How much gas can a furnace use when it's 85F outside?
August 22, 2012 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I haven't even turned the heat on yet and my gas bill is already as high as it was last winter. WTF?

So, I moved to a new apartment; it's larger, and has an old furnace/boiler (gas, driving old-fashioned radiators). I knew that my heating bill would be significantly higher than it was before (my heating bills in my previous place were outrageously low, in large part due to being on the third floor of a well-insulated building). But I haven't even turned anything on yet and the bill is already higher (in therms of gas used and in dollars) than it was in the late fall/early spring months in my last apartment. And I cooked with gas at that apartment, too - I have an electric stove at the new place.

Where is the gas going? What is it doing? Is the pilot light in my new place getting through more gas than the actual heater in my old place (and that wasn't a new heater either, though it was a completely different type of heater)? Is this kind of thing to be expected with old furnaces or is there something wrong? My landladies were entirely transparent about the oldness of the furnace but I didn't expect that to be an issue in August!

Right now we're talking about a matter of $20 or so a month - no big deal - but if this is likely to be indicative of an actual problem with the furnace (beyond just oldness and crapness) I would love to get it resolved before it gets cold. And expensive.
posted by mskyle to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where do you live? Here in NYC they estimate gas/electricity bills based on past usage until they get in and do actual readings, which can lead to big jumps and or big decreases depending on your usage vs the previous tenants usage...
posted by Grither at 8:08 AM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: Do you have a separate hot water heater? Your hot water may be heated by the furnace. Hot water in my apartment is heated directly by the furnace, so the furnace is running even in the summer, and I have a $20-$30 gas bill to deal with(and nothing else in my apartment uses gas).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:10 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

A lot of gas companies do readings with equipment that picks up meter readings as they drive by the neighborhood. This can misfire and result in bizarre gas bills (this happened to me once, and I was billed triple). When this happens you can request the company to send someone over to look at the meter, and they'll adjust the bill for you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:16 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you automatically signed up for a "budget plan" with your gas company?
posted by phunniemee at 8:17 AM on August 22, 2012

is there a minimum monthly service charge?
posted by Gungho at 8:20 AM on August 22, 2012

Response by poster: It's the hot water. I feel like a dope! I've had my hot water included in the rent for the past 8 years or so and I forgot it was even a thing!

Thank you for your attempts to help me in the face of what turns out to be a rather silly question.
posted by mskyle at 8:23 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Make sure it's the hot water anyway. I knew a gal with crazy bills, had her call for an energy audit. All the electric for the complex was on her bill.
posted by tilde at 8:43 AM on August 22, 2012

For what it's worth, some hot water heaters have different levels of hot. The one in our apartment has the amazingly descriptive "A", "B", and "C". "A" was not really hot enough to take a long shower, so we set it to B. Of course, now all the hot water that stays in the pipes wastes more energy. My point is: you should see if you can adjust the settings on that (especially in the already-hot summer).
posted by Phredward at 8:47 AM on August 22, 2012

also, most (a lot of, anyway) gas companies spread the cost out over the instead of paying $100/month in the winter, you pay $25/month for the whole year...that could be a factor as well...
posted by sexyrobot at 8:47 AM on August 22, 2012

Response by poster: It's only a two-apartment building, and I've seen the other apartment's furnace (which is newer, lucky dogs), but I will take a look around and see if there are any settings I can change on the hot water heater - I've had plenty of hot water so far, so might be able to adjust it down a bit (not so low it starts growing Legionnaires' or anything).

I do have the option to spread my gas payments out over the year but I've chosen not to - I'm hoping to use a lot less gas than the previous tenant (she worked from home and said she kept the thermostat at 72 - I'm more of a "put on a sweater!" type and I'm out of the house 9-12 hours a day) so I didn't want to pay up front based on her consumption last year.
posted by mskyle at 9:07 AM on August 22, 2012

Already solved, but I'd note:

1. the pilot light on the wall heater in my apartment does indeed burn through $5+ of gas per month; I turn it off completely during summer to save that, and

2. when PG&E replaced the meters at our complex, they didn't adequately tighten the connection resulting in a small leak on the customer side of the meter; something I didn't notice until a few bills of "wait, the pilot's off, how can I be using any gas at all?" I eventually found the leak by detecting a very faint hiss and a very faint whiff of gas very close to the meter; PG&E fixed and credited back the overcharge.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:11 AM on August 22, 2012

While you're at it, check the age of the water heater-- typical lifespan is 8-9 years.

If you can, turn it off and see how long it holds heat-- it could need some insulation.

And if you do suspect leaks, dribble some soapy water over the pipe joints and any bends-- the leak will blow bubbles!
posted by Sunburnt at 9:34 AM on August 22, 2012

Depending on water quality (and pipe quality and various other things) in your area, your hot water heater could be full of sludge which is making it run inefficiently. There are a zillion how-to videos on YouTube about how to flush your hot water heater and if you're at all DIYish it's not a difficult job (although there's always the possibility of coming across a problem you'll need to call a plumber to fix: though if you do, it was probably imminent anyway). I imagine it would be hard to know if anyone was doing regular maintenance on it (theoretically you should do it once a year).
posted by yoink at 11:06 AM on August 22, 2012

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