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Electric Bills are Crazy, need advice!!

5 years ago
Help me figure out why my house is using so much electricity! Any ideas on what could be causing it or what to check/troubleshoot are appreciated!

We moved into our current house 18 months and the electric bills are OUTRAGEOUS and we can’t figure out why! Our house was originally a split level built in 1969 over a basement. In 1999 a large addition was added on a slab. The house is about 4000 square feet total. The exterior is brick and stucco. Windows are casement and in good condition generally, as are exterior doors. We could stand to caulk and reseal them but it’s not like there are huge gaps and drafts. Kitchen appliances are a little older, but nothing crazy, probably 10 years old (do have an older fridge in garage). HVAC was just replaced though its gas heat anyway and it’s January. Almost all bulbs are LED. We have a whole home generator but I understand that wouldn’t be an issue.

I seriously can’t figure out why our house is using THREE TIMES the amount of energy as similar houses in my area, it’s insane (our old house was the same size, though newer and our bills were 1/3 of current bills). See pic of report from electricity company. I’ve read every “save on electricity” article out there and just can’t figure out what’s causing this. Our monthly bill looks like some people’s mortgage bill - HELP!! What am I forgetting? What could be causing this?

Comments (323)

  • 5 years ago

    ^^ Or we could hold a seance and ask the spirits.


    This is getting nutty... Put a dang amp clamp on those wires and find out with real numbers exactly what's going on.

  • 5 years ago

    We don't need spirits, we don't need clamps...we already have the answer, and toxcrusadr confirmed it...


    That floor would light up like a UFO landing pad if it was heated.


    THEY ARE COMING!!!!!!

  • 5 years ago
    DavidR & toxcrusadr - Are you skeptical that there are two heating devices or that a single breaker is the culprit? Regarding what’s on the breaker, I still don’t know - it’s definitely the heater but not yet sure what else (if anything) might be on it. However, I know without a doubt that the outrageous energy usage is related to that single breaker, so clearly something on it can pull a LOT of energy. In the app from the electric company, I still can’t see real-time usage (the device comes tomorrow) but the usage data shows up in the app about 3 days later, which means that I can finally see a comparison of usage from Sunday (when the breaker was still on) and Monday (after I turned it off). I flipped that breaker around 10pm on Sunday. See the attached - HUGE difference in usage and the only difference is that single breaker being off. That represents about a $300/month difference in my bill. Crazy.
  • 5 years ago
    Oops, I posted before I was done. Here’s the Monday usage. And I also wanted to mention that the red circles on the Sunday usage are when I was doing my breaker experiment and were when I had that garage breaker flipped off.
  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Wow! You reduced your usage by 2/3! :)

  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    At this point, I'd open the panel and have a look inside. There should only be one wire (or a pair of wires for 240V circuits) connected to the breaker. But this wire is going to go somewhere. And if you are luck, you can see where it goes. There also should be a matching white wire from the neutral bar.

    At some point, the wires probably go into a junction box. And when you see the junction box, you can see if the wire splits into two branches or stays the same.

    For finished spaces, this is hard to trace. But garages are frequently unfinished, so you can often follow wires. Even if the wires are in conduit, you should be able to make an educated guess, as this wire is likely thicker than normal 14 AWG gauge wires used for lighting circuits.


    A multimeter would also help. If you have identified a wire that you suspect might be the one that you are tracing, check if it has power. Then flip the breaker and see if it turned off. If it did, then you know you are following the correct wire; otherwise you try again.


    A non-contact voltage detector should in principle work as well. But in practice I find they are frequently unreliable and send you on a wild goose chase. A clamp-on amp meter would work, as long as the heater is powered on (i.e. as long as electricity flows). But you have to make sure you put your clamp around an individual wire. If you put it around a bunch of wires (e.g. as part of a Romex cable), then it should always read zero no matter whether current flows.

  • 5 years ago

    The cable going to the heater shown on your pictures is 10-3, which is rated at 30 amps, and it matches the 30 amp breaker you pictured. Since permanently installed fixtures shouldn't pull more than 80% of circuit capacity, and thinking nobody would install 10-3 if smaller cable will suffice, I would be tempted to estimate the capacity of the heater around 5760 watts at maximum setting. My humble guess is that the heater is the only thing on that circuit.

    Since it has a low and high setting, it probably has two elements, and perhaps only the smaller element is energized all the time, which is why you didn't feel the heat from the heater?

  • 5 years ago

    It just being the heater does seem more likely.

  • 5 years ago

    But if it's only using the smaller element, it's hard to explain where all that electricity has been going. I still want to hear what an electrician says.

  • 5 years ago
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  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    My guess is that the heater has a heating element short. I'm thinking the unit is designed to only shut off one side of the 2 power legs. If everything is working correctly this is fine, but what I've seen happen if the element shorts part way through the circuit it will draw constant power but not enough amps to pop the breaker because of the load the element creates.

  • 5 years ago

    Obviously you can't see what's happening inside the wall, but if you shut off the breaker and remove the cover where the wire comes out of the wall to the heater, you can see whether this is the end of the run or whether there are two cables in there, one coming in and one going out to somewhere else. I agree with the above, it seems this heater should be the only thing on the circuit, but that would be further evidence. And you can't assume whoever did the work followed all the rules or even knew what they were. "I can overload this circuit as long as I don't turn on both things at once, it'll be OK."

