Author Topic: $1200 gas bill  (Read 5076 times)

KittyFooFoo

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 112
  • Age: 32
  • Location: NYC
$1200 gas bill
« on: January 03, 2014, 10:58:27 AM »
Hello.  Wife and I moved into our current rental--a townhouse-sized half of a duplex in southern NJ in May 2012.  We have natural gas for heat and cooking.  On 8/25/2012, someone from the energy company came and read the meter.  They did not do any actual meter readings until about a week ago, 12/27/2013.  In the meantime, all of my gas charges were estimated, based on some formula or possibly based on prior usage at the address.  I did not really realize this; I just got the bills and paid them.  We were being charged an average of $175 on gas per month in the winter and $20-30 in the summer, which seemed reasonable to me.

Well, today I received an actual bill with $1,161.39 of catchup charges since that last reading--their estimates were off by 1,590 therms over 16 months.  For the first time (I know, I know), I located and checked our gas meter.  In the week since the meter was read, we have used 70 more CCF of gas, which would account for ~$45 in gas supply and delivery based on the rates on my bill.

Typically, we run the thermostat between 62 and 70, usually on the lower side.  We do not even run the heat at night.  However, our upstairs bedroom tends to get hot and stuffy during all seasons, and during the winter we solve this problem by cracking the windows (I know, I know.  I didn't think this was a big problem because the thermostat is located downstairs--basically I just thought we had an overactive radiator upstairs.)

I called the gas company, who basically told me it wasn't an unreasonable charge and I have to pay the bill.  I have them coming out to replace our meter and send the old one for testing, but I don't have much hope this will lead anywhere.

Basically, I am wondering if there is any recourse in my situation.  I just feel like it is unfair that the utility company's estimates were off by SO much over such a long period--if I had known we were running up such high gas bills earlier, I would have taken steps to fix this.  Of course, I realize I am a big dummy for not understanding my own bill/meter and being more proactive.  We have an ample E fund to cover this bill; it will just hurt my soul.

Spork

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5753
    • Spork In The Eye
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2014, 11:08:18 AM »

I think you just have to swallow hard and pay up.

This is pretty common in utilities that don't have some sort of smart metering.  The upside (?) of this is that they're likely to adjust their estimates over time and it should get better.  (But don't count on it.) 

It's a life lesson.  Now you get to sort out how to reduce your usage and/or budget for the increased expense.

daverobev

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3363
  • Location: France
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2014, 12:14:06 PM »
They didn't read your meter for a whole year??

That's insane. Ours gets read every other month.

You can ask them if you can pay it off over a few months, and that you'd like the meter read at least quarterly (might not go for this, maybe just submit your own readings to them?).

That's an insane bill.. I don't know how big your house is, but here in Canada we only paid about $900 for the whole year.. admittedly we use electric to cook, but this is a house so no shared walls... Only 1000 sq ft though.

KittyFooFoo

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 112
  • Age: 32
  • Location: NYC
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2014, 01:28:57 PM »
Our house is 1500 sqft or so.  It is an old house (built 1906) with radiator heat.  I don't think it is weatherproofed in any way, plus there is a huge disparity in how the upstairs and downstairs heat, which we were handling terribly (leaving a window open to cool down the upstairs).  This is likely the explanation, it just sucks to find out after so much damage has been done.

Averaging this extra cost over just the winter months, we were running $400-450 a month on heating in the winter, which is nuts.  We're going to experiment with turning the upstairs radiator off, or possibly fitting a thermostat-based valve in the upstairs radiators.

The utility company allows you to submit your own readings, which I will begin doing.

Silver lining is that thanks to a year of Mustachianism (in the non-utility sectors of my life), I can finally deal with a large unplanned expense without my whole life being fucked.

brand new stash

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 148
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2014, 02:09:02 PM »
Who is your gas provider?

I'd be reading their information and agreement very closely, many make claims that they check the meters at certain frequencies.  If you can find such a claim, then you can contest that point with their customer service.


daverobev

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3363
  • Location: France
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2014, 03:35:51 PM »
You should be able to manually adjust the flow into each and every radiator. I guess on old ones it'd look like a tap - just like you'd have outside to water your garden? Analogue, so you should be able to control very nicely the amount of heat flowing.

Something sounds really off. I mean - I guess our house is built to Canadian standards, but.. well.. it's more than 100 years old too so I don't know if they had any back then (though, hopefully, common sense prevailed instead!).

We have two single-pane windows in the kitchen, a forced air system that pushes way more heat into some places. So this year I've put bubblewrap up on the kitchen and main bedroom windows, plus we have a little electric heater to warm one room up.

It's been SO cold this last month, I think our bill... well actually I think it's going to be pretty close to last year's bill, which is EXCELLENT considering my wife's been home with our newborn (hence the heat's been a little higher than I'd previously have chosen).

