We’ve received several calls this winter about rising utility costs. People have been concerned because they’re seeing upwards of $400-$500 electric bills. Yikes! We’d like to share some tips on what you can do to find out if you’re experiencing “normal” bills or if there might be a problem causing them to be high.
There are things that can be done to your home to increase efficiency. These things include insulating, caulking, checking for drafty areas, etc. For our purposes now though, we’re going to assume that your house is in the same condition this year as it’s been in prior years.
So, is your electric bill high or might there be an HVAC problem?
First things first, call your utility company. Ask what the neighborhood average is and compare to your bill. Ask if the kilowatt rate has changed. Ask if the therm rates have changed. This will give you a good idea on whether your bill is comparable to that of your neighbors. It’ll also make you aware of rate increases that have happened which could contribute to higher bills from previous years.
If your electric bill is higher than the neighborhood average, here are some other things to consider:
If you are all electric, you should have a heat pump and electric furnace (also called an electric air handler). This is the most efficient type of HVAC system to have in an all electric house. Many people set their programmable thermostat to be one temperature during the day and another at night. If you are all electric, do not set the temperature difference to be more than 3-4 degrees apart. Larger temperature differences will cause the back-up electric to come on to supplement the heat pump. It’s costly to run the auxiliary heat. The savings that you are getting from the lower temperature is being offset (or costing more) by the back-up electric running to catch up.
Do you change your filter regularly? How long has it been since your furnace has been cleaned and tuned? Dirty filters restrict air flow and cause the system to run longer to heat the house. This causes a higher electric bill. Dirty filters over a period of time or a lack of filters at all can result in dirty coils. A dirty coil can also restrict air flow. If the heat pump isn’t working, the electric furnace is running by itself to heat the house. It’s expensive to run an electric furnace by itself. The average amp draw on a heat pump is 6-15 amps. The average amp draw on an electric furnace with a 10kw auxiliary heat kit is 41-44 amps. That’s a big difference which is why you want your heat pump running efficiently.
Do you keep registers closed throughout the house? If there’s a temperature difference between the upstairs and downstairs, for example, people tend to close the registers in a room or area of the house. Do not close registers. This can also restrict air flow, causing the system to overheat and short cycle. This means the furnace will be shutting down and turning back on more than it should be, which uses more electricity and costs you more.
One more thing to keep in mind. Some people have a high efficient heat pump system and then are surprised by their electric bills when it’s really cold outside. They get a high bill and think…but I just got a high efficient system. Heat pumps are most efficient in the heating season when it’s between 35-60 degrees outside. In Indiana, it’s not unusual to have 0-20 degree days (or weeks). When it’s that cold outside, heat pumps need the auxiliary heat from the electric furnace to keep up. The heat pump can’t keep up by itself meaning you’re losing that efficiency rating because the electric furnace is doing most of the work. It’s costly to run auxiliary heat compared to a heat pump or gas furnace. If you buy a high seer heat pump, it’s important to understand that the seer rating is mainly for the summer months.
We hope this has been helpful! If you continue to have high electric bills, give us a call. Maybe there’s a problem with the heat pump causing the auxiliary heat to run more than it should. Maybe there’s a bank of heat not working in the electric furnace. It’s worth checking out, especially if those high electric bills are causing you a lot of stress!