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Near freezing nights spark high energy use, bills
By Christine Patmon on February 4, 2015
Weather outside the norm for our sunny South Texas area caused me to use more energy and made my latest energy bill look more like July. People like me whose bill included their energy use from late December through most of January are curious as to what happened.
The holidays are long behind me, and I’d already forgotten that we had three extra people in the house for two weeks, cooked more meals than usual, ran the dishwasher almost daily, and had Christmas lights on for the better part of a month.
There were plenty of nice, sunny days in December, too, just like there will be this weekend and we had last Saturday. Sandwiched between picture postcard weather, overnight lows from Monday and yesterday’s cold weather easily slip my mind. But my bill didn’t forget that my heater has been working overtime.
In the last week of December, lows were near freezing almost every night. And those frigid temps continued well into January with 15 days below 38 degrees and another four below 40. When cold temps happen back-to-back, there’s no warm air build up inside homes and heaters will cycle on consistently, even if the thermostat is never adjusted. Similar to triple degree heat in the summer, the extreme cold works my HVAC system harder.
The result – I end up using and buying more energy. And I’ve braced myself, because if Punxsutawney Phil has any ability to predict weather for South Texas, I’m in for at least six more weeks of winter weather.
So, what am I doing to manage my energy use and pay a lower bill?
First, I don’t ever heat or cool my empty house. When we’re gone for a few days, I turn the HVAC off. Or use my programmable thermostat and turn it down. I’m thinking about upgrading to one of those learning thermostats that can think for me—just in case I forget.
I watch the weather forecast closely. It’s not always right, but within a 24 to 48-hour window, most meteorologists come pretty close. With the forecast in mind, I make adjustments. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees when no one’s home or at night when we’re under the covers. I turn it off altogether on those occasional mild winter days. Always aiming to make sure the thermostat never goes above 68 degrees.
I advise the thin-blooded folks in my house to put on some clothes and stop dressing like it’s Fiesta or Folklife.
I use surge-protecting power strips. Paying attention to capacity, I plug the normal day-to-day electronics into the strip and then unplug the strip when they’re not in use or we’re away from home.
I’m also the light czar, flipping off any lights in empty rooms.
Trust me, these tips work. I was a little surprised to see that my bill (from Dec 18 – Jan 22) was $60 higher than the month before. I do my best to manage the part of the bill I can control – my energy use. But given the holiday activities, weather, and a longer month with multiple holidays, which meant a longer billing cycle, a 50-percent increase over my last bill isn’t completely out of nowhere.
All things considered, I’m kind of proud of how we’ve managed this month. Some of my co-workers and friends had bills that doubled or tripled. Most customers were like me and saw a billing cycle that’s several days longer than a typical month.
Bottom line – I control what I can. As customers, we can’t control the weather, City services fees, fuel costs, or transmission costs. But we can take steps to try to manage the amount of energy we use.
(*Note: the average residential electric bill will increase by 81 cents starting this month. Transmission charges within ERCOT, the authority that manages the Texas grid, are driving the increase for utility customers across the state. The cost will be seen in the regulatory adjustment on the back of the bill.)