When you get your monthly electric bill after a cold snap of weather, you may wonder, "Why is my electric bill higher in the winter?" Many factors go into powering your home through the frigid months. Remember, your “spring” bills may include some use from the cold days in late winter. Some electric cooperative billing cycles may encompass the end of one month with the beginning of the next. Additionally, pay attention to the number of days in the billing cycle. They can have less one month and more the next.
Your local electric distribution cooperative and its power suppliers work hard to produce at-cost electricity to make powering your home affordable. However, winter weather poses challenges that cause your home to use more electricity than usual to keep you and your family comfortable.
WHY IS MY ELECTRIC BILL HIGHER IN THE WINTER?: UNDERSTANDING THE CAUSE
Your heating source must ramp up production to keep your home warm in the winter. Severe temperature drops cause your heating source to sustain larger workloads for longer periods than usual. Rather than running three or four hours a day, it may run six to ten hours to keep your home at the same temperature. Remember: the lower the temperature drops outside, the longer your heating source must run.
If you use a smart thermostat, you may be able to access the exact amount of time your heater runs during cold winter days. This data can give you a better idea of how much energy it takes to keep your home warm.
Electric utilities measure the amount of power needed for a specific region to keep buildings comfortable with a unit called a heating degree day (HDD).
WHAT ARE HEATING DEGREE DAYS?
Heating degree days (HDD) are calculated by taking the difference between a standard temperature, usually 65˚, and the average temperature of the day or range of days. More significant differences between these numbers result in more energy used for heating.
Power suppliers, environmental agencies and other organizations use this information to assess climate patterns. Climate patterns are then used to predict how much energy a region will need to power its heating systems. The more heating degree days during the winter season, the more electricity your home will need to remain comfortable.
WHAT CAN I DO?: COMBATTING HIGH ELECTRIC BILLS
If you have high electric bills from the past winter and want to increase your home's energy efficiency for next winter, there are ways to reduce how much energy you use.
Energy audits are a great way to see where you can improve your home's energy efficiency. Your local cooperative may offer free or reduced-cost audits, plus provide additional funds to use toward making efficiency improvements to your home. A certified energy auditor can:
- Review your electric bill to see how much it costs to keep your home comfortable through the winter months.
- Perform a blower door test with a thermographic inspection to find air leaks in your home. Thermographic assessments measure temperature using infrared video and still cameras.
- Assess your home's water heater and furnace for efficiency.
- Install a smart thermostat if you don't already have one. Smart thermostats can give you more information and control over your home's energy usage.
Heat always moves toward cold, which means your home's insulation can make a difference in how much energy your home needs for heating. If your insulation isn't adequate, your heating system will have to work harder to keep your home comfortable. Lack of heat retention can drive the average winter electric bill through the roof.
The best way to find where your home's insulation is lacking is with a home energy audit.
HVAC SERVICING AND MAINTENANCE
A home energy audit will help you determine if you need service to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Annual checkups on your HVAC system can help to:
- Maintain energy efficiency
- Prevent breakdowns in the middle of heavy usage seasons, like blizzards or heatwaves
- Extend the life of your HVAC system
MAINTAINING YOUR HOME'S ENVELOPE: WEATHERIZING AND SEALING
A home energy audit will show you where your home is leaking conditioned air. Depending on the severity of the leakage, you may be able to handle the problem yourself, or you may want to hire a professional. Projects like caulking a window, installing weatherstripping or placing a door sweep under exterior doors are cheap DIY ways to make your home more energy-efficient.