Q. My electric bill is out of control! We currently own a 2,800 sq. ft. home built in 1986. Everything is electric and there is central A/C with a heat pump. We upgraded this unit four years ago. Our electric bill is approximately double that of our friends who have homes of similar sizes. We recently remodeled our kitchen which included re-routing some duct work. There is now a direct return from the second floor to the main unit in the basement. We had hoped that would improve the air circulation and cool the second floor more efficiently. Unfortunately that has not helped. A few years ago we relocated the thermostat from the living room, where the fireplace is, to the second floor. We did this because the upstairs would be freezing when we had a fire lit because the thermostat in the living room registered that the whole house was nice and cozy.
This summer we have kept the thermostat set at 85 degrees in an effort to save on cooling costs. The temperature on the first floor stays around 80 degrees. The attic has no ridge vent but has a louver on one side. Until we read your most recent article we were considering an attic fan. We have cut our energy usage as much as we can without completely turning off the A/C and doing without lights. What could be the cause of our electric bills being so much more than those of our friends?
A. The key number to compare with electric bills is units used-- look at what that was from last year in say July to this year over the same period. Also look at average daily temperatures which are printed on the bill. The cost of the units has gone up, as we all know, so we need to concentrate on areas of usage that may have escaped our attention and shave those units down as best we can.
To get a handle on usage you'd have to do a complete inventory of use. Any electrical device that makes things hot uses a lot of electricity. Stoves, clothes dryers and water heaters top the list. But little things count, too. Ten minutes of using a 1 500 watt hair-dryer has the same electrical consumption as three hours and five minutes of light from a 60 watt bulb!
Speaking of light bulbs, start replacing those old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFL). They really reduce electric usage for the light they give and they last much longer than the older bulbs.
Do you own an old freezer or refrigerator or two that sits out in the garage or down in the basement that runs blissfully 24 hours a day storing sodas or those emergency loaves of Wonderbread for the next blizzard? Clean it out and turn it off. You'll be astounded at what a difference this can make. I have a friend who unplugged his 25 year old chest freezer and his monthly electrical bill dropped by $40.
Go up into your attic and take a close look at the insulation. In 1986, it might have been six inches. I'll bet it has compressed to about four and half inches by now and is loose at the joist edges. Have fiberglass blown in to a total depth of 8 to 1 0 inches. A good 40 percent of your heat loss is straight up through the ceiling and in summer radiant heat comes through and increases your cooling loads. Seal and weatherstrip any hatches or drop stairs to the attic also. This gets commonly overlooked and the hatch acts like a chimney in winter and a heater in summer.
Check the weatherstripping on the doors to the outside. If you can see light coming through the edges, top or bottom when the door's closed-- it's leaking air.
You say you replaced the heat pump four years ago. Have you had regular service performed on it-- beyond just changing the filter? In your mind thatís a new system but just like a car it needs regular maintenance.
The cost isn't really going up-- our dollars are shrinking and they buy so much less. We are slowly becoming like Europeans when it comes to electricity-- frugal. Chop the units-- kilowatt hours-- to get things under control.