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Why are my electric bills so high?

We have spoken to many of you that have seen a substantial increase in your electric bills this winter.  Believe me, I’m seeing it too.  My electric bill increased 87% from November (2008) to December (2008) and another 25% on top of that in January this year.  In comparison to last winter (2007-2008), this year my energy costs are up 55%.

Many of you may be thinking, “That’s nothing compared to my bills!” Let me explain.  I do little more than sleep and shower at my home, usually getting home just about my bedtime only to leave again by 5:30am the next morning.  Other than my heat pump system, water heater and alarm clock, there are no other appliances in my house that are actually used on a daily basis.  My point – there are no real energy hogs that would inflate my electrical usage.

My heat pump is controlled by a programmable thermostat which I haven’t changed the settings on in more than 10 years.  I keep the set point at 64 degrees during the day and raise the temp to 67 overnight.  I replaced my water heater 2 years ago so it’s definitely more efficient than the old one.  Excluding a condemned home, you can’t get much more “energy conscious” than my house.

So why the drastic change in my electric bills?  My first call was to PEPCO only to hear that they were getting flooded with the same type of calls, but no real explanation.  My next step was to go on their website where I located their residential rate schedule.  Here is where I noticed that there have been three rate increases since last winter – October 2007, June 2008 and November 2008. (And the largest increase is due to take effect June 1, 2009) On top of that, last winter was mild in comparison to the temperatures we’ve seen this year.  October and January were well below last year’s average temperatures and so were November and December – just not as extreme.

Depending on the type system you have in your home, 40% or more of your electrical usage can be attributed to heating and cooling your home.  So making certain that the system is operating at maximum efficiency is definitely a good idea.  All those things we do during the maintenance inspections are meant to get the most out of your system and minimize the operating costs.

And if you haven’t already, now is a good time to take the steps to minimize the air infiltration that we’ve discussed in past issues.  Every home “breathes” meaning the conditioned air in your home is being replaced with outside air several times each day.  Your home is constantly losing conditioned air through the top floor and pulling outside air into your home on the lower levels.

The idea is to minimize the air loss and reduce the cost of trying to heat or cool that outside air.  Seal exterior penetrations such as where piping, wiring, drains, etc. enter/exit the home.  Ensure your home is properly insulated.  Make sure unconditioned areas like the attic, crawl spaces and the garage are properly isolated from the conditioned areas.  Any ductwork in the unconditioned spaces needs to be sealed and insulated.  Seal the penetrations in the ceilings and walls, especially those going to the attic. Remember, the heat in your home will rise and find its way through loose fixtures like the attic hatch, recessed lights, ceiling fans, etc.  Those chases that run from the basement to the attic are the equivalent of leaving a window open.  Weather-strip the exterior doors and windows.  With the increased utility costs, every step taken to maximize efficiency will help to negate the additional energy costs during both heating and cooling season.

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