I'm ready to give up on all these energy-saving ideas I read about. Seems no matter what I do, my bills keep going up. We try to do the right things but when I compare our energy bills to those from last year, I see that our daily energy use has gone up rather than down. I notice it even more now that I'm working from home a few days a week and think of my home as my office space, so I'm monitoring expenses much more closely. What could we be doing wrong?
I think you'd be surprised at how many e-mails I get from readers having this same problem. Obviously, if energy rates have increased this year, you'll notice higher costs even if you're not using more energy than you did a year ago. But when your bills clearly show energy consumption is up, it means you should be able to control this problem.
You sent a lot of data with your monthly bills for the past two years as well as some general information on your family's lifestyle, and I think I know what has happened.
My first thought was that there may be a problem with the home's furnace, air conditioner or ductwork, problems that can significantly increase your energy use. Having a technician come out and check out the systems will let you know quickly if this is the cause of your high energy use.
However, what I find in most cases like yours is a harder problem to diagnose - changes in your lifestyle are often the reason for increasing your energy use.
You're doing more office work at home this year than you did in the past. That means more office equipment and electronics, more use of air conditioning and heating, more use of lights.
You're probably cooking lunch at home instead of going out for it. Maybe you keep a radio or TV on for some background noise. Last year, the house would have been empty all day and you wouldn't have been using all the energy needed now while you work at home.
As time goes along, families go through many lifestyle changes that can affect energy usage. They buy new products like big-screen TVs or electric coffee-makers and juicers that use energy. Their little kids grow up and start taking long showers and leave their cell phone chargers plugged in all the time and find standing in front of an open refrigerator while they survey the food inside can be one of life's great thrills.
This is why I tell prospective home buyers that they can't tell how much energy they'll use in a new house by looking at the bills the current occupants pay. It's easy to see the home's appliances, the condition of its roof, the quality of its windows and other features, but it's a lot more difficult to compare how your family would use energy there with how the current family does.
The people living there now might work all day and leave the house empty, go away weekends, and hate to use air conditioning even in the hottest weather. You might have a couple of kids so there's someone home all the time, rarely take vacations, have some pets that need to be let out the front door several times a day, and keep the air conditioner running all the time. Obviously, your energy use will be very different from theirs.
My suggestion, then, is to make sure the big-ticket heating and cooling equipment is working efficiently, and have the ducts inspected so you know there aren't any leaks or tears where air is being wasted. Then look at your family's energy use patterns and try to find ways to save - maybe put in compact fluorescent lights in fixtures used most often, or unplug electronic equipment when it's not being used.
Think about ways you and your family use energy, and odds are pretty good that you'll see why your bills are higher this year.