Tempers Rise as Temperatures Drop!

It all started when local businessman Clarance Biggs (AIT Inc.) noticed his companies PWC utility bills had risen substantially- resulting in bills ranging from $10,000 to $14,000 per month from October through January 2018. Mr. Biggs created a Facebook group to make local Cumberland County residents aware of the issues he saw, and reached out to reps at PWC about the ongoing issue. Mr. Biggs was not the only one who noticed the rise in utility costs – some customers’ bills went up almost 200%!

PWC Spokeswoman Carolyn Justice-Hinson attributes the rise in costs to the uncharacteristically cold weather that has been affecting the area over the last several months. Temps are up to 20* below normal (almost 60% colder than the same period last year). This drastic drop in temperatures caused a rise in bills, leaving many people angry, confused and concerned with how they are going to be able to afford to pay their utility charges.

“We realize people are surprised at their bills,” Ms. Justice-Hinson told ABC11. “Energy use and weather go hand in hand – a higher energy use, a higher demand on our system.”

ABC eyewitness news 11 received a barrage of customer complaints and decided to run a piece on the issue.   They met with Mr. Mike Foust, a local Fayetteville HVAC expert and owner of Foust Heating and Air, who was able to shed some light on the issue. Mr. Foust explained that most Heating and air systems are not built to handle such a drastic drop in temperatures. To make up for it, the heating systems activate heat strips that assist with keeping up with the demand placed upon it. This will help with keeping your home warm, but “(the heating strips) are .. hot coils that work like a toaster but sap electricity like an SUV guzzles gasoline.”

Think of it like this:  You’re on a boat that’s 50 meters from shore. You jump out of the boat and swim to shore. You do this on a daily basis, and your body gets used to the swim. Then suddenly one day you are forced to move your boat an additional 20+ meters away. While it may not look like a huge difference, your legs and lungs are going to feel the strain those extra feet added to your daily swim.  Your body has been trained to swim 50 meters on a daily basis and it takes quite a bit more to swim those extra 20 meters.

In this analogy the boat is the temperature outside, the shore is the temperature you have your thermostat set at, and your body is the HVAC system – working overtime to maintain the temperature in your home. While you may not have messed with the thermostat, your system still has to work harder to keep your home warm.

“When you drop into the low teens, or even into the single digits, you’re below the design of most heating and air equipment,” Foust told ABC11. “Doors, windows, plumbing pipes, the stairs that lead to the attic and things of that nature…”

What Steps can I take to keep my utility bills low?

  1. Replace worn weather stripping
This can be the cheapest – but most effective way to help keep your home warm and utility bills low! There are many different options to choose from, but here are a few guidelines:

  • Weather stripping should be applied to a clean, dry surface
  • Measure twice – cut once!
  • Apply weather stripping snugly against BOTH surfaces. The material should compress when the window or door is shut
  • For air sealing windows, apply weather-stripping between the sash and the frame. The weather-stripping shouldn’t interfere with the operation of the window.
  1. Have your HVAC system serviced regularly
    1. Just like your car, your HVAC system needs regular checks, diagnostic and maintenance. This should be done at least once a year, but may not be a bad idea to have done in the Spring and Fall of each year. The indoor and outdoor coils need regular cleaning to ensure the efficiency of the system and life-span of equipment. Benefits of having your system serviced regularly can include increased dependability, early diagnostic of potential issues, maximum efficiency and prolonged lifespan of equipment- among others.
  2. Insulate pipes under your home
    1. Insulating the hot waters pipes in your house is something of a no brainer. Why let the heat escape willy-nilly? Pipe insulation is inexpensive and the project is one that any homeowner could finish on a Saturday afternoon and can potentially save you up to 4% annually! Insulating your hot water pipes reduces heat loss and can raise water temperature 2°F–4°F hotter than uninsulated pipes can deliver, allowing you to lower your water temperature setting. You also won’t have to wait as long for hot water when you turn on a faucet or showerhead, which helps conserve water.
  3. Eliminate drafts and plug all holes in exterior walls and attic doors
    1. Homeowners tend to feel drafts around windows and doors, though the biggest air leaks are typically in attics and basements,” says John Galeotafiore, who oversees Consumer Reports testing of products for the home. “If you have an easily accessible attic you can check to make sure your insulation is covering the areas where leaks are likely to occur—where the walls meet the attic floor, the access hatch, and around plumbing and electrical fixtures.” In basements, look where the foundation meets the framing of the house and where wiring conduits and plumbing enter through the foundation. If you seal most of these leaks, you can save between 10-20% on your heating bill this winter!
  4. Replace existing windows and doors with energy efficient doors
    1. Windows and doors provide our homes with light, warmth, and ventilation, but they can also negatively impact a home’s energy efficiency. You can reduce energy costs by installing energy-efficient windows and doors in your home. When properly selected and installed, energy-efficient windows can help minimize your heating, cooling, and lighting costs. Improving window performance in your home involves design, selection, and You’ll find that you have several options to consider when selecting what type of windows you should use in your home. When selecting windows for energy efficiency, it’s important to first consider their energy performance ratings in relation to your climate and your home’s design. Let our experts at Cape Fear Flooring & Restoration assist you with making the right decision for your home! Not only will you save money on your utility bills, you can also qualify for a tax credit by upgrading your existing windows and doors to energy efficient windows and doors!
  5. Lower your water heater temperature settings
    1. We spoke with Woods Plumbing who told us that “Lowering your water heater temperature by just 20 degrees can lower the appliances energy consumption by as much as 10%!” Considering that heating water can account for up to 25% of your households total energy usage, it easy to see how lowering the temperature can provide significant savings! Most water heater manufacturers have the thermostat set at a default temperature of 140. Dropping it down to 120 can make a drastic difference in your bills, and your family won’t even notice the drop.
  6. Change your air filters on a regular basis
    1. Air filters can be found in any forced air system. They do exactly what their name suggests – they filter the air to eliminate hair, dust and other allergens from the system before pumping it into your home. This is often something that gets overlooked, but is very important to ensure that your HVAC system is working to its full capacity. A dirty filter can place undue stress on your system, so not only does it have to heat and force air through your ducts, your system has to deal with a dirty filter on top of all that! Air filters are relatively inexpensive and can be found at a plethora of stores from Wal-Mart to Lowes. Air filters come in several different sizes, but most shops will carry the standard sizes in 3-5 packs. The “allergy free” filters have actually been found to place undue stress on your heating and air system, so we recommend just getting a cheaper filter and replacing it on a monthly basis.
  7. Lock doors and windows
    1. Have you ever noticed that when you lock your windows and doors you can feel them push together more tightly? This little extra seal can make a difference on your heating bill! Even when doors and windows are closed – air can still escape if they are not pressed tight against the weather-stripping. If not locked, cold air can infiltrate your home. Lock your windows early so they don’t freeze in their current position!

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Feel free to reach out to us via phone, facebook or email!

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  1. https://www.popularmechanics.com/home/how-to/g737/9-sneaky-ways-to-cut-your-home-heating-bills/
  2. https://www.today.com/home/10-tricks-reducing-your-heating-bill-2D80555200
  3. https://energy.gov/energysaver/fall-and-winter-energy-saving-tips
  4. http://abc11.com/finance/i-team-whats-to-blame-for-skyrocketing-utility-bills/3044437/