I got the Power

And boy am I ever paying for it.

One of the fun bits about living in a new construction project (especially one that’s built during a construction boom and labour shortage) is the delays in setting up and billing for basic services. Like electricity.

We moved in January 5th. We had power the whole time, but they didn’t get around to installing individual meters until July 18th. They were tracking power usage from that point, but didn’t manage to bill for it until the December 4th billing cycle. Our bill for that period was pretty average – about $40/month for late summer and fall. It is a little more than I’m used to paying (past bills for similar-sized places were around $30-$35/month), but not drastically.

Unfortunately, the brilliant stars at BC Hydro, despite our repeated calls to ensure our account was set-up/transferred properly, were still unable to get our address correct until two days ago. They’d been sending the December bill to our old address. The bills for our new place were going to the place with the account we had already closed where someone else is already paying for power, despite having us on record as living at the new address, which is also the place the power they’re billing for is being consumed.

The vast ineptitude of crown corporations never fails to impress me.

Anyhow, they finally sorted out the billing thing (after charging us $2.88 in “late payments” for their mistake) and our bill came in the mail yesterday. Except now it includes the December 4 – February 4th billing period.

I opened it and nearly shat myself.

We’d managed to use nearly as much power in the last two months as the entire 4.5 months before that.

I blame winter, and the fact that we’re now in a corner, instead of middle apartment, with a LOT more windows.

But it’s really just a huge FUCK YOU from the world that I didn’t really feel we needed at the moment.

We live in a brand new place, with (allegedly) highly-rated windows and insulation and brand new Energy Star appliances. We’ve taken the extra steps of installing programmable thermostats, and replacing as many lightbulbs as we can with compact fluorescent bulbs (unfortunately some form-factors are hard to get our hands on, like dimmable chandelier torchiere lights). We used LED Christmas lights.

We aren’t intensely vigilant about power consumption – we haven’t tried to rig up any sort of solar or wind generators, but we are absolutely conscious about it.

We don’t leave every light in the house burning day and night. We turn off lights in rooms we’re not in. We don’t leave idle appliances plugged in. We don’t turn the heat up to sauna-like temperatures.

This is one of those “emergency” expenses that we’re going to have to pull out of our savings account to meet. I just don’t have an extra $400 around to hand over to the power company. And it absolutely chaps my ass. I’m now in a serious funk about not being able to make it on our plan. There were already the taxes in January, which I was hoping would be the end of it. We’re now only a few days into February and already have the power bill fiasco. What kind of assholery will the universe deliver in March?

I’m also sortof at a loss about what we can do to reduce our next hydro bill. Other than learning to love candles and sweaters more than I already do – what else is there?

Be Sociable, Share!

16 thoughts on “I got the Power

  1. Jim

    Are you on electric baseboard heat at this new place? Is this different from the heating source at your previous location?

    Electric resistance heating can really add up quick, totally blowing away any minor savings you may see from CFL bulbs, energy star appliances, etc.

  2. peechie Post author

    We are on baseboard heating. It’s awful. But it is what we’ve always had, and they’re all on programmable thermostats.

    Unfortunately, it’s only been in the past year or so of construction in our area that we’ve seen more widespread use of geothermal or radiant heating in non-single-family units.

    If we weren’t in a condo and had any options to change the heat (we don’t have gas in our building either) I’d tear it out for something else in a heartbeat.

  3. Chris

    Are you cooking more in the winter months? Ovens suck a crazy amount of power. Washers/dryers are bad too.

    Our power bill was twice as much as it was in the previous period, so you’re not alone in the Hydro shock.

  4. peechie Post author

    I wouldn’t say we cook more in general, but we do use our oven more in the winter. Also, we had a bit of an episode with our chest freezer that I’m recalling, which I’m sure also didn’t help at all.

  5. Jim

    If there is no gas to your new building, how is your water heated? Electric? Is it a shared expense between all strata units, or are you paying for your own hot water?

    Sounds like you’re doing all the right things to conserve energy. You may just be seeing the results of an exceptionally cold Dec/Jan and a corner unit full of windows.

  6. peechie Post author

    Ok, I should be more clear – yes there is gas in the building, just no access for it to individual units at this time. I believe the water’s heated that way, and hot water is a shared expense between all units.

    And yah, I think the unusual cold-snap this winter (the majority of which happened to come on when we were at home, with the heat on every day, for 2 straight weeks) is a huge contributor. Doesn’t make it suck any less though.

  7. econoholic

    You *really* need to make sure you isolate this event from all the progress that you’ve made financially previous to this. Yes, this sucks, but it is its own thing, and you should still take mental credit for what your family has accomplished in reigning in expenses. If you don’t you’ll slide back because you’ll just feel that nothing you do matters, which is a completely inaccurate sentiment.

    The universe does send things at us, but we need to deal with them each as their own things.

    As far as dealing with it goes, your energy bill is pretty much determined by heat usage, not by forgetting to turn off lights. I’ve been in some apartments where the air leaks through like mad around windows. I literally duct taped them (in ways that kept the tape hidden). Other than that, you can buy warmer blankets, or even an electric one. As trite as it is, you can also dress warmer at home. I wear flannel pajamas much of the time I’m at home. You could also get away with a fleece jacket at home without feeling like you are outside.

    Don’t expect this stuff though to cut your heating bill in half. A 10% reduction would be a stunning success. Most of your bill depends on the physical construction of what you live in. You aren’t going to change that for the better without big time or cash investments.

  8. Jennerosity

    I can totally hear you on the hydro shock. We had a similar shock when we got our first winter hydro bill in our townhouse.

