Tim Allen lied to me.. I need less power
March 11, 2010 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Trying to figure out just how out-of-whack my Northern VA power bills are.

I've got a townhouse in Northern VA (back end of Sterling, to be more precise) which has all-electric heating (not gas), etc., serviced through Dominion Power. Our last two monthly bills have been approximately 500 dollars, which seems about 200-300 dollars overboard - even considering the heat needed during the blizzard, etc. Specific details:

- The townhouse was built in the late 80s or early 90s I believe
- It's a middle unit (houses on either sides, so the exposed walls are the front and back but not sides)
- The windows are single-pane but we've put up temporary window insulators (the saran-wrap heat-shrink things, which seemed to work fairly well last year)
- There is a sliding glass door in the basement, which also has a dog door insert
- We tried to keep the heat pegged at something like 70-72 or so, nothing too outrageous
- The heater itself is brand new and professionally installed as of 3 months ago - might be a prime suspect, but it seems to be working correctly.

Anyone have similar housing and dealing with Dominion? We've had them come check out the meter earlier to verify it wasn't an error, and I'm about to have an electrician come out to try and figure out where the power is going, or if there's a tesla coil in the attic, or what. Are all-electric house bills really just that nasty this year?
posted by FatherDagon to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in an apartment complex and have gas heating, so I'm not sure what I pay would be comparable, but ours is around $140/mo (four bedroom in Fairfax).

Really, though, your best bet would be to go ask a couple neighbors what their bills look like.
posted by alaijmw at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2010

Yeah, you definitely want an electrician to check this out, it could be a neighbor spliced in to your wires.
posted by mareli at 10:15 AM on March 11, 2010

I use Dominion (although I live on the Peninsula) and I live in an end-unit townhouse built around the same time as yours. I have noticed my electric bill has skyrocketed the past few months. Normally my bill is around $100 except in the summer, and my last bill was $172. I haven't actually got out last years bills to compare with this years to see what's different though.
posted by cottonswab at 10:15 AM on March 11, 2010

Oh, forgot to mention: I have gas heat, not electric.
posted by cottonswab at 10:16 AM on March 11, 2010

I lived in a 3-story townhouse in Falls Church until last week (nice windows, but end-unit, electric heat), and that bill sounds WAY too high. I don't really have any advice about how to pin down the culprit, but it definitely sounds wrong to me.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:19 AM on March 11, 2010

Eheatle ctric sucks ass in winter, the bills are huge. However, I fully expected yours to be in the 200-300 dollar range, so 500/month does sound high. We changed out our electric for gas at our house a few years ago, so different building, but same power company. To give you an idea of what we saw (if my memory serves): Normal electric usage would be under $100/mo in spring/fall. In Winter time the bill would be more than $300/mo. I don't know how those early 2000 numbers translate to 2010, but it might give you some idea. Still, $500 seems a bit much.
posted by forforf at 10:22 AM on March 11, 2010

Electric Heat, I mean. Eheale ctric is not the cthulu farts gas we use to heat our home. No not at all.
posted by forforf at 10:26 AM on March 11, 2010

I've got Dominion in a 2 bedroom apartment, and I'm at just below $200. We have the heat up to around 75, though, so your bill seems a bit excessive. You don't have a space heater or anything, do you?
posted by _cave at 10:59 AM on March 11, 2010

Well, it's never a bad idea to have your equipment checked. But I think you are just a victim of an inefficient (for the weather) system.

If you're on electric heat, you have a heat pump, yes? These lose their effectiveness in the 30-40 degree area. That means it takes a lot more energy to maintain the temperature you want... that comes by way of burning electricity to make the heat via coils (the auxilary heat).

If you're keeping the home at 70-72 degrees 24/7, that's a lot of electricity being used to maintain that temperature.

Plus, heat pumps have different efficiency ratings (SEER ratings). If your unit is older, or has a lower SEER rating, you can factor that in to a higher bill, too.

I would bet you that is why your bill is so high.
posted by FergieBelle at 11:08 AM on March 11, 2010

I had a similar situation last year. Electric heat pump with auxilary heat strips. I had $400 electric bills while the other townhomes in my development had $200 bills. My problem? The auxiliary heat strips were set to come on once the heat pump had been running for 5 minutes. This means I was primarily running off my heat strips, which is WAY more expensive. Once I set the timer back to 30 minutes I was golden and the bills cut in half. I'm hoping this is the case with you.

My suggestion? Find the manual for your zoning system and check it yourself if you can. I had 3 professional visits and nobody suggested the aux heat timer. I had to figure it out on my own.

I strongly suspect this is the problem with your system, which could have been triggered when your new system was installed.
posted by PFL at 11:10 AM on March 11, 2010

Your heater is probably using a lot of kWh monthly, but your high bill might be due to some kind of tier system... You should know for certain what electrical tariff you're being billed at, for example:

0 to 250 kWh at $0.AA per kWh
251 to 800 kWh at $0.BB per kWh
800 and above kWh at$0.CC per kWh

Where rate AA is cheap, BB is higher, CC is even higher per kWh.

In this case the tiered rate may mean that when you get into the "high usage" category your monthly electrical bill will be huge... If you can keep it from reaching the third tier your total charge may be much less. Seconding and thirding the suggestion above to have a professional check the heater and the wiring. Turn it down to 67-68F and wear a sweater. Get some $10 fuzzy slippers.
posted by thewalrus at 11:24 AM on March 11, 2010

Electrical rates in Virginia have been under some political scrutiny this winter. I know someone who's had bills in the $400 range. They're in a bigger house, but keep their temperature at 60! I can easily imagine a bill at $500 if you're not paying attention.

What's your attic insulation like? If you can access it, it is more than worth improving it. Lowe's has r30 unfaced fiberglass at $10/roll (not the pink stuff which is much more expensive). I've been upgrading my attic insulation with it and the difference is dramatic.

Drafty doors? That sliding glass door with the dog insert probably isn't helping. Anything you can do to plug gaps around doors will help.

70-72 seems a little high. I typically go no higher than 67, but fuzzy slippers and a blanket do help if I'm sitting still watching TV.

If you don't have a programmable thermostat, it's a no-brainer of an investment. Programming the heat down at night and during the day when you're not there will make a big difference.

Electric oven left on occasionally?

Vacuum your refrigerator coils.
posted by idb at 12:17 PM on March 11, 2010

Go to Dominion Powers website and see if you can get your usage history and compare current consumption to what it was the same time last year or call them and ask them for the figures. I have a different supplier and that info is on my bill.
posted by Ferrari328 at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2010

« Older Have snacks, will travel   |   worried about hepatitis and liver results Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.