What could be using 1,000 KWH per month?
May 9, 2007 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Since December 2006, my electricity bill has shown at least a 1,000 KWH increase over the same period a year ago. We haven't purchased any new appliances, or done anything appreciably different. This month, we didn't use our air conditioning/heating unit at all, and our bill still came in 25% higher (500 KWH) than a year ago. We're at a loss. What could be the reason? We ordered a Kill-a-watt, but till it arrives, we are trying to figure it out. Any thoughts?

We thought it might be the refrigerator (Amana SBDE21VP) but I can't find a manual online that states what the expected energy usage for it would be.

Well, I guess that's it. Any energy specialists out there care to help us out?


P.s. I feel like Al Gore and his "big ol" energy bill.. except my house is tiny!!! :-)
posted by wflanagan to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you got a leaky hot tap?
posted by bystander at 6:38 PM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: What's that?
posted by wflanagan at 6:39 PM on May 9, 2007

Actually, the extra power is too high for that. Have you got an electric "booster" in your hot water system that you can manually turn on when you run out of stored hot water?
I have had them in a couple of houses and they *kill* your power bill if you forget to turn them off.
If you don't know, check the meter box for a switch or circuit breaker labelled booster, or look around your hot water service for an anonymous switch.
posted by bystander at 6:41 PM on May 9, 2007

I meant a faucet that drips hot water. Sorry, I need to internationalise.
posted by bystander at 6:42 PM on May 9, 2007

I have heard stories of people living in duplexes who cut back on power use as far as they could and still their power bill rose and rose.

It turned out that the power company was reading the wrong meter, and each family in the duplex was paying the other family's bill. The other family had noticed that no matter how much power they used their bill was really small.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:45 PM on May 9, 2007

Wow; 1000KWH is a lot of juice, so I think you're right to be concerned.

I think some sort of problem in your hot-water heater could defintiely be to blame; that could concievably run constantly and suck up a ton of juice, as could a problem in your refrigerator if you didn't notice it. (Although I would expect that if the 'fridge's compressor ran constantly, you'd either notice or it would burn out eventually.) So those would be the first two things I'd check.

Also, can you go out to the power meter and look at the little spinny-thing and see how fast it's going around? If it's really cranking, and you don't have anything on in the house, then you have a problem. Like a call-the-power-co kind of problem, probably, or at least an electrician, because I'm not sure you want to start really poking around much further.

But if it's not going like hell all the time, then start checking it periodically and see if you can tell when it starts sucking down juice, and then maybe see if you can figure out what's turning on and off. Is there a possibility there's equipment in your house that you're not aware of (attic fan?) that got turned on somehow?

FYI, based on the best figures I could find, an average (recently mfd.) fridge consumes about 600kWH per YEAR, so 1000 kWH per month is pretty huge; that's the equivalent of more than a dozen fridges running in your house.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:46 PM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: I'll check it out. I found "hot tap" but it generally is used for low power connections...

I don't think it's a hot water heater leak, but I'll go look for a "booster" switch. In general, I'll turn down the power on the hot water heater anyway (baby on the way, gotta deal with cooler hot water now).

Any other suggestions?
posted by wflanagan at 6:47 PM on May 9, 2007

No electric heaters, right? Those little space heaters will just kill you on power bills.
posted by Malor at 7:00 PM on May 9, 2007

Possibly a faulty meter. This happens all the time, call your power company and tell them your concerns. They'll usually send someone over to check it out. Here, they'll even give advice on saving juice and what the most common problem in your area is.
posted by IronLizard at 7:05 PM on May 9, 2007

You can also check that the thermometer in your hot water heater is still working correctly--our old hot water heater had worn so that the thermometer wobbled, sometimes it wasn't even near the actual hot water which is of course rubbish for keeping the temperature even!
posted by anaelith at 7:11 PM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, I replaced my hot water heater about 2 years ago. So, I think that's not the problem.

Faulty meter? Hrm. I wonder if it's that. In Feb of this year (admittedly a cold month) it spiked to over 2,000 KWH more than the same period the year before.

