How to Troubleshoot an Unusually High Electric Bill

Although everyone expects electric bill costs to rise as the temperature falls, sometimes homeowners are surprised by a large electric bill. In some cases, the rise in cost is a result of an increasing price per kWh (kilowatt-hour). Energy prices do rise pretty regularly. However, homeowners should note if the number of kWh in the latest bill drastically differs from the previous bill. If the number of kWh has gone up, the utility is charging for delivery more electricity.

Why might cause this number go up from month to month?

  • An electric heating system in the winter uses a lot of energy
  • The electric meter is not working properly
  • The electric meter was not charged properly
  • Energy is being bled elsewhere

Homeowners can troubleshoot most of these potential reasons for a rise in electricity usage themselves. For example, comparing last year’s bill during the same period could show that cost rise during the coldest months of the year. If last January was the same cost, it’s possible that your current January bill is just a result of the heating. However, if the numbers are dramatically different, then it’s time to consider other possibilities.

Sometimes electric meters do not work well or are not read correctly by the utility company. It’s easy to troubleshoot the reading. Your electric meter is usually located on the outside of the home. Write down the number on the electric meter and compare it to the company’s reading. If you are reading 18,000 and they said 19,000, they might have mis-read your meter. It’s a bit more work to make sure that the meter is working properly. One method is to shut down the electric in home by flipping all the circuit breakers to “off.” When everything is shut down, the meter should not tick upward. If it continues to count upward when no electricity is being used, there is likely a problem with the meter.

If the meter is working properly and the bill is still unusually high, more detailed troubleshooting is called for. First, it’s a good idea to see if your charge is within the normal range for a household of that size. For example, typical American household uses about 850 kWh per month, according to Michael Blue Jay. If you are in the same general range, it may just be the addition of a new computer or home theater system bumping a bill upwards. However, if the bill shows hundreds of kilowatt hours more than the average, it’s possible that you have a bigger problem.

The only way to determine where all the electricity is being used is to test every item in the house. This involves shutting off the circuit breakers, unplugging all the devices, and turning everything back on one-by-one. Someone should note the electric meter when every device is plugged in. One device may cause the meter to start quickly ticking upward. If you can’t figure out what this device is, it may be time to call an electrician for help.

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