How to Audit Your Monthly Utility Bills
HOW TO AUDIT YOUR ENERGY BILL & USAGE
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% goes to heating 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.
Step 1) Check Your Current Electricity Rate From Your Energy Provider
Audit your monthly bills received from your energy company, and make sure that you are actually being billed for what you have used. Make a note of your meter reading on the outside of your home, and be sure that it aligns with what you have been billed. Your energy provider will typically show the usage your home has used for the month, the rate for that electricity used, and any applicable fees & taxes charged.
Step 2) Check Your Air Filter
If it has been more than 90 days since your last air filter change, or if your air filter is dirty, that could be a reason as to why your electric bills are climbing. Failing to change your air filter causes your air conditioner to work harder, which in turn causes it to expend more electricity to cool or heat your home.
The role of an air filter is often misunderstood. It is not used to purify the air you breathe, but rather to protect the sensitive components of your HVAC system. It’s important to note that there are high efficiency filters that are designed to filter out small bacterial, mold, and fungal particles, but your standard MERV 8–11 filters will just block out larger particles of dust, dirt & hair.
Air filters typically aren’t designed to filter the air forever. Eventually, they will fill up with dust and dirt. Depending on your system, you should either change your filter or clean it. Paper filters are disposable, with cardboard frames and a paper screen. Sturdier filters are reusable, usually with metal frames, and can be cleaned according to manufacturer instructions.
If you don’t change your AC filter, it will begin to fail. It will no longer be able to filter the air properly, letting dust and contaminants get into the HVAC system. Dust jams the moving parts of an AC such as fan motors and valves. Airflow is restricted which creates a strain on the system. The HVAC system will draw more power to overcome the obstacle. This is how dust makes the unit less energy efficient (at best) and can lead to breakdowns.
Step 3) Check Your Appliance Usage
Dishwashers & washing machines are pretty convenient. Nobody likes washing their clothes with a washboard, or cleaning dishes by hand — but these appliances consume large amounts of energy to run. Unless your dishwasher is filled to the brim, don’t turn it on. Otherwise, you’re wasting hot water and energy. Go even further and turn off the heat dry setting. It might seem super-convenient, but it’s definitely not necessary and uses unnecessary electricity. Unless your washing machine is filled with a full load of laundry, don’t run it either. You could save as much as $66 annually by doing laundry in cold water, according to ENERGY STAR. In addition, keep appliances such as your television & microwave unplugged when not in use. These devices still drain electricity even when they are turned ‘OFF’ but still plugged in.
Step 4) Check Your Water Heater Temperature Setting
According to the federal Department of Energy, hot water accounts for about 18 percent of your power bill — the second largest energy expense behind heating and cooling your home. Turning down the temperature 10 degrees Fahrenheit on your hot water heater saves 3 to 5 percent on energy costs, so a drop from 140 F to 120 F saves you 6 to 10 percent. “Set too high, or at 140ºF, your water heater can waste anywhere from $36 to $61 annually in standby heat losses and more than $400 in demand losses,” the DOE says. Standby heat is heat loss from the water heater to a surrounding area like a cool basement. Annual energy costs for a hot water heater vary from $100 to $200, so this simple change could save you anywhere from $6 to $20 per year. Ideally, you could also switch to a tankless water heater which only heats water on demand, instead of needing to continuously keep a 40+ gallon tank hot at all times.
Step 5) Check Your Thermostat Settings
You can save money on your energy bills by simply programming your thermostat to run on more energy efficient cycles. If you find yourself constantly adjusting your thermostat, or failing to change the temperature when you leave your home or go to sleep, then you may find it beneficial to program your thermostat on a daily cycle. You can save up to 10% a year on your heating and cooling expenses by simply setting your thermostat back 7° to 10°F for 8 hours each day, and you can do this with a manual (older) thermostat, a programmable thermostat or a smart thermostat, such as a Nest® thermostat. Generally, the most agreed upon temperatures to adjust your thermostat to are 68 degrees or lower in the winter and 78 degrees or higher in the summer.