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Breaking Down the Typical Utility Bill

A typical household in the U.S. spends more than $2,000 a year on energy bills.  Understanding what goes into those monthly charges could put you in a better position to reduce them.

As you might expect, the biggest share of a household’s energy use generally goes to heating and cooling.  The average annual bill for a home equipped with a gas furnace and central air is about $875, which is roughly 43% of a year’s total energy spending.  Altogether, your appliances could be costing you $250 or more per year to operate.  If your refrigerator is old (or you have more than one), that’s probably the biggest culprit among them, but clothes dryers are notoriously inefficient.  Water heaters, by themselves, tend to be the third largest energy user in the home, behind heating and cooling.  And lighting usually accounts for about 12.5% of the overall bill.

Typical House Energy Use

But the fastest growing piece of the pie are all those miscellaneous electronics.  The Consumer Technology Association estimates that the average household owns 24 home electronics products.  This typically includes at least three televisions, a cable box, a game console, a DVR, three home audio devices and lots of chargers.  Sales of sound bars and wireless speakers grew by more than 50% in 2014.  As of 2013, the estimated number of network devices installed in U.S. homes was 207 million.  In total, these other products account for about 18% of the energy used by your household.

Saving energy is important for your pocket book, but also for the environment.  Because so much of our electricity comes from the burning of fossil fuels, it means everything we plug in and turn on is contributing to increased emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.  In fact, the energy used in the average house causes about twice the carbon pollution as the average car.  Here are a few things you might consider to lower your energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint:

  • Look for the ENERGY STAR label on products in all these categories.  A home outfitted with ENERGY STAR certified products will use about 35% less energy and save more than 8,000 pounds for greenhouse gas emissions per year.
  • Replace old equipment.  If your air conditioner or furnace or water heater is more than ten years old, it is using a lot more energy than it needs to.  A new one will save you money in the long run and help you avoid an inconvenient break down.
  • Set your thermostat to scale back your heating or cooling when you are asleep or away.  Over the course of a year, this alone could save you $180.
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs.  LED bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR are independently certified to save energy and perform as expected.
  • Plug electronics into a smart power strip, which allows you to designate “always on” for devices that need to maintain network connection, while cutting power from devices like speakers and TVs when they are not in use.  
Photo - Ann Bailey

About the Author: Ann Bailey is the Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Labeling Branch.