Floored

January 28th, 2010 by Editor B

I recently got our energy bill for the period covering the recent cold snap: $500! Granted that was some record-setting weather but still… $500! Ouch. I’m still in shock. Or perhaps I should say I’m floored.

Some of my friends assumed this high bill was indicative of high energy costs here in Southeast Louisiana. I don’t know how we compare to other parts of the country, but I don’t think that’s the culprit.

Rather, it’s the amount of electricity used. We clocked almost 6,000 killowatt hours over the course of that month. That’s 174.9 kwh per day. I suppose it’s possible Entergy misread the meter, but let’s assume it’s accurate for now.

How could we possibly have consumed that much energy?

I suspect the problem is lack of insulation. We thought we were in pretty good shape because the house was insulated as part of the renovation. As the seller informed us:

The exterior walls of the house have R13 fiberglass insulation throughout the house. The second floor attic has R30. The lower attic (over the kitchen area) has R19, which was the heaviest insulation that would fit between the joists over that area….

All of the [vinyl] replacement windows (which includes most of the windows in the house) are double-glazed Low E, and Energy Star rated.

However, there’s no insulation underneath the house. Since it’s raised a few feet off the ground, that means plenty of air gets underneath there and when it’s cold you can definitely feel it.

It seems that insulating beneath raised houses in New Orleans presents special challenges. I found an interesting article about this, which outlines the four basic choices: fiberglass, rigid foam board, open-cell spray foam or closed-cell spray foam.

But the more I read the more daunting it looks. I was heartened to learn that a scientific study has been mounted right here in New Orleans, using the different methods to insulate underneath twelve houses in Musicians’ Village for twelve months. But after scouring the web I couldn’t find the final report, so I contacted the principal investigator (Sam Glass at the USDA FPS) and am waiting for a reply.

It’s all further complicated by the fact that our floor could use some repairs in a few places. I assume it would be best to address these repairs before adding insulation.

I don’t think this is something I’m going to tackle myself. There are just too many variables, too many things to screw up, and more work than I have time to accomplish, what with being a public school widower and a daddy.

Oh, the joys of home ownership.

12 Responses to “Floored”

  1. Adrastos Says:

    I’d be very cautious about doing anything with the raised area. The wrong sort of stuff can lead to termite issues. It rarely gets that cold so we just live with the cold floors. The bills will huge in any event when it’s a hard freeze.

    Cold comfort is all I got.

  2. Garvey Says:

    B, how are you heating your house? Space heaters, for example, are highly inefficient.

  3. Editor B Says:

    We have central air. An electric furnace. But I don’t think it’s so simple as saying space heaters are inefficient. Space heaters heat only a small space. That could be a virtue over heating an entire house. Same with window units vs. central cooling. I’ve heard people swear central is more efficient but I’ve also heard the opposite argument. I’m guessing it’s complicated.

  4. Garvey Says:

    Depends on the space heater, of course, but many are 1500 watts of either all on or all off. That’s like having a hair dryer running all the time. In each room.

    Your non-insulated floor is certainly a culprit, but your electric furnace prolly isn’t doing you any favors, either.

  5. Editor B Says:

    Funny thing is I thought it was a gas furnace. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did.

  6. Editor B Says:

    Ah wait — the lower floor has the electric furnace. The upper floor has a gas furnace. That was the source of my confusion.

  7. Elis Says:

    My well insulated 1800 sq. ft. house is heated with natural gas, which (in my area) costs a third of electrical heating and I pay roughly $180 a month when temperature outside is consistently around freezing. Had it been heated with electricity only, it would cost $500 (about 10 cents per KWh here.) Although a lot of variables are at play, I hope this provides a point of reference. It’s unlikely your bill is wrong :(

  8. Lee Says:

    You’ve been to my house. Seen what I’ve done. Would you like a spreadsheet of my energy usage? My home is completely electric and I’ve never consumed that much electricity! It is odd that your upper floor has a gas furnace while the lower floor has electric. I’m assuming you have two air handlers then? I’m sure the floors are your culprit. One thing is missing though, you’re only looking at this from one side of the window. If this is the way it is in the winter, which is mild in NOLA – what about the summer? Things might be worse! I would still go with the rigid foam board with spray foam in the cracks! You definitely need a solution – as to what I can only offer my 2 cents!

  9. Elis Says:

    Lee above made me think of something. If you two are served by the same electric utility, you might want to compare the cost of winter electricity between you for the second and third tier of KWh.

    Many utilities have something called riders, which adjust the cost of utility up or down depending on many factors. Some riders are adjusted down for homeowners who use the utility for necessary purposes, such as winter heating. Which riders are used to bill you are decided when the first owner or builder of the house applied for utility service, so if the house had gas furnace back then and you switched to electric, you might want to call your electric utility to see if they can reclassify you, this can be true for water heaters also. If your utility does use this form of billing, anything above the first tier might have slight reduction, a fraction of 1 cent per KWh, but for 6000 KWh, this could be $50 difference.

  10. GentillyGirl Says:

    We should talk- our geo-thermal system did fine and I think our power bill is coming in at $300+ (and that’s with the cottage).

    Our HVAC came out to be $3,000 more than the standard unit, but have already saved that much in the last year.

    Solar is our next step and the payments are less than $200/month. That is for 20KWH. Why pay Entergy?

  11. amy Says:

    Bart, my Daddy taught me to put visquine or foam panels around my house between the pillars to block the cold air from passing under the house. It is surprisingly effective.

  12. b.rox » Blog Archive » Energy Usage Says:

    [...] mentioned last January that we got stuck with a big ($500) utility bill after a cold snap. There was no question in my [...]

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