There has been a dramatic spike in electric bills since the pandemic hit. The obvious explanation is that people are spending more time at home. And if your utility charges more per unit the more you use, it’s a double whammy.
Personally, I have found that heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) account for between 50 and 60 percent of most electric bills. Certainly, in Florida, this is largely due to leaky houses and the huge HVAC systems consumers rely on in our super-hot weather.
So, I set out to find how we can all save energy and minimize our electric bills (other than just turning off the lights and appliances that draw lots of power). Even if you aren’t aiming for a zero-energy house (yet), recognizing these 15 reasons, and acting on them, will help you to save money.
Table of Contents
- Reasons For Increased Electric Bills
- 1. Increased Utility Rates
- 2. Standby Power
- How To Reduce Standby Use
- 3. Outdated Appliances & Equipment
- 4. Inefficient Heating & Cooling Systems
- 5. Energy-Hungry Water Heating Systems
- 6. Overcharging Devices
- 7. Capacity & Use Of Cleaning Appliances
- 8. Overfilling Pots & Kettles
- 9. Not Controlling Water Use
- 10. Inadequate Insulation
- 11. Energy-Sucking Light Bulbs
- 12. Not Enough Natural Light
- 13. Lack of Monitoring
- 14. Ignoring The Need For Home Energy Audits
- 15. Using Too Much Electricity Every Month
- Where Are Electric Bills Highest?
- Residential Electricity Rates In Florida
- Concluding Thoughts
Reasons For Increased Electric Bills
It isn’t rocket science to know that your electric bill will increase if your utility company increases its rates. But often we are caught unawares.
Check the rates and keep a finger on them. Also, check whether your billing plan has changed.
If you recently changed to a time-of-use (TOU) plan, this may be a factor, because TOU peak hours normally start more or less when most homeowners get home from work. You can minimize the effects of this if you avoid operating appliances like washing machines and dishwashers at peak hours.
Not the same as simply turning off the lights–unplugging appliances and switching off equipment can help you save a substantial amount by disabling standby power.
According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, standby power is responsible for up to 10 percent of our total home energy use. That’s mind-boggling, because it’s power you aren’t even using.
So, what is standby power? It’s the electricity that appliances and equipment use while they are switched off.
You may have heard of vampire appliances. These include fully charged computers as well as spare television sets or even old heaters that are left plugged in. All of these can suck invisible energy!
The researchers at Berkeley Lab measured the standby power of numerous products and compared the average, minimum, and maximum wattage each one uses. For example:
- A mobile phone will use about 3.68 W while it is charging, and if left switched on when fully charged will use about 2.24 W.
- A notebook computer will use about 44.28 W if it’s on and charging. If it is switched on and fully charged it will use about 29.48 W. If you switch to “Sleep” it will still use 15.77 W. But if you turn it off, it will only use 8.9 W.
Of course, some appliances do need standby power, including refrigerators, so they can monitor temperature and other conditions. But you can definitely minimize this form of energy usage.
How To Reduce Standby Use
Buy low-standby products if you can. Usually, those approved by ENERGY STAR have lower standby.
If you aren’t using appliances and devices all the time, unplug them. Just don’t plug and unplug them frequently.
Where you can, use switchable power clusters for video or computer items. That way you can switch the whole lot off together.
You might also consider buying a low-cost watt meter that you can use to measure how much electricity appliances and devices in your home use. There hasn’t been much research, but according to Berkeley Lab, informed sources reckon we can reduce typical standby use by about 30 percent without too much effort.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Saver website suggests using advanced power strips to reduce the “vampire loads” that waste so much electricity.
Equipment and appliances drawing power because they are plugged in but not in use is one thing. When they are old and outdated, they will suck considerably more power than new items that utilize up-to-date technology.
If you don’t use something, donate or recycle it. If you do, replace it with an energy-efficient model as soon as possible. Consider the initial cost an investment, because it’s going to save you money in the long run.
The best strategy is to look for items that are Energy Star approved and/or display other recognized energy labels.
According to Arcadia, a company that partners with wind and solar farms to enable homeowners to use renewable energy, office equipment certified by ENERGY STAR uses about half the energy of standard office equipment. On some devices, they estimate that energy saving can be as high as 75 percent!
Since so many of us are now working from home, it is also important to note that desktop computers use a lot more electricity than notebooks and laptops – about 53 kWh vs 275 kWh.
It is probably true that heating and cooling systems account for the biggest energy load in our homes. Personally, I have found that HVAC accounts for 50-60 percent of most energy bills in Florida.
When you buy electric space heating and cooling systems, make sure they are rated as energy efficient. And then, operate them efficiently.
A programmable or smart thermostat will enable you to keep a check on your energy usage.