I just turned down my hot water heater. We'll see if that changes things at all.
posted by wflanagan at 7:15 PM on May 9, 2007

Time to shut down that grow room in the basement :-)
posted by dudeman at 7:16 PM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: I'm also going to get Pepco out and see if they can validate the meter.
posted by wflanagan at 7:18 PM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: Aw.. shucks. No grow room? How am I supposed to entertain... :-)
posted by wflanagan at 7:19 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

~1.4kW 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.. That's pretty crazy! The load doesn't have to be constant, obviously, but if it is only on 10% of the time.. The only thing you have in a house that could suck 14kW is, well, not much..

To further quantify the crazy, that is one fully loaded circuit breaker, ALL THE TIME. If the fridge turns off at all, it isn't the problem. It is pretty hard to imagine anything that could be the problem, really. A new server farm?

Do some research on reading your electricity meter, so that you get an idea of what spinning fast/slow means. Check the meter under normal conditions, and check it when you have everything you can think of turned off. If the meter stops spinning, then it might be a calibration problem - you aren't actually using the power, the meter is just reading wrong. If it keeps spinning.. Well, maybe somebody is stealing your electricity from an outdoor outlet?!? There are other explanations, I suppose.

If you are adventurous, you could just start turning off breakers until it stops. You really should have a detailed map of what breaker controls what outlets/lights anyway, this is a great opportunity to figure that out if you don't have it already.
posted by Chuckles at 7:21 PM on May 9, 2007

What kind of house/apartment do you live in? Older places can have some crazy wiring - my place is a Victorian duplex that was electrified by an amateur, or a drunk, or a drunken amateur. One of the outlets in the other flat is connected to my wiring (and my neighbor swears he's going to plug everything into that outlet one of these days), so maybe you might be powering somebody else's digs? And they got some new appliances?
posted by Quietgal at 7:31 PM on May 9, 2007

You might want to read this thread in another forum, as it details steps used to resolve a similar issue -- the actual resolution isn't as important as the steps necessary to find it.
posted by mosk at 8:00 PM on May 9, 2007

At one point, I had high electric bills due to some sort of bad wiring. It was a rental, so I never figured out what it was exactly. Discovered the problem one day after someone got a shock from the metal siding.
posted by yohko at 8:26 PM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: Bad wiring wouldn't surprise me, but I'm not sure what would cause it. No big changes have been made around the house.

Tomorrow, i'm going to do the "all off" test and see if the meter still runs. I'll post an update if I figure something out.
posted by wflanagan at 8:42 PM on May 9, 2007

If 500 more kWh in a month represents only a 20% increase, then before the increase that was already more than twice the average household power consumption including hot and cold months, or about 10% of Al Gore's place. In a small house with no heating or cooling going on, that seems unusual. So, whatever the problem is, maybe it's been there more than a year, just gradually getting worse.
posted by sfenders at 8:43 PM on May 9, 2007

Probably a dumb question - I don't understand electricity - but could it be some kind of an arc fault somewhere just sending electricity to ground?
posted by scarabic at 8:59 PM on May 9, 2007

Call your power company! At least in California they have a big incentive to get people to conserve so they would be very interested in helping you get rid of whatever is causing that spike.
posted by metahawk at 9:42 PM on May 9, 2007

Please do let us know the result of the all-off test; I'm quite curious, personally.
posted by davejay at 10:04 PM on May 9, 2007

Even if you solve the problem with the all off test, go around with the kill-a-watt. Turns out things I thought drew a sizable amount of electricity didnt draw much, and then even my TV in off mode draws more than I'd like. So now I know to unplug stuff when I leave town for the weekend or for vacation.
posted by SirOmega at 10:31 PM on May 9, 2007

I dont know how common it is in the US but in the UK its very common to get 'estimated' bills - does someone come to your house and read your meter every month? It could be for whatever reason you had a bit of a power usage spike the month that they read the meter and have increased their estimation of how much you're using. No matter how much you cut down, it wont show up until the next time they read the meter - where you will probably get a refund if they've been over-estimating for months.
posted by missmagenta at 11:28 PM on May 9, 2007

...could it be some kind of an arc fault somewhere just sending electricity to ground?

