Q: I’m ready to give up on all these energy-saving ideas I read about. Seems no matter what I do, my bills keep going up. We try to do the right things but when I compare our energy bills to those from last year, I see that our daily energy use has gone up rather than down. I notice it even more now that I’m working from home a few days a week and think of my home as my office space, so I’m monitoring expenses much more closely. What could we be doing wrong?
A: I think you’d be surprised at how many e-mails I get from readers having this same problem. Obviously, if energy rates have increased this year, you’ll notice higher costs even if you’re not using more energy than you did a year ago. But when your bills clearly show energy consumption is up, it means you should be able to control this problem.
You sent a lot of data with your monthly bills for the past two years as well as some general information on your family’s lifestyle, and I think I know what has happened. My first thought was that there might be a problem with the home’s furnace, air conditioner or duct work, problems that can significantly increase your energy use. Having a technician come out and check out the systems will let you know quickly if this is the cause of your high energy use.
However, what I find in most cases like yours is a harder problem to diagnose — changes in your lifestyle often are the reason for increasing your energy use.
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You’re doing more office work at home this year than you did in the past. That means more office equipment and electronics, more use of air conditioning and heating, more use of lights. Last year, the house would have been empty all day and you wouldn’t have been using all the energy needed now while you work at home.
This is why I tell prospective homebuyers that they can’t tell how much energy they’ll use in a new house by looking at the bills the current occupants pay. It’s difficult to compare how your family would use energy there with how the current family does.
My suggestion, then, is to make sure the big-ticket heating and cooling equipment is working efficiently, and have the ducts inspected so you know there aren’t any leaks or tears where air is being wasted. Then look at your family’s energy use patterns and try to find ways to save — maybe put in compact fluorescent lights in fixtures used most often, or unplug electronic equipment when it’s not being used.