Two of the most common questions asked during unseasonably cold weather are, "Why is my electricity bill higher?" and "What can I do to lower it?" The short answer is that the colder it is outside, the harder and longer your heater works to maintain the number on the thermostat. Considering heating and cooling costs account for nearly 50% of your electricity bill, increased heater usage will lead to higher-than-normal winter bills — if energy efficiency measures aren’t taken. 1
Common causes of high winter bills
Let’s take a closer look at the role your heater plays, and at a few simple but often overlooked causes of higher winter bills.
Longer billing cycles
Billing cycles start and end when your utility company, also known as your Transmission and Distribution Service Provider (TDSP), reads your meter, which is typically every 28 to 30 days. During the holidays, an additional 1 to 3 days may pass before your meter is read, creating longer billing cycles in December and January.
You can learn more about the role of a TDSP or get the contact information for yours, here.
Electric vs. natural gas heaters and water heaters
Electric heaters are energy hogs. They cost about 2x more to run than a natural gas heater, and 5x more to run than central AC.2 This is because electric heaters produce less heat in the same amount of time as gas heaters. Plus, the market price of electricity is higher.
Similarly, electric hot water heaters are also more costly to run than natural gas water heaters. The Department of Energy reports that water heaters account for 14% to 18% of your electricity bill, making it the second largest expense. You can expect to be on the higher end of this number if you have an electric water heater.
Fidgeting with your thermostat
As ideal as it would be, cranking your thermostat up 10 degrees on a cold winter’s night won’t make your house warm up any faster. Instead, it makes your heater work harder to reach your desired temperature, costing more money.
Additionally, constantly changing the temperature by a few degrees causes the heater to go into a costly and inefficient cycle of starting and stopping.
The solution? Get a programmable thermostat like the one’s offered by Nest, which learns your schedule and temperature preferences. It adjusts automatically when you’re away to save energy, and adjusts again before you arrive home so you walk into a warm, cozy house.
Wondering whether you have an electric or natural gas heater? Ask yourself:
- Does your home use a fuel source other than electricity, such as gas? Do you pay your electricity bill plus another fuel bill?
- Are your large appliances, such as your stove or water heater, gas or electric?
- Does your clothes dryer have a conventional plug and wall outlet, or is the plug bigger than normal? Gas dryers typically have normal-looking plugs, and electric dryers usually have bigger plugs to accommodate larger voltage.
Low and no-cost ways to save energy
Now that you know a few culprits of higher winter electricity bills, let’s talk about things you can do immediately to reduce energy consumption and still stay comfortable.
- Let the sun in. Open up blinds and shades during the day and remove any solar screens so the sun can warm your home.
- On vs. auto. Ensure the fan on your thermostat is set to “auto” not “on” to prevent it from running 24/7.
- Get an annual Heater Tune-Up. Make sure your heater is in good working order and running as efficiently as possible.
- Check your thermostat settings. For every degree above 68°, you can expect a 3% to 5% increase in your heating costs.
- Put your thermostat on vacation mode. Drop your thermostat to 50° if you’ll be gone for a few days or more. This is warm enough to prevent your pipes from freezing, without wasting energy.3
- Consider a space heater. If you only need to heat a single room, use a space heater instead of central heat. They cost just $33 to $66 a year to operate.4
- Cozy up with an electric blanket. You’ll stay warm for about $20 a year, plus the cost of the blanket.4
- Get a hot water heater jacket. Older hot water heaters, or those with an R-value less than 24, could benefit from additional insulation to prevent it from losing heat.
- Set your water heater to 120°. This is hot enough to be sanitary, while saving you up to $60 a year on your heating bill.5
Energy-saving home improvement projects
- Get a programmable Nest Learning ThermostatTM. This can help you reduce energy usage by up to 15% without lifting a finger.6
- Weatherstrip exterior doors and windows. With a couple hours work, you can seal out the cold and save up to 10% on total energy costs.7
- Install an electric water heater timer. Prevent your water heater from running when you don’t need.
- Install insulation. Better regulate your home’s temperature and reduce heating costs with proper insulation. Assuming your attic already has 3-4 inches of insulation, we recommend using R-38.
Free tools for Reliant customers
We offer several free energy-efficiency tools designed to help our customers save even more.
Sign up for average billing to start receiving a more consistent bill throughout the year. With average billing, your bill is calculated based on the last 12 months of usage at your address.
Sign up for AccountAlerts, which can notify you when your costs exceed a certain amount or when your daily usage spikes by 25%.
Download the Reliant App so that you can check your balance, see your usage, get alerts and manage your account wherever you are.
If you need assistance with your bill, call 1-866-RELIANT to talk about payment plans and options available to you. We can help.
For help with future bills, try one of these options:
- Call 1-888-EEXPERT, where Reliant energy experts can answer questions about how to economize your home energy usage.
- Consider different payment options, like average billing. Call 1-866-RELIANT to see if you're eligible. With average billing, your bill is calculated based on the last 12 months of usage at your address, so your bills stay more consistent throughout the year.
- Dial 211 to learn about additional assistance available in your community.
6Based on independent studies by Energy Trust of Oregon and Vectren of actual Nest Thermostat devices. Thermostat compatible with most HVAC systems. Check the compatibility of your system at nest.com/works/reliant before purchasing Nest thermostat(s). A limited warranty is only provided by Nest, and except for that limited warranty, Reliant and Nest make no warranties. Reliant is not affiliated with Nest or the products and services it markets. Nest®, Nest Learning Thermostat™ and the Nest logo are trademarks or service marks of Nest Labs, Inc.
7The U.S. Department of Energy estimates you can save up to 10% on total energy costs (gas and electric) by weatherstripping windows and doors in your home, but your actual savings will depend on how well-sealed your home was in the first place, whether you seal all doors and all windows and other factors and conditions specific to your home. https://energy.gov/energysaver/projects/savings-project-how-weatherstrip-double-hung-or-sash-windows