12 reasons your energy bill is going up

on April 8, 2020

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t pay much attention to your power bill. Your utility sends it, you pay it, and then you forget about it until the next month. But suddenly you notice that your bill has jumped up or even doubled -- what is going on?

Rising energy bills are frustrating. After all, your housing payment doesn’t change. Your car payment stays the same month after month.

There are plenty of reasons your utility bill may increase, or swing by as much as $50 or $75 month to month. But there are also plenty of actions that you can take to consistently lower your bill. The first step is figuring out why your bill has jumped. In this article, we explore 12 common reasons behind increasing utility bills and what you can do about them.

#1. Vampire sources draining power

When you leave home, you turn off the lights, you unplug your curling iron, you may adjust the temperature to save energy while you’re not there. Those are all great things to do, but chances are that you still have vampire sources draining electricity.

Vampire sources are appliances and electronics that stay plugged in all the time. Think your television, your kitchen appliances, your smart speaker, your computer. These appliances and electronics draw a small amount of energy all the time. When you leave your computer charging -- or even leave the charger plugged into the wall without your computer connected to it -- it will continue to consume energy long after it’s charged.

When this happens, you’re wasting both energy and money. While vampire sources may not cause a sudden $50 surge in your energy bill, they are small drains of electricity that add up over time, especially if you have a lot of them. This idle power usage accounts for about 10% of residential electricity use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. That can add up to more than $100 a year in energy costs.

The simple solution? Unplug devices when you’re done with them. Even if you’re not actively using them, they’re passively using electricity. And that electricity adds up over time. Stop these vampire sources right away to keep those little charges from driving your energy bill up over time.

#2. Inefficient lightbulbs

These days, you have a lot of choices when you go to buy a lightbulb: incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. All these bulbs use different amounts of energy.

Incandescent lightbulbs and CFLs emit light and heat in all directions, which can waste a lot of energy. LED bulbs are much more efficient because they emit light in a specific direction. They use 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last 25 times longer, which means that you’ll save money on bulbs and energy over the long term.

Next time you need a lightbulb, look for ENERGY STAR-certified LED lights. These bulbs have been thoroughly tested and adhere to strict conservation requirements, and they can help you lower your electricity bill.

#3. Insufficient insulation

Your windows may not be as closed as you think they are, which can cost you big-time. Insufficient insulation may be the single biggest culprit behind high energy bills. Think about the work your HVAC system goes through to keep your home at your desired temperature, especially if you live in an extreme climate. If your home isn’t insulated properly, your warm or cool air will escape.

The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) estimates that roughly 90% of existing U.S. homes are under-insulated. Attics, doors, and windows are some of the biggest problem areas, together accounting for about 50% of air leaks in homes.

When you consider that heating and cooling your home makes up more than half (54%) of your monthly utility bill, it’s easy to see how poor insulation can increase your bill. If all US homes were insulated according to code, “residential electricity use nationwide would drop by about 5% and natural gas use by more than 10%,” says Dr. Jonathan Levy, Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University and lead researcher on NAIMA’s study.

To fight air leaks, check the exterior frames of your doors and windows to see if they need new caulking. You can also check out these tips on testing the insulation in other parts of your home.

#4. Older, less-efficient appliances

This one is pretty simple -- older appliances are less efficient than new appliances, which directly affects your energy bill. ENERGY STAR appliances use anywhere from 10-50% less energy than their less-efficient counterparts.

ENERGY STAR appliances are independently certified to “save energy, save money, and protect the climate.” Replacing a 10-year-old refrigerator with a newer, more efficient model can save you $144 in energy costs over 5 years, for example (based on national average electricity rates).

When you’re ready to replace your old dishwasher or fridge, make sure your first stop is ENERGY STAR’s guide to efficient appliances.

#5. Irregular or inefficient thermostat use

Beyond how well insulated your home is, how you use your thermostat can also raise or lower your electric bill. Most of us adjust our thermostats based on how warm or cool we want to be. It’s cold outside today? Bump that thermostat up!

That’s an inefficient way to control the temperature of your home, however. Instead of adjusting the temperature based on what you want, think more about what your home needs. Then use a smart thermostat or a programmable thermostat to help you automate those needs. For instance, you can program your heat to dial back during the day when no one is home, or at night when you’re in bed.

Even when you are home, see if you can survive raising the temperature just a little bit in the summer, or lowering it in the winter. For every degree that you set back your thermostat, you can save about 6% on your energy bill. So next time you’re chilly, throw on an extra sweater instead of bumping up the heat!

