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Why is my Electricity Bill so High?

"High" is always relative. It is prudent to keep in mind that the phrase ‘high electricity bill’ is always relative. A typical American household with 3 members consumes around 850 kWh of electricity per month. One’s consumption could be different because of many factors – a larger or smaller family, residing in excessively cold or hot areas, one or more high usage appliances in the house, etc. There is no single yardstick for deciding what ‘Normal’ is.
One can compare the bill to previous bills or to those of one’s peers with similar family size and usage patterns to determine if the bill is too high.

Whatever its amount – it is almost always possible to reduce electricity bills further. For instance, if you are using incandescent bulbs and you replace just one of them with an LED you will reduce your electricity bill by 13 kWh per month! Indeed many American families live in off-grid homes lit with energy sipping LED lighting and watch your utility bills drop.

Time for some detective work

There are only two possible reasons for a high electricity bill. Either there is an electrical fault or you are using too much energy.  Here is a step by step guide to help you find out the real culprit behind your high electricity bills and then go about trying to reduce them.

Has there been a change in the cost of electricity?

If the bill has seen a recent surge, check out if there has been any change in the cost your are being charged for electricity. All bills list the rate of energy in kw/hr (a cost of using 1000 watts per hour). Average cost across the US is about .12/kWh.

Has your electricity consumption increased of late?

Check out the older bills. Look at the number of kWh units consumed. You can compare the bills either with the previous and succeeding month or with the same month the previous year. Comparing the bills of the same month the previous year helps one to take into account any seasonal increases in the electricity usage. The bill would be higher if air conditioners or electric heaters are used. When making such a comparison be careful to take into account any period during which you were not at home or a period when excess electricity consumption might have occurred because of onetime factors.

Is the bill accurate?

Determine that there is no error in the bill and you are being billed for the correct number of units used. If the number of monthly units billed is way off expectation it is probable that there is an error in the bill. If that be the case contacting the utility company would ensure that the excess amount is adjusted or refunded.

Is the meter running continuously and quickly?

It is possible that the meter is defective and is running even when no electricity is being used. This can be checked by simply switching off all the circuit breakers and checking if the meter is still running.  If you find that the meter is still running – it could be due to

a)    A leaking circuit – To determine that this is indeed the case, simply switch off all the appliances (better still unplug as many as possible) and then switch on the circuit breakers one by one checking the meter after each circuit breaker is powered on. Since none of the appliances is drawing power the meter ought not to run. If it does, it indicates a leakage in an electric circuit.
Every 100W of excess load shown by the meter in this test will add 2.4 kWh to the bill every hour increasing the monthly bill by $8.5 every month (assuming electricity rate at .12/kWh)

b)    A faulty meter – in this case a certificate from an electrician will help you get back the excess money charged by the utility company. Is the meter showing more units than you are consuming?

It is possible that the meter is running faster or one of your appliances is using more electricity than it should. For this you will need a plug-in watt hour meter that plugs into a socket and then the appliance is plugged into it. The electricity consumed by the appliance is displayed by the plug-in electricity meter.

Alternately, if you do not want to buy the watt hour meter and don’t want to borrow one from your friends you can determine the usage by the meter timing method- by switching on each appliance in turn and noting the electricity it uses directly from the main meter. The task is easier if you have a digital meter.

A third method is that you can check the labels of all your appliances or their literature to find out their electricity usage. The problem with this method is that one of your appliances could be faulty and could be using more electricity than it is rated for.

Whichever method you use, you will need to factor in the fact that refrigerators, air conditioners, and heating devices have different electrical usages when idling and when actively cycling. 

The power usage of every appliance multiplied by the number of hours in a month for which it is usually functional will help you to arrive at a fairly good estimate of your electricity usage.

If you are using the meter timing method or are using a plug-in watt hour meter; once you have noted the power usage of each appliance, you can compare the watts used by the appliance to the figures in its literature. This will help you determine if one of your appliances is using excess electricity.

Replace power guzzling bulbs with LED Lights

Once you have determined that everything is in order and you are being billed for actual usage – it is time to consider how to reduce your electricity bill. One of the simplest things to do is to replace power guzzling appliances with those that are energy efficient.

Consider these as an investment and not an expense. You could for example replace your incandescent bulbs with high performance LED lighting that reduce electricity bill for lighting by more than 80% and last 30 times longer. If you replace all your incandescent bulbs with an LED bulb your power bills could go down by approximately 600 kWh and help you save $72 per month. At this rate the new LED systems will pay for themselves in less than two years in direct energy savings alone. The savings that you make in replacement costs for burnt out bulbs are an added bonus. Besides, your air conditioning bill will also be lower as air conditioners will no longer need to pump out the heat generated by incandescent bulbs. After all it was never said “Let there be both Heat and Light”. The energy wastage by incandescent bulbs can easily be avoided by using energy efficient LEDs.

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