Understanding Electricity Bills
Ask This Old House home technology expert Ross Trethewey and plumbing and HVAC expert Richard Trethewey discuss changes to electric bill payment structures
1. The most common bill is called a fixed rate usage per kilowatt hour, which means that you pay a certain rate for all the electricity you use in the house.
2. Some electricity bills are structured as demand charges or “peak pricing”, which means you pay a fixed amount in a certain tier of usage based on the most electricity used in a 15-minute period for the month. This is a pretty uncommon bill payment structure.
3. A more common bill payment structure is called time of use. With this structure, the electricity rate changes depending on the time of day. This usually means that when there’s a higher demand across the grid for energy, like around dinnertime, for example, the rate is higher than when there’s less demand.
a. If your bills are structured this way, it’s helpful to analyze your electricity usage and minimize electricity use during the high demand hours. Ross recommends breaking down devices into three categories to determine if they can only be used during low demand hours.
i. No control devices – there are some devices in the house that need to run no matter what time it is, like a well pump or the refrigerator. Don’t change the usage of these devices.
ii. Some control devices – these are devices that need to be used, but they can be tweaked a little. One obvious example is an HVAC system, that can be dialed back and forth with setbacks to prevent them from running at full speed during the high demand part of the day.
iii. Full control devices – these are devices that do not need to be used during high demand hours, like a dishwasher (which can be programmed to run through the night), charging an electric car, etc.
4. In all cases, be mindful of “phantom power” – which are devices that are using electricity even when they’re off, like clocks, microwaves, printers that are plugged in, etc. Try plugging devices into power strips and keeping those power strips turned off when the appliances aren’t in use.