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Dear PoPville – What is a reasonable estimate for how much Utilities should cost?

by Prince Of Petworth May 5, 2011 at 2:30 pm 51 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user dcjabbour

“Dear PoP,

This rental option post, the ridiculously low utilities cost and the comment about it actually being high got me thinking about our utilities.

Like the post, we too live in a five person group house but the utilities are nearly triple what they pay – we spend an average of $120 per month per person! This is my first “pay the utilities” living situation in DC so I have no clue how to compare it but I always thought a hundred per person was the average.

We have Comcast for TV and internet, an electric hot water heater (which is the main culprit, I fear), gas heating and stoves, central AC (still not on), in house washer/dryer and the usual lights, computers and whatnot. I feel like we are pretty conscientious with our energy use but maybe I am wrong. And it isn’t even summer yet so we don’t have the AC going!

So I guess my question to the readership is (1) does this utility breakdown per person ($120 for 5 people) sound ridiculous?, (2) if so, how much do they pay in utilities? and (3) what has worked for them to cut down on the bills?

Short of the five of us showering together once a day with the lights off I’m stumped. Do we need to get a home energy audit or whatever people keep trying to sell us?”

  • houseintherear

    Write down the meter reading on your Pepco meter every month and compare it to your bill. Be aware of what they are charging you and why. If none of that works, hire a home inspector to do a quick and dirty inspection, which won’t be expensive, so see what, if anything, is leaking/whatever.

    I have a 1100 sq ft house with very high ceilings, and pay $150/mo average for electricity and $30/mo for water, if that is a good comparison. There are two people living in the house, and two pets that require heat/ac during the day.

    • petvet

      I have similar situation (sq ft, high ceilings, pets) and pay the same as you. Good to know!

  • gonzo

    break it down by utility. pepco is always the highest for me, but it’s only $70ish a month now for my 2br house.

  • J

    120 per month is not unheard of. I live in a group house of 5 and we pay on average about 150 (includes dope TV channels). I used to live in a group house of 4 and utilities were generally between 100-180 depending on the time of year.

    • Anonymous

      When I first read J’s post, I thought it said that he/she pays $150 including dope AND tv channels…and my next thought was, huh, thats a pretty good deal ;)

  • j

    Yeah, I’d say this is average. I live in a large (high-ceiling-ed) house with three people and internet/basic cable and we pay between $90-$140 depending on the season. If you are really looking to cut down I’d suggest cutting out the cable tv.

    • textdoc

      What J said about the cable TV… not sure how elaborate a package you have, but downsizing to a more basic one (or getting rid of it completely) might save you a lot.

      Comcast does its best to hide the existence of its lower-cost cable packages, but the cheapest ones are about $15/month.

      • J

        Yeah, not giving up Showtime or NFL RedZone. I’d rather hang-dry my laundry and turn off the AC.

  • JS

    I have no info, but I suspect your ~$200 a month Comcast bill is probably a large part of it.

  • 1216

    Water should be 20 per person at the most *20
    cable/ internet lets say 150 total *30

    now the gas and electricity is impossible to tell without knowing what the house and appliances are like. The stove is insignificant. The dryer depends on how often you use it. Gas heat in the winter can run $500 a month in a leaky house but it’s not winter. Same goes for Electric and A/C. The water heater might cost at most $100 total a month but I really don’t know.

    I don’t think you’re getting ripped off here unless you live in an extremely energy efficient house.

  • Eckington

    We have a 2500 sq ft row house with gas heat, electric water heater, 2 fridges, and a wine fridge, and window units for a/c.

    Water is consistently between 32 and 45. Our internet is 45 and TV is 75-95 (depending on if they’re currently giving me a promotion).

    In the summer our gas bill is the minimum of 8 bucks or so. Pepco peaks at about 250, but only for a month or 2.

    In the winter our gas bill never got above 250 and our electric bill stays around 50-90.

    If 5 people were in our house, the bills would NEVER reach 120/person.

    On a bad month we usually pay about 200/each for all of our utilities. On a good one, we’ve gotten as low as about 125, including internet/tv. Usually April, March, May, September, October, and part of June and November are very low on utilities.

    We’re vigilant with usage, but we also have an incredibly inefficient gas boiler, a lot of electronic devices, including our water heater and multiple fridges, and we have only minimal insulation.

