The day starts out great. You got a good nights sleep, the birds are chirping, and there was bacon for breakfast! Then the mail comes and you notice an ominous little dark cloud start to form. The electrical bill has arrived, and when you open it you can distinctly hear Beethoven’s Fifth playing somewhere, and off in the distance, a dog howls… D’oh!
So, what caused your electric bill to inflate like the national debt? Excluding the obvious change of seasons, here are the top 5 common causes:
1.) Faulty equipment: The two biggest electrical loads in most households are the A/C system and the hot water heater. An unusually high bill may be indicative to a problem with either of them. For example, if the A/C system develops a small refrigerant leak, the condenser will have to work overtime to maintain the same temperature and most folks won’t realize that it’s running any differently. It’s even worse with the hot water heater due to any lack of noise to indicate it’s running. If the elements are dirty or there is an excess buildup of sediment in the tank, the hot water heater will use a lot more energy to maintain the same tank temperature.
Another item to watch out for is an appliance like the dishwasher or washing machine that has an “automatic” setting that allows it to base it’s cleaning cycle time off of the amount of food or dirt present. The idea behind these types of systems is to actually save electricity by only running the device long enough to attain proper cleanliness. This is achieved by use of sensors in the drain line that detect particulates in the water. The problem is, if the sensors get dirty the system may always see a certain level of filth and keep the appliance running much longer than it needs to. Similar to this is the electric clothes dryer: if the lint trap is full, or the exhaust line is clogged from years of use it will greatly cut down on the efficiency.
Although refrigerators and freezers don’t use nearly the amount of electricity as the aforementioned appliances, they can still have an impact on the utility bill. If the seals around the door are leaking, the unit is low on refrigerant, or if the door gets accidentally left ajar, it will cause the compressor to run much longer than it needs to, increasing the appliance’s consumption.
2.) House Guests: Yes house guests – I’m not saying that they’re thieving your precious kilowatts in the dead of night, but the simple increase in household occupancy leads to more dishes, more laundry, more cooking, and hopefully more showers and baths. Not much can be done here except to be aware of this when the bill arrives next month.
3.) New electronics: Did you just treat yourself to a new Plasma or LCD flat screen? Possibly with the addition of a 1000w surround sound system? How about that new gaming computer with the latest and greatest cpu and graphics card? They’re all power hungry devices and due to the “newness” they’ll probably get used a lot more in the first few months than normal which will lead to an increased electrical usage. To help this, it’s a good practice to shut down any computer or completely turn off any TV/stereo when not in use due to the constant electrical drain caused by a device in standby mode.
4.) Utility Company: It may not be your fault. Utility companies may change the cost per KWH (kilowatt hour) without you knowing. This can be verified by close examination of the bill. Another trick they like to do is if they’re unable to get an accurate meter reading for a certain month (for various reasons), they’ll bill you on what’s called a forecast amount. Depending on the clarity of their crystal ball, the estimate may be grossly inaccurate and the difference will be applied to your next bill.
5.) Bad Karma: Yes bad karma… Have you forsaken Ohm’s Law? Repent by hugging an Electrical Engineer (though do yourself a favor and announce your intentions, as most are unfamiliar with this practice and could get quite twitchy). On a serious note, if you live in an apartment, townhouse, or neighborhood with extremely close neighbors, one of them may have questionable scruples. An extension cord going from an outside outlet on the back of your utility shed may be providing power for someone else’s indoor horticulture project or other nefarious lab experiments. I only mention this because it’s happened in the past.
Submit questions to Tim@home-ec101.com