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How can we cut utility costs?

Photo credit to Eskil Helgesen

Goals of this article

Most discussions about utility bills show a poor understanding of the drivers of utility bills. The common arguments between roommates are over fatuous things like lights and water. Leaving lights on and water running is wasteful but it is not nearly as wasteful as other things which receive far less attention. This series of articles is about what bills we can control by moderating our usage and the drivers of that usage which are amenable to modification

The electrical bill is the most usage dependent utility

In a typical household there are around six utility bills each month: internet access, phone service (wireless or otherwise), electricity, natural gas, water, and waste disposal. In most cases, some of these will be combined and, for renters, others will be covered by the landlord as a part of the rent. Everywhere I have lived water and trash disposal have been one bill paid to the city. Not all homes have natural gas service and not all homes have internet access. Further complicating the situation, many of these bills are mostly a monthly service fee with little cost change depending on usage.

This is the reason almost every landlord requires the tenants to pay for electricity but only some of them require tenants to pay for water, gas, or trash collection. Electricity is highly usage dependent in a way other utilities are not. For this reason, most of our discussion about utilities will center on electrical appliances, especially the largest drivers of electricity use: air conditioners, refrigerators, dish washers, and, if electric, dryers, stoves, and ovens.

Internet/phone service Usage independent
Gas $23-$33 for between 6 and 37 cubic feet of gas. A six fold increase in usage is only a 50% increase in cost.
Water $19-$27 for between 1,000 and 3,000 gallons of water. A three fold increase in usage is only a 40% increase in cost.
Electricity $55-$195 for between 300 and 1,200 kWhs. A four fold increase in usage costs 400% as much so this is a usage based bill.
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