# Explanation for low residential energy use?

We just received our latest electric bill. It says we use 49% less energy than our EFFICIENT neighbors.

There are only two of us, and we were raised to turn out lights when we left a room, but I can’t figure out why we use so little or everyone else uses so much.

All of the houses in my immediate area are of similar size. I think 2/3 of the houses on my block are occupied by couples. My wife and I have both been working from home - mostly on the computer, so we’ve had at least 2 computers running most waking hours. We watch too much TV (at least a couple hours each night), tho our TV is old and not over large (I dunno - 29""? 35?)

So what is it that my EFFICIENT neighbors are doing that uses so much energy, or what are we NOT doing?

(A good friend of mine recently had solar panels installed. I suggested that to my wife, but she observed that we use very little electric anyway.)

ON EDIT - usage reported was:
us 254 kWh
efficient neighbors 496 kWh
all neighbors 786 kWh

Says it compared us to 100 neighbors w/in 1 mile of us.

What time period are your stats for? Monthly use?

What kind of heat and appliances do you have vs. neighbors? If you have natural gas or propane and they have electric (furnace, water heater, stove, etc.), that could explain the difference. Since you didn’t give any stats for overall household energy use, it’s entirely possible that your total household energy cost is much greater than your neighbors’. The electric bill is only for one fuel.

And you didn’t even go into the differences in insulation and air conditioning.

It says 1 month - May. And it compares us to neighbors who use gas heat.

I imagine AC is likely a big factor - tho I’m not sure how hot May was. We tend to use ours as infrequently as we can. If the days aren’t terribly hot and the night temp gets below 70, we can open windows at night, and then the house stays quite cool during the day if we close windows/blinds. Our AC is the unit that was there when we moved in.

I’m not aware of a bunch of Teslas and electric mowers being charged.

My immediate suburban neighborhood is almost 100% made up of houses built by the same builder in the late 50s. An area of maybe 4 N/S streets stretching 3-4 blocks is almost entirely brick ranches, split levels, and 2 storys. Some are entirely original, others (like ours) has had some rehab work done, additions, etc.

Further outside this 10-20 biock area, the housing is somewhat more diverse. Some homes are smaller and older, and some of those have been replaced by mega-mansions. So I guess they may have sampled a bunch of old, inefficient homes, and new, huge homes.

When we moved in 6 years ago, we basically gutted every room. We put in (mostly) LED lights, but didn’t go crazy otherwise re: energy economy. Improvements in insulation and new siding shouldn’t really affect electric use. I guess most of our appliances are new (other than TV/computers), but we didn’t go w/ ultra efficient models.

How is your historical usage. My take on it is covid-19 has more people staying at home, which then uses more electricity and bumps their usage higher.

That’s a good point. We’ve always been below our efficient neighbors, but I don’t recall it being THIS low.

Also - our neighbors are staying home - but so are we!

Without more detailed info about households, I think you may be comparing oranges to apples. There are so many contributing factors to energy use. You didn’t even go into electric/natural gas water heaters and ranges, both which can be major contributors to costs. TVs and computers are relatively small contributors; I don’t know about Teslas. Anyone with a heated pool or hottub is going to have to pay the price – are those common around your neighborhood?

Less than average sump pump need?

Very rare pools/hot-tubs AFAIK.

Natural gass is VERY common in this area. While I have not conducted a study, I imagine far more folk have gas stoves than electric. And I imagine the standard water heaters were gas. Not sure why anyone would retrofit w/ electric (unless a tankless upgrade?)

So if it isn’t water heaters, ranges, pools, or spas, then what? As we walk our dog, it does seem as tho some homes have their huge, wall-sized TVs going pretty much 24/7…

Where are you located?
HVAC typically takes the lion’s share of electrical usage.
In approximate order:
HVAC (for electric heating / cooling).
Clothes drying
Cooking
Water heating
Then everything else, which contributes to “baseline” loads.

If you are stingy with your heating and cooling, you will use a lot less electricity than your neighbors.
ETA: my bill this year was 50% higher than last year. I did some research, and found out that last year was anomalously cool - 9° cooler than this year. That put us right in the “sweet spot,” where we didn’t need to use either heat or A/C, hence the low usage.

Dinsdale, are you on an “average” usage payment plan, where you pay an estimated use (yearly total / 12), not actual, each month? That could distort the comparisons.

We shouldn’t overlook the possibility that the power company’s figures are faulty. It happens.

You should consider yourself lucky. My 3-BR house is modest, not insulated the best, and all-electric (except heat, but no A/C – Lake Michigan does that for me free), and my usage averages 1000Kwh/month.

