What he hell is happening to our energy costs? Expectations when I purchased a new home were to experience decreased energy costs thanks in part to energy efficiency built into the home. April, 2016 was our first full month in a new #dontbuydenova home, located in the Emerson Ranch development in Oakley, California. Prior to our new home purchase we had been renting for three years in an older section of Oakley. The rental unit was a two-story, 2190 sq. feet, built in 1990. Not energy efficient by any means and our utility bill reflected that. Trying to cool the upstairs master bedroom was a task that made the downstairs uncomfortably cold and $400+ energy bills were all too common.
Our first home, located less than half a mile away was a two-story, 1419 sq. feet built in 1989. No energy efficient upgrades were added to the home at the time of purchase in 2003. The dual pane windows had been compromised, door seals were leaking, insulation was insufficient and the HVAC was over 20 years old. Much like the rent, it was a task to cool the master bedroom, located upstairs on the west side of the home. Starting about 2pm until the sun went down, the sun would cook the master bedroom. Air conditioning was a necessary evil. The addition of a whole house fan helped, but didn’t cool the home as expected.
March, 2016 was exciting, as we were finally moving into a new home. My expectations were to see decreased energy bills thanks in part to the dual zone central heat and air conditioning, dual pane vinyl windows and energy efficient insulation. The first few months, I saw a great improvement in our energy bills. The 27-day billing cycle from March 19 to April 14 was $336.37. Still, by my standards energy usage was high.
The following cycle was more of what I expected. Based on a 30-day billing cycle, April 15 to May 14, we used 1027 kWh. This was the final billing cycle based on a 4-tier usage system. The first two weeks were billed at $0.18-$0.19/kWh, The next 10 days were billed at tier 2 and tier 3 prices ($0.22-$0.25/kWh). It wasn’t until June 8, just 7 days from the end of our billing cycle, when we hit tier 4, $0.39-$0.40/kWh. For the billing cycle I paid $254.95; $6.95 for gas and $248 for electric. It came as no surprise when the summer months hit, as the air conditioner was running regularly. June and July saw bills of $320 and $340 for electric. The highest to date.
The upward trend reversed in August and slide to $162 and $159 for electric in September and October, the lowest since we lived in the Emerson Ranch development. Electricity usage hit a hit of 1265 kWh in July, our tier 1 allowance is 358 kWh, based on “similar homes” as PG&E claims. The image to the right explains just what comparable homes are. Aside from being single family dwellings, having natural gas heat and all within 2.2 miles, there are no more comparisons. Our house is 2298 sq. feet, we are being compared to homes that are 974 sq feet larger, yet those homes are using nearly half as much gas/electric as we are. Using December 14 to January 12, we used 1255 kWh. The comparaable home used 693 kWh. How the hell does that make sense? It doesn’t! I was under the assumption our home was “energy efficient” but “efficient similar homes” used 390 kWh. Still 32 kWh over what we are allowed, but I don’t see either of these homes as “comparable.”
Gas usage doesn’t concern me as much as the electricity. With new homes no longer having wood burning fireplaces, we must burn natural gas. Cleaner than wood burning, our gas fireplace, located in the living room, right off the kitchen can be run and warm up the downstairs nicely with the help of the ceiling fan to move the warm air through the rooms. Unfortunately, it’s probably cheaper to run the heat, as the gas bill was averaging less than $10 a month. Gas usage hit 45 therms in November, costing $67.51, December peaked at 54 therms or $78.52. This was about the time I started questioning the bill and how the hell our combined usage is costing me over $400 a month when similar homes are at half of what we pay.
I feel we do a fair job of conserving electricity. With my son at school from 8am until 3pm, my wife is the only one occupant in the home with usually just a television on. Based on this CNET article, “TV manufacturers have done a good-enough job of managing TV power that the operating cost became negligible.” No surprise when you look at the bar graphs and energy usage increases when my son and I get home. With that said, lights are turned off in rooms that are vacant, televisions aren’t left running if no one is watching. I did fall into the habit of starting the dishwasher after cleaning up dinner dishes, this is no longer the case. It’s now being run in the morning when full and cat dishes are being washed by hand to help decrease the number of times I start the dishwasher. The Simple Dollar estimates, “a dishwasher unit uses somewhere around 1.5 kWh on average to run a load of dishes, excluding the costs of the incoming water.” For me that averages between $0.27 and $0.62 per load or $1.35 to $3.10 if I do five full loads a week. Needless to say I am looking to cut back on usage.
The other appliances that could increase overall electricity use are the washer and dryer. “If you wash clothes in a top-loading machine, using hot water, a detergent that costs $0.50 per load, and dry in an electric dryer, it costs about $1.52 per load” reports Money Crashers. I know my wife and I are both guilty of running the dryer cycle twice on some loads, such as comforters or heavy clothes, like jeans. I do attempt to wash in cold water as much as possible, but typical usage should not increase my bill to the levels we are seeing currently.
As for the heat, it’s rarely on. When it is, its run for a short duration and then turned off, at which time the upstairs and easily maintain 68-70 degress and be quite comfortable. Not surprisingly, downstairs is a bit cooler from 64-66 degrees on a typical day. When the heat is run downstairs, we never set it above 68 degrees. So even though PG&E and the news media claim a colder winter, we have not increased heater usage this winter.
Starting this week I am keeping track of just what electrical devices are running between 3pm-11pm in order to pinpoint just where we this spike in usage is coming from. Based on last night, in which we made a better effort to use minimal lighting I don’t see many other areas to cut back on. In order to start at our 358 kWh allowance, we would need to average 11.9 kWh during a 30-day billing cycle. Not sure I know too many families in a similar home that could do that. I must go back to mid-November to see days in which we used 11.57 to 12.60 kWh, 3 days out of a five day stretch. There has not been another period since we moved in where our usage had been so low. I believe this is due to the fact my wife and son were out of town as the overall usage is down for the week, except on my days off and periods between 3pm and 9pm.
I have started looking at home energy monitors, while a relatively new product there are a few potential solutions if I can’t pinpoint the excessive usage problem I currently face. Sense and Curb both installed into your electrical panel by a licensed electrician. These units then monitor electrical signatures of difference items that use electricity in the house. The data collected is then displayed on a mobile device using a Wi-Fi connection. Both units are quite pricey; Sense, $299 and Curb, $299, this price does not include installation, which for most of us isn’t DIY. Not quite sure what the answer to my power issue is, but I do know we are being robbed blind by PG&E. I plan on doing my due diligence to get to the bottom of my bill, but in the meantime I want to hear from others and their bills. I want to find comparable homes.