Electric Bill Increase Over $800 / Month - Electrical - DIY Chatroom Home Improvement Forum

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Old 02-10-2010, 11:08 PM   #1
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Electric bill increase over $800 / month

Quick History:
Over the past year our electricity bill has been steady at around $200 / month. In December it rose to $500 and for January it was over $1,000. We have not added any appliances or changed anything in the house.

What I've done so far:
I called PG&E and they checked the meter and determined that it was reading correctly. The told me I had to hire an electrician to do a service call.

So, I hired an electrician to come in and "determine the problem". He charged me $400 to perform an amp test on the appliances but did not find anything out of the ordinary. He did change a breaker in the front that he did not feel was funtioning "properly".

Hoping it was fixed, I looked at the meter this evening and one revolution would take about 13 seconds. However, if I turn on the dryer it speeds up and makes a revolution in about 3 seconds. Obviously there is something still wrong. My "electrician" has no idea what the cause could be.

What do you recommend:
Is there anything "I" can do to determine what may be the cause of the problem?
What type of electrician should I hire to fix the problem?
Should I pay the other electrician for 4 hours work and a $100 breaker?
Do you have any thoughts on what the problem may be cause by?

My house is about 10 years old. Single story about 1,800 sq. feet.

Any and all help is greatly appreciated.
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Old 02-10-2010, 11:30 PM   #2
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It's easy to determine the actual watts going through a meter at any given time.

Find the Kh number on the face. For a 200 amp single phase meter it's usually 7.2

Multiply this number by 3600. If it's 7.2, the result will be 25,920.

Divide this number by the number of seconds it takes the disc to make one complete revolution.

For example, 25,920 divide by 3 seconds = 8640 watts. 25,920 divide by 13 seconds = about 2000 watts.

A dryer is typically around 5500 watts, so in this case there's about 3000 watts of other load as well.

The load of a typical house usually runs less than 1000 watts unless an appliance of some sort is on.

I'd start by turning breakers off one at a time while watching the meter disc.

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Old 02-11-2010, 01:04 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by In Ca View Post
...Hoping it was fixed, I looked at the meter this evening and one revolution would take about 13 seconds. However, if I turn on the dryer it speeds up and makes a revolution in about 3 seconds. Obviously there is something still wrong...
I'm afraid it's not obvious to me that something is wrong, at least not based on this dryer test.

The numbers that micromind are correct for the typical meter (at least as confirmed by Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_meter).

But let me express the formulas like this...

T = 25,920 / P
Where T is the time in seconds for the meter to make one revolution, and P is the power running though the meter in watts.

Lets calculate how fast your meter should be turning if you are ONLY running the dryer. I looked as my dryer and it says that it should draw 28 amps. Since this is a 240v device, thats 28 * 240 = 6,720 Watts (a number a bit above, but inline with micromind's number).

So T = 25,920 / 6720 = 3.85 seconds.

That is not a number out of line with what you are experiencing.

Try this: Open the dryer door and look for a plate or sticker quoting the power consumed by the dryer in watts or amps. Fill the number into the appropriate equation below:

T = 25,920 / 240 * Amps
T = 25,920 / Watts

Now, go turn on the dryer (at the highest heat setting) and turn off all the circuit breakers in your panel except the main breaker and the dryer breaker. Go look at your meter with a stop watch and compare the time it takes the meter to rotate once compared to the value from the equations above.

Since you think your power bill is about 4 or 5 times larger than what you think it should be, then the value for T you calculate should be 4 or 5 times longer than what you measure at the meter.

But at this point, the POCO and the rough calculations being made here so far do NOT point to the meter being the problem. So we need to look elsewhere.

One thing you should be able to easily check is that the meter is indeed being properly read. Yor power bill should indicate what your meter reading was when they last billed you, when it was read, and what your average power usage per day is. Go read the meter now. The value should be about equal to the number of your last bill plus your average daily use times the number of days since last read. Keep in mind that alternating dials turn in alternating clock-wise counter clock-wise direction. The reading for any of the digits is the most recent number the dial has past (so a needle position of 8.9 is still just 8). I've been the "victim" of the water meter reader transposing a pair of number making it look like I had used 2-3 times the amount of water I had actually used.

Next, start thinking of ways you might indeed be using an unusual amount of power. I live in the deep south, but we've been getting record freezing cold spells here during the same time period you say your power bill is high. Are you on electric heat? Have you been using some electric space heaters?

Beyond that, micromind has already suggested cutting off breakers one at a time to determine if any one circuit is pulling moe power than you would expect. The other thing to try to somehow watch is look for things running longer than they should. For example, if you have an electric water heater and an undetected leak in the hot water supply, your water heater could be running nearly continuous (it would take a pretty major leak you should likely hear running through the water heater if this were the case).

One other idea to look into (though unlikely given the high numbers you're quoting), is someone some how stealing power from you? You certainly should have some electrical outlets on the outside of your house. Check to see if anyone has an extension cord plugged into one. After all, its possible to steal as much as 1,000 kWhr of power in 1 month through a 15 amp outlet. Check for outlets in a-typical loations like a detetched shed.

Last edited by HooKooDooKu; 02-11-2010 at 01:07 AM.
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Old 02-11-2010, 06:53 AM   #4
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What type of heat do you have, and do you live in Northern CA??

If you have a heat pump system with electric back up that would be the first place I would look.
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Old 02-11-2010, 06:55 AM   #5
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Where are you located ? Ca ?
Please fill out the profile in your location

Do you have a heat pump with emergency heat ?
If tehse are kicking on that will increase your electric bill

What else do you have in your house that uses electricity (a lot)
Well pump ?

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Old 02-11-2010, 10:33 AM   #6
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Also look at how many kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity you used for the same months last year. And see if the temperatures were the same or warmer.

Perhaps find a month in history where the temperatures were the same as the last two months of this year, then see if you used about the same amount of electricity.

The electric company may be able to provide you with past bills if you no longer have these.

And if you have a heat pump, the outside unit may not be working and you are totally using the back-up heat on the inside unit. ($$$)

Has there been an electric rate increase since last year?

You can take an electric bill total amount, then divide by the total kWh used. And come up with a ballpark rate for each kWh used. And this would include all the taxes, transmission fees, etc.

For example the charge for electricity in my area is maybe around 9 cents a kWh. But when you add the other charges, it is more like 12 cents a kWh. (This all is much more complex, but will get a ballpark rate.)

Then learn how to read your electric meter. You can also search google.com for the words: How to read an electric meter

Then read your electric meter every day at the same time. See how much electricity you are using each day. How many kWh used per day.

Experiment with leaving different things off.

Note: Around here it is not unusual in winter for 3 bedroom all electric homes to have a $400 or $500 electric bill in a cold winter month. (With the latest rate increases).
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Old 02-11-2010, 11:34 AM   #7
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My usually around $200 electric bill spiked to $500 one month. I found the timer on my pool had gone bad and the filter pump was running excessively. Fixed the timer and the bill went back to normal.
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