#6. Peak-time energy use

Just like you may pay more for travel during the holidays, you may pay more for electricity during the most popular energy use times. Energy rates actually fluctuate throughout the day based on demand. Because so many Americans work from nine to five, most of our at-home energy use takes place first thing in the morning or during the evening. That’s also when energy rates are highest because of the increase in demand.

Knowing this, you can strategically limit your use of appliances during these peak times. If you can, do some of your typical evening chores during the middle of the day or later at night to take advantage of the lower rates. Put your dishwasher on a delay to run overnight, for instance. Your electric bill will thank you.

If you’re not tracking your energy use (and let’s be honest, who is?), it’s easy to assume that you use roughly the same amount of energy each month. That may not actually be true, however.

#7. Your social life (really)

Whether it’s over the summer or the festive holiday season, there are times of year when you might find yourself hosting a few parties. What happens when you host parties? You cook a little more, you have lights on in rooms of the house that you don’t normally spend time in, and you might stay up a little later than usual, leaving the lights on a little longer.

If you host guests frequently, you’ll probably see that reflected in your electric bill. While this may not be a cause for concern or something you want to change, it helps you understand why your bill has increased.

#8. Changes in your energy use

If you’re not tracking your energy use (and let’s be honest, who is?), it’s easy to assume that you use roughly the same amount of energy each month. That may not actually be true, however.

Think about the times of year when you might use more electricity: In the middle of the summer, you may run your air conditioner more often. And all those festive lights at the holidays use enough electricity to power 14 million refrigerators.

There could be other reasons for changes in your electricity use. Have you added a new appliance or electronic device to your home recently? Even adding a space heater can result in big increases on your energy bill. Let’s say you have a 1,500-watt electric space heater and the current energy rate is 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (you can check your energy bill for the exact rate). If you run that space heater for eight hours overnight, it’s costing you $1.26 a day.

(1500 watts x 8 hours / 1,000) x $0.105 = $1.26

Over a 30-day month, that’s an extra $37.80 on your energy bill.

If your energy bill increases, think about how your electricity usage may have increased, too. Then you can take measures to lower your usage, such as unplugging vampire sources (#1) and using appliances at off-peak times (#6).

#9. Daylight savings time

This is an often-overlooked cause of energy bill changes. Springing forward and falling back don’t just affect your sleeping habits; they also affect your energy usage.

Experts debate whether daylight savings time saves energy, as it was originally intended to do. Having more light in the evenings may mean that you don’t turn your lights on as early, but lighting makes up a relatively small portion of our overall energy use. Heating and cooling make up a much larger portion and are adversely affected by daylight savings time. We bump up the heat to stay warm when we wake up on cold, dark mornings during the winter. During longer summer days, we may run the air conditioning longer.

#10. Extreme climate

Believe it or not, residential electric bills doubling from month to month is not as unusual as you might think (or hope). One of the main reasons is extreme climate.

Places with very warm summers or very cold winters will usually see electric rates increase during those times of peak demand for cooling or heating. If you live in Minnesota, for example, the winters are going to be very chilly and your heater will have to work overtime to keep your home warm.

Not only are you using more energy to keep your home warm, but that energy will probably cost more because demand is so high. Everyone is trying to heat their homes, so utility companies charge higher rates during those peak times.

#11. Rising electricity rates

Another reason your bill may be higher is because electricity is just more expensive. Energy costs have risen consistently year over year, so your rates have increased consistently to match.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in November 2019 the average U.S. household paid 13.04 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. That’s up from a nationwide average of 12.90 cents in November 2018 and marks a 4% increase from the average rate five years ago, in November 2014.

Some states may see decreases in electricity rates at times. Overall, however, the EIA predicts that residential electricity prices will continue to increase at least until 2040.

#12. Regulated energy market

The energy market is complex and varies from state to state. States have either regulated or deregulated energy markets.

  • In regulated markets, the electric utility companies own all of the power transmission and distribution equipment. Because they own the energy generated and the means of distributing it, you’re left with no other choice in energy supplier.
  • In deregulated markets, utility companies do not own every part of the process. Instead, multiple retail electric suppliers offer their own rates for electricity to the public and you can choose the supplier you buy energy from.

If you live in a regulated state, you don’t really have any wiggle room to search for better alternatives. Your utility can raise your rate, and you’re stuck paying it. If you live in a deregulated market, you can shop around for a better rate.

If you notice that your energy bill has increased, don’t panic. There are plenty of possible reasons, many of which are under your control. You may be able to make some changes to take more control of your power bill and lower it in future months.