Interpreting (and Improving) Your Utility Bill


Kilowatt-hours, Therms & CCF

Cute piggy bankYour utility bill may seem like it’s written in a foreign language – but what do you do with all that information? How do you put it together with the degree-day information available from Weather Underground?

If you’re serious about tracking and reducing your energy usage (and its cost), you can put all that information in a spreadsheet which will lay it all out for you visually. You’ll be aware of how much gas and electricity you use in each season, and you can easily compare it to the past several years’ usage. That spreadsheet will be available for download here, but first, you need to be sure you understand the language of the utility companies. You also need to know that each utility company offers different ‘rate plans’, and that simply changing your rate plan may reduce the size of the check you send to the utility company each month. Finally, you need to know that in many areas the utility companies no longer monopolies, and that there are alternatives available in many areas. If you do a little research, you may find a company willing to supply your gas and/or electricity for significantly less than the utility company which has historically always served your area.

You don’t need to feel as if you’ve entered a minefield or a maze when you first delve into your utility bill. Whether your bill includes both gas and electricity or you deal with separate companies for each, your energy costs will break down into kilowatt-hours (for electricity) or into therms or CCF (for gas). Therms and CCF are similar beasts; one is simply a multiple of the other. One therm is equal to 100,000 BTUs of heat, and is approximately equal to burning one CCF of natural gas, or one hundred cubic feet of gas. For those who want to be accurate, the actual conversion rate is 1 CCF = 1.03 therm. If you burn oil, propane, or coal for heat in the winter, you probably get your fuel delivered by a company other than the one that supplies your electricity – but you can track your usage regardless of whether your it’s measured in pounds, tons, gallons, CCF or therms. Those who use wood to heat may have a more difficult time of tracking energy usage, as one cord of seasoned white oak (18 million BTU per cord) will provide much more heat than relatively green box elder (well under 6 million BTU per cord).

Person about to enter a mazeNow that you know the lingo, let’s take a minute and look at typical gas and electric bills – and give some consideration as to how to reduce costs – before making any effort to conserve energy, weatherize your home, replace aging appliances, or take advantage of renewable energy resources. Take a bit of time sorting it out – there’s no rush. Treat it like a puzzle and fit the pieces together to your advantage. If you make a reasonable effort to understand the variables in play, your hard earned dollars will go a little further and the earth will be a little greener for your efforts.

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