Author Topic: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?  (Read 2018 times)

Fru-Gal

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Every month my utility sends me a note saying we are more efficient than the most efficient households. We are 4 adult-size humans normally spending average of $120 a month in our 100-year-old house but this month shocked me with $220 (looking back, itís been a slow boil of monthly increases since November 2022).

It looks like the gas water heater is the bulk of the issue according to the utility website? In addition to them raising energy prices over 30%. I could get a blanket for the water heater and tell my teen to shower shorter. We already wash in cold water.

We are on the best billing rate. We already have LED lights on timers, etc. I already mainly shower at the gym. A single burner induction plate has reduced our gas stove usage. Natural gas is only used for the water heater and the stove.

Strategies?

RWD

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2023, 10:39:41 AM »
What about switching to a heat pump water heater?

wenchsenior

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2023, 10:53:40 AM »
Same. Natural gas prices have been marching upward for several years; our bill is almost triple what it was 3 years ago, with no change in usage. Electricity is the same as it was 3 years ago.

Fru-Gal

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2023, 10:54:12 AM »
Thanks I will look into it. Also gonna put the water heater on vacation mode during the day (or at least lower the temperature).

uniwelder

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2023, 10:58:46 AM »
If you suspect long showers to be the main culprit, have you tried a low flow shower head?  This is the one I use and enjoy---- https://www.amazon.com/1-5-Sava-Fixed-Mount-Showerhead-Finish/dp/B0089CGG9K?pd_rd_w=GS3rz&content-id=amzn1.sym.deffa092-2e99-4e9f-b814-0d71c40b24af&pf_rd_p=deffa092-2e99-4e9f-b814-0d71c40b24af&pf_rd_r=KWEGPXMYV8QRA5H1PTN9&pd_rd_wg=UEJQI&pd_rd_r=8e90c178-654b-42e0-8125-dbe12a1a9b2d&pd_rd_i=B0089CGG9K&ref_=pd_bap_d_grid_rp_0_10_t&th=1

The 1.5 gym rating is based on the valve fully open at something like 75 psi.  My house is on a well at 40 psi and I generally don't go full open with the valve, so actual flow seems to be around .9 gpm or 1.2 gpm if it is fully open.  I think it gives a nicely spread, diffuse stream.

Also, +1 to lowering the water temperature.

YttriumNitrate

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2023, 10:59:34 AM »
Would you be able to get out of some natural gas connection charges if you switched to all electric?

NorCal

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2023, 11:01:05 AM »
A heat pump water heater is a high ROI project.  Mine will pay for itself in under 5 years.  My old gas water heater used about 285 therms of gas per year, and my new heat pump water heater uses right around 1,200 kWh/yr of electricity.  You can compare that against your billing rates if it's helpful to see how your utilities would stack up.

The next thing is to consider a home energy audit with a blower door test.  Many utilities will subsidize these. 

I also recommend a home energy monitor.  I've used both Sense and Emporia.  The Sense is more expensive, but I've found it's much more useful for tracking down odd energy users. 

ixtap

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2023, 11:10:37 AM »
Did you compare the YoY usage? Different weather, but more importantly improperly functioning appliances, could be an issue, especially if your water heater seems to be the big draw.

lhamo

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2023, 11:11:20 AM »
Does your local utility offer any discount programs?  Here in Seattle the cutoffs are actually quite high -- you can get 50-60% off your electricity bill with a household gross income of nearly $80k.  The gas company has a similar program.  We are signed up for the electricity discount, but not the gas yet.  I am thinking of doing it because even after installing a higher efficiency gas furnace a few months ago our gas bills are still topping $100/month in the winter.

Link to show Seattle's cutoffs for the discount, for reference:

https://www.seattle.gov/human-services/services-and-programs/utility-discount-program

Fru-Gal

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2023, 11:12:40 AM »
I forgot, the other gas appliance is the dryer. Which also gets used more in winter. We have had an electric dryer before and do have the 240V plug for it. I will talk to everyone about using the dryer less.

We have a low flow shower head but itís been years since an energy audit. A negative of that audit was they replaced a bunch of lights with stupid CFLs with two bumps on the end meaning regular bulbs or LEDs donít fit, and those CFLs donít last super long. So another project is to replace those remaining fixtures.

I can somewhat monitor electricity energy with my Kasa app. I think weíre pretty good there although thereís always more that can be done.

Fru-Gal

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2023, 11:14:32 AM »
Quote
Did you compare the YoY usage? Different weather, but more importantly improperly functioning appliances, could be an issue, especially if your water heater seems to be the big draw.

Good tip, will check.

