Every month millions of U.S. households pay their electric and gas bill without fully understanding where their money goes. What is it you are paying for?
The answer, of course, is energy, which comes in the form of electricity, generated by coal and gas-burning power plants, hydro plants, nuclear power plants or, increasingly, by solar and wind power, referred to as “renewables.”
Energy also comes to you directly in the form of natural gas or oil, both of which are burned in the home at the kitchen stove or underneath the hot water heater or in an oil-burning or gas-burning furnace. Some homes still have coal-burning heaters, as well.
On average, says data provided by EnergyStar, the average U.S. home pays $2,200 each year for their electric and gas use, paying and average of 11.3 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity and an average of $13.29 per million Btu(s) of natural gas.
Using data from the October to March season (considered the home heating season each year) the U.S. Energy Information Administration calculated the average price of residential heating oil fluctuated between a low of $3.142 per gallon (in December) and $4.245 per gallon (in February) in 2014.
All that said, a kilowatt hour of electricity is equal to 1,000 watt hours, which is the power it takes to run a 100 watt light bulb for 10 hours or a 10 watt light bulb for 100 hours.
Electricity is measured in kilowatt hours, because it flows through wires and more electricity can flow through a large wire than a small one. As such, simply considering a light bulb alone does not give a homeowner much to go on, because each appliance in the house runs on different draws of electricity.
An attic fan uses and estimated 0.4 kilowatt hours per hour, while a ceiling fan uses 0.075 kWh/hr. Central air conditioning averages and estimated 3 kWh/hr. A six foot long baseboard heating unit uses 1.5 kWh/hr, while an electric furnace uses 10.5 kWh/r.
A kitchen blender: 0.4 kWh/hr. A can opener: 0.1 kWh/hr. A coffee maker: 0.12 kWh/hr. The oven, electric range: 2.3 kWh/hr.
Now come the big ones. The older model freezer, manual defrost, 15 cubic feet in size uses 90 kWh/month, while the refrigerator (frost-free) of the same size uses 50 kWh/month. Electric water heaters – yikes – use 390 to 500 kWh/month. Water pumps: 2 kWh/hr on average.
Here are some other numbers that put energy usage into perspective:
Out of that average $2,200 per year in average energy costs, 29 percent goes to heating, while 17 percent goes to cooling. Heating water takes 14 percent of the average utility funds, while appliances make up 13 percent. Twelve percent, on average, goes to pay for lighting and 4 percent pays for electronics. That leaves 11 percent, which is the lumped-together category that includes external power adapters, telephony, self-top boxes, ceiling fans, vent fans and home audio systems.
The category called Other also includes small appliances, dehumidifiers and microwave ovens.
Looking back, you can see why efforts to save money on your utility bills is an across-the-board predicament. If you can save on heating, cooling or on appliances, you’ve done yourself a favor.
A second glance, however, shows that 60 percent of your $2,200 per year goes to heating and cooling – even more if you consider the appliances that may have something to do with heating and cooling food or water. Even clothes washers and dishwashers have something to do with heating costs, if they use hot or warm water to get their job done.
In one fell swoop, insulation is the quickest answer to cutting down on your utility bills. After all, insulation cuts your heating bills in the winter and your cooling bills in the summer.
Any other adjustment in heating and cooling is a quick benefit to consumers. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, every degree you can turn down your thermostat in the winter can save you 3 percent of your heating bill.
You can create savings by finding ways to cool your home that don’t involve running an air conditioner. Shade trees, cross ventilation (by simple opening two windows), even window shades can help cool your home. Ceiling fans can spare you some time running the air conditioner.
In addition, in some locations, you can run appliances during off hours (at night) and save money on your bill.