Utility bills will likely increase by 10% on average in big cities this summer


With millions of Americans still at home, about 1 in 3 people nationwide are expected to see their utility bills go up by at least 10% this summer. 

That's according to renewable energy company Arcadia, which measured the increase in residential energy use from 10,000 customer households across 13 major U.S. cities in March and April 2020 to estimate how much more power Americans consume when under stay-at-home orders or unemployed. Overall, Arcadia estimates Americans in the 13 cities studied (which make up about a third of the U.S. population) will spend between $2 and $37 more on utility bills during June, July and August, just from spending more time at home.

That's because the more time people spend at home, the more electricity, water and gas they use during daytime hours, Arcadia found. About half of the entire U.S. workforce is now working remotely, 35% of which made the switch recently because of the pandemic, according to recent research from MIT economists

It's worth noting that the expected 10% increase doesn't even take into account the electricity bill surge that typically happens in summer due to rising temperatures.

The level of energy use will vary city to city, Arcadia says. Those with denser populations like Philadelphia and New York will be hit hardest, while those on the West Coast, such as Seattle and San Francisco, will see smaller increases, according to Arcadia's research.

Arcadia estimated summer utility bill spikes across 13 of the largest U.S. metro areas using the bill history of 10,000 households.

Those worried about paying their utility bills amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic should contact their provider. While many providers' Covid-19 specific programs are ending in June, you may be able defer utility bills through the assistance programs most companies offer year round, including major providers such as ConEd, Duke Energy, FirstEnergy and PSE&G. PG&E, which serves California, offers two programs that provide a monthly discount of up to 20% for families of four making less than $52,000.

There's also the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program for low-income families that helps with energy bills. While income eligibility requirements vary by state, generally a four-person household earning less than $36,400 qualifies

Households that receive other federal benefits such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income or certain types of veteran's benefits are also eligible. You can call the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) hotline toll-free at 1-866-674-6327 to get information on where to apply for LIHEAP.

Beyond assistance programs, there are steps you can take around your home to keep your energy bills low and hopefully save some extra cash each month. Here are five easy things you can do today that probably won't cost you any money upfront.

1. Unplug appliances and devices

Start by unplugging appliances, devices and chargers around your home when they're not in use. Many common household items such as laptops, televisions and gaming consoles still draw energy even when they're not turned on, says savings expert Lauren Greutman. Keeping these items plugged in all the time could add an extra $100 to $200 a year to your energy bills. 

To make it easier to remember to turn off unused items, plug things into a power strip that you can simply turn off when you're not using, Greutman recommends. That way, instead of having to unplug every cord individually, you can simply flip off the power to several appliances at once. This can be especially helpful if you have outlets in hard-to-reach places in your home. You can also upgrade to a smart power strip, or an advanced power strip, that can detect when a device is not in use and turn off the outlet or be put on a timer.

2. Find ways to cook without using the oven

During the summer months, turning on the oven can cost you. That's because using your oven to cook dinner or bake cookies can increase the room's temperature by 10 degrees, which can make your air conditioning kick into overdrive. By using an outdoor grill or microwave — or preparing no-cook meals — you could save 2% to 5% on cooling costs. 

3. Wash wisely 

When it comes to water usage, cooler is better if you're looking to save money, Arcadia says. When doing laundry, for example, using cooler water settings saves energy since about 80% of the energy your washing machine consumes is used to heat the water. 

Taking cooler showers yourself may also help lower costs. Water heaters account for about 17% of a home's energy usage, according to the Energy Department. And when showering, most of that hot water ends up down the drain. If you don't trust yourself to keep the dial on cool, you can turn down your water heater. 

4. Adjust your thermostat

When programming your thermostat, even a few degrees can make a difference. You can save as much as 10% on your energy bills by adjusting your thermostat back seven to 10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The agency recommends setting air conditioning units at 78°F when you're at home and need to cool off. 

Keep in mind that you can also turn on a ceiling fan to help keep things cool. Running a fan takes far less energy than turning up (or on) your AC. But keep in mind that you should still turn off fans when you leave the room. "Fans cool people, not rooms, by creating a wind chill effect," says the Energy Department.

5. Keep windows covered

The sunshine may look and feel inviting in the summer, but keeping your windows uncovered in the middle of the day can increase your energy costs since your air conditioning system has to work harder to keep cool. That's because 76% of the sunlight that falls on standard windows enters to become heat, according to the Department of Energy.

Try keeping the blinds closed or the curtains drawn from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., which are typically the hours that are the hottest parts of the day, Arcadia recommends. 

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