Electric Bills Reflect Weather Patterns

Blown Fiberglass InsulationMinimizing movement of conditioned air can cut costs

By Kris Wendtland

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association


Electric bills vary with the seasons, driven by weather and consumer use patterns.

“Weather matters,” stresses Chad Reisenauer, key accounts/energy conservation coordinator at Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a generation and transmission cooperative headquartered in Bismarck, N.D. “When it’s cool outdoors, family members generally want the house warm. When it’s warm outside, air conditioners make living areas pleasant.”

How much weather affects your electric bills depends on many factors, including your home’s original construction materials, insulation, and air leaks. Personal comfort plays a role too, as does the difference between the thermostat setting inside and temperatures outdoors.

“When a house stays at 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but the outdoor temperature varies from minus 20 degrees in winter to more than 100 degrees on a muggy summer’s day, demand for heating and cooling can be significant,” Reisenauer notes. “Cooled air leaving a home essentially wastes the money spent to cool it. The same is true for air a homeowner has paid to warm.”

R-value offers a way of measuring insulation’s effectiveness (a higher R-value indicates more effective insulation). For example, on a 28-degree day, heat loss from a residence set at 68 degrees could hit 2,464 Btu per hour even through an 80 ft. x 10 ft. exterior wall packed with R-13 insulation. Reverse that situation on a scorching day—100 degrees outside—and heat gain indoors will still reach 2,464 BTU per hour.

To save money, set your thermostat five degrees closer (higher in summer, lower in winter) to the outdoor temperature—this simple change could result in a savings of 90 watts per hour of electricity—about 197 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in three months.  At a national average of 10 cents per kWh, this adjustment keeps an extra $19.70 in your pocket.

In the meantime, adjust the thermostat. Keep blinds and drapes on the sunny side of your home closed in summer and open in winter. Find mysteriously “hot” or “cold” spots in the house and solve them by installing gasket seals around outlets and weather stripping along doors and windows, replacing old windows, and upgrading insulation. When practical, adjust landscaping to provide shade for your property in summer and sunlight in winter.

Weather doesn’t have to play havoc with electricity bills. “There are a variety of tools, appliances, and resources available to solve all sorts of energy challenges,” Reisenauer stresses.  “Some, such as new windows or a roof, require significant financing. But there are a lot of options that are inexpensive and simple to benefit from.”

Find more ways to save at www.TogetherWeSave.com.

Sources: Jim Herritage, CEM, Energy Auditors, Inc.; Residential Energy: Cost Savings and Comfort for Existing Buildings by John Krigger and Chris Dorsi.