  • 5 years ago

    Jakvis's idea makes some sense. Still, though, there should be 5000 or so watts worth of heat rising from that heater. You'd think the OP would have noticed that.

  • 5 years ago

    Yup....

  • 5 years ago

    I don't think the heat would be noticable to the OP because the unit is mounted high and the OP would have to stand on a ladder or chair to notice any heat output. Especially if the element was only 2/3's shorted.

  • 5 years ago

    Well, it would be pretty easy to test that theory by turning on the breaker, standing on a ladder after a few minutes have passed, and seeing if there is any noticeable heat. I'm still of the opinion that that amount of heat is going to be quite noticeable in its effect on the ambient room temperature. Even if the heater is malfunctioning, and heat is still being produced, a watt is still a watt.

  • 5 years ago

    Following

  • 5 years ago

    If the short to ground were 2/3 of a 240 volt element, let's see how much power that would waste. Say the heater is 5000 watts. That means the element is about 11.5 ohms, so if it went to ground 2/3 of the way that would be about 8 ohms. P = E^2 / R = 120^2 / 8 = 1800 watts.

    I calculated above that the excess load is probably something over 4000 watts. So we're a little short of that in this scenario.

    However, a short to ground involving about 1/3 of the element would chew up twice that, 3600 watts. Now THAT I'd believe -- except that it STILL would be making lots of heat.

    It's a fascinating riddle, that's for sure!

  • 5 years ago

    I have read most of this conversation and I keep wondering if her old refrigerator is in that garage... on that same circuit??

  • 5 years ago

    I still vote that circuit was powering the heater inside the neighbors grow operation!

  • 5 years ago
    My electric bill was sky high immediately before my hot water heater broke. It was Winter, so I just thought it was a really cold month, but after my water heater broke, I spoke with the electric company and they stated that my bill the previous month was really high because the hit water heater was constantly running before it burst.
  • 5 years ago

    How would the power company know that it was your water heater using all that power? They just know the total registered by the meter. I speculate that they were speculating.

  • 5 years ago

    Don't know details in this case, but in some places, electric companies commonly rent water heaters, so they might have lots of info and experience with this..

  • 5 years ago
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  • 5 years ago

    Any resolution?

  • 5 years ago

    I waiting also to hear the outcome from actually measuring with amp meter. No more conjecture.


  • 5 years ago

    Apparently the original poster just wanted to save money on the electric bill, and wasn't ready for the pressure of becoming an internet phenom.

  • 5 years ago

    Sigh, I keep checking in to see if there's been any resolution. Maybe the Breaking Bad neighbors or the alien power grid felt they were about to be unmasked . . .

  • 5 years ago

    Come back, M Br! Inquiring minds want to know!

    (Am I correct in that the offending ceiling mounted heater had a simple black knob to turn it Up or Down, but not Off? This thought occurred to me in the middle of the night when I was running through my usual list of daily trials and frustrations . . . . )

  • 5 years ago

    This has been one of the most interesting threads for a long time. It's too bad the OP did not come back to give us the final outcome.

  • 5 years ago
    Hi everyone! I do plan to come back with a final update, but I just don’t have one yet! The offending breaker remains off until we can get an electrician out, however, Twitter hinges have delayed this 1) we were put in contact with the former home owned and he is happy to come out and tell us more about the garage set up but we haven’t been able to coordinate a time yet; and 2) with Spring approaching, we have gotten a little distracted with new gutters and a patio project. But we will definitely get to the bottom of what’s on that breaker and will let you know!
  • 5 years ago

    Thanks for the update MRB04 - these posts have been like an old fashioned radio serial - Tune in Next Week for More Adventures of -------

  • 5 years ago

    Fascinating thread! Can’t wait to find out what happens...

  • 5 years ago
    I’m so glad you figured out your issue! We have not figured out ours, but we did decide to go solar so we could at least stop paying the electric company. I would be thrilled to find our culprit though. I know the hot tub is using a ton because I just drained and cleaned it and I used 60kw heating the newly filled tub.
  • 5 years ago

    Glad to hear you'll be back , hopefully with the mystery solved. I agree Maire_cate, it is like a serial!

  • 5 years ago

    I’d still love to hear more details!

  • 5 years ago

    Can't believe I read this far and there's still not a final answer! Come back and let us know, MRBr04!

  • 4 years ago

    Any solution?

  • 4 years ago

    Your electric company will probably come out and do a free energy check - I'd start there.

  • 3 years ago

    Following

  • 3 years ago

    MRBr04

    Any update?


  • PRO
    3 years ago

    Try to reduce the timne your AC is on and change all the bulbs in your house with led or eco ones.

  • 3 years ago

    Sounds like you only read the title...

  • 2 years ago

    This is a two year old post.. I was just thinking about it recently and wondered what the original poster had discovered. I wish people would come back and share their outcome after getting so much help/advice from the people on this site.

  • 2 years ago

    I ended up getting solar. We found my bills were so high because of a hot tub and water heaters fir our animals (we are on a farm). We have not had solar for 2 years and our bill is $11 every month. Our usage hasn’t changed.

  • 2 years ago

    The OP took our advice and ran, never to be seen again. Kind of rude in my opinion.

  • 2 years ago

    Oh, they probably just forgot to come back and give us the promised update. Given the long progression of this thread and the OP's tone in posting, I don't think they blew us off on purpose.


    Amazing there are 300+ posts though. :-o

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