Central heat causing $600 plus electric

Discussion in 'HVAC Heating & Cooling' started by gyverbabe, Jan 23, 2011.

  1. gyverbabe

    gyverbabe New Member

    Messages:
    8
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    Our bill was over $600 in a small 600 square foot house. We've tried the meter test where you shut every thing off, and when you turn everything back on, the meter moves very slowly. when you turn the central heat breaker back on, it starts spinning very fast. Our cooling bills last summer were high too, over $250 plus. What could be wrong with the heat that would cause that high a bill?
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,832
    Location:
    New England
    Might not be anything wrong. How cold has it been? How much, if any insulation do you have? Is someone leaving a window or door open? Do you have double-pane insulated windows? How hot do you set your thermostat? A more useful indication might be is how many KwHr did you use, since we don't know your electric rates.
  3. gyverbabe

    gyverbabe New Member

    Messages:
    8
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    Answer: The coldest it's been has been in the teens, but most of the time it's in the 20s and 30s. As for insulation, I don't know, we do have attic insulation, it's a house that was build in the 1940s and has not been updated in many years. No windows or doors left open, and while we don't have double pane insulated windows, we have storm windows over the regular windows. It's a piece of crap house, but we didn't have any choice at the time as we were homelss just moving back from Ohio after both of us losing our jobs. Thermostat was replaced by us (not the landlord), when the only way the heat would come on was if it was set over 81. It would blow cold air only before that. now, we can set it at 74 and it'll read 74. As for kilowats, I don't know what the average is for this house in the winter, as we moved in in mid April last year. Average for us to use since we moved in was 800 kw at the lowest, 1700 at the highest until last month, used over 6500 kw.
  4. nukeman

    nukeman Nuclear Engineer

    Messages:
    709
    Location:
    VA
    Is your heat source a heat pump or an electric furnace? If you are not sure, a heat pump will have the fan spinning on the outside unit when it is running.

    6500kwh is a ton. Our house is 3300 sqft and heated with an electric furnace and the highest useage we have had was 4000 kwh. Now it is usually less than this as we added insulation to the attic and also in the basement area.

    I would first make sure that this bill and the last couple ones are accurate. There should be some indication on the bill if they took an actual reading or if it was an estimate. For intance, your last few bills may have been estimates and the estimates were low. Then they took an actual reading this last time, so you got charged for this month plus the months where they estimated low. Also, take your latest bill out to the meter and compare the readings on the bill to what your meter actually reads. It is possible that they made a mistake on the reading or mixed up your meter with another one.

    Another possibility is that your new thermostat is kicking on the electric heater strips (also called aux. heat or emergency heat) and your outdoor heat pump may or may not be running (assuming it is a heat pump and not electric furnace). This will cause the bill to go up a bunch, but that is still a lot of use for a 600 sqft house.
  5. gyverbabe

    gyverbabe New Member

    Messages:
    8
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    Here's the link to the video my husband shot. When he turned on all the breakers, the outside unit didn't come on. I'll go out and check it later, but it's warmer outside, so the heat is turned off. http://www.youtube.com/user/GyverX?feature=mhum
    I checked our bills, and they are accurate. Our bill for service from 11/13- 12/13 was $128. In the summer, when we were using more with the central air unit, our bill was around $250.
  6. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    For 600 Square feet, the size of many kitchens, even without insulation, that seems terribly high. You might ask for the meter to be changed out as a start.

    For 89$ I would put in a window AC and not use the central at all. You may have leaking or broken ducts, assuming there is a crawl space.

    As for heat, 2, $39 oil heaters should do the place nicely.

    If the house is a piece of crap, we may assume the hvac is even more so. Change your furnace filter this decade?
  7. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,832
    Location:
    New England
    You may not have the thermostat either installed, or setup correctly. It sort of sounds like you have a heatpump system. If you don't have a compatible thermostat, or you don't wire or program it properly, it may not come on, and then you are relying on the auxilliary heat strips (basically a set of big toaster coils). If so, then that will cause the electrical use to go up. But, a heatpump doesn't work well when it gets really cold out, so depending on the model you have, it may not come on and then require the aux or emergency heat strips to kick in. You'd have to read the specs on your heatpump, but many stop working below about 30-degrees or so.
  8. gyverbabe

    gyverbabe New Member

    Messages:
    8
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    We are considering getting heaters instead of using the central heat, but right now, we're flat broke and with an electric bill like that, I don't know how it's going to get paid, so I'm anticipating our electric will be shut off next month. I have no idea when or if my landlord has had the hvac serviced. He claims it's about 5 years old. Probably has never changed the filter. We change the filter inside the house regularly. As for the thermostat, the one that was in here was extremely old, we replaced it with the cheapest easiest one we could find and he followed the instructions on it to the letter with putting the wires where they are supposed to go. We don't have to turn the thermostat up so high anymore just to get the heater to come on, but even when it says it's 76 degrees in here, it feels cold. With the new thermostat, if we set it at 76, it will read 76. With the old one, if we set it at 81, it would read 74, IF we were lucky.
  9. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,832
    Location:
    New England
    Putting the wires in the right places is NOT the only thing you have to do with a themostat, at least with many of them. If it isn't setup or capable of operating a heat pump, then it may not work properly until that happens. It could be just using the electric heat strips, and never running the heatpump at all. What brand and model of thermostat is it, and do you actually have a heat pump? If so, what model?
  10. Cookie

    Cookie .

