Outrageous utility bill

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Outrageous utility bill

Postby Obby » Mon Feb 13, 2012 4:50 pm UTC

Ok, so my gas bill in my apartment (first floor of a three story building) was $155 this past month. That is fucking outrageous, and I'm trying to find out why it was so high. Our house has gas heat, for reference, so it makes sense that my bill would be higher than in the summer... but $155 is ridiculous. For comparison, my friend's gas bill was $118 for his entire three story house, and his house isn't insulated hardly at all.

This is a basic, totally not-to-scale, general layout of my apartment.

So. There are some obvious things we can do, like turning down our heat, which we do. We keep out thermostat set for 65 F/19 C, but it's a very shitty thermostat so it's possible that it's not working properly (which I wouldn't know how to fix anyway short of replacing it, which isn't going to happen because I don't own the place, I rent). I am hesitant to turn it down further, because my girlfriend is always cold as it is (even though I could probably stand to drop it a couple more degrees).

Our front windows are drafty, but we're in the process of making our own curtains now, so we'll see if that helps some. The apartment is small, less than 700 sq. ft., but we try to keep doors closed when we can, especially the bathroom which has a very poorly fitted window which leaks air like crazy. The kitchen window is similar, but there's very little we can do about that. We did hang a thick curtain in the hallway between the front of the house and the back of the house that we used in the summer to keep the cool air from the window AC unit in the front of the house, but I'm not sure if that's hurting or helping. Most of the time I try to keep it closed, but then our cats freak out because they don't realize they can just push through it to get to their litter boxes and food.

We also have a gas water heater, but that's turned down as well, and turning it down lower would likely mean lukewarm showers.

Aside from these things... I'm not really sure what else the issue could be. Maybe our heat is escaping upstairs to the neighbors that live above us? Maybe our heater is very inefficient?

Looking for things other people have done to control outrageous utility bills.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby EvanED » Mon Feb 13, 2012 7:47 pm UTC

Any chance there's a leak, or mis-metering? (I'm not sure how a leak would go undetected though.)

The other thing I have a suggestion about if it's drafty windows is get something like this; it's a plastic sheet, a little like saran wrap, which you put over your windows. (That's not an endorsement about 3M in particular; theirs was just the first link that came up.)
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby Obby » Mon Feb 13, 2012 7:53 pm UTC

I'm pretty sure gas companies are required to put additives into the gas supply that have a scent to them so you can smell for leaks, and I don't smell that unless I turn the stove on.

It's possible there's a mis-metering thing going on but I have no idea how to check for that... to google!
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby EvanED » Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:36 pm UTC

That's why I said I wasn't sure how it would go undetected. Though is it possible there could be a leak outside or something? I'm not super-knowledgable about this sort of thing.

What I'd suggest is calling them up and saying that you have a 700 sqft apartment and your bill seems disproportionally high, and see what they suggest doing.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby JBJ » Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:52 pm UTC

First, I'd call up the gas company and see if they based the billing off an actual meter reading. Sometimes they may just estimate your usage based on previous year's history. If previous tenants racked up high bills in the winter, you may be paying for it. It would average out later when they take an actual reading and reconcile (if this is indeed the case). Not that they're lazy, but that's a lot of manpower to read every single meter every month. Unless they have smart meters, but I don't know how widespread those are.

If the meter is accurate, then the gas is going somewhere. Utility companies often provide a free service to evaluate your home/apartment for common problems, and can help you estimate what it should be based on your usage. You can arrange this yourself, but since you're renting, I would actually go to the apartment management first. Ask them to have the gas company come out and inspect, because chances are you can't make any structural changes to the unit(s), and if there is an insulation/leak problem, that's the responsibility of the apartment complex, not you. Or, if you don't expect your apartment management to do much, still arrange for the inspection just so at least you know where the problems might be.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby Carnildo » Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:24 am UTC

Make sure the gas company has the meters matched up correctly with the apartments. In my first apartment, I came back from vacation to find that the pilot light for my water heater had gone out, and after re-lighting, would go out every time the main burner tried to light. After several hours (and a complete replacement of the burner assembly by the maintenance guy), we discovered that the apartment above mine had had their gas shut off for non-payment -- except that the gas company's records of which gas meter went with which address were mixed up, I'd been paying for the other guy's gas usage ever since I'd moved in, and when they closed the valve associated with his address, it shut off my gas (except for a slight trickle that kept the water heater's pilot light going).
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby cphite » Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:02 pm UTC

A lot of utility companies only actually read the meters every couple of months and then estimate the months in between. It may be that this month was an estimate, or it may be that their last couple of estimates were low and now you're paying the difference. Call them, have them come out and verify. Make sure they read the right meter.