Arcadia suggests setting back your thermostat if you can, by raising the temperature a little in summer and lowering it in the winter months. This can save you at least 6 percent on your energy bill.
Others warn consumers to avoid changing their thermostats when there are sudden but short extreme spikes in temperature. If there’s a sudden heat wave or the temperature plummets in unusually cold weather, try to keep the temperature inside consistent. Don’t overcompensate.
Also, be sure that your windows are closed and latched when the AC is on. If you don’t, your already-high HVAC bill will be even higher.
5. Energy-Hungry Water Heating Systems
Traditional electric water heaters gobble energy. Look at all the alternatives when you outfit a new home, renovate an old one, or replace a worn-out electric water heater.
Natural gas provides a good alternative, but solar power provides an even better one. You can also get a high-quality water heater that is solar powered but has electric backup for times when the sun doesn’t provide sufficient energy. Heat pump water heaters are another eco-friendly, efficient option.
It’s essential to charge your cell phone and your laptop, but you shouldn’t keep any mobile device plugged in all day or night. Normally 2-3 hours is all the time needed to fully charge them.
Overcharging devices simply drains energy and leads to an unnecessarily high electric bill.
Most of us rely on our washing machines and dishwashers. Dryers are slightly more optional, but invaluable in certain circumstances.
When you buy a new cleaning or drying appliance:
- Make sure it is energy-efficient.
- Be aware that if you haven’t been using one, it might increase your electric bill, even if it is energy-efficient.
Invaluable as they are, cleaning and drying appliances use a significant amount of energy. Eco models have settings that will minimize energy use, but you will need to use the correct settings.
Also, be sure to only run washing machines, dishwashers, and dryers when they are full. If you half fill them, you will end up using double the amount of energy. That’s going to impact your electric bill at the end of the day.
8. Overfilling Pots & Kettles
According to The Times (UK), tea drinkers fill their kettles with double the quantity of water they need, which wastes “a huge amount of energy” every day. And I know I’m guilty of filling the pots on the stove too high for the actual amount of water I need to boil, too.
According to a BBC article citing a 2013 Energy Saving Trust report, millions of pounds are lost every year by British households overfilling their kettles. There’s no reason why the stats would be any lower in our part of the world, even though the British are acknowledged to be a nation of tea-drinkers. We drink lots of tea, too!
Also, don’t be tempted to fill your kettle with hot tap water. Unless you have an instant water heater for your kitchen sink, it’s going to take a while for the water to heat up. This, in itself, is going to waste energy – up to twice as much as you will use by simply boiling cold water in the kettle. It also wastes water.
For this reason, some people like to use hot water from the kettle to hand-wash dishes. It’s certainly more energy efficient to do this, but it may not be practical for everyone. Actually, you will save more energy by using an energy-efficient dishwasher than washing your dishes by hand!
Of course, we all know it’s important to conserve water. But the focus here is on the money we waste when we use heated water for too long. Hot water makes up a hefty percentage of home energy bills.
The EST report mentioned above states that washing clothes and other items at temperatures below 86°F (30°C) will save money. So, too, will showering for a shorter time.
A family of four in the U.S. uses around 21,000 gallons of water a year showering. But shortening each shower by just one minute would save more than 2,000 of those gallons—plus the cost of heating them!
By reducing how much hot water we use, we can cut down on energy use.
An environmental hack that can work well is the installation of EPA Watersense faucets and showerheads. You’ll save on the water bill, the how water heater bill (through saved electricity usage), all while updating and modernizing the look of your kitchen and bath!
Inadequate insulation is one of the major causes of high electric bills. According to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA), about 90 percent of U.S. homes are not properly insulated. This wastes energy and money. It also makes homes uncomfortable for the people who live in them.
The problem, says NAIMA, is that because people don’t see insulation, they don’t automatically think about it.
Often, walls and roof spaces in new homes don’t get insulated properly when they are being built. Old windows and drafty attic spaces are also to blame, so effective renovations can help to solve the problem.
Installing more carpeting, or using rugs, can also improve insulation. Just be sure that rugs are made of materials that absorb the heat commonly lost through hardwood floors or ceramic tiles.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) lead the way in terms of energy-efficient lighting technologies. They last longer than other light bulbs, are more durable, and the light quality they produce is better or on par with other types of lighting.
According to the DOE’s Energy Saver website, LED lighting technology has the potential to transform the future of lighting in the U.S. LEDs for residential use, particularly those rated by ENERGY STAR, last 25 times longer than traditional incandescent lighting and use at least 75 percent less energy.
They maintain that by 2027, the widespread use of LED lighting could save about 348 TWh of electricity. That is the equivalent of the annual electrical output of 44 big electric power plants generating 1,000 MW each. And, it could save more than $33 billion at today’s prices!
