Electricity Bills Explained: Understanding Your Monthly Electric Costs in Sacramento County
Our first post this month was about understanding your water bill, and now it’s time to do the same thing for your electricity bill. As you’ve probably seen on your bill, your utility company in Sacramento County sends you a huge amount of information every month, but it’s not always the easiest thing to decipher from a fairly intimidating-looking piece of paper. So that’s what we aim to help with today. We recently helped an elderly client in Fresno figure out her bill, and she recommended we do the same thing for others since she knew plenty of people who could use that information.
Reading the Bill
First, we need a bill to look at. PG&E has a sample bill as well as a how-to-read-it page on their website, so open that up in your browser as you follow along. Most folks just jump to the Total Amount Due box. While that’s important, let’s look at the other stuff, too.
Your 12-month billing history is hugely important. You’ll be able to read those bar graphs and see how you were doing compared to the last year. Notice anything different? We’ll get back to that in a second.
The other really useful piece of data is the Daily Usage part of the bill, which is next to the 12-month graph. This will show you how much energy you use now, compared to the same time last year. Again, we’ll talk about what this means below.
Finally, look at the Date and make sure the period is right and that the account is yours. You’d be surprised how often folks get double-billed or sent the wrong utility statement. Also, if you’re a SMUD user, your bill will look similar (here’s an example of a SMUD bill) — perhaps a little harder to read, but you will find the same information we’re covering here.
What It All Means
The Total Amount Due and the last few months of billing (visible on the 12-month graph) are going to be your immediate view into what’s going on. Do you owe more than last month? Has your bill climbed dramatically since last month or the month before? A few things could be going on. First, it’s summer. If you’re running your AC daily, that’s bound to raise the bill a bit, and maybe by quite a lot if you’re running it all the time. Second, if the bill seems high and there’s no accounting for it, you should contact the company and see if there’s an error in the billing or meter reading. It happens, and at least one of our clients (who once received a massive utility bill that was a calculation error) can testify to that.
Check out the Daily Usage rate: that will show you how much energy you’re using at different times of the day. It’ll also show you how you’re doing compared to last year, which is a great diagnostic tool for failing systems. Another reason for a spike in electricity usage is that something in your home is not working as efficiently as it should. If that’s the case, talk to your electricity company or consult a contractor about the source of the energy use and how to decrease it.
Tricky to Diagnose
Electricity bills are trickier to read than water bills. That’s because there are a lot of things that use electricity in your house. Oven, stove, washer, dryer, dishwasher, fridge, coffee pot, television, computers, phone chargers — you get the idea. Fortunately, unlike water, there’s no way for electricity to “leak.” If you got billed for it, you used it somewhere.
If your bill is way higher than it should be, think about usage. Have you bought or used anything recently that might take a lot of energy? One client in Dixon couldn’t figure out her high charges until she realized that since the start of football season she’d been doing two loads of laundry a day (she had three boys!). Things like this add up, running up your utility bill in a hurry.
If your bill is just high in general, particularly if it’s noticeably higher than it was last year (take a look at your Daily Usage reading on the bill), your appliances could be wearing out. Old HVAC units especially will put a lot of strain on the grid and require more energy to do the same job. If could be time to talk replacement or upgrade your home to save energy.
Rebates are available for those upgrades, but we’d recommend starting with a Home Energy Assessment by Bell Brothers. We’ll come over and check out your home from top to bottom — for free — and come up with a plan for you to figure out what to do in your home. Contact us for this assessment and for answers to all your home energy questions.