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Are Your Utility Bills Higher Than Expected?

What to Do When You Can’t Figure out Why Your Utility Bills Are So High

The utility bill is among the most predictable that you receive each month. Unless you were filling your pool each day or kept the lights on for an entire weekend, you generally know how much it costs to keep the water running and the power on each day. What can you do if your bill is unexpectedly high?

Talk to the Utility Company

It is possible that utility company made a mistake in calculating your usage for the month or simply made a mistake when posting your bill online. It is also possible that rates went up, which may partially explain the increase. Some utility companies estimate your usage (as often as every other month) if they don’t get a meter reading that month and the estimate can be significantly higher than your actual usage.

Check for Leaking Water Pipes

If a pipe is leaking, even if it only looks like a small drip, it could result in significant water usage. According to the USGS Water Science School one drip per second (think Drip, Drip, Drip) equals 86,400 drips per day which is roughly 5 gallons per day or 2,082 gallons per year.

And that’s just a small drip! Imagine if you have a pinhole in a pressurized pipe. You could easily have a small constant spray coming out. And if this leak is on the customer side of your meter you will be charged for it. If it is underground you may not even see any evidence.

The easiest way to check for a leak large enough to be noticeable on your bill is to shut off all your faucets and anything else that might use water and then go look at your water meter. If it is still moving you have a leak somewhere. If the leak is underground or if you’ve never done any plumbing, you may want to call in a professional.

If you have copper pipes and acidic water, over time the pipes can be eaten away from the inside. The pipes may look fine from the outside but become very thin. Eventually they will develop “pin holes” in this case repairing the leak will only be a temporary fix because after a little while another pinhole will develop and then another etc. Quality Plumbing of Seattle reminds us that in addition to leaks, “If your home has low water flow, discolored water, leaking pipes, or it just takes a long time to get hot water, then your water piping may need to be upgraded.” 

Check the Lights in Each Room

When a light is connected to a dimmer switch, it may appear to off even when it is not. Generally, the dimmer switch needs to be pushed all the way down or turned all the way off or circular dimmers may have to be pushed in before the electricity stops flowing. If you don’t hear a click, there is still power going to the light, and that could be the reason why your bills are so much higher than normal. In addition to something being left on it is possible that there is a small short somewhere that is constantly draining electricity. Just like with a water leak you can turn everything off and see if you meter is still running. You can also try going to the breaker box and shutting things off there. In some older houses there may be some distance between the breaker box and the meter, so it is possible to cut off the main breaker and still be using electricity if there is a short between the meter and the main breaker. If you have any flakey outlets or switches you should suspect a problem and remedy it as quickly as possible. It is relatively easy to replace a single switch or outlet but you may want to call a professional for anything more serious.

Gas Leaks Could Be Present

Even a minor gas leak could result in an extraordinarily high bill. In addition to adding to your gas bill, it could increase the risk a fire or explosion in your home. If you suspect that a gas line may be broken or otherwise not working properly, call the gas company immediately. It is usually possible to turn off gas to your whole house by turning a valve near your gas meter although it usually requires a large wrench. But if you smell or hear a gas leak it is best to turn off the gas and then call the gas company immediately. Due to the danger involved they are very responsive to potential gas leaks.

High utility bills can wreak havoc with your finances. They can also make a house less desirable to live in or purchase. Therefore, it is critical that you find the cause of the issue and resolve it as soon as possible. It may be a good idea to schedule an energy audit for you home in an effort to make it more efficient.

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About the Author:

Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She enjoys kayaking and reading books by the lake.