If you own a home, you’ve probably experienced the shock of opening your monthly electricity bill in the mail and seeing a dollar total that is higher than you expect. It’s a common part of home ownership, and one that you can hear homeowners lamenting as electricity rates increase – “Why is my electric bill so high? Why does it keep going up?”.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to find the source of high electricity bills and resolve them so that you can minimize the impact on your wallet. Here are some ideas to start the troubleshooting process, along with some suggestions on what to do about your high electric bill.
Questions to ask when your electric bill is too high
If your electric bill is suddenly higher than it used to be, you need to find the source of the problem. Start by asking yourself these questions:
#1: Have you recently bought and started using new electronics? Are you using the ones you have in your home more often than in the past?
This may seem a bit obvious, but a common cause of a big increase in your monthly electric bill is the use of new electronics. This might include using a new computer often, watching more TV than you normally do, and more.
Many homeowners also experience this when new people join their household, either temporarily or permanently. More people typically means that the dishwasher is run more frequently, additional loads of laundry are done each week, and lights are on more often than they used to be.
#2: Do you have old electrical appliances in your house?
Over time, the electronic appliances in your home degrade and lose efficiency. They’re also more likely to have issues caused by their use over time. Both of these facts can lead to older appliances becoming “energy hogs” in your home.
In addition, older appliances weren’t made at the efficiency standards that are required today. Even in their prime, they will draw more electricity to generate the same amount of power that a comparable ENERGY STAR appliance today.
If your house is full of older appliances, you may want to consider upgrading to newer technology to reduce your electric bill. Keep an eye out for ENERGY STAR appliances in the shopping process. This is particularly true if they’re appliances like refrigerators, dryers, and dishwashers that use a lot of electricity to begin with. Upgrading to more efficient appliances in your home could lead to significant annual savings: ENERGY STAR reports that a typical household can save roughly $575 per year on energy bills by using products with their certification.
#3: Are you keeping a lot of appliances plugged in when they aren’t in use?
Many homeowners have high electricity bills because of the appliances that are plugged into their outlets, even if they aren’t using them frequently. Many modern electronics continue to draw electricity from the grid even if they’re powered down or not in use. The easiest way to conceptually think about it is that these appliances are on “standby” until being turned on. These are sometimes referred to as “Vampire Appliances.” In your own home, this may include DVR systems, garage door openers, smart home devices like the Amazon Echo, or your microwave.
While appliances on standby don’t use as much electricity as when they’re in use, it can still add up, and it contributes to an overall higher electricity bill. Appliances on standby account for roughly three to 10 percent of energy usage in a home. You’ll notice that even if you spend a month away from home, you’re likely to still have a decent sized electricity bill because of some of these products.
#4: Has your utility company been increasing electricity rates?
The price of electricity fluctuates across the country, and retail residential electricity rates do typically increase over time. In the last 10 years across the nation, average electricity rates have risen approximately 4% (although it varies depending on where you live). As the rate you pay for electricity continues to rise, it will mean higher electricity bills, even if you aren’t using more electricity.
Below is data from a few states, and what they’ve experienced in regards to electricity price increases.
Why is my electric bill high? National Grid, PG&E, Duke Energy and other top utility rate increases
|State||Major utilities||Average retail rate, 2017 (cents per kWh)||Average annual increase in rate (2007-2017)|
|California||PG&E, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric, LADWP||18.24||2.4%|
|Massachusetts||National Grid, Eversource||18.92||1.8%|
|New York||National Grid, Con Edison, PSEG LI||18.04||0.7%|
|North Carolina||Duke Energy||11.12||1.7%|
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
This isn’t to say that homeowners in all states have experienced an increase in electricity rates each year. Rates fluctuate, and some states over the past few years have actually seen a slight decrease in electricity costs due to the declining price of natural gas. Overall, the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) predicts that electricity prices will increase in the next two years, and continue to increase out to 2040.
If you think that an increase in utility costs may be the cause for your high bill, it’s worth taking a look at their information online or searching local news to see if this may be the case.
#5: Have you switched to a time-of-use plan?
Have you recently opted into, or been forced by the utility to adopt a time-of-use (TOU) plan? If so, this could be one reason why your electricity bill is higher than it’s been in the past.
TOU plans charge different rates depending on the time of day you’re drawing electricity from the grid. “Peak hours,” or the hours when the utility charges the most, are in the evening as most people return from their place of work. If you’re on a TOU plan and running electrical appliances during these hours, it will increase your monthly bill.
When all else fails, call an electrician
In some circumstances, your electricity bill may not be high because of the appliances you’re using, how often you’re using them, or the time of day you’re using them: it could be some sort of fault or error within your electrical system.
Faulty wiring in your home could cause increased electricity usage, or your electric meter may be broken. If you continue to experience higher than expected electricity usage after other troubleshooting measures, it may be time to call an electrician. While no one wants to shell out money to bring an electrician to their home, it may be worth it if they can identify the cause of the increase, and save you money on bills in the future.
What’s next? Reducing your high electric bills
If you’ve identified the cause (or causes) of your high electricity bill, there are small steps as well as more significant home improvement measures that you can take to combat them.
Schedule an energy audit
A home energy audit can help you identify improvements you can make in your home to increase energy efficiency, which will lower your electricity bills over time. Typical measures suggested by an energy auditor may include adding insulation, installing LED light bulbs, adding weather stripping, and upgrading to energy efficient appliances. Making home improvements after an audit can save you anywhere from five to 30 percent on energy bills.
Be conscious of how and when you’re using electricity
If you’re on a time-of-use plan, it’s worth considering your day-to-day habits and how you can change those to decrease your electricity consumption during peak hours. For example: consider doing larger loads of laundry to decrease the number of loads, or being more conservative in your use of air conditioning.
In addition, go through your home, and take a look at how many appliances are currently plugged in that you aren’t using (or even rarely use). Unplugging “vampire appliances” that aren’t in use can add to your electricity savings over time. If accessing outlets make unplugging certain appliances a pain, it may be worth purchasing smart power strips to help you more easily manage those loads.
Install solar to reduce your reliance on grid electricity
Above all other actions, installing solar panels on your property can lead to thousands of savings on your electricity bill. If your solar panel system is covering all of your electricity needs for your home, you can significantly reduce or even eliminate your utility electricity bill. Because of this, the average homeowner can save anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 over 20 years. Solar panels on your property will not only supply electricity for your home, but protect you against electric rate increases and fluctuations over the lifetime of the system.
Don’t wait – go solar and start saving now
The sooner you go solar, the sooner you’ll start saving on electricity costs. The EnergySage Solar Marketplace makes it easy to compare solar prices and choose a reputable installer to do the job. If you’re looking to start your research into solar with some estimates on solar costs and what it can save you on your electricity bill, try our Solar Calculator.