You are lucky. Cops have used high power bills as a way to search a house for pot growing since grow lights use a lot of power .

AC is definitely a huge factor. In March my usage was 358 but last July it was 997. Since I work from home I do not skimp on running my AC, so if it’s not down to 72 degrees in here I let that thing run.

Do you have a basement? If you don’t, you probably don’t have a dehumidifier and/or a sump pump. Other neighbors might have those, like I do. My dehumidifier runs a LOT.

If you get most or all of your electricity from hydro, like we do here in Eugene, then switching to electric will reduce your carbon footprint. Which is great, but I’ve never heard of anyone actually making such a change, since contempt and distaste for electric stoves is near-universal. Nobody wants one of those things if they can have a gas stove instead!

That said, I’ve heard there are rumblings in the City Council about banning gas stoves in new construction.

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Maybe you’re stealing power from me! http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=876125

Maybe your neighbours have a lot of equipment on standby? That seems to be a major power draw.

Or they have older, less efficient dryers, freezers etc.

I also heard about people having floor heating that was left on all the time by accident: when they turned it off, it halved their power bill.

I’m somewhat in the position of the OP.

In addition to the power company saying I’m more efficient, in casual conversation I’ve noted that the other people in my building complain about higher monthly utility bills than I have. Note, it’s the same apartment building so we have pretty much the same appliances.

I can’t figure it out, either.

I mean, I have two computers in here, two kindles a tablet and phone that are frequently being charged, and “ginormous wall-sized TV”. I bumped the heat-setting up slightly on the water heater (it was the only way to reliably get a full hot tub of water for a bath). I have an electric piano.

Factors possibly affecting the difference:

When I moved in several lights were burned out or did burn out shortly after. It seems all the light bulbs were incandescent. I swapped them all out for LEDs, using mostly the LED stash we had for the old place. I’m actually pretty terrible about turning out lights before bed time, and during the day I keep the overhead on for my parrots

My electricity-hungry appliances - TV, piano, computers, etc. - are plugged into power strips, which get shut off when I’m not using those things. The one for the TV was designed to avoid “vampire draw”. The exceptions being the stove (electric) and refrigerator. I do cook and bake more than my neighbors seem to, though.

So… I don’t get it. Why am I so much more energy efficient?

This probably does not apply to you, but we get the same notices. But here’s the thing, many of our ‘neighbors’, are part time home owners. So they don’t live there except maybe a weekend a month. I’m sure that’s skewing the numbers.

OK, people - Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope calculations on power consumption.
Assuming all devices are Energy Star rated (if they are newer than a decade, they should be)

TV on standby: 1W
Computer on standby: 1W
Computer being used: 200W
iPad being charged: 10W
iPhone being charged: 5W
iPhone or iPad charger on standby: 1W

3 Ton A/C being used: 3,500W
Water heater, while heating: 4,500W

Residential lighting, 10 fixtures, 60W equivalent, LED: 130W

Based on these numbers, what do we see?
One hour of A/C use is equal to > 4 months of phantom energy from a device on standby.
Leaving 10 lights on for 8 hours is equivalent to running the A/C for 20 minutes.

Keeping your computer on for an entire month is 144kWh, or equivalent to running the A/C for 41 hours.

When trying to determine energy usage, you need to look at both the load and the duty cycle - how long it is being used. Tiny phantom loads, like device chargers are an insignificant source of power consumption, compared to HVAC and cooking and water heating. Computers can be a significant user, especially if they are not set to sleep, but they are still small potatoes compared to HVAC.
Pool and other motors can be a significant load. Changing your A/C blower to run constantly can add \$5-\$10/month to your bill.

Look at the big loads first, they worry about the teeny ones. This is why insulation upgrades are always highly recommended.

The power company was always complaining we used too much power and I could never figure out why. We mostly used electric heat (automatically switchd to oil when outside temp dropped below -12 C) and probably our usual temp of 21 C was too high, but we were both miserable at lower setting. We probably wash clothes more than usual and the dryer was a hog. We cook about every day and I bake much of our bread. Now we’ve moved and our electric bill has tanked. Maybe it is the insulation. Oh, we didn’t have AC, now we do. Go figure.

So. Inspired by this thread, I looked at my utility bill and I discovered that the “home profile” they had for me was really inaccurate. Some things were fixable–my home is over 30 years old, not 10–but others are baked in. For example, they have my house in a category of 1000-2000 square foot homes. We are right in the top of that range. I am sure we use more electricity than homes in the bottom. If everyone else’s “profile” is also set to inaccurate defaults, it’s a very flawed tool.