Also good tip about energy assistance, we were on that a few years before my high-income job, probably would qualify again. But it is nice in general to simply use less.

uniwelder

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #11 on: February 22, 2023, 11:16:32 AM »
I forgot, the other gas appliance is the dryer. Which also gets used more in winter. We have had an electric dryer before and do have the 240V plug for it. I will talk to everyone about using the dryer less.

A drying rack in winter works well due to low humidity.  Hopefully there's a strategic location that gets air flowing past it to help dry faster.

TreeLeaf

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #12 on: February 22, 2023, 11:25:10 AM »
hmm...

What do you pay per therm for natural gas? per kwh for electric?

What hvac system do you have?

Fru-Gal

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #13 on: February 22, 2023, 12:58:29 PM »
Thx for the push to check the usage more closely, @TreeLeaf. No HVAC. I am paying about $1/day for natural gas and usage has not gone up. In winter we use 20 therms a month, in summer 16. It would appear that it is electricity usage, going to tier 2 (prime time) pricing in the winter (avg $3/day) that has just barely gone up.

This may not be because we are using more but we may not be doing a good job of time-of-day reduction. However the averages per day are adding up to $100, not $220 like my billÖ will keep checking and may call them up.

I was looking at my water heater because that was what the utility said was using more energy on a summary page supposedly for me specifically, but the daily/monthly/yearly totals tell a different story.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2023, 09:49:14 PM by Fru-Gal »

zygote

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #14 on: February 22, 2023, 01:07:51 PM »
I forgot, the other gas appliance is the dryer. Which also gets used more in winter. We have had an electric dryer before and do have the 240V plug for it. I will talk to everyone about using the dryer less.

One tip is to sort laundry by "hang dry" and "needs the dryer" instead of by color. (I don't have many white clothes or linens anyway.) I have to do my laundry at the laundromat, so it makes a lot more sense to use the dryer every other trip than to pay to run the dryer every time with a light amount of clothing.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2023, 12:15:29 PM by zygote »

TreeLeaf

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #15 on: February 22, 2023, 01:32:55 PM »
Thx for the push to check the usage more closely, @TreeLeaf. No HVAC. I am paying about $1/day for natural gas and usage has not gone up. In winter we use 20 therms a day, in summer 16. It would appear that it is electricity usage, going to tier 2 (prime time) pricing in the winter (avg $3/day) that has just barely gone up.

This may not be because we are using more but we may not be doing a good job of time-of-day reduction. However the averages per day are adding up to $100, not $220 like my billÖ will keep checking and may call them up.

I was looking at my water heater because that was what the utility said was using more energy on a summary page supposedly for me specifically, but the daily/monthly/yearly totals tell a different story.

No hvac - wow that is a crazy expensive bill then...unless you live in California, or Hawaii. In which case carry on.

I live in the midwest and it is coooold here and have a similarly expensive bill for last month. But I have a family of six, in a 3,000 square foot house. And there were a lot of days with negative temperatures. Just my hvac system by itself consumes an embarrassing amount of natural gas...

Something seems odd about your bill...unless you live in one of the above two states.

ETA: For reference I used 100 therms of natural gas last month, and 800 kwh of electric, and my bill was $250. It is embarrassing, but I'm posting this as a point of comparison.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2023, 01:36:40 PM by TreeLeaf »

Fru-Gal

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #16 on: February 22, 2023, 04:53:11 PM »
Sorry I meant 20 therms a *month* in the winter. But yes I live in an HCOL area.

ringer707

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #17 on: February 22, 2023, 06:29:04 PM »
I forgot, the other gas appliance is the dryer. Which also gets used more in winter. We have had an electric dryer before and do have the 240V plug for it. I will talk to everyone about using the dryer less.

We have a low flow shower head but itís been years since an energy audit. A negative of that audit was they replaced a bunch of lights with stupid CFLs with two bumps on the end meaning regular bulbs or LEDs donít fit, and those CFLs donít last super long. So another project is to replace those remaining fixtures.

I can somewhat monitor electricity energy with my Kasa app. I think weíre pretty good there although thereís always more that can be done.

It's so funny you mention those CFL light bulbs. The light in my shower went out over the weekend so I went to replace the bulb and found one of those. I was like "what the hell is this?" I'd never seen one before. We've been in the house 7.5 years and the bulb has been in there the whole time. Had to go to Lowe's to find the replacement.

TreeLeaf

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #18 on: February 22, 2023, 06:34:15 PM »
Sorry I meant 20 therms a *month* in the winter. But yes I live in an HCOL area.

oh - ok. I assumed that's what you meant.

I would assume this is some sort of tiered pricing issue on the electric as you mention above...or something.