That said, you say you have leaky windows - so that's obviously a problem. Curtains might help a little, but you may want to go out and grab some plastic sheeting for the winter. It's easy to install and it really helps. Also, some draft guards for your doors might help.

Where is your thermostat in relation to all of these blankets you're putting up? If the thermostat is in a part of the apartment that's being blocked off from where the heat is actually coming out, you're actually making the problem worse.

Have your landlord check the thermostat and the heater. You're paying him rent.

You might also check to see if your gas company has a budget plan... basically they figure out what you generally use year round and then average it so that your bill is the same every month. I've actually ended up paying less per year that way.

As an aside, $155 is really not that high for a two bedroom apartment with leaky windows.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby Bhelliom » Thu Feb 16, 2012 6:26 pm UTC

The hilarious part is that you get to pay to heat the upper 2 floors, because there is likely very little or no insulation between the floors. Ask your upstairs neighbors how much their gas bills are, I bet they will be lower. They may even complain that their apartment is always hot and they need to open windows to cool off. :-)

Seconding double checking that the meters are correct.

EDIT: Spelling correction.
Last edited by Bhelliom on Mon Feb 20, 2012 3:06 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby Obby » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:50 pm UTC

Alright, so after calling the gas company I'm fairly certain the bill is so high simply because we're heating the upstairs as well.

The person on the phone told me my friend's gas bill amount (which I'm pretty sure is something they aren't supposed to do, but... meh) and his house is in the same situation: the first floor had a $200-something bill, while the top two floors combined were only at $118 or so.

I guess there's not much I can do except move if I want to remedy this. Thanks for the input.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby Bhelliom » Mon Feb 20, 2012 3:10 am UTC

I suppose you could line your ceiling with Polyisocyanurate foam board. that would give you some R-value with the bonus of looking really strange. :-)
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby cphite » Fri Feb 24, 2012 8:51 pm UTC

Obby wrote:Alright, so after calling the gas company I'm fairly certain the bill is so high simply because we're heating the upstairs as well.

The person on the phone told me my friend's gas bill amount (which I'm pretty sure is something they aren't supposed to do, but... meh) and his house is in the same situation: the first floor had a $200-something bill, while the top two floors combined were only at $118 or so.

I guess there's not much I can do except move if I want to remedy this. Thanks for the input.


Completely fix? No.

But if you take care of your drafty windows and stuff like that, you can definitely put a dent in what you're spending on heat.

Also, you might want to consider talking to your landlord about maybe getting a break on the rent. Mention the leaky windows, and mention the difference in your heating bills compared to your neighbor. He might tell you to get bent, but it's worth a shot.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby Yakk » Wed Feb 29, 2012 8:45 pm UTC

How is heat leaking upwards? Maybe through the entrance hall up the stairs? Via leaks in the ducting?
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby Dthen » Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:11 pm UTC

Lack of insulation between floors, I imagine.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby AvatarIII » Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:27 pm UTC

You could experiment with getting an electric heater for the bedroom or living room, the increase in electric bill might be lower than the decrease in gas bill. since gas is the same price 24/7 electricity isn't, if you are only using the electric heater during off peak times, and when you are home (maybe set it on a timer). you may find a saving.
Also it might be worth always turning the heating down or even off before leaving to go anywhere, so you are not heating empty rooms, when you get home you can use the electric heater for a blast of heat whilst the gas heating warms up.

I second talking to your landlord about it.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby Bhelliom » Thu Mar 01, 2012 2:35 pm UTC

Depending where you live. I don't know about other counties, but where I live in the U.S. power is always the same price whatever time it is. UNLESS you have a dedicated "Off Peak" circuit in your house controlled via radio by the power company. The whole point of off peak is that it is only used when electricity demand is low. To ensure that, then need some kind of remote switch.
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Re: Outrageous utility bill

Postby Yakk » Thu Mar 01, 2012 2:53 pm UTC

AvatarIII wrote:You could experiment with getting an electric heater for the bedroom or living room, the increase in electric bill might be lower than the decrease in gas bill. since gas is the same price 24/7 electricity isn't, if you are only using the electric heater during off peak times, and when you are home (maybe set it on a timer).

Gas is (roughly) 3 times cheaper on the margin than electricity for the same amount of heat deposited in your house. You have to keep a really cold house, with well insulated rooms that you only heat during off-peak times, for electric heating to get close to gas heating.
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