This past winter I had a problem with the heat. The cost doubled. I went from paying just under $100 per month to over $200 from one winter to the next. I couldn’t figure out the problem until I investigated further. Here are a few things you can look for, and three of these I found myself, which can help determine why your heating bill is now higher than your housing.
Check the Usage
This is something I found out can be easily done. Take a trip down to the local office of the utility which provides your heat. This could be the electric company, gas company, oil provider or whomever. If there is no local office, there should still be a way for you to do this via mail. Go to the company and ask for the printout of the past two years usage. The company won’t usually look for this on their own, they like the extra money. After you get the printout, look it over carefully. Look for spikes in usage which seem out of line with the rest of the numbers. In my case the months of December 2008 through April 2009 showed a doubling of usage and therefore a 100% price increase. If this happens, move on to step two.
Check the Insulation
Check the window and door frames. These are the most costly areas when it comes to drafts and escaping heat. Put your hand up against where the window or door meets the frame. If at any point you feel even a slight vent of air, you have insulation problems. As a quick fix take a plastic garbage bag and a butter knife; work the bag in between the frame and the window or door with the knife edge. This will immediately stop the draft. If you have an attic, get up there and look for insulation. If there is none, use layers of newspaper (about the page count of a major daily) between the beams for a temporary fix. You only need to do the floors for the heat to stay down in the house.
Check the Heater
Another consideration is the age of the heater. If the heater is old, it is inefficient and probably not working properly. Also check for drafts coming out from behind the heater. This was another problem I had. I found that stuffing gaps and spaces behind and under heaters with hand towels and wash clothes does wonders.
Check the Building
If you still get cold drafts in the house, check the building next. Using my house as an example, I found that the chimney was built out of stone, and the cement between the stone had broken out in a few places. This caused a draft, and a bird or two, to work its way into my house. Another sign of building problems is the roof edge. Damaged shingles and settling can cause small gaps to form and allow air in. Roof rot and ice buildup can cause these problems over time also.
Check for Second Users
This is a problem I had once in a multi-unit building. We each paid for our own heat so we each had our own bills. We also each had our own heating units. A neighbor had problems paying their bills so the gas company shut them off. A month later my bill spiked. My landlord and I eventually found that the neighbor had managed to disconnect the lines from their heater and splice them into mine. He used O-rings to hold it all together. I still don’t know how he got to the heaters. If you live in a multi-unit building ask to see where the heating units are. Also check for portable heaters wired into your lines via connected outlets. Strange but true.
And that is the basic five things to check if your heating bill suddenly spikes for no reason. Usually the first three will be the reason for the jump. If you get to the fourth reason, call your landlord. If you are at the fifth reason, call the police. You can legally go after someone for this via the utility company (theft of services).