It's hard for me to imagine some fraction of 20 therms a month of natural gas would add 100 dollars to a bill, even in a HCOL area. Unless your natural gas costs ten times the price of my natural gas or something.

AccidentialMustache

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #19 on: February 22, 2023, 10:09:37 PM »
Based on Technology Connections video on the water heater I doubt a blanket for it will do diddly unless it is very old in which case you could probably gain energy efficiency by replacing it with a modern model gas or electric (better?) or heat pump (best).

Insulating the hot water lines however would be good (reduce losses on the route to the shower = less hot water used).

The other thing I didn't see mentioned is look for leaky faucets. Based on your bill info maybe not, but if your water or water-heater-fuel bill goes up, check.

Also it'll probably cool down so slowly that you may not save much by using vacation mode. That gets even more true with a heat pump to the point you can get less efficient than leaving it on all the time, because if you ask it to do more heating that the heat pump can do, it'll likely have a standard electric strip heat backup (true at least for our midwest HVAC heat pump).

Ref: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bm7L-2J52GU

Dicey

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #20 on: February 23, 2023, 03:48:09 AM »
Lol, I hate those fucking PG&E letters. Our house is a custom built infill in an area of mostly very much older homes. We keep our heat at 62 degrees and have energy efficient appliances. We have never run our A/C more than five times (i.e. 5 days total) per summer. Every single letter rates our consumption as "Good", yet far worse than nearby energy efficient houses. WTF? We are the energy efficient house in the neighborhood!  Our best guess is they're comparing us to houses that have solar. Yeah, we'd have to start that process by spending tens of thousands chopping down the Redwood trees that surround our house...

No answers for you, just a little friendly neighborhood kvetching.

Oh yeah, here's the real reason for my post: modern water heaters have internal insulation and do not need blankets. Further, by CA Building Code water heaters must be securely strapped to the walls. It's not really possible to zip them into cute little jackets any more, even if they worked. Ours recently shit the bed. DH did exhaustive research on all the alternatives...and we ended up replacing like for like, as it was by far the least expensive option for our situation. At least he did the work himself. Thank goodness, because connecting the recirc pump involved multiple calls to The Netherlands, I kid you not.

Paper Chaser

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #21 on: February 23, 2023, 05:42:00 AM »
Natural gas prices exploded last year (which also increased the price of electricity in many places). It's fallen about 2/3 since December now, so prices are likely to follow over the next month or two as cheaper gas works through the system and you have full billing cycles. Of course usage typically drops in more temperate months as well, so a seasonal decline might be normal too.

What to do?
1) Check their math and gain understanding of the situation. Did the rate change? Did your consumption change? Was there a mistake of some sort? Is there a leak or vampire usage that's consuming energy without you knowing?

2) Take steps to continue to reduce usage, or increase independence. Can't really address this until the problem is better understood.


jeromedawg

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #22 on: February 23, 2023, 11:18:34 AM »
I'm thinking your biggest offender is likely the gas dryer over the water heater...unless it's a super old water heater and you have it aggressively turned up to produce super hot water? Perhaps try dialing the temp down on it if you haven't already?

Outside of that, unless you go the hang dry/clothesline route or trying to do less loads of laundry, you may just have to consider replacing your gas dryer with electric? How many loads are you doing per week?

We are in SoCal and NG prices have spiked here as well. I have a hybrid NG/heat pump furnace and soon after hearing the news of the rate increases, I switched over to heat pump (especially because we have solar) and that has helped keep costs down a lot. NG heat feels better IMO but not for 3-4x the price. After that I was able to narrow down what was causing our gas usage to spike and sure enough it was the gas dryer. The stove/oven and water heater are pretty nominal in comparison...unless we're cooking a feast, our stove/oven NG usage is pretty low. I've turned down the temp setting on the water heater a slight bit as well.

Fru-Gal

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #23 on: February 23, 2023, 11:21:31 AM »
As I said above, after delving into my bill/usage stats, my NG usage is NOT up and it seems like the tiered electricity pricing is whatís getting us (not increased electricity usage), but none of it adds up to the amount of the bill. So I need to call the utility and figure out what kind of surcharges are happening and why.

sonofsven

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #24 on: February 23, 2023, 01:04:18 PM »
My natural gas bill is up, too, but it's because of price increases. I read about them so I wasn't surprised but I didn't really pay attention to the amount of the increase, I
 don't think it was huge.
I'm paying 1.21869 per therm.
The usage fees, etc, amount $10.03/month, while my usage (Jan) is only $25.47 (Range, dryer, water heater).
They could have increased the price per therm, or the usage fees/taxes, or both. Probably both.

billygoatjohnson

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #25 on: February 24, 2023, 07:56:54 AM »
Assuming your insulation is good. Windows are good. Door seals are good...