  • Idaho Ave

    I live in a tiny (400sq ft) studio. My utilities are as follow:
    Comcast: ~$200/mo
    Pepco: ~80-120/mo
    Water: N/A
    Sprint (are we counting cell phone bills?): $200

    • Emil

      NEGOTIATE the comcast! Yikes 200 for internet and cable? :(

    • P’worth

      Totally call comcast and sit on the line until they drop that to around $135, no matter what your package. Threaten to leave, and they will.

      • Caroline

        I live in a studio and I pay Pepco about $10-$15 per month. Yikes, you’re getting hosed, Idaho Ave!

        • Idaho Ave

          hmmm… I may have to look into my own now. haha. I cook a lot and also have one whole wall facing the west, mostly glass so I have to run the AC a lot. Not sure how much of a difference that would make. Definitely checking it out now though.

  • textdoc

    Refrigerators (even new ones that are in good shape) can eat up a lot of electricity.

    If the fridge is old or has problems (like the seals being loose), consider asking the landlord to replace it.

  • MichelleRD

    That amount sounds about right for that size household. I’m betting the priciest culprits are electricity and winter gas.

    PEPCO breaks down household usage on their bills and hot water is more than a third of the pie in our home. I have a hard time believing it’s accurate, though, because we made a concerted effort to shorten showers, reduce the number of times we run the dishwasher and washing machine, cut off lights and appliances not in use . . .and NOTHING changed on our bill. Nothing. It’s like they’ve decided what your house is going to use for you and just make a monthly percentage adjustment based on some whacky algorithm. I’ve been saying for years that someone should look into their billing.

    • Chris

      +1 – I live in a three person apartment and we have tried everything to change our lifestyle to eliminate the absurd $275 electric bills with little to no change. I agree, someone should definitely audit Pepco’s practices. Seems like a sham to me.

    • ah

      Those Pepco estimates are based solely on surveys/estimates of households, multiplied by your actual consumption. They have no way to know where your electricity is going, other than based on what you tell the you use electricity for.

      Anyway, gas/electric are going to be the biggest hard-to-control expenses. $120 could be high or low. The good thing is you can see the bills each month, so you’re not getting ripped off by your roomies. Well, unless they insist on taking 20 minute, really hot showers.

      • DCster

        What ah said.
        I thought those Pepco estimates were really cool until I realized they were a snapshot of the breakdown of energy use among generic households and not my particular household.
        I’d say their costs could be cut down – I think it might be the hot water heating that’s the main factor.

  • erin

    I live in a 2 bed apt with all electric appliances (heat/ac/hotwater/stove/washer/dryer/etc). Our Pepco bill ranges from almost $300 in the dead of winter to $60 or so in April/Sept when we don’t use the heat or a/c. I blame our electric heater for the high bills.

    I’m pretty sure our costs would be significantly lower if we had a gas furnace instead of the electric one.

    • MichelleRD

      No–you’d be surpised at how expensive gas heating can be. Especially in the last five years. It’s breathtaking.

      • cbr

        +1. Electric heat is definitely the way to go.

      • Anon

        Radiator heat with a gas boiler is the most efficient, lowest cost source of heat out there.

  • pia

    I would look not only at the tv part of your Comcast bill, but I know that we made the decision to get the faster internet connection (I can’t remember the details) for a higher bill each month because we work from home/stream movies/don’t have cable TV.
    Just a thought.

  • Anonymous

    Hot showers are the major component (after comcast) of my household’s bills and they scale linearly with the number of people.

  • lei

    Our latest pepco bill was for 58 bucks… water is somewhere around 30 bucks and gas ranges from 23 to 270 depending on the month… Internet 30 bucks a month and no cable. So, on the low side about $150 a month for everything and on the high side 400.

    This is for 3 people in a row house.

  • b

    I would suggest tracking usage and checking your meter. $120/mo doesn’t seem that out of line to me. I live in a 750sf apartment and we pay between $50 (spring/fall) up to $120 (summer/winter) for electricity. We used to have Comcast but it was killing us after our promotion went away. Can you get a dish? We switched to Dish Network and pay about half as much as we spent on Comcast. I would recommend this highly, especially if you are not a big TV watcher. Even the packages with tons of channels are cheaper than Comcast. What about internet? Can you get a cheaper (read: slower) plan?

