When you open your utility bill, do you heave a sigh of relief or emit a groan of despair? While individual usage counts for a lot, where you live has an impact, too.
For instance, in 2015, the average monthly electric bill in Illinois was $87. In Hawaii, the amount was nearly $100 more.
It was the same for natural gas. Average 2015 monthly costs varied from $3 in Florida to $66 in Michigan.
Hawaiians probably run their electric air conditioners a lot more than Illinois residents, and Michiganders have to crank up their thermostats to ward off the chill of those icy winter days. Not so much in Florida. While it varies in what we use across the country, this is what you should know about getting the best utility rates.
Another geographic variable that impacts consumer costs is whether or not the utilities in your state are regulated. With regulated utilities, state and federal organizations manage both wholesale and retail prices. A local utility company supplies and distributes energy to everyone in the region.
Many states, though, have deregulated gas, oil or both. In these locations, customers choose which companies supply their power or gas. A goal of deregulation is keeping costs down through competition.
If you live in a deregulated state, look around to get the best deal. Folks in regulated states, though, can’t adjust their bills by switching companies. However, you still have options.
If you live in one of the deregulated states, you select your utility company. With great power, however, comes great confusion, at least sometimes. One way to start differentiating utility companies is to use an online comparison tool for your state. These typically supply information about kilowatt hour, rate type and term length.
State government agencies, professional energy consultants, online energy marketplaces and local companies provide these data devices. While they give you a good place to start, you’re not done. Sorry.
When you’re considering a utility company switch, you need to know more than just prices. If a company representative doesn’t offer you this information upfront, ask.
For instance, what type of term is available for the quoted price: fixed or variable? Fixed rates must stay the same for a specific period. Variables rates are often low, but, they can jump at any time. Very attractive prices may not stay around for long.
Another factor: What if you have energy buyer’s remorse? If, after a few bills from the new company, you aren’t happy, can you simply switch back to your old love? Or is there an early termination fee?
How concerned are you about where your energy comes from? Some utility companies offer greener versions. If this is important to you, check to see if there’s a renewable energy option.
If you sign a utility contract, what happens when it’s up? Does the agreement just continue at the same rate? Is it automatically adjusted? Do you have to re-enroll?
Sometimes you don’t have to go looking for a new utility company. It comes looking for you.
That’s not as ominous as it sounds. Representatives visit consumers’ homes to help them compare energy costs. Just be sure the rep on your doorstep shows you a company photo ID. You can even call the company to verify. It’s best to play it safe and look up the company number yourself.
If you’re thinking about changing companies, read the contract carefully. You don’t need to be warned about the fine print, right?
You don’t have to make a snap decision. If you need time to weigh or explore your options, take it.
Not all of these personal visits are harmless, however. Representatives can be pushy, pressuring customers to switch. Some are deceptive and make price promises that will never be kept. Unlucky homeowners then end up with inflated energy bills.
Not to be the bearer of bad tidings, but be wary of getting slammed. If an unscrupulous company gets your account information over the phone, through the mail or in person, you could be switched without your permission.
It’s good practice to check your utility bill every month to be sure your supplier is, in fact, what you think it should be. Keep that account information private.
If you live in a state that regulates utilities, you can’t get a better utility rate by switching companies. However, you’re not completely out of luck. Doing specific work around the house lowers utility bills.
For instance, brighten your roof with white elastomeric paint. You’ll be cooler in warm weather, which cuts back on electric fans and air conditioners.
Make sure all electrical appliances not in use are turned off at night. Leave on the fridge, but turn off devices like cable boxes and computers. Too inconvenient? How badly do you want to save money?
Turn your gas or electric water heater down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Any warmer and you’re not only wasting money, you’re taking a chance on scalding someone.
Use a programmable thermostat. You won’t forget to turn the heat down at night or when you’re at work. The mechanism remembers for you.
It doesn’t matter if your state has deregulated utilities. If you want to save money, you’re going to have to do some work. Whether it’s comparing companies and making an informed decision or completing energy-saving projects in your home, your bank account will be happy with your efforts.
So, what can I do?
If your utility bill is cramping your style, or in the worst possible situation, threatening your Netflix account, here are a few tips to reduce your energy usage without spending a fortune:
What measures do you take in the winter to save on your energy bill? Let me know in the comments below!