Stories & Features

Online calculator: Tool shows how your bills add up

Image of electric baseboard information in electricity cost calculator
MyHydro's online cost calculator allows you to find out electricity use and costs – daily, weekly, monthly or annually – for various devices in the home. This screenshot shows the monthly cost of one baseboard electric heater used 24 hours a day.

Everything counts, from your heaters to your laptop

Posted by Lyndsey Stark
bchydro.com

It's no secret Vancouverites like to complain about the weather, and the recent cold snap gave us plenty to chat about this year. Arctic air brought biting cold to British Columbia causing the city's golf courses to close their doors for the longest stretch in the last 20 years, and the province set a new record for the highest power consumption since 2006.

When my first winter bill arrived, my total usage left me wondering whether I really used that much power in one month. So I did the first thing any twentysomething would do: I called my mom. And that's how I learned that my parents' 2,500-square foot home had a lower electricity bill than my downtown apartment.

I hopped onto the BC Hydro website to find out why.

Calculator shows electricity costs, item by item

I started with the cost calculator tool on bchydro.com. All I had to do was choose the item I wanted to investigate from the pre-populated list and select how often I use that item. The calculator then produced the kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity used and the associated cost.

I took a quick inventory of my apartment and made a list of all my electronics and appliances. It was easier to think in different time frames for each item (days vs weeks), so I noted these down and used them to calculate hours per month so I could also use this as a comparison point.

I also made use of the "other" option, to calculate how much power my foyer's compact fluorescent bulb uses. I knew it was a 60-watt equivalent of an incandescent bulb, so I looked up how much power is used with an online chart, and then plugged this into the calculator's "wattage" field.

Item Duration Duration (hours/month) Electricity (kWh) Cost ($)
Baseboard heaters 24 hr/day 720 333.49 33.32
Refrigerator 24 hr/day 720 47.7 3.48
Washer 45 mins/week 3 23.08 2.31
Dryer 1 hr/week 4 27.41 2.74
Dishwasher 3 hr/week 12 34.12 3.41
Halogen living room lights (track lighting) 8 hr/day 240 36.52 3.64
CFL foyer light 4 hr/day 120 1.83 0.18
Bathroom halogen light 2 hr/day 60 9.13 0.91
Oven 3 hr/week 12 21.47 2.15
TV 3 hr/day 90 10.96 1.09
Laptop 3 hr/day 90 2.74 0.27
Total winter bill 548.45 53.50
Total summer bill 214.96 20.18

Baseboards turn up the heat on my winter bill

I referred to my most recent bill from November 30 to December 30 (downtown Vancouver customers are billed every 30 days compared to the much more common 60-day billing period) and saw these rough calculations were almost bang on.

A couple factors influenced why the calculations were slightly off:

  • The duration of use was based on my best estimate.
  • How often and how long I used my devices varies.
  • Tax, levy and the rate rider is not included in the calculations.
  • The rate used in the online calculator is a blend of step 1 and the higher step 2 rate. I don't always cross over to step 2, especially in the summer months.

Feeling a little more convinced the BC Hydro billing guys knew what they were doing, I took a closer look at how I was using power every month.

I knew heating can use a lot of electricity, but mine was accounting for over 60% of my bill. I began to wonder if this was unusual and if it's possible my body temperature was dangerously low. A quick search on the BC Hydro website showed me that heating can easily account for half of your total usage and bills often go up 66% in the winter months.

I logged into MyHydro account and looked back on some of my bills from the summer months. My August – September bill was $17.47, which means my winter bills were in fact up 66%. A quick look at my findings from the cost calculator showed me that the usage I calculated without heating is also in line with my summer bills.

It's hard to believe those two little baseboard heaters can account for so much of my electricity bill. Thinking back to the conversation with my mom, I realized this was also the likely culprit for the difference in our electricity bills. Like many detached homes in the Lower Mainland, my parents use central gas heating rather than electric baseboards found in many apartments and townhomes.

Image of Nono the cat
It turns out that the cat, and not just the writer, can live comfortably with the heat turned down overnight and during the workday. But it's nice to offer a blanket or scarf for added comfort.

The battle of the baseboards begins

Determined not to let the baseboards cut into my monthly shopping budget, I decided to be more vigilant with the thermostat and find opportunities to turn it down.

I found I preferred 21 degrees while I was watching T.V. Making sure I was only heating the area I was in by closing the door to the bedroom and the den meant those areas wouldn't need to be heated and my baseboards wouldn't have to work as hard. I also played around with the thermostat before going to bed and determined I was comfortable around 16 degrees.

I also turned it down to between 10 – 16 degrees when I was out of the house, depending on the outside temperature that day. This also seemed to be acceptable to the cat, but we explored other ways to keep him warm when I was out and about.

I then turned my attention to smaller matters, as they add up, too. With heat on my mind, I turned off the oven 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time and kept the door shut to maintain the inside temperature without using any electricity. I also made sure to leave the door open after the food was done cooking and re-used this heat to warm the kitchen space so my baseboard didn't have to do the work.

Finally, I pulled out my indoor drying rack and hung up wet items indoors instead of using my dryer, which is better for my clothes and my wallet.

Do what you can, we're here to help

It seems all my hard work is paying off, since the MyHydro tracking tool is projecting my electricity costs to be around $42 at the end of this month.

You may want to give these tools a shot, too. Make a list of items that use electricity your home, then investigate how you use power. That's half the battle in learning how to cut down, and all of small actions add up to savings.

If you receive a higher than expected electricity bill this winter, we can help. Our special Winter Payment Plan makes it easier to manage your bills by allowing you to spread payments for a winter bill over a 6-month period. Contact our customer team to make arrangements for your account.

Give our customer team a call at 1 800 BCHYDRO (1 800 224 9376):

Monday to Friday: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Lyndsey Stark is an editor-writer with BC Hydro's digital communications team.

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