  • spookiness

    I’d look at the Comcast bill first. Give serious thought to whether everybody is home enough to make paying for it worthwhile. I don’t watch TV much, but am about to kill my $65 Dish network service in lieu of over-the-air TV, with occasionally support from Netflix streaming thru my blueray/dvd player at like $10 a month.

    Except for the peak of summertime, stick a fan in your window at night, and pay attention to window shading during the day and you can scale back the A/C use a bit.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, these comments are making me feel like Mr. Green. The most I’ve paid for electricity for my 1 bedroom 600 ft. apartment is $20 while my lowest was 12 or 13 bucks. I must be saving big bucks by not having A/C. Don’t have to pay for gas thankfully.

    • GDopplerXT

      Yeah, not having A/C will save you a lot on electricity.

      • Kim


        My gas bill can get ridiculous in the winter (to the point where I thought it was possible I had a gas leak), but I rarely run my a/c, only running it on the hottest of days and just using a fan the rest of the time. Even with the fan almost constantly running, my electric bills never exceed around $30. And the $30 bills were in months when I occasionally ran the a/c. I’ve never been very sensitive to heat, though, so I understand this isn’t an option for everyone!

        • GDopplerXT

          Yes, I should have also said that not *using* A/C (if you have it) will also you a lot on electricity. :D

  • GDopplerXT

    For our 3-person group house I’d say $120 per month per person (average for the year) is about right. There are definite opportunities for saving but is remarkably hard to get even 3 people to agree on how to do it (let alone actually doing it once we agree on how.)

  • whoa_now

    Everyone got that their water/cable/gas/electric bill per month is around 600 dollars per month. To me that sounds a bit high.

    Water should never be more than 40. Cable/internet about $150. Gas should be your main bill because it does the heating of the house…but it shouldn’t be more that 150-200 in the Winter-in the summer is should be more like 20-75 dollars. If you use the highest estimate-then their electric bill is like 200 a month..I think something’s wrong.

  • MichelleRD

    What gets me is the wildly divergent bills with similar sq. footage and occupancy.

    And yet you never see any kind of investigative expose on Pepco’s practices.

    • GDopplerXT

      It might also have something to with wildly divergent electricity consumption of households, if you’re talking about Pepco.

      • ah

        Yeah, my electric bills skyrocketed when my wife started staying home with our child. Just having the lights on and the thermostat not set back during the day sent them way up–about 50%.

  • joker

    Guaranteed that your power bill is the smoking gun.

    Hot water heaters should never be electric unless a house doesn’t have access to gas. Its just a highly inefficient way to heat water and considering you have 5 people in the house, thats a lot of showers, laundry and dishes to do.

    Don’t you get to see a copy of the bills? I thought it was common place that if you were in a group house and shared the utilities, everyone got a copy of the bill?

  • pop-up owner

    Sounds about right. 5 bedroom house well over 3k square feet and lots of gardening.

    Internet costs for verizon DSL/landline for security system.
    DirecTV 100 (going away soon)
    Water 40-60 (gardening, tons of kid laundry)
    Pepco 70-300 depending on month high end is A/C costs but we average about $160 a month. Big house and we don’t shirk on convenience items, ie wetbar fridges, large TV’s etc. HE washer/dryers all highest rated energy star appliances possible.
    Gas 20-120 (reverse of power due to gas radiator’s and hot water heater).

  • P’worth

    I recently read that two of the biggest power sucks in a home — nearly up there with central air — are dishwashers and clothes dryers. That surprised me!
    Maybe take to a bit of line drying and see what kind of difference it makes.

    • Anonymous

      Not unless you are doing 18 loads of dishes per day. Where do people come up with this stuff?

      DC is the worst climate to live in for energy use. We have a massive heating load and a massive cooling load. It doesn’t get any worse than this. The average U.S. household uses 53% of all energy on heating and cooling. DC is probably closer to 60% or even 65%. Refrigerators are 5% and that includes all refrigeration (second refrigerators and freezers). A dishwasher and a dryer both come in somewhere under 3%.

  • Anonymous

    Lot of people speculating about that which they know nothing about.

    Short answer is that $600 for a house is not unreasonable since it sounds like you are including Comcast. If you could post the breakdown by utility (Comcast, Pepco, Washington Gas, Water) then we’d be able to get a good idea what is going on.

