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Understanding Your Winter Bill

Did you know your energy bill is typically lowest in spring and fall?

During the mild temperatures of spring and fall, many of us don’t use heating or air conditioning very often, so our energy bills may be lower. But with the arrival of sustained colder temperatures in winter, heating systems run more frequently and for longer periods of time. So you can generally expect to see your energy bills start increasing in October and peaking in January or February. That’s important to know given that the cost of heating your home can make up 40% to 60% of your monthly winter Avista bill.

Learn more about what impacts your winter bill, where to look on your bill for information, and tips to help you save.
 
Do you know how your current bill compares to previous ones?

Knowing your historical energy usage and bill amount helps put your current bill in context. Click on a topic below to learn more.

What factors besides weather can impact your Avista bill?

One of the best ways to understand your bill amount is by reviewing all of the information on the bill. Click a topic to see how it could impact your bill.

What are other common causes of higher winter bills?

With busy lives, it’s easy to forget what the weather was like or what energy changes there may have been in your home earlier in your billing cycle. Click a topic to learn more about what could impact your energy use.

Learn more about our online tools that can help you manage energy use, about payment options and bill assistance.

Your Monthly Energy Usage and Daily Average

To see how seasonal changes typically increase or decrease your energy costs, look on the back of your Avista bill for the electric and/or natural gas charts labeled “Your Monthly Energy Usage.” These charts let you compare your current month’s energy use (orange bar) to the same month the previous year (light blue bar). It also shows your cyclical energy usage (dark blue bars) for the prior 11 months. See the new daily average chart below.

Your Monthly Average

 

Get a historical perspective of your bill

It also helps to understand your current bill by putting your monthly energy usage in historical context. To see details for the previous two years, sign in to your online account (or create one) and click on Billing History. Clicking on the tabs will give you additional information that may have affected your bill, including:

  1. average daily temperature for the month,
  2. number of billing days,
  3. whether your meter reading was actual or estimated,
  4. and 4) the average cost per day based on the amount of energy you used.

Billing Cycle

Your monthly bill is also affected by the number of days in your billing cycle, which can vary month-to-month from 27 to 35 days. The variation is caused by different factors, including the actual number of days in a month, when weekends and holidays fall, and whether the meter reader was able to access your meter (e.g., buried in snow).

To compare the number of days in your current billing cycle with the same period last year, look for the icons underneath the billing chart entitled “Your Monthly Energy Usage.” If you current month’s bill has more days in the billing cycle than the same month last year, your bill can be higher.

Energy Usage

Your energy usage is another important factor in determining the amount of your monthly energy bill. Only a few days of extremely cold temperatures can cause your bill to be higher because your heating system can run more frequently and for longer periods of time.

To see your energy usage for the month, look on the back of your bill for the charts labeled “Electric Detail” and/or “Natural Gas Detail.” At the top of each chart is a box labeled “Energy Usage” that shows the number of kilowatt hours or therms you used. This number is used to calculate your energy bill and is added to the Basic Charge fee charged to all customers.

Higher Average Rate per Kilowatt-Hour

Avista’s residential electricity rates increase as you use more power. In Washington, the lowest rate is for the first 800 kilowatt-hours (kWhs) of usage in a billing cycle, and the highest rate is for all usage over 1,500 kWhs.  In Idaho, Avista charges the lowest rate for the first 600 kWhs and all other usage in a billing cycle at a higher rate. So, making smart energy choices during the coldest winter months can help to limit the amount of your usage that will be priced at the higher rates. Please check the Electric Detail section on the back of your bill to see how much of your energy usage is in the various electricity usage levels.

Customer Rate Change

Your monthly bill can also be impacted by a change in customer rates, which is regulated and must be approved by the public utility commission in your state. If the rate decreases or increases during a billing cycle, it will be shown on the back of your bill in the “Electric Detail” or “Natural Gas Detail” section. Your usage will be prorated by the number of days in the billing cycle, separating those at the previous rate from those at the new rate. Managing energy use can help offset the impact of a rate increase. Avista offers energy efficiency rebates and energy-savings tips to help maximize your energy savings.


 

Baseboard Heating and Space Heater Tips

With winter here, you may find yourself turning up the thermostat to keep the colder temperatures outside. When the temperature drops, your bill will typically increase due to additional energy use, especially if your home’s main source of heat isn’t the most efficient.

Baseboard heating (electric resistance furnace) and space heaters are more costly heat sources to rely on during the colder months. When using baseboard heating or space heaters, understanding how to use them effectively is the best way to help manage your energy bill.

If your home has baseboard heating, it is most likely the main heat source. This type of heating is usually found in older homes and if used incorrectly can contribute to a high energy bill.

Since space heaters can also be costly to run, it’s important that they not be used as a primary heat source. Space heaters should be used to supplement your home’s main heat source and to heat small, occupied areas for a short period of time.

