The Monster Heating Bill

Shocked Me To The Core

I live in the Panhandle Of Florida. I used to live in Ft. Lauderdale where the winter temperatures usually do not get below the 60’s at night. We get down into the teens occasionally in this Northwest part of the state.

During the winter of 2018, the electric bill that came in January looked like a typo. It was for $589.00. I thought at first that maybe the power company had combined 2 months worth of billings for some weird reason. Not so!

Normally in the 1800 to 2500 kilowatt (kw) range (A kilowatt is 1000 watts), the bill showed that consumption was over 5500 watts. The February bill was $479 with a consumption of 4400 watts. Struggling with finances at the time, I had to scramble for answers. Needless to say, I began to panic.

Wrestling With The Power Company

My first task was to contact the power company. The first thing they told me was that we were having an unusually cold winter in the area. Average utility bills were running about 30% higher than normal. After consulting with one of their engineers, I was able to have him email me a chart of the energy usage for each day of the billing period.

I then undertook the annoying task of tracking the electric meter numbers each and every day. In the meantime I was able to become more familiar with the information provided by the power company’s website. It turns out I was wasting my time.

They had a link to a chart called My Energy Usage. It gave me the number of kilowatts used for each of the past 28 days. It also allowed me to create a selected range of days that I could plug in to determine what my average usage was for a time period I was particularly interested in.

I also did want to investigate the possibility of averaging out my electric bill over 12 months. The problem was that I would have had to be in their system for at least a one year period, but unfortunately I was not. So that option was out.

I finally had to ask for help. Since my wife had a minor heart attack In January of that year, I was able to get assistance from a program that helped with a $250 dollar input that was handled by a rep from the power company itself. That got me through the January bill.

I then asked if I could defer part of the February bill into the March billing which was already running at a drastically reduced energy usage rate. It was necessary to go through a manager to do this, but was able to work it out. I also got to know who to deal with for future reference.

The Furnace

I have an old electric furnace that has a date on it way back to 1990. The AC repairman I hired told me it was part of a heat pump system that was downgraded to a regular Air-Conditioned Unit configuration. The previous owner replaced the outside condenser with a standard unit.

It looked like a Do-It-Yourself operation because the wiring and Freon tubes were not done properly. Since my said repairman did not seem to know what he was doing when he made repairs to the furnace, I stepped in.

I had to teach myself how to repair the furnace and outside compressor. In doing so, I think I blew out the condenser compressor, but I did get the electric furnace working properly. The problem is that it uses a lot of wattage to heat the house.

As a result, to save money, I only use it to take the chill off of the house in the morning. I keep the filters changed on a regular basis and close the registers that are in rooms that I am not using. Not recommended by AC technicians, but I am not getting any sweating or condensation in the closed units.

For heat, we use single room infrared heaters with remote controls. We are only heating the bedrooms at night and during the day when the sun is not out to warm the whole house. Small wall-mounted heaters warm up the bathrooms. This way we don’t have a big whole-house heater running all night when we are sleeping. And running al night.

Since the house is sort of double insulated, the room heaters usually do not need to be turned on until the early, and coldest, hours of the morning.

The Cooling Units

Summer time really kicks in around here in mid-June. Since I blew out the outside condenser for the cooling function of the system, I had a contractor give me a quote on a new set of units for both heating and cooling. Since it only made sense to install a bigger unit for the house I asked for a quote on a 4 ton unit heat pump. $5,500.

I did not want to finance that type of purchase so we settled for four window units for now. 2 of them we already had. We added 2 more and they are all remote control. We installed 1 in each bedroom that we are using. There is one in the living room and one in the dining room which also serves the adjoining kitchen.

The bedroom units are on all the time in energy-saving mode. This means the fans kick on when needed instead of running all the time. The other units are turned on in late morning and shut off when we retire to the bedrooms. They are not needed during the night.

Something to note here. The central AC (HVAC) unit runs on 220 volts. At that voltage it uses half of the cost-generating amperage that it would use if it ran on 110 volts, which is what runs your lights and outlets. The amount of amps you use is what the power companies charge you for, not the voltage.

My AC units run on regular house current you find at any standard receptacle. In other words, they would cost much less to operate if they could run on 220 voltage. Window units are made to run on 220 volts, but you must have that type of outlet installed near your unit for them to function. I don’t and do not plan to install them.

In any case, I am able to control the cooling of the house in a manageable cost mode by running them as needed. A new whole house heat pump system would probably keep my costs down overall and eventually pay for itself in energy savings. But I have to wait until I can put the money together to afford the cost without going into debt.

Thoughts On Other Cost Saving Measures

  • Make sure all exterior doors have proper sealing. You can get exact replacement door seals at any hardware store.
  • Jalousie or louvered widows will never seal properly. Replace them with sliders or properly engineered hinged units. Double pane units are the best choice as to cost and efficiency.
  • AC Filters can clog very easily and need to be monitored.
  • Attic insulation should be rated at least at R30. Existing insulation can be upgraded easily, even if it is blown in.
  • A thermostatically controlled side-mount attic ventilator will help rid the attic of excessive heat build up during the summer. However, it may pull conditioned air out your house and may cost more to run than any electric usage savings.
  • A whole-house fan installed in the hallway will circulate hot air out of the house in the Spring or Fall through open windows, but it should be 220 volt with a switch inside the house. It should have a cover when not in use.
  • The only type of fireplace that makes sense to me is a natural gas-fired one. Propane is too expensive to use for home heating. If you have to buy wood to keep a fireplace going, and then constantly are feeding it, what’s the point? Unfortunately, natural gas is not an option in most areas of states like Florida.
  • An instant (tankless) hot water heater only heats water as it is needed. No energy is used during sleeping hours or during the day when you are at work or school.
  • Cooking on a propane cooking unit outside saves on the electric bill and evades the mess in the kitchen. Very little gas is used to cook a meal.
  • LED lights and replacement light bulbs use a small amount of energy compared to the brightness they generate. They emit very little heat. Their initial purchase price is continually dropping as well.

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