Sorry, no. There's no way something like that could exist chronically. Either it would throw a breaker, or it would melt a wire and open the circuit that way, or it would cause a fire and burn the house down.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:48 PM on May 9, 2007

If your stove and dryer are electric they use quite a bit of electricity but even then it seems like too much of a jump unless you've vastly increased your laundry and cooking.

I'd definitely do a more thorough test than everything off and, as suggested, do breaker by breaker, while watching the meter spin. You should be able to figure what the big circuits are. I'm inclined to believe at this point it's a meter malfunction, though.

Good luck! And keep us posted.
posted by 6550 at 11:56 PM on May 9, 2007

I noticed you called out Pepco. When I lived in DC I noticed a spike in my bill. They came and read the meter, and said that they read the meter only every so often, and estimate the usage in between based on previous usage. I got a credit on my next bill.
posted by joecacti at 4:39 AM on May 10, 2007

Third the "estimated bill" issue and Pepco!

I had a "spike in usage" that also turned out to be an estimate rather than an actual meter reading. Pepco also attempted to smooth the excess estimated KW out during the winter months when the rates were lower, so watch them on that one. You want them to smooth over the amount paid not the wattage (unless of course it comes out in your favor). It took several long phone calls to work that one out.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:08 AM on May 10, 2007

Response by poster: The last few months, it has said that it was an "actual" reading. So, unless they're reading it wrong, I don't think it's an estimate.

Our house has a *lot* of windows, and because of this, it eats more energy heating and cooling it. I do have a disproportionate number of computer devices around the house as well (Tivo, 3 computers, AppleTV) so it's probably running high. No gas anywhere, so it's all electric.

So, I think it IS running high.

That said, the 1,000KWH started in December, and it's clear as day that this is when it happened. In Feb, it spiked up to over 5,000KWH total, which is completely insane.

As I said, I'm going to do the all off circuit breaker thing today, and see what I figure out. I read the post above, and plan to video document it in case it is a bad power meter.

Anyway, thanks for the advice everyone. I appreciate it.
posted by wflanagan at 7:29 AM on May 10, 2007

Are you in a duplex? I have heard many stories of the meters being associated with the wrong unit. A friend of mine discovered it when he and his wife went on a honeymoon for 4 weeks and their bill showed a marked increase.
posted by cotterpin at 7:49 AM on May 10, 2007

I had a similar problem, and just like what cotterpin described. I lived in the front of the house, and my gas/electric bills both shot way up over the winter. There was a greenhouse attached to the front that my landlord insisted was metered to his half of the house in the back, though. I went around the house and unplugged every single electrical item, and lo and behold, the meter was still moving. It was the electric fans in the greenhouse! Based on that, I also realized that the gas furnace was improperly metered, and I got him to pay me back an adjusted amount.

Can't wait to hear the results of your "all-off" test.
posted by Liosliath at 8:05 AM on May 10, 2007

Response by poster: Nope, not in a duplex. Good thought though.
posted by wflanagan at 8:17 AM on May 10, 2007

Response by poster: Alright. "All off" completed. The meter stopped spinning. I tried to test a 70 watt light bulb, and see if I could tell that it was at the right "usage", but it was too hard to tell with the meter, so I'll have to wait to see.

While I was doing that, though, I thought I'd go after the "which circuit is using the most juice" analysis, with a very interesting result. It seems that for at least one of my breakers, that more than one set of switches seems to turn on the lights. So, i think i have some major wiring issues to address. So, I called an electrician.

I also did call Pepco today. They stated that it was "impossible" that the meter was wrong, but that they would send an investigator to confirm that it was operating correctly.

I saw that my Kill a Watt shipped, and should be here early next week.

So, the saga continues. I'll update everyone when the next phase, probably with a different question on askmefi.

Thanks for the help everyone.

posted by wflanagan at 3:04 PM on May 11, 2007

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