your water bill.
The biggest thing is to collect your rainwater. Get yourself some rain barrels and divert the chutes coming off your house into the barrels. You'll be surprised how much water you can store this way. Only one inch of rainfall on 1,000 square feet of roof will net you about 600 gallons of water! Those figures just blow me away! Why does anyone (outside a desert climate) pay for water to be piped to their home when hundreds upon thousands of gallons per year literally falls from the sky only to go straight down the sewer drain? We humans sure do have our priorities mixed up.
Bathe "birdbath-style." A regular tub bath can use 30 gallons or more of water, showers use 5-8 gallons per minute! So, get yourself a little four gallon galvanized tub or bucket, fill it with water and use a wash cloth to wet yourself, soap up, then use the cloth to rinse.
I don't really think of sewage as a "utility," especially out here in the country where we have septic tanks instead of sewers. But it is still something that has to be dealt with, which you'll find out the first time your septic system backs up and you have to pay some fellow to come tear up your yard and carry off your "waste." Most people foolishly choose to flush away their "wastes" and try to forget that they ever existed in the first place.
But of course there is a much better way. If it's organic and it's a leftover the last thing that should be done is to flush it. It needs to be composted. Your garden will thank you by providing plants more healthy than anything you've probably seen.