Halloween Murder Mystery: What appliance is killing your utility bill?

This Halloween, we’re helping you find the spookiest culprits that drain money from your wallet every month, the appliances and other devices that cost you more than they should. Here’s our lineup of the villains to watch out for. See if any of them are in your home and bleeding your budget dry.

Line Up the Usual Suspects!
Major appliances that warm and cool your home, heat the water and launder your clothes account for more than 60% of a typical residential electricity bill. Each of these suspects can have a big impact on your budget if they’re not working efficiently.

Water heaters—Water heating accounts for nearly a fifth of the average home’s energy consumption. You could be paying more if your water heater is old, inefficient or poorly maintained. (Check out these real life stories about inefficient water heaters and our tips for keeping costs under control.) You can use the Sense app to track an electric water heater and know how much energy it’s using and the cost. For water heaters that rely on another fuel source, compare the summer and winter bills to figure out how much your hot water is costing. Water heaters last about 8-10 years, so if yours is near the end of its life, do your homework to decide which replacement will save you more money in the long run. Be sure to consider a new heat-pump water heater, which is 2-3x more efficient than traditional water heaters.

HVAC systems—More than half of the energy used in the home is for heating and cooling, so any steps you take to cut waste will pay off in the long run. Sense recently analyzed nearly 15,000 homes and found that inefficient cooling was an energy vampire in many homes. A fifth of the homes we studied were paying an extra $882 annually, on average, to keep their homes cool—almost four times as much as the most efficient similar homes. How can you tell if yours is one of those inefficient homes? A project in Sense Labs can tell you how your home’s air conditioning usage compares to other similar homes. The Sense app also shows how your entire home compares to other homes. If you’re consistently higher than similar homes, you can save money by cutting out the waste. Use Sense with Dedicated Circuit Monitoring to track your HVAC system and take steps to tighten your home’s envelope and fine tune your air conditioning.

Clothes dryers—Laundry is an inevitable fact of life, but there are ways to keep the costs under control. Although clothes dryers account for less energy than HVAC systems or water heaters, inefficient or outdated clothes dryers can consume a lot of energy. Make sure you spin wet laundry thoroughly before putting it into the dryer, maintain the dryer regularly (check out these DIY appliance hacks from home expert Eric G), and look for the ENERGY STAR rating when buying a new dryer

Replace Scarily Outdated Appliances
In New England, Sense’s home base, frugality is a virtue. But even frugal New Englanders have to give up on old appliances, because in the long run, they waste more money than they save.

Some of the culprits? Start with the old refrigerator that’s still running in your basement or garage. A new ENERGY STAR model uses less than half the electricity of a 25-year old refrigerator. And a chest freezer is far more efficient than the freezer in an old fridge.

The plasma television you’re keeping in a spare bedroom can use twice as much energy as a current model. Old PCs can be energy hogs, too. Laptops use up to 80% less energy than desktop computers. A 2006 desktop computer might use about 200W while a new laptop will use closer to 60 watts (while charging).

Most consumer electronics today are very efficient, but having lots of them in your house adds up because they sip electricity after you’ve turned them off. In fact, devices that stay on continually account for 23% of the average home’s electricity usage. Put all your vampires on smart energy strips to turn them off entirely when not in use.

Above: The Power Meter device view in Sense shows a laptop charging. Sense integrates with smart plugs to track and control consumer electronics.

The Sneaky Culprits 
How we love our luxuries. A pool, hot tub or sauna makes life so much more pleasant, especially now that we’re spending lots of time at home. But they can be sneaky energy thieves, so don’t let them wreak havoc on your budget.

Because pool pumps run for hours, they can notch up your summer energy bills significantly. Making sure your pump is the right size for your pool can save you 40% in energy costs, and variable speed pumps can reduce costs even further, by 50-75%.

Hot tubs can be sneaky, too. Sense analyzed home energy data and found that homes with hot tubs used 633 more watts than the average home, with electricity bills that were $600–$1,200 higher annually. To cut that expense back, don’t leave your hot tub warming all the time. When you buy a hot tub, look for well-insulated, energy-efficient models. Consider size, also, since smaller models take less energy to heat.

Electric space heaters can be deceivingly small and they may not seem like potential energy hogs, but any device that heats up is using a lot of energy. Space heaters can use about 1500 watts to blast out hot air—check the label to find out what yours is consuming. Central heating is generally more efficient than using multiple space heaters to keep your entire house warm, but it depends on your heating system, utility rates, home insulation and climate. To stay warm while you’re sitting in a drafty spot, consider substituting a warm sweater, cozy throw or lap blanket with a built-in warmer, which uses about 100-150 watts—a fraction of the energy and cost of a heater.

You can save on your electricity bill every month by following the clues, identifying the suspects and getting rid of the energy villains in your home. Happy Halloween!