Do Your Electric Bills Rise During the Winter?

By Brad Reeve

KEA General Manager

Every year, KEA receives calls from our members with concerns about their bills and/or meters. We get most of these calls during the winter months, and they come from folks who feel their electric bills are incorrect because they are higher than usual.

During the winter, heaters are running, we are all inside more, the TV is on, the lights are on, the kids are inside, the refrigerator is open for snacks and so on. In other words, we all use more electricity during the winter.

Often, we need to remind members that their usage will be higher. On an annual basis, the average usage for all residential consumers is 602 kWh per month. The summer average is 505 kWh (or approximately $78 for an average monthly bill). The winter average is 706 kWh — over 200 kWh more than in the summer. The average winter bill works out to be about $105.

If you are concerned about your bill, there are things you can do to reduce your usage and make sure your bill doesn’t rise as the temperature drops. What I would like to recommend is that on an occasional basis, check your electric meter. Think about what you have on in the house and look at your meter. See how fast it is spinning. The faster it spins, the more electricity is being used at that moment.

We try to call people when we see jumps in their usage. We also try to help people determine the cause of these jumps when they happen. There are times when we can help our members find problems in their homes or apartments that are causing increased electric usage. When trying to determine what your usage is, a rule of thumb is that any appliances or equipment that generates heat from electricity are your largest users.

Listed below are things to look out for and things that we have found to help reduce electric consumption.

Problem — Vehicle Block Heaters:

Electric block heaters for cars and trucks can be heavy electric users. Many electric block heaters are 1,500 watt heaters and use as much electricity as fifteen 100 watt light bulbs.

Suggestion:

  1. If you are plugging in your truck every night, you might consider a timer. A good timer will cost $20 and could save you that much in electric usage each month. Having the timer set to go off one or two hours before you have to leave in the morning is usually enough to let your vehicle start easily.
  2. If you live in an apartment building that has outside receptacles, check to make sure someone else is not plugging in to your meter. We have had several instances of this recently.

Problem — Hot Water Heaters:

Electric hot water heaters are heavy electric users. Electric hot water heating elements can become covered with silt and other water residue. This tends to insulate the water from the heat source, forcing the heater to work harder to heat the same amount of water. Increased use of hot water for washing clothes and for personal use can certainly increase your usage.

Suggestion:

  1. Manufacturers recommend flushing your tank annually. At times the water in Kotzebue carries a lot of silt; this silt will eventually mean that your water heater will not function as designed if you do not flush your tank.
  2. Setting the temperature on your tank to 120 degrees can save you money. Often, heaters are set at 170 degrees at the factory. Remember that most 30-40 gallon tanks have two thermostats — a lower one and an upper one. They should both be set back to 120 degrees.
  3. Insulate your tank. Valuable heat loss occurs in many hot water heaters because the manufacturer does not do a good job of insulating. Many hot water heaters are sold with only a minimum amount of insulation.

Problem — Space Heaters

Electric heaters are very high users of electricity. A small heater can cost you $100 or more per month if used continuously.

Suggestion:

Don’t use them!

Problem — Refrigerators and Freezers

Refrigerators and freezers. We have found several refrigerators and freezers that were causing problems for people. They did not cycle properly. Several of these older units caused a large increase in their owners’ bills.

Suggestion:

Manufacturers recommend cleaning the cooling fins on a refrigerator or freezer annually. In the summer, Kotzebue can be quite dusty. This dust will accumulate and can eventually insulate the cooling fins so that the refrigerator or freezer cannot rid itself of heat. This will mean that the unit will not function as designed and will not cycle or turn off.

Problem — Electric Heat Tape Problems

Electric heat tape. Due to past water line freeze up problems, many home owners have installed heat tape on water and sewer pipes.

Suggestion:

Check water and sewer lines under the house or under sinks for wires that you are unfamiliar with. Leaving heat tapes plugged in continuously is not a safe practice; the thermostats on them fail frequently and have caused fires.

Problem — Unauthorized Use of Electricity

Unauthorized usage. On several occasions when we have worked with members on their usage, we have found extension cords plugged into outside receptacles.

Suggestion:

Check your outside receptacles on an occasional basis.

Problem — Understanding Electrical Usage

Consumers who don’t understand how usage of appliances and equipment affects electric usage are more prone to seeing higher electric bills.

Suggestion:

Understand your usage. When requested, we try to teach our consumers how to understand their usage. Call us. We have pamphlets that will give you the average usage for all of your appliances.

We’re here to help you. Try using these suggestions to lower your electric usage. If these suggestions don’t help, give us a call (442-3491).