Why did my electric bill go up? Summer’s here and we’re in our houses more than ever

The pandemic is compelling energy customers to stay indoors more than normal during some of the hottest months of the year, which could drive up energy costs.

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Daniel Modell’s electricity bills are higher than ever.

In March, both he and his partner were forced to work remotely after COVID-19 lockdowns began. The creative consultant lost income after his job made salary cuts across all employees due to pandemic-related budget cuts.

Meanwhile, the couple’s power bill grew higher with each month that passed.

In June and July, it was up almost $150 over the same time last year.

“You’re not in your apartment during the day when you’re at work so there’s no need to leave anything running,” Modell’s said. “But suddenly you’re in your own apartment for 24 hours a day and the electricity bills that you get are just absolutely astronomical.”

Americans are navigating many pandemic-related financial issues during the recession: job losses, restrictive rental agreements and slashed 401(k) contributions to name a few.

Making matters worse, data suggests many are also seeing significant rises in their utility and electric bills each month due to remote work.

It should come as little surprise that most of the additional cost is because people are spending more time at home, experts say.

The pandemic is compelling energy customers to stay indoors more than normal during some of the hottest months of the year, which could drive up energy costs, according to Katie Allen, a savings expert at Pacific Gas and Electric Company in California.

“There are more families at home this summer, and it looks there might be more at home going into the school year with remote learning,” she added.

Fluctuations in electricity bills are usually the result of changes in outdoor temperatures. Electric bills are typically lowest during the milder spring and fall months when you don’t have to run air conditioners or heaters.

But with people spending more time at home, one-third of U.S. households should see electricity bills climb 10% to 15% higher this summer, according to data from the clean energy technology firm Arcadia.

Households in metro areas will spend the most, between $2 and $37 more on utility bills this summer, Arcadia found.

Working from home? Expect a higher utility bill

Joe Toscano’s electricity bills are up about $20 per month since he’s been working from home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is using the AC more often.

His wife is also using more power to work from home. So is his daughter who shifted to remote learning in March.

“I’m using my computer nine to 10 hours a day, so is my wife and so is my daughter,” Toscano said. “That’s something that we weren’t doing before.”

Ways to lower your electric bill

If your electricity bills are mounting, there are things you can do to curb costs, but your approach should depend on where you live, experts say.

People who live in deregulated energy states like Texas, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Ohio have a few more savings options than others, according to Ben Kurland, cofounder of the bill negotiating service BillFixers.

“Those who live in deregulated markets should shop around to find the cheapest rate offered to them,” Kurland said. “The default rate that you’re paying is probably not the lowest rate that’s available.”

Shop around and negotiate

After seeing what’s out there, you can either switch to a new company or use that knowledge as leverage to negotiate with your current electricity provider, Kurland added.

People who live in gas regulated states like Mississippi, Alabama and Nevada don’t have the freedom to go into the open energy market, since those states choose energy providers for them.

If you live in a power regulated state, you should call your electricity provider to ask about specials or deals you might qualify for, Kurland said.

“They won’t apply the discount you qualify for unless you get in touch with them,” Kurland said.

If you’re unsure whether your state is regulated or deregulated, Arcadia published a full list you can refer to.

Use installment plans or bill relief programs

You can also ask to pay your bill in installments, which most electricity companies allow, according to Barry Gross, CEO of BillCutterz, which negotiates rates with service providers to get better prices for clients.

Beyond contacting your electrical company, there are other places to find energy bill relief.

The government offers a Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program meant for people who need temporary help with their heating and cooling energy costs.

There are also various other COVID-19-related relief efforts to help families that run into financial trouble.

For example, Solix Inc. is working with states to ensure people have access to critical services including electricity. Energy-efficient light bulbs, ACs, smart thermostats and other appliances could save you money over time, experts say.

You can also reduce the brightness on your television, turn down the temperature in your refrigerator and unplug appliances that aren’t in use. Many plug-in electronics use what experts call “Vampire Power,” or leech energy even when they are shut off.

“If you’ve got a million little electronics plugged in, they’re all just sitting there doing nothing but chugging power,” Kurland said.

“And you’re spending a couple of bucks on each of them every month.”

Allen of PG&E says people should use window shades so that ACs don’t have to run as hard. Air conditioning costs make up 40% of your electrical bill, she said.

“Closing the shades in the afternoon to keep that extreme heat from coming into your home can help,” Allen said. She also said people should try to limit how often they open the fridge because it uses more power to cool down after you let the cold air out.

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