Consumers are seeing higher residential electric bills during the pandemic

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With the whole family at home, experts say electricity use has surged

Consumers have saved money at the gas pump over the last few months by driving less. But staying home all day and all night means using more electricity, and if you’ve noticed your utility bill is higher than normal, you aren’t alone.

Electric utilities report demand for residential electricity is much higher than at this time last year, but they have been able to manage it because offices and many businesses are closed, so it all balances out.

It hasn’t been so easy for consumers, who have seen their monthly bills soar, especially in the Sunbelt where summer temperatures have resulted in an increased demand for air conditioning. With kids back in online school and Mom and Dad still working from home, computers are also running around the clock, using electricity for much of the day.

"People are sleeping in, later into the day," Tufts University economist Steve Cicala told NPR. "Then it's like a smooth increase over the course of the day because they're at home. And I think people are staying up a little bit later, too."

Energy-saving tips

Dominion Energy has offered some advice for consumers who are trying to keep their electric bills in the more normal range. It suggests keeping air conditioner settings as high as possible during the day and then around 78 degrees at night.

Another way to reduce costs is to keep the air conditioner running efficiently. Regular service helps, but there are a few simple things consumers can do themselves. Checking air filters each month and changing them when they get dirty can help increase efficiency. It also helps to leave interior doors and vents open to allow adequate air flow through your HVAC system. Also be careful not to block returns to keep systems running smoothly.

Every once in a while, check your ductwork for leaks or tears. Repair fallen or crushed ductwork and use mastic -- a plaster-like substance found at your local hardware store -- to seal leaks.

Upgrade insulation

Consider upgrading attic insulation to a minimum of R-38, which is about 12 to14 inches. It’s an investment, but it can help save on heating and cooling costs for years to come.

If you have an electric water heater, check the temperature setting. It should be around 120 degrees for maximum efficiency. Finally, replace standard incandescent light bulbs with Energy Star certified LEDs, which are 90 percent more efficient.

By themselves, these steps might not make a noticeable difference. But together, you might be surprised at how low next month’s electric bill is.

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