Apples to oranges-Your electric bill and your neighbor’s don’t compare

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For years, a key mission of Arkansas’ electric co-ops has been to teach their members about the value of electricity, how to use it efficiently without sacrificing comfort and convenience, and how to have a manageable electric bill. As a reminder, winter and summer seasons generally present some of the highest bills because of the wider temperature difference between the inside of our home and the outside. The wider the temperature difference, the more energy is required to maintain comfort inside the home. However, there are many other factors that contribute to energy consumption.

It’s natural for some folks to have a hint of anxiety when monthly bills arrive in the mailbox. The electric bill might be one of them, especially during seasons when heating and air conditioning are taking place. Furthermore, it’s tempting to compare electric bills with friends and neighbors. Yet, bill comparison seldom reveals a satisfactory explanation; that’s because comparing electric bills is like comparing apples to oranges.

While homes and consumers of electricity have some similarities, there are far more differences that can and do affect the bill. No two families are alike even though the U.S. Census data indicates the average household size is approximately 2.5 per household. How many people reside in your home? Now consider how many are infants, children, teenagers, college students, relatives, parents and guests. Do the occupants bathe in a tub or do they shower? How long and frequently do they bathe or shower? How much hot water is consumed? Do you cook and dine in or eat at restaurants and get takeout? Wash dishes by hand or use a dishwasher? How much and how often are clothes washed and dried?

Human behavior and “creature comforts” are major contributors to an electric bill. For instance, do you sacrifice comfort and wait until July 4 to turn on the air conditioner? Or, do you choose to enjoy sleeping in 68-degree air all summer long? How many televisions do you own and how often are they used? Do you have an extra refrigerator or freezer, and are they located outside or in the garage? Do you run a well pump or swimming pool motor, or plug in a trolling motor battery charger during the summer? Do you have a workshop with tools and equipment? Consider everything that plugs into a socket and how often it is used.

Let’s keep the questions going. Is your house energy efficient? Is the ductwork properly installed and not leaking? How about your heating and cooling system — is it properly tuned up? Is the insulation at adequate levels? Is your house drafty, and does it have lots of air leaks? Is the fireplace damper open or closed? Are those double-hung windows closed and locked? What about your lighting — are you still using incandescent bulbs? Are lights and ceiling fans left on when nobody is home? Do you have inefficient recessed light fixtures? Are you replacing worn-out appliances with Energy Star models?

There are dozens of considerations and questions to be asked when it comes to energy consumption. The reality is no two homes are alike and no two families use electricity exactly alike. Your local electric cooperative and www.smartenergytips.com are valuable resources to help you learn about the value of electricity and how to get the best bang for your buck without sacrificing comfort and convenience.

Bret Curry is the residential energy marketing manager for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC), which supplies wholesale electricity to the state’s 17 electric distribution co-ops.

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