Geothermal?
Solar panels? (Check for utility company programs)
Is your water heater a good modern insulated one?
Throw some foam insulation around the exposed pipes?
Turn down the heat to 64 and throw sweater on?

I'm really loving my geo thermal and no gas in house. Bills have shot up but manageable. If average temp is 15F for the month I'm about $220. For heat, all electric for water heater, cook a ton. It's gone up like 18%. Unless I get solar or turn down the heat can't do much else.

« Last Edit: February 24, 2023, 08:00:10 AM by billygoatjohnson »

yachi

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #26 on: February 24, 2023, 08:13:06 AM »
As I said above, after delving into my bill/usage stats, my NG usage is NOT up and it seems like the tiered electricity pricing is whatís getting us (not increased electricity usage), but none of it adds up to the amount of the bill. So I need to call the utility and figure out what kind of surcharges are happening and why.

A year or so after we moved in, we got a really high electric bill.  It was an actual meter reading, but not with digital numbers - they misread it just before it rotated to an even number, and billed us the equivalent of 3 months or so of usage.  Fixing it was relatively easy. 

Abe

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #27 on: February 26, 2023, 08:57:47 PM »
We have an issue with the electric meter being wonky at our condo, and apparently there's a backlog for replacements. This resulted in a super-high bill that the utility told us to hold on paying until things are sorted out. This is in Hawaii.

catccc

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #28 on: March 11, 2023, 03:06:09 PM »
We have oil heat and electric everything else and recently installed solar.  Weíve been turning down the thermostat to save oil and are using oil filled electric heaters occasionally since we are producing more electricity than we use.  The plan is to switch to an electric heat pump in the future.  This is a long game, but perhaps something similar would be an option for you?  Our usage has not gone up, but electric generation rates and oil prices are up about 25-30% YoY.

rothwem

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #29 on: March 13, 2023, 06:21:52 AM »
My natural gas bill is up, too, but it's because of price increases

I'm seeing about the same level of increases as the OP, we have gas heat though.  Feb 2022 we were at $144 for our gas bill, which I thought was high, it hit $241 this month though.  I blame Putin. 

I've considered switching away from a gas water heater or going to a heat pump but they're so new, replaced in 2018 when NG was cheap as hell.  I just can't ditch a brand new appliance. 

catccc

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #30 on: March 13, 2023, 10:36:37 AM »
I've considered switching away from a gas water heater or going to a heat pump but they're so new, replaced in 2018 when NG was cheap as hell.  I just can't ditch a brand new appliance. 

Does anyone buy these resale/2nd hand?  Just a thought!  Although our electric prices are up 25% YoY, too.  Another consideration, what kind of eater heater is it?  If it's a tank, would you consider an on demand gas water heater?  We had one at a rental and loved it.

Fru-Gal

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #31 on: March 13, 2023, 10:58:01 AM »
I had a very helpful call with the utility and among other things we checked, I am getting my electricity from the community solar program and wanted to make sure that wasnít significantly more expensive, but it wasnít. Also checked on fees.

The main issue is going over the daily limit on electricity which is probably due to our single space heater. I tried to get into the low income program but will have to do it again since they sent me a load of paperwork that I didnít have to complete last time plus it was for the wrong low income program that I know we donít qualify for.

Ironically however the bill was significantly lower than the very high estimate which is what got me calling in the first place! So maybe something was wrong with their calculation after all.

jeromedawg

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Re: Utility bill is up over 80% in very low-use household! What to do?
« Reply #32 on: March 13, 2023, 11:15:37 AM »
I had a very helpful call with the utility and among other things we checked, I am getting my electricity from the community solar program and wanted to make sure that wasnít significantly more expensive, but it wasnít. Also checked on fees.

The main issue is going over the daily limit on electricity which is probably due to our single space heater. I tried to get into the low income program but will have to do it again since they sent me a load of paperwork that I didnít have to complete last time plus it was for the wrong low income program that I know we donít qualify for.

Ironically however the bill was significantly lower than the very high estimate which is what got me calling in the first place! So maybe something was wrong with their calculation after all.

You may want to invest in a Kill-o-Watt while you're at it, if you suspect any electric appliance, etc may be using more power than you think:
https://www.amazon.com/P3-P4400-Electricity-Usage-Monitor/dp/B00009MDBU

Then, if you've narrowed down what it is that is making you easily go over the limit, you can either unplug it when not in use or get a smart switch to set it on a timer so that you can only use it during certain times of the day. Another thought that came to mind is checking your refrigerator and cleaning the coils on it.

Make sure you know and can account for every single thing that plugged into your outlets (including anything outdoors or in the garage) that might be running 24x7 though.