Are your utility bills too high?
Do your utility bills give you the blues? Do you feel your utility bills for electricity and gas usage are too high? You are not alone! When the utility bill arrives each month, many homeowners and tenants open it up with dread. In central Illinois, the amount homeowners can spend on their bills can be as low as $100 a month and range as high at $800 a month in some extreme cases. When it comes to lowering energy bills by making energy efficiency upgrades to the home, homes with higher bills will see more dramatic reductions while homes with lower bills with see smaller reductions. During our home energy audit, we do a utility bill analysis to help inform the potential financial payback for energy efficiency upgrades. Whether it is adding insulation, replacing a furnace, installing new windows, or simply swapping out light bulbs, the cost of doing the project should make an impact on energy bills in order for the project to be worth doing. (While there are other reasons to make these upgrades that go beyond just lowering utility bills, we will focus just on the financial portion for this discussion.)
How high is too high?
We start our energy audits with an interview with the homeowner or tenant with a series of questions to get a gauge on how the home or building is
working for them. “Do you feel your utility bills are too high?” is an important question to ask as it helps the energy auditor qualify the potential reductions in order to set realistic expectations with the client. The homeowners answer to the question is often: “Yes!” However, when we start to look at the trends in actual dollars they spend on their utility bills, we can match up their expectations with real numbers. Indeed, many of their bill concerns are confirmed as they are reaching $250 or more a month for combined electric and gas. Some homes range between $300 to $400 a month while still others get much higher.
When a “low” utility bill is a wolf in disguise…
On the other hand, there are homes were the actual utility bills don’t look too bad such as between $125 to $175 a month. Does this mean the home is already energy efficient? Maybe or maybe not. We may take a look around and find the attic is well insulated, the walls are insulated, and the heating & cooling systems have all been updated. On the other hand,
we have found homes with very little insulation in the attic, no insulation in the walls, and older heating & cooling equipment which are all classic signs of an inefficient home. So, why would the bills still be low in a home like this?
One thing to consider is how often the home is occupied. If the family spends several months a year living in another part of
the country, then bills will naturally be low as no one is in the house turning on lights or adjusting the thermostat. In other cases, the home may have no central air conditioning which will make their bills in the summer artificially low in the summer. One of the most common explanations we find with abnormally low bills is the occupants simply have a very high tolerance for their desired comfort temperature on the thermostat. They may set the thermostat to 78°F degrees in summer, and as low as 60°F degrees in the winter. The closer the indoor temperatures are kept to the outdoor temperatures, the less the heating & cooling systems will be running. Therefore, the utility bills will be lower.
Imagine if the family in a home moves out, and you are the potential buyer for the property and ask to see a utility bill history. It would be a smart idea to also ask them what temperature they like to set the thermostat for winter and summer. If their temperature preferences match your preferences such as 72°F all year, then the bills are likely going to be very realistic. However, if the bills look nice and low but you find out they don’t use their furnace or air conditioner as much, then you should expect your bills for that house to be much higher.
What makes the biggest impact on utility bills?
In the United States, we spend about $1856 a year on utility bills according to the most recent data published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Some of the factors to consider are size of the home, regional climate (mild vs harsh), cost for electricity, and costs for fuel such as natural gas, propane or oil. Homes that have larger families or number of occupants will tend to spend more than homes with fewer occupants. The $1856 can be broken down into smaller segments. For example, about 51% of that total goes to heating & cooling the house. Water heating, lighting, and refrigeration account for about 27%. The other 21% includes categories like televisions, cooking appliances, clothes washers, clothes dryers, computers, tablets, smart phones, video game consoles, and Internet streaming devices. For more information on residential energy usage, check out the U.S. Energy Information Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Energy).
What changes should I make to my home to make the biggest reduction?
That is one of the key questions we help to answer during the energy audit. Each home is different, so there isn’t a one-sized-fits-all answer to that question. What makes sense for one home may not make sense for another. Consider this example from a recent energy audit in Washington, IL for a home that is just 20 years old. The average monthly utility bill over the previous 2 years was $265.96 with the annual average of $3191.53. While those levels are not outrageously high, there is certainly quite a bit of room for improvement. During the audit, we found opportunities to improve insulation in the attic and modify the heating & cooling system that are commonly high priorities for most homes. However, the biggest impact on the utility bills of this home didn’t have to do with anything INSIDE the house. There is a heated swimming pool in the back that is costing them $700 a year to heat based on our calculations when analyzing their utility bills. When you take the pool out of the equation, the monthly bills drop to $207.63 a month which doesn’t look nearly as bad. So, our recommendations to reduce consumption from the pool were among the top priorities for the home.
Certainly, we are biased because by what we do for a living, but we feel every home can benefit from an energy audit! We take a look at all of the systems in the home contributing to energy consumption, perform diagnostic testing to inform our recommendations, and provide a report of our findings. We don’t take commissions from our recommendations, so we are not focused on trying to sell you a product that may or may not make a significant impact on your home. Every home has a story to tell especially when we do a blower door test and a thermal imaging scan with an infrared camera. What story is your home going to tell? Check out an overview of our energy audits here, and give us a call to schedule your home energy audit today!