    Messages:
    5,660
    Location:
    .
    Just asking, but is it possible that your meter is wired to another house, a neighbors as well? It might sound stupid to ask this, but, might be possible. Who knows. Do you rent, did you say?
  11. gyverbabe

    gyverbabe New Member

    Messages:
    8
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    Cookie, anything is possible, we live in a horrible neighborhood. The house next door is now empty. As for the heat pump (it is a heat pump), I don't know what make and model, I'll go out and look at it in daylight tomorrow. Our landlord insisted that the thermostat was fine when I suggested the old one was bad. Since we've replaced it, it seems to run more properly, cutting on and off, where with the old one, it would blow only cold air unless it was set above 80. It is a Hunter brand programmable thermostat. The kind that was on there before, I don't know the brand, but they don't make it anymore. This one was the simplest we could find. We used to live in a 1000 square foot apartment with badly sealed windows and poor insulation and our heat bill (heat pump) was never above $300
  12. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,832
    Location:
    New England
    Read the manual and determine if you have it setup properly for a heat pump. Depending on what you have, some energize the reversing valve to produce heat, some denergize it to produce heat. If you have the thermostat setup incorrectly, it could be putting the heat pump into a/c mode rather than heating mode, and then the strip heaters would turn on, costing lots of money. Or, it may not be trying to turn the heat pump itself on at all, and only activating the heat strips.
  13. Cookie

    Cookie .

    Messages:
    5,660
    Location:
    .
    Yep, I have seen people trying to steal electricity, especially, if it is a rental, and it is a duplex.

  14. gyverbabe

    gyverbabe New Member

    Messages:
    8
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    Jim, We will do that. We replaced the thermostat about a week before they read the meter, so I really doubt if the thermostat (new one) is the problem. Landlord said he would have someone out here within 48 hours to check the unit.
  15. gyverbabe

    gyverbabe New Member

    Messages:
    8
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    Ok, here's the deal. Compressor was bad on the outside unit. The old thermostat would only work if the heat was set above 81, apparantly that will cause a high electric bill. Will the compressor also cause a high electric bill? Also, how often should a HVAC be serviced or checked?
  16. nukeman

    nukeman Nuclear Engineer

    Messages:
    709
    Location:
    VA
    It is possible that with your old t-stat, you had to increase the setpoint up higher in order to get the resistance heat to run. Perhaps the compressor was also running, but wasn't really doing anything? It's not so much that the bad compressor will cause the high electric bills directly, but if the compressor isn't working correctly, then your only heat source is the electric furnace and that will cause a high electric bill. With you new t-stat, it was probably kicking on the electric furnace at any time. This might be due to a problem in how it is wired or the settings might not be setup correctly for a heat pump. If the guy hasn't installed the new compressor yet, you might have him check out your t-stat while he is there to make sure that it is setup correctly.

    It is a good idea to have the system checked out about once per year. Often either in Fall or Spring just before the heating or cooling season. If you do this, the system will run better (they will check that the unit is properly charged, fins are clean, compressor/blower operates correctly, etc.). If there is a small leak in the system, the refrigerant will leak out. Not only will that kill the heating/cooling performance of the heat pump, but can cause damage to the compressor as well.
    If the unit is checked out, leaks can be repaired and the refridgerant can be topped off as needed.
  17. gyverbabe

    gyverbabe New Member

    Messages:
    8
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    Thanks. He did come in and check the t-stat, it was wired properly, but apparantly there was a switch that was set on gas/oil, not on electric. We moved in last April, the unit was not checked before summer, and it was not checked before the winter months. Of course, we live in a dump, there is much wrong with this house, holes in the interior walls, bad patch job in the bedroom where they'd gotten access to the bathtub plumbing, and bad wiring in the kitchen (one of the overhead lights has a short in it). So we can say that my landlord, who is also my first cousin, is a slum lord. If we'd had any other choice (we were homeless, after both of us losing our jobs last year), we would have never moved in here. And if I were a landlord, I'd have never rented this house in this condition. If I won't live in it as a landlord, I won't rent it.
  18. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,832
    Location:
    New England
    If the compressor wasn't running, then all your heat was coming from the electrical resistance heating strips (fancy electric space heaters)...so, yes, this would account for the high bill. A heatpump can be as much as 2-3x more efficient than heat strips. It doesn't hurt to have the system cleaned and checked annually, but not that many people do. A compressor could last many years, but technology advances, and the newer ones are more efficient.
  19. gator37

    gator37 Retired prof. engr.

    Messages:
    108
    Location:
    Alabama
    Cookie said this earlier, but I would check or have verified that you are the only one on your meter and invest in an electric blanket.
    Looked like an older wood home and if real old it probably does not have any insulation in the walls, just guessing based on my experience with my mother in laws old Alabama home.
  20. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    A bad compressor only gives you electric heat, and no cold air, just air.

    As I said earlier, bad houses have bad HVAC units.
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