Have you ever taken a long, sorrowful look at your energy bill, reached into your wallet for your credit card to pay it, and thought to yourself, where is all of this energy going? If you, like so many other energy consumers aren’t entirely sure what the heck is going on with your electricity bill, don’t understand your key drivers of energy use, or are simply overwhelmed by a high monthly electricity bill, then we’ve got some (hopefully) comforting news: you’re in the right place!

At WattDoesItUse, we truly get where you’re coming from. Knowledge is power, and our mission is to empower you with actionable information. So, what are the key drivers of energy and electricity use in your household? It’s not always easy to understand your electricity bill. But that’s precisely what we’ll seek to explain in this post.

More specifically, we will review some basics behind electricity consumption, followed by a room-by-room tour of your house to uncover the expected key drivers of energy use. Then, equipped with your enhanced energy literacy, we’ll take it a step further (you’re going to love this part) and brainstorm ways for you to conserve energy and whittle down your electric bill!

Now that we’ve established a solid foundation to get you going, let’s tackle the real reason we’re all here—discovering the energy hogs in your household! (No, we don’t mean your family members. We’ll handle the household appliances in this post; we’ll handle your family’s habits in another post!)

Who Uses Electricity?

To answer this succinctly—everybody! It’s pretty uncommon for commercial businesses or residences to not use electricity at all (that’s not to say some people don’t use it more efficiently than others, but we’ll get to that part later).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First let’s make sure we’re on the same page about the basics.

Where does electricity come from?

We’ve got an entire blog post all about breaking down the logistics of electricity, but we’ll sum it up like this. Electricity is generated from sources like fossil fuels, wind, solar, and nuclear power. It is sent as a current through a transformer, which increases the voltage so it can travel a long distance. Then, that electrical charge runs through high-voltage transmission lines that run throughout the US. Eventually, the electrical current reaches a substation, which cranks down the voltage again so that it can travel through a smaller power line. The smaller power lines have built-in transformers that crank down the voltage further and help direct the electricity where it needs to go—to neighborhoods, businesses, apartment buildings, and more.

US transformer and electrical grid. Source: Sanna Linjos
Electricity travels through the extensive US grid to get from power generation plants to our homes. Source: Sanna Linjos

How do we measure electricity consumption?

If you haven’t read our electricity 101 guide about how we measure electricity (we definitely suggest it), you’ll need to know this: the amount of electricity a person uses over time is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). A kilowatt, which is a measure of power, is equal to 1,000 watts—it shows up as a kilowatt on your electricity bill because it’s far easier to measure large quantities of electricity in kilowatts.

If we’re using an 80-watt lightbulb in our home and run it for an hour, that means we’ve used a total of 80-watt hours—which means a total of .08 kilowatt-hours.

US Electricity Consumption Statistics

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are over 140 million customers of electricity in the United States. That huge number of customers is divided into three basic categories:

  1. Residential (122 million customers, about 37 percent of electricity sales)
  2. Commercial (17 million customers, about 35 percent of sales)
  3. Industrial (less than 1 million customers, about 28 percent of electricity sales)

How Much Electricity Does a Typical US Household Use?

Before we dive into energy saving opportunities, we think it’s important to first remind you that no one household is going to use the same amount of electricity as another. There are a ton of factors that drive energy use. For example, seasonality, geographic location, the actual foundation or structure of the household, and of course, the way the members of the household use their electricity can all play a role.

Despite all of these factors, we want to equip you with some basic statistics that are true of most households in the United States:

  • Electricity consumption will typically peak during the summer (think about how high you crank up your air conditioning when it’s blistering hot out).
  • On a more micro scale, electricity usage will also peak during the day, in the late afternoon, when people return home from work.
  • On average, the typical household in the United States uses 920kWh of electricity per month (11,040kwh per year). At the average national electrical rate, that translates to $1,468 annually.
  • The average breakdown of that consumption is as follows:
    • 29 percent – Heating
    • 17 percent – Cooling
    • 14 percent – Water heating
    • 13 percent – Appliances
    • 12 percent – Lighting
    • 4 percent – Electronic Devices
    • 11 percent – Other

Let’s Talk About Electricity: Where Is Your Electricity Really Going?

With those numbers providing perspective, let’s talk about the real reason you’re here: understanding the key drivers of energy use in your household. We already mentioned that heating/cooling and household appliances are the key drivers of energy use… and that utility bill!

Let’s take a closer look at these appliances:

Central AC

Though this number will likely vary for everyone, a central AC (that’s at least 2 tons) will use about 1450 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your AC Unit: don’t heat and cool the rooms you aren’t using, change your thermostat setting each season, and use “vacation” settings when you’re not going to be home for a while.

Water Heater Pump

For a 4-person