    We have a few stumbling blocks when it comes to heating our place. First is the 9 foot ceilings, which let a lot of heat just float away. Second is the fact that we have a garage on the bottom floor, so our main living area stays quite cool. Plus, because our unit is narrow, they built the main level to be as visually open as possible, which means the heat all escapes to the very top of the house. I’d really like to look into replacing our thermostats with programmable ones, just because we sometimes forget to turn every heater down before we leave the house for the day.

    Gas is not an option in our area at all (the fireplace we opted out of was even an electric one). We do a few things to help keep the heating costs down. We keep doors closed so that heat stays in. We also have gotten used to wearing sweaters, wool socks, and wrapping ourselves in blankets.

    Don’t let this get you down with your financial planning though. The first year in a new place always has some surprises! If you continue on with your current plan, then when things like this come up in the future, you’ll be able to deal with them with a lot less stress!

  9. knemesis

    Just remember that while life has unexpected expenses that it goes the other way too. Sometimes we run into a little unexpected money. Stick to your budget, there will be emergencies, but there will also be times when you suddenly realise something has happened that you don’t have to put money out for XYZ. It’s a delicate balance. Don’t take the events of one (or two, as is the case!) month so much to heart. It’s all about the end result anyway šŸ˜‰

  10. chilihead

    My hydro went up this winter but not as much as yours! My building when it was new was found to be missing insulation in the ceiling in certain units! the poor lady next to me had none! and she had a 4 month old baby! so new construction isnt always the perfect. you can up your windows even more buy adding a film that blocks out heat and cold.(I think I got it at canadian tire) elctrical sockets on your outer wall also leak cold air in there is kits to fix that problem as well.

  11. Derek K. Miller

    And also be glad you don’t have a house. I’ve always lived in one or another (one with oil heat — yecch!), and have never, ever, not once, seen a heating or electric bill even close to as low as $40 a month, summer or not. We put in double-glazed windows a few years ago, and that has saved us a lot of money in heating, but an extra $400 over a few months sometimes feels like a rounding error around here.

    So yeah, it sucks, but part of getting your budget under control is getting used to the sudden unexpected expenses, and being glad that some don’t turn out too bad. For instance, our last real surprise (a leak in the bathroom ceiling in November) was one I was able to fix with a $25 tub of gucky tar and some huffing and puffing on the roof. I had feared hundreds or thousands of dollars of repairs if things were bad. And it happened before the snow came! Yay!

  12. gillian

    You both still have jobs. You’re trying to pay off your debt by, what, $2K per month? Consider yourselves lucky that all this means is that it’ll take a few weeks longer to pay things off than originally intended.

    Most people are hoarding money, especially those like me who can’t find full-time work. If you can afford to pay off your debt like this, and you’re keeping your condo, you’re doing a lot better than most.

  13. Brook

    Ummmm… sorry?

    The unfortunate part is that you’re also subject to step rate now. Any consumption higher than 1287 kWh in a 58 day period is charged at 7.21 cents per kWh, as opposed to 5.98 cents.

    So in addition to your vastly higher consumption the utility charges you an additional 20 percent for wanting to be warm. This is in the name of “conservation”. Unfortunately, there is no allowance for those customers that have electric heat. So, if you use gas heat but leave all of your lights on all of the time, you won’t be penalized to the same degree as someone such as yourself.

    I think living on the top floor corner contributes to your problems. Only three of your six sides (if you think of a condo as a cube) have neighbours, so a lot more heat escapes on the remaining sides, no matter how effective the insulation is.

  14. peechie Post author

    Thanks everyone, for the great comments, condolences and “chin-up” messages!

    An unexpected bill is a downer, no matter what your financial situation, so I really appreciate the understanding and reminders that it is an isolated incident.

    Silver lining is that it’s nice when these things happen to realize we’ve already taken the steps to build up some savings, so that the unexpected bill didn’t actually affect the rest of our plan. I suppose that’s what “emergency savings” are for. And now we’re being a lot more conscious about how much electricty we’re using.

    And Brook – I hereby absolve you from absorbing any of my latent hydro rage. However, if you ever move up the ranks to Hydro policy-maker, watch out! šŸ˜‰

    It’s also very disheartening to realize what this stepped rate system means. It’s fine and well for Hydro to want people to use less electrical energy, but what they’re really doing is encouraging people to say “Wow, this clean energy shit’s expensive, let’s go burn some stuff!” Eech.

  15. Christina

    Opting to receive e-bills vs. snail-mailed bills might have ensured this didn’t happen. I know it doesn’t help your current situation but it’s a thought for next time or for someone else who might be reading this.

    Winter consumption is always high and yes, we did have some nasty cold days this year. My bill this cycle also reflected my higher than usual consumption.

    Like someone else who commented earlier, my only other recommendation would be to close doors to relatively unused rooms. Only heat the space you are principally occupying.

    If you set up an account on the BC Hydro website you’ll be able to track your energy consumption from bill to bill, year to year. Seeing your actual consumption over consecutive years is pretty interesting.

  16. Jac

    Hi there… I stumbled across your blog ages ago (I think through kitsilano.com re: car coop) and have been reading on occasion ever since. One thing that I noticed with my hydro bill is that it fluctuates month to month because they don’t always take your meter reading every month and therefore ‘interpret’ the data. It may be that because you have limited data it’s been skewed by that so I’d check how it relates to your upcoming bills. You can also get in touch with hydro and ask them to send you their schedule for your meter reading dates and on the ‘off’ months you can enter the data online on your own to balance this out. Not sure you’ll see any difference but it might help some – at least with the consistency of your consumption month to month.

Comments are closed.