Low temperatures cause high utility bills

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Whether watching TV or readying for bed, the chill of winter can easily be suppressed with the absentminded press of a button. And when Wilsonians experienced unusually cold temperatures earlier this month, many fought back by adjusting their thermostats a few degrees, but officials said that comfort comes with a cost.

“Even if you have good energy habits, when we see these cold temperatures, it is going to drive up consumption,” said Rebecca Agner, city of Wilson spokeswoman.

Agner spoke at the Thursday night Wilson City Council meeting about a 30 to 40 percent spike in bills customers can anticipate due to the recent cold snap.

“About 50 percent of home energy use comes from heating systems and the systems were running constantly, struggling to keep the temperature up in homes and causing bills to be higher,” she said. “What can customers do? They’ve already used that energy, but they can change their energy habits for the rest of the year.”

Wilson Energy load management technician Jonathan Turner and two others perform free energy audits for customers, about five a week during peak months or five a month during more moderate weather. While the audits are available to renters and property owners, they are most useful when residents notice a non-weather-related spike in consumption and need help determining the cause.

Turner said by checking the temperature coming from vents in each room, staff can get a good idea if there is a leak in the ducts or if the ducts in a home are not properly insulated. In addition to adequate insulation in walls, floors and attics, he recommended ensuring doors and windows are sealed and the temperature on hot water heaters is at 120 degrees.

Smaller changes that can save energy include replacing incandescent light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs, using the dishwasher instead of hand-wishing dishes and washing clothes with cold water.

“The thermostat setting is huge, though,” he said. “We recommend 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer because the closer you can get to the outside temperature, the better. You are looking at 3 to 4 percent more energy per degree.”

Turner said he often recommends customers take it one degree at a time.

“I typically tell people to drop it a degree a day to let your body adjust,” he said. “If you’re used to 74 degrees, then you drop it to 68, you’ll be freezing and turn it back up. Let your body get used to it.”

Wilsonians frequently look to save money by renting a cheaper home, but end up spending more in the long run because of poor insulation or inefficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning units.

“Anyone can inquire on an address for the utility history. They would contact a customer service representative and would be given the high, low and average bills on a property over the past year,” Agner said. “Oftentimes they would find out upfront that they could pay a little more for rent and end up in a much more efficient surrounding.”

For customers struggling with bills from the cold snap, customer service also can provide several options to help by calling 252-399-2200 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. For more information, visit www.wilsonnc.org/wilson-energy/energy-saving-tips/.

“We expect this billing cycle to be the most extreme utility bill of the season, unless we have another extended deep freeze,” Agner said.