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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...

  1. Is your home a duplex or some other multi-family dwelling?  If so then probably at least one of your neighbor's circuits is wired into your meter.  Hire an electrician to fix it.
  2. 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.

Note 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 too 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 an electrician.

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 for some 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?" questions because 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?" :)

©1998-2018 Michael Bluejay, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized reprinting is prohibited.
All advice is given in good faith. We're not responsible for any errors or omissions. Electricity can kill you; if you're not competent to work on your electrical wiring then hire a professional to do it.
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