    The electric water heater is not your problem. It is probably 10% of your electric bill and doesn’t change. Assuming you pay $150 for Comcast and $50 for water, that leaves $400 for gas and electric. Not unreasonable for a house. I would suggest monitoring your meter readings on the bill. Also check and see what your off-season baseload is (electric in winter and gas in summer). If that seems really high, you probably do have an issue with an old refrigerator or water heater. Or you just have a 60 inch plasma TV and 6 computers that run all the time. If not, it’s heating and cooling. I’d check the age of your heating and cooling equipment and try to get them replaced if they are old. If that doesn’t work, try to get a programmable thermostat and use that if you don’t have one. And do some basic home sealing.

  • truxtonite

    My 4-br house has high ceilings and can be quite drafty, so our bills double in the winter and summer. We played hardball with Comcast to go down from the $110/month bill to $75/month. Gas and electricity vary on whether we have heat or AC going; in the fall and spring, we pay about $60 each, but otherwise it’s generally around $120.

    Our lovely landlord refuses to do anything about our broken refrigerator (which freezes everything from eggs to lettuce, regardless of the shelf), so I’m sure we could be paying less.

  • MD

    We have a four bedroom house with 2 and 1/2 baths, 2 refrigerators, gas heat, 3 TVs, electric W/D, and CAC. You should really take out the comcast/internet service, With 2 less people then you, our bills are as follows:

    Electricity: $240
    Gas: $40
    Cable: $120
    Internet: $50

    Electricity: $60
    Gas: $230
    Water: 50
    Cable: $120
    Internet $50

    So I would think $150 is reasonable.

  • Anonymous

    I just did taxes for a rental property I own (my property sounds like a similar situation in terms of square footage and # of tenants), and the total for cable, internet, water, and electricity for the year was in excess of $6,000, so $600/mo doesn’t sound unreasonable to me. (I just include these things in the rent on the premise that they’re tax deductible to me and not to a tenant, and it allows me to charge more in rent while the tenant nets out less.) That said, you should be getting a copy of every utility bill to check if the responsibility is on you.

    I’m willing to bet that the Comcast, depending on how tricked out your package is (HBO, multiple boxes, DVR) is a huge driver of it, along with electricity. If you have older appliances and hot water heater, it may actually benefit you to request newer ones from the landlord and offer to pay 50% of the reduction in the power bills towards the cost for some number of months. I’d consider something like that — I get a new fridge or water heater, and the cost is subsidized by some kick-in from my tenants who pay the utilities and end up saving money and getting a nicer fridge. Win-win.

  • Anonymous

    I live in a 4-person stand-alone group house (not a row house). I’ve been here about 3 years and we pay about $50 each for utilities in the summer, and about $100 each in the winter. That includes electric, gas for heat/stove/water, internet and water.

    The big reasons that our bills are so low are that we have no TV or A/C. We rarely use our dryer – almost always use drying racks or the clothesline. And we put plastic insulation and storm windows on the (antique) windows in the winter. We could reduce the bills way more if we actually owned the house and could invest in some insulation!

  • grumpy

    I paid $150/ month total in a 2BR apartment last year – but that was only electricand gas ( no TV or internet, water was included). We rarely watched TV and never used the dishwasher, but all of the appliances were old. If you suspect that the hot water heater is a culprit, can you turn down the temp on it? (Of course this depends on whether you and your housemates can coordinate timing so that no one gets stuck with a cold shower!) I would also recommend line drying clothing overnight (pop it in the dryer for a few minutes the next morning and voila) and covering windows with plastic during the winter when it’s drafty.

  • e
  • PetworthRes

    I’ve been trying to cut our bills a lot…

    Got rid of premium channels on DirectTV and got Netflix streaming/DVDs instead – saved $80/month.

    Our water bills were $95/month (3 adults in our house)! We found out our toilet was leaking and got a lower-flow showerhead. Now we never run out of hot water while showering anymore, so gas bills should go down, too.

    We were using space heaters to boost the heat (make the BR warm after a shower, etc) – bad! We stopped. Going to be good with the AC this summer.

    We’re also replacing the super-drafty windows on the back of our house and getting a UV-filtering coating on our new windows. Our 100-yr-old original skylight is also getting replaced. These things should help with our $350/month gas bills (shocking for a 3BR/1BA interior rowhouse!).

    Sometime when I can get my act together I also want to get an energy audit for our house.


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