Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1

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Customer Service (M-F 8a-5:30p): 425-783-1000

Energy Use FAQs

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Why are my winter bills higher than my summer bills?

Customers can count on higher bills in the winter because of the furnace. For those with electric heat, the furnace is by far the biggest consumer of electricity in a house. But those with gas or oil heat also get higher bills in the winter because electricity powers the fan that operates those furnaces. People tend to be home more in the winter and, because the nights are longer, they tend to burn lights more in the winter. Those who have a water heater in an unheated space also will see a big jump in power usage during the winter because the appliance must work harder when the surrounding air temperature is colder.

How does weather affect winter bills?

Heating bills rise when temperatures get colder in the winter. You not only use your heating system to keep your home warm, you also use it to maintain a certain temperature when you're away so that pipes don't freeze and your home is comfortable when you return.

Average daily temperature does not tell the whole story.

The greater the difference between the temperature outside and the thermostat setting inside a building, the harder the heating system will work and the more energy it will use, even if the thermostat isn’t set higher or the building is unoccupied for part of the day or night. Sometimes it's not easy to know how hard your heating system is working because it usually sits in a garage, and you get used to hearing it turn on so you stop noticing it. If you set your heating to be at 68 degrees and the temperature outside is 30 degrees, your heating system is using more energy to maintain that 68 degrees than it would if the outside temperature was 45 degrees.

Some winters seem mild but may have cold snaps lasting for a few days each time. That means your heating system was working harder to keep the heat at your desired temperature even if you never changed your temperature setting.

Is there any part of a day or night that is better to run appliances like dishwashers, clothes washers, etc.?

Wholesale power is purchased by the utility based on peak and off-peak times. The peak times (when power is used the most in our region) are from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Those are the times that people are getting ready for work or coming home from work. While the utility does pay a difference for peak versus off-peak wholesale power, it does not bill its customers for peak versus off-peak usage primarily because of the expense involved in being able to bill for this.

Wholesale power purchased for use during these peak periods is the most expensive for the utility. You can help keep costs down by using power in off-peak times. While you aren’t billed for peak versus off-peak power usage, using your appliances (dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, computers, etc.) after 9:00 p.m. helps the PUD save money overall on purchased power costs. The cost difference between peak and off-peak power can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per megawatt-hour in colder weather. (One megawatt-hour is enough power for about 600 homes.) The colder the weather, the more demand for power during peak times, so power prices rise. This also means greater savings by using off-peak power during this time. So when you use off-peak power, you are helping keep costs down for all PUD customers.

Using off-peak power also benefits the environment. To meet high energy demand, extra power generators are run to produce additional power during peak times. But many of these extra power generators are not very efficient and create some air pollution while generating power. This is why they aren’t operated all the time. During off-peak times, these extra power generators are not needed and so air pollution levels are reduced. In addition, the more off-peak power we use, the less peak power is needed, potentially minimizing the need for these extra power generators.

How do I get my bill down? What is using the most electricity?

The big users of energy in your home usually are the furnace and the water heater. Any effort to reduce utility bills should start with reducing the amount of work that either of those items must do. For example, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of turning the thermostat down to 55 degrees at night and when you’re not at home. When you are home, keep the thermostat at 68 degrees or lower.

To reduce the water heater’s job, turn the temperature setting down and use less hot water. It costs about 1.4 cents to heat a gallon of water. That may not seem like much, but it adds up when you consider the fact that you use about 20 gallons to take a bath, about 40 gallons to wash a load of laundry, and about 50 gallons to take a 10-minute shower. Using a low-flow shower head may cut that consumption in half!

Can you explain how to calculate the cost of operating an appliance?

To calculate the cost of electricity, one needs to know the wattage of the item using the power, the number of hours it is in operation, and the cost of electricity.

  • Take the wattage (usually found on the serial plate mounted on the appliance) and multiply it times the number of hours the appliance is used in a month. Take that result and divide it by 1,000. The answer is the amount of electricity the appliance consumes, measured in kilowatt-hours.
  • From there, multiply the kilowatt-hours it uses times the cost of each kilowatt-hour of electricity and you’ll get the cost of operating the appliance.

For example, let’s say you have a 100-watt light bulb mounted in the light fixture on your front porch. The light bulb is turned on 12 hours a day, or 360 hours a month. Multiply 100 times 360 to get 36,000. Divide 36,000 by 1,000 and you’ll find that the light bulb uses 36 kilowatt-hours of electricity every month. Our electricity costs about 10.4 cents per kWh (click to view current residential rates). Multiply 36 times .104  to figure out the cost. You’ll discover that the light bulb uses about $3.74 in electricity costs. Our Appliance Cost Fact Sheet lists various common household appliances and their average monthly operating costs (for a family of four).

Which is better: turning off the electric heat when we’re gone or asleep, or leaving it on at a certain temperature?

You will use less electricity if you turn the thermostat down at night. The simple rule is that you save money every time you can avoid having the furnace turn on.

If you leave the thermostat at 68 degrees all night or when you’re away, for example, the furnace will cycle on and off all night trying to keep the house above 68 degrees. During an eight-hour period, it might be on a total of four hours. If you turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees, however, the furnace won’t turn on nearly as often. Even though the furnace might run for an hour in the morning to get the temperature back up, you’ll still use less electricity than if it had been cycling on and off all night.

This is because the difference between the temperature inside the house and the temperature outside is greater when the thermostat is set higher. The greater the difference between inside and outside temperatures, the greater the rate of heat loss. And, the greater the rate of heat loss, the more the furnace has to work to keep the house warm. In addition, when you turn the thermostat down and the inside temperature begins to drop, the furnace won’t operate at all until it reaches 55 degrees. In a well-insulated home, that alone could be several hours.

I have heard that in rentals and apartment houses, the temperature of the hot water can be no more than 120 degrees. Is this true?

Yes, it is. Washington state law recommends that residential water heaters be set no higher than 120 degrees to reduce the risk of accidental scalding, especially to children and the elderly. The law includes a provision that the thermostat of any water heater serving individual residential units that are leased or rented shall be set at 120 degrees upon occupancy by a new tenant. The law doesn’t prohibit the resident from readjusting the temperature setting after moving in, however. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind that a high temperature setting in a water heater can be a safety concern.

Turning down the temperature of your hot water is not only a safe thing to do, it also will save energy and help reduce your utility bill. To set the temperature, turn your water heater off at the circuit breaker or fuse box, remove the face plate on the water heater that covers the thermostat, and use a screwdriver to turn the temperature control dial to “120.” Be careful not to touch any wires. When finished, repack the insulation, replace the face plate, and turn the power back on. If you feel you need help, call an electrician.

If you have an automatic dishwasher, you should be aware that 120-degree water may not be adequate to dissolve greasy food or activate the detergent. While some newer models of dishwashers have a water heating option to boost the water temperature in the appliance, others do not. In that case, manufacturers recommend using a liquid dishwasher detergent if your water temperature is set at 120 degrees.

Do you offer any comparison of home heating fuel costs?

Yes, we have a chart that breaks out sample fuel costs for an average single family home, comparing an electric heat pump, gas furnace, electric baseboard, propane furnace, electric furnace, and oil furnace.

Go to the page with the Home Heating Costs comparison chart by clicking here.

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