Unfortunately, you can’t use LED bulbs for all old lamps. So, in many instances, this is another reason to upgrade to energy-efficient equipment.
Solar-powered lighting is another solution.
Of course, the ultimate solar lighting is the sun itself! Energy-efficient windows and skylights help take advantage of natural light. Minimize the use of electric lights by maximizing the use of natural lighting during the day. Open your curtains and blinds and make the best of what nature provides you with.
Following on from the previous reason for high electric bills is a lack of monitoring your energy usage. This is exactly similar to the financial & money gurus saying that you can’t start saving money unless you start tracking your expenses.
It’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep!
We can all guess what’s using energy and increasing our electric bills, but if we use a monitor we will have a more accurate, scientific analysis. Energy monitors connect to your electricity meter and provide information that helps you to improve energy efficiency within your home. They supply info that you won’t get from your electric bill and will help you to reduce your carbon footprint and save money.
Not all energy monitors operate the same way, so it’s important to ensure that you use one that is intended for household appliances and devices. I think that it’s also important to get a professional to do the installation. It’s more expensive than DIY, but this is electricity we are dealing with.
I’m not going to try and sell you on any one brand. But here are some features you can consider:
- Recognition of appliances Some devices have a feature that recognizes particular appliances. Most seem to detect generic devices, for instance, a TV or a fridge.
Be aware that there are sometimes issues when devices share a common feature, like heating, and the device cannot tell whether it is a toaster, a heater, or a hairdryer that is drawing the power.
- Real-time cost tracking This is also a feature that only some monitors have. If you are using a monitor to save money, it’s an important feature.
- Notifications and mobile apps Monitors with this feature will send you notifications and tips that will help you take action that will help you save. They also send warnings if there is abnormal use of energy by appliances.
- Solar-ready options If you’re using solar-powered equipment or appliances, be sure to choose a monitor that will enable you to monitor your generation of solar power for appliances.
A little more time-intensive and expensive than a monitor, home energy audits can identify areas in your home where energy is being lost. An audit can also determine how much energy you use.
While regular self-assessment is useful, it’s best to employ a qualified energy auditor to do a thorough assessment of the energy your home uses. Most will use professional equipment to do this.
Energy Saver suggests using a professional home energy audit before you start on energy-saving home improvements or renewable energy system additions. Paying for this step will help you avoid the risk of costly mistakes.
With many utility companies, the rate you are charged increases with the amount of power you use. If you use double the normal amount, you won’t just pay double, you will pay considerably more.
All you can do in this instance is to check what your utility charges per unit for so-called extra energy. Then use all the previous tips to ensure you minimize this double whammy!
Where Are Electric Bills Highest?
What you pay for electricity depends on lots of different factors including your location, consumption, and the time of year (which, of course, determines weather conditions.) Also, some markets are regulated, and others aren’t.
According to Arcadia, the 13 largest U.S. metropolitan areas have experienced higher electric bills since the pandemic hit. This is primarily because they have dense populations, and many companies are shifting their workforces to enable them to work from home.
The majority of these (Chicago, Detroit, Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Miami) are on the east coast, and the worst hit are Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. But Florida’s Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area has also been hard hit. The 7th-largest metropolitan area, it is 140 miles southeast of where our first net-zero home renovation is.
Residential Electricity Rates In Florida
I’m doing everything I can to reduce my electric bill. For my neighbors in Florida, here’s a little more information about our local rates.
According to Electricity Local, the average monthly residential bills for electricity in the U.S. range from about $75-$203.
The current average monthly bill is $123, and Florida ranks 9th out of all U.S. states. This makes the average Florida residential bill 14.95 percent more than the national average monthly bill of $107.
Rates in the U.S. range from 8.37 to 37.34 cents/kWh. The rate charged in Florida ranks 22nd in the U.S., at 11.42 cents/kWh. This is 3.87% less than the average rate.
Those numbers show that Floridians are using a lot of electricity. Electricity Local finds the state ranks 13th in the U.S. for its consumption! While the average monthly consumption in the country ranges from 531-1,254 kWh per month, the average usage in Florida is 903 kWh/month. This is 19.71 percent more than the national average.
Florida does have the third-largest population in the country. But as I said at the start, I believe that our high usage is largely due to bad insulation and leaky houses, as well as unnecessarily large HVAC systems installed to cope with the heat.
We have been shackled by the rising costs of electricity for decades. But the potential of zero energy homes offers a way out. One sure way to reduce your electric bill is to go solar. It won’t happen overnight, but if you start planning, you can make the switch relatively easily.
In the meantime, I hope the possible causes of high use from the list above will help you reduce your next monthly bill.