NOTE: I haven't updated the site in years and some information might be outdated. I hope to update the content someday if I can find the time...
Why is my electric bill so high?
To figure out why your electric bill is "so
high", the first thing you need to do is to figure out what's normal.
If your bill has spiked recently that's easy: Just look at your
old bills and see how much your usage has gone up. Look only at
the amount of electricity you used in kWh.
Don't look at the cost, because the cost could have gone up for other
reasons, such as an increase in the price of electricity itself.
If your kWh usage is similar but the cost is now
higher, then the answer as to why is on your bill. Maybe the
price of electricity went up, or maybe your utility company has demand charges, or maybe you're being charged for
some other city services besides electricity.
Maybe your bill hasn't gone up but you just think
it's always been too high? In that case the first thing you
can do is to compare your usage to what's normal. A typical
American family uses 850 kWh per month, as we see on the how much electricity costs page. If you're
anywhere near that with a 3-person household you're normal.
Normal doesn't mean good, though, since most people waste lots of
energy. Personally, I use only about 99 kWh per month.
Let's say you still think there's an unknown reason
why your electrical usage has been so high recently. In that case
the next thing you should do is to make sure the bill you received
is accurate. Once I got a bill that said I used 2617 kWh,
when I normally use only 100. A quick look at the meter showed
that they read the meter wrong. My bill said the starting and
ending meter reads were 18,441 and 21,058. But when I got my bill
checked my meter it was only at 18,567, so clearly my meter hadn't
really ended on 21,058 the previous month. I called the utility
and they quickly refunded the $195 they overcharged me.
If your meter matches your bill, meaning you weren't
overcharged, your next step is to verify that your meter isn't
running gratuitously. Shut off all the breakers and
see if the meter is still spinning (or if the electronic
indicators are changing, on an electronic meter). If the meter
shows electric use even with the breakers turned off...
Is your home a duplex or some other multi-family
If so then probably at least one of your neighbor's circuits is wired
into your meter. Hire an electrician to fix it.
If your home is a single-family dwelling and the
meter still spins when everything is off/unplugged, then your meter is
broken. It's highly unusual, but it's possible. In that
case pay an electrician $40-50 to come out to confirm that and to sign
a statement to that effect so you have proof when you go battle your
electric company to get back the money they overcharged you.
Videotaping it wouldn't hurt, either.
that the instructions at left will find leaks when wires aren't
connected correctly, but it won't reveal problems where
the wiring is too thin to handle a load. When the wiring is
small for what you're running then the wiring can heat up. The
extra heat represents wasted energy, but more importantly, that heat
can also cause a fire which can burn your
house down. Unfortunately there is no easy way a homeowner can
discover inadequately-sized wiring themselves. That's a job for
If your meter stopped cold when you shut off the breakers (which is the most likely result), then the next step is to make sure the meter doesn't
run when everything is turned off. That way when we start
turning appliances back on to measure their use, we can be confident
that we're measuring only that appliance and not some other appliance
as well. To do this, turn OFF every single thing in the residence
and physically UNPLUG every appliance from the wall. (Simply
turning it off isn't good enough
appliances.) The water heater might be hard-wired without a plug
and in that case you'll have to just make sure it's turned off.
And of course you can't unplug a central AC system so just turn it
off. If you have illuminated light switches (wall switches that
light up when the light switch is turned off), then remove the light
bulbs from the sockets to get the switches to de-light.
Once everything is turned off and unplugged, flip the
breakers back on one at a time and verify that the meter still doesn't
spin. If the meter still spins and you're 100% certain you've
unplugged absolutely everything that can be, and that everything else
is turned off, then it's possible that you have faulty wiring
which is causing an electrical leak. It's much more
likely that you really failed to unplug or turn off something, but if
you're sure your meter still spins with everything unplugged and turned
off, then have an electrician check your home for faulty wiring.
In the meantime, you can estimate the amount that your leak is costing
you, by using the meter timing method.
Each 100 watts that is running continuously uses about 73 kWh per
month. If you're paying 15¢ per kWh, it costs you $10.95/mo. One
reader found a leak that was costing them $15/mo.
But you probably didn't find any evidence of a leak in
the last step. So now we'll proceed to measure how much
electricity your stuff uses. As we cover on our how to measure electricity use page, you can
either use a ~$25 plug-in watt-hour meter, or you can use the meter
timing method. The latter is free but it's a lot more
cumbersome. If you value your time and your sanity you'll get the
cheap watt-hour meter. Use your meter to measure the electricity used
by the devices in your home. You can then use our page to figure
out how much that usage costs you.
Likely you'll find that there is no mystery, that your bill is high
simply because you're using a lot of electricity.
At that point all you need to do is to start using
less electricity. Go to the how much your
stuff uses page to see what the energy hogs are in a typical home,
and then use the tips on this site to reduce your electrical use.
You can do it. Remember, I use only about 99 kWh/mo.
In general I will not accept "Why is my bill so high?"
questionsbecause you can find
the answer to this kind of question yourself, using the instructions
above. You are the best person to answer this question, because
you have access to all your bills, all your appliances, and your
electric meter. I have none of these things. Usually when
people have sent questions of this variety they rarely provided any
meaningful clues for me to go on (such as the number of kWh they used
or the price they're paying per kWh), and haven't taken the first step
which is to measure their appliances' electrical use.
Above is a step-by-step
guide to figuring out why your bill is so high. If you write to
me without having made an effort to find the answer yourself, asking
"Why is my bill so high?" I will reply, "I don't know, why IS your bill
so high?" :)