Solved! Why Is My Electric Bill So High?
Learn what’s behind a big leap in your utility bill, and check out our savvy solutions to cut costs.
Q: I just opened my electric bill, and my jaw dropped. It’s way higher than ever! I called the electric company to see if they’d made a mistake, but they assured me they hadn’t. Why is my electric bill so high? What am I doing that’s using so much electricity?
A: Receiving a startlingly high electric bill has happened to many of us at one time or another, and it’s never a pleasant experience. According to Energy Star, a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the typical household spends “more than $2,000 a year on energy bills.” Out of that amount, approximately 29 percent goes to heat a home, and the rest is divided between cooling costs and the cost to operate appliances and electronics. Check out the Appliance Energy Calculator on energy.gov to learn the estimated costs of running various appliances based on the electricity rates in your state—and keep reading to find out what could be going on in your home that’s causing your electric bill to skyrocket.
An electric furnace could be the culprit.
As cold weather settles in, homeowners and renters rely on furnaces to keep their homes cozy and warm, but electric furnaces are notoriously expensive to operate. While energy rates vary by state, in many regions, the cost of electricity is higher than the cost of natural gas or propane, so the electric bill will increase once you start heating your home.
You can help reduce your heating bill by changing the furnace’s air filters every other month.
A furnace works harder to draw air through a clogged filter, so regularly changing filters will reduce the furnace run time, making it more cost-efficient. Caulking drafty windows and installing new weather-stripping on exterior doors will also help keep warm air in and cold air out, reducing how often your furnace runs.
Aging refrigerators can be energy hogs.
The average useful life of a fridge is around 14 to 17 years, but after eight to 10 years or so, the door seals can begin to wear out, allowing cool air to leak out of the refrigerated compartment, which results in the fridge working overtime to keep perishable foods cold. Other components, such as the motor and the compressor, can also wear down over time, becoming less efficient and running for longer periods of time. Replacing door seals (available from the manufacturer) can help seal cool air in the fridge, and having the unit inspected yearly and maintained by a professional appliance technician will keep it in good running order. Appliance technicians charge $45 to $120 per hour, depending on the going local rate, and will usually complete an annual service call in an hour or less.
Keeping a spare fridge or freezer will increase your electrical bill.
Many homeowners like to keep a spare refrigerator or deep freeze in a basement or garage, but according to EnergyStar.gov, doing so could increase your electric bill by about $125 per year. If you don’t keep the spare unit fully stocked, consider whether you really need it. If you decide to keep it, make sure it’s full, even if you have to fill milk jugs with water to store on the shelves. When a fridge or freezer is fully stocked, it’s easier for the unit to maintain a consistently cold temperature, so the motor and compressor can run less.
Your hot water heater’s temperature may be too high.
When you purchase a hot water heater, it often comes with the temperature preset to 140° F, but according to the Department of Energy, a temperature of 120° F is plenty hot enough for most people. By turning the water heater’s thermostat down 20° F, you can save between six percent and 10 percent on your water heating expense. In addition, if your water heater is located in a basement or a garage, it will have to work overtime to keep the water in the tank hot when the surrounding air temps are cool. If this is the case, you might want to consider insulating it with a hot water heater blanket, such as the Reflective Foil Hot Water Insulating Kit (available from Amazon).
Frequent dryer use can raise your bill.
At an average national cost of $0.12 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) (rates vary by locality), the Appliance Energy Calculator shows that drying a load of laundry every day would add $122.20 to your annual electric bill. Just by hanging half of the loads on a clothesline (when the weather is good), you can save about $60 on your annual electric bills.
Older incandescent lightbulbs pull a lot of energy.
As of 2012, new lightbulb regulations took effect that banned the manufacture of traditional incandescent lightbulbs, but many stores continued to carry the older bulbs until they sold out. If you’re still using the older bulbs, consider switching to high-efficiency CFL or LED bulbs, and you could save up to $45 per year. When buying lightbulbs, look for the Energy Star logo on the package to ensure you’re buying energy-efficient bulbs.
Using appliances during peak hours is pricey.
Peak hours are specific hours during the day when your utility company charges more for electricity. For example, a utility might regularly charge $0.9/kWh, but during summertime hours between three PM pm to six PM might increase the cost of using electricity to $0.18/kWh—double the regular rate. Peak hours are the hours when the demand for electricity is the highest, so utility companies discourage use during this time in order to conserve energy. Call your electric company to ask if they’re currently charging a peak hour rate.
While it’s uncommon, someone could be stealing your electricity.
An unexplained spike in your electric bill could be a sign that someone’s tapping into your electricity. Stealing a neighbor’s electricity is more common in apartment buildings and duplexes than it is in neighborhoods with single-family homes, and it can easily double your electrical bill. A quick test can determine whether someone’s pilfering your power. Shut off the main breaker at your electric meter, and then watch the meter—if the meter numbers continue to climb, electricity is going somewhere besides your home. Notify your utility company, and they’ll send out a tech to trace the electricity.
A wattage tester can help you determine how much electricity your appliances are using.
If you suspect one of your appliances of using excessive amounts of electricity, find out for sure with a wattage tester, such as the Poniie Watt Tester (available from Amazon). Simply plug your appliance into the tester, plug the tester into the outlet, and then run the appliance as usual for 24 hours. The wattage tester will record the appliance’s usage over a 24-hour period. Multiply the results by 365 (the number of days in a year), and then compare the number to the annual estimated energy usage for the same appliance on the Appliance Energy Calculator.
Standby electricity could be running up your bill.
If you’re serious about reducing your high electric bill, unplug computers, printers, televisions, and other items when not in use. Newer electronics often enter a standby mode when you turn them off, but they’re still drawing a trickle of electricity. By going into standby mode, the electronics will power-up quickly when you turn them back on, but if you won’t be using them for several hours, conserve electricity by making a habit of unplugging them. You may find that you don’t mind waiting a few minutes when you turn them back on in exchange for a lower electric bill.