To correctly and efficiently use baseboard heating or a space heater, consider the following:

  • Practice zone heating. If you have baseboard heating, zone heating is when you turn down the heat in unused rooms and close the doors. But don't turn the heat off completely. Make sure that the temperature stays warm enough to not cause damage to your home. A good temperature is about 55 degrees.
  • Turn it down. In the winter, set your thermostat to 68 degrees- and lower when it makes sense. Your heating system will operate less and use less energy. Turn your thermostat down another 5 degrees at night or when leaving your home for an hour or more to save even more on energy costs.
  • Insulate. Insulate your home, especially in the rooms with baseboard and space heaters. You want to eliminate any kind of window and door drafts if possible. By using items like window plastic, caulk, and weather stripping, you can help keep warm air in and cold air out.
  • Circulate. Take advantage of rising heat by turning on your ceiling fan. By reversing the direction of the blades to spin clockwise, the fan will push hot air down and it will help circulate warm air throughout the entire room.
  • Keep your heaters clean. Dust buildup on your baseboard heater will block heat and keep it from escaping properly. This means your heater will click on, but your room will not warm up. Prevent this by cleaning your baseboard heaters once a month. Cleaning them is easy—just vacuum the heater's fins and housing.

Did you know facts:

  • Using one 1500 watt space heater for one hour per day costs an estimated $4.05 per month; $40.50 per month when used for 10 hours per day; and $97.20 per month when used for 24 hours per day.
  • Because of the higher costs, space heaters should be used to supplement a homes’ main heat source to heat small, occupied areas for a short period of time.
  • Baseboard heat costs 2.5 times more than natural gas.
  • A typical home uses 5 to 7 million BTUs per month during the heating season. For a home using baseboard heating that equals about $158.22 a month just in heating costs which make up 40 to 60 percent of a monthly bill. A BTU is a measure of heat.
  • For each degree you lower the temperature in your home, you can decrease your energy use by about 3 percent.
  • The recommended thermostat setting is at or below 68 degrees when heating your home.
  • Keep both space heaters and baseboards clear from obstructions such as furniture and drapes. Anything touching these devices can be a fire hazard.

Winter holidays

Your monthly bill can also be impacted by winter holidays. Having additional family and friends visiting can mean more cooking, showers, laundry and dishes, all of which use more energy. School vacations can also mean your home is kept warmer and lighted throughout more of the day, and the kids are using and charging more electronics. If you’re traveling over the holidays, turn down your thermostat and water heater and shut off lights before leaving, or you’ll waste energy while you’re not there.

Forgotten items

Your monthly bill might be higher because of things you only do in cold weather – like keeping your hot tub warmer or heating up a workshop. Did you add space when remodeling your home or bought a new larger refrigerator or power-hungry electronics like a big screen TV? If your water heater or home heating equipment is not operating properly, that can also contribute to unexpected higher energy use.

Winter tips to avoid surprises on your monthly bill

  • Set your thermostat at or below 68 degrees when you are home during the day and reduce it a few degrees at night when sleeping or when you are away.. Setting your thermostat just 3 degrees lower can reduce your bill by about 10 percent.
  • Only use space heaters to heat a single occupied room and make sure to turn down the temperature setting on your furnace when using a space heater. If you're not using a space heater for "zone heating," it can actually increase your electrical usage.
  • Restrict the use of your wood fireplace in extremely cold weather. Fireplaces can rob you home of heat provided by your heating system, which increases your comfort and increases your energy costs.
  • Keep fireplace dampers closed when you’re not using the fireplace. A chimney with the damper open can draw off as much as 25 percent of the heated air in your house. Safely block off unused fireplaces when possible.
  • Keep cold outside and your heat inside by caulking and weather stripping around windows and doors. If you see cracks, light, or feel a draft, make repairs where needed.
  • Open curtains on south-facing windows to let in natural sunlight to warm your home. Keep window coverings closed in rooms that receive no direct sunlight to insulate from cold window drafts. At night, close window coverings to retain heat.
  • Make your water heater more efficient by removing sediment and mineral deposits that build up inside. Just draw a pail or two of water from the drain at the bottom of your water heater once every three months.
  • Set the temperature on your hot water tank to 120 degrees. Extremely hot water can lead to higher energy costs and even scalding accidents. Generally, residential water heaters should not exceed 140 degrees or be below 120 degrees.
  • Check the condition of your hot tub cover and for escaping steam. Insulation blankets help keep the tub toasty for your use.
  • Make sure insulation in your crawl space has not dropped from the floor above, that duct work in unconditioned parts of your home is sealed and insulated, and that water pipes are insulated and freezer protected.

Learn more about winter energy savings tips and about our energy efficiency rebates available in your state.

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