But yeah. Opening a window is.. literally throwing money out of it ;) See if you can turn the rads down as a first! If you have rads under windows look into getting 'pelmets' - basically boxes over the top of the curtains. The way air circulation works means that, if you have your curtains 'open at the top' the heat is pulled in to the cold window and goes out; if you put a box over the top, that flow ceases. We have window blinds which I have shut with the stips pointing into the room - if that makes any sense - to deflect cold air in towards the window (as it sinks) and warm air away from it (as it rises). Not sure what the right name of blind is for that - they can be raised or lowered, and rotated around the horizontal.

swick

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 2884
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2014, 04:14:34 PM »
You might also want to make sure it is your heat you are paying for as well, and not the whole building.

ohyonghao

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 635
  • Age: 35
  • Location: Hillsboro, OR
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2014, 05:49:09 PM »
Coincidentally I also got my first gas bill today and it was $95 for 21 days.  We have just moved into a new house which is 8 years old and 1800 sq ft from our old apartment which is 40 years old and 700 sq ft.  It certainly stays warmer in the new house, whereas we used to only heat the bedroom in the apartment, but I was still a little shocked by the bill.  We were planning on blowing in insulation in the attic to increase it from the R30 it currently has to about R50.  We have also added insulation to the garage door and I can feel the difference every morning when I go to leave on my bike.

Rebecca Stapler

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 907
    • Stapler Confessions
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2014, 06:32:58 PM »
I agree that it seems unfair for them to avoid reading your meter for over a year, then hit you with a $1,000 bill. It seems like there should be a statute of limitations on their ability to collect for past charges due to not having read the meter.

See if the NJ utility regulator or AG's office has a FAQ page or hotline -- they might be able to explain more of your rights to you. It's very state-specific. Also check out NJ's online legal information sites -- there should be one sponsored by NJ Legal Aids, I think every state has one -- there might be more information on utility rights there.

At the very least, the company should set you up on a payment schedule. Ask to speak with a customer support person who can negotiate it with you.

wtjbatman

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1313
  • Age: 35
  • Location: Missouri
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2014, 09:11:29 PM »
We have two single-pane windows in the kitchen, a forced air system that pushes way more heat into some places. So this year I've put bubblewrap up on the kitchen and main bedroom windows, plus we have a little electric heater to warm one room up.

I hope you meant regular plastic, and not actually bubblewrap. If you really meant bubblewrap, I'm coming to your house to start popping.

daverobev

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3363
  • Location: France
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2014, 09:19:20 PM »
We have two single-pane windows in the kitchen, a forced air system that pushes way more heat into some places. So this year I've put bubblewrap up on the kitchen and main bedroom windows, plus we have a little electric heater to warm one room up.

I hope you meant regular plastic, and not actually bubblewrap. If you really meant bubblewrap, I'm coming to your house to start popping.

Even better - its LARGE bubblewrap, the bubbles are about an inch across! :)

And yes.. it makes a difference (that and stuffing foam in the cracks); bubble side in so there is a flat sheet meaning a uniform area of non-moving air between the pane and inside the room.

teen persuasion

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1059
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2014, 09:28:43 PM »
I'm pretty sure that in my state, the utilities are required to read the meter at least once per year, to prevent just such an occurrence, even if you send them your own readings.  I'd check if NJ has a similar requirement.

What about when you moved in in May 2012?  They must have read the meter when they turned the gas on for you and began billing you.  What was the usage between May and August (I know, no heating, but still)?

I would also double check that no one else is on your meter.  In our second apartment, heat was supposed to be included, and our gas bill would just be our stove; our landlord was a new owner of the building.  When the heating season rolled around and the gas bill went up, we knew that it wasn't split like the landlord thought, and we renegotiated.

Zamboni

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2468
Re: $1200 gas bill
« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2014, 10:00:24 PM »
Another suggestion I would make is to call their emergency line and say you think you smell gas.  They will send someone out pretty much immediately with equipment (sort of like a natural gas Geiger counter) who can check all of your gas lines, joints, and appliances for leaks.  Make sure they check fittings, wall joints, etc. for everything you think uses gas including the outside piping - maybe even write down a list. 

There is a threshold below which our noses don't detect the compound they put in to make the gas mixture had an odor, and most households with gas appliances do have some small leaks which seem to be considered "safe" by the gas company, but they still cost you money.  If the leak is outside or in a highly ventilated area, then you probably won't detect a leak with your nose unless it is very large. If you want to check some things yourself, then you can make a solution of about 1 part dawn dish soap and 2 parts water and spray it on joints and lines looking for bubbles, but that won't catch some harder to reach areas (like valves inside your stove.)  I've heard of people discovering sizable leaks that they couldn't smell in areas like the back of their oven or the joint on tubing that heads to a pilot light in a gas fireplace.

It's a safety issue in addition to a financial issue, so it never hurts to check (and it should be free!)