Monday, December 20, 2010

Electric Problem

I just got an electric bill for a little under $300 a few days ago.

Up to this point, I'd been paying about $60 a month. According to my bills, I'd used around 180 kilowatt-hours a month. This time, my bill says I've used 1,170 kWh in the last 34 days.

Let me give you a picture of my electricity use. I use an electric oven, refrigerator, and hot water heater. I have about five ceiling lights, the two I use most often are CFL bulbs. I have a laptop, printer, speaker, external hard drive and cell phone charger all plugged into a power strip, which I switch off when I'm not using any of the devices. I have two halogen reading lamps I use sparingly.

There was only one thing I thought could change my bill this much: electric heaters.

True, I had used electric heaters once or twice, about half an hour every couple of days. At first I assumed that must be the culprit. They're big power drainers.

But after running around to make sure they were all unplugged, I stopped to think for a second. According to these bills, they would be responsible for roughly 1,000 kilowatt hours. Now lets do some math and physics.

One kilowatt hour is equal to 1000 watts times one hour. For example, a 100 watt bulb switched on for ten hours.

My heaters are rated at 1,500 watts each. That means it takes one 40 minutes to burn through one kilowatt hour. To make the math easier, lets say I had them on for 40 minutes at a time instead of 20 or 30. In fact, lets say I had them on for that long every day for the last thirty days. That would put an additional 30 kWh on my bill.

My usage didn't increase by 30 kWh. It increased by 1,000 kWh.

I talked to my friends. One told me that the highest bill they ever had was in the middle of the summer when they had two air conditioners running roughly twenty hours a day every day. They used something around 350 kWh. Another set of friends has electric heaters on most hours of the day, plus two computers and countless electronic devices always on. Their last bill was for 300 kWh.

So I thought the reading must have been a mistake. Maybe I'd used 170 instead of 1,170. I called my apartment super and asked him to take a look. He just did.

Not only was the meter reading correct on my bill, but in the five days since it was taken, my apartment has apparently burned through almost 50 more kWh. I wasn't even home most of that time.

Something is seriously wrong here.

When he took the reading, we had switched off all the circuit breakers in my apartment. The meter wasn't moving. I'm leaving for Seattle tomorrow, and on my way out, I'm going to switch them all off again. He's going to take another reading tomorrow, then yet another when I get back on New Years Eve.

Either someone is stealing my electricity, or starting mid November there is now something very, very wrong with my wiring.


  1. A wiring problem that has recently flared up-- so to speak-- sounds more serious. Money is one thing. Safety another. Your landlord may need to pay for an electrician to track this down. Your super sounds great.....amazingly so. Let's hope the landlord is too because it may cost them some dollars. You probably have many people reading this blog who think the most amazing part of the post is how great a super you have!

    On the other hand this sounds like fodder for a David Sedaris episode about life in the Big City.

    Have safe travels.

  2. Wiring seems likely but do you have any way of checking the heaters to see if they are pulling more than they are rated for? Also a safety issue.

  3. The heaters using more than they're rated to use is entirely possible, but that still wouldn't account for the huge surge in power usage. After talking to people who know more about this than I do, it seems at most they would use about 10-20% more power than they were rated to. That alone doesn't account for the apparent >500% increase in my power usage.