Deconstructing Energy Bills

How much electricity do you use? Gas or oil for heat? Hot water? Other?

I recently did some math with my energy bills and came to understand something important: all my efforts to save electricity and hot water (while noble, and effective) pale in comparison to the energy we use to heat our home. But this fact didn’t exactly leap from my utility bills — I really had to work to understand why.

It’s hard to compare what you use for heating to what you use for hot water, or either of those to electricity (or gasoline, airplane fuel, or food energy). Are you concerned about reducing your energy use to help address energy independence? Or, perhaps you want to reduce your carbon footprint? Do you just want to reduce your bills? Accomplishing any of these goals in any measurable way is nearly impossible without some pretty serious math, and heck, even some understanding of physics.

The problem is, your utility bills smash everything together. They take energy from an entire month and then sum it up in dollars. With “even billing,” my gas usage is spread into twelve equal monthly payments. This doesn’t help me understand how much heat I “should have used” — was it colder than usual in February? Did I take long showers? Overheat the house?

Some information is on the bill. But I had to do some non-trivial math, and I had to understand a good deal of energy physics to be able to understand how it all added up. And in some cases, the bill is still too general: I get one gas bill that combines heat, hot water, and cooking. I built a special data collector to understand where my gas was going. Look, building a data collector device is just not … normal 🙂

(Before you laugh, this kind of information would be available if our houses all were part of a truly smart power grid).

I did the math, and I did the mechanical engineering. And I learned a few important things. During February, I found:

  • I used 11x more energy heating the house and water with gas, than electricity
  • My electricity is 4x more expensive than gas
  • I used 14x more for heat than for hot water

Um, wow!

I have spent a lot of effort saving electricity and hot water in our house. While I have done some work to conserve, heating is far and above our biggest energy user – and cost. Before I did this math, I simply didn’t know.

WattzOn has it right to help us all use a single comparable unit, the Watt (a measure of power) so that we can understand our overall impact. Our energy bills should use Watt-hours (a measure of energy) to help us get a handle on how much we actually consume so that we can begin to make informed choices about our energy use.

[Note from WattzOn engineering: to make such energy bill analysis easier and more accurate, we will be adding automatic online utility bill integration very (very) shortly!  Stay tuned!]


WattzOn Labs is always innovating ways to engage people to save water and energy. It showcases the WattzOn products under the WattzOn Labs private-label. We don’t market these products, but use this small-scale direct-to-consumer experience to constantly evolve and learn. Then we apply the findings to the rich, private-label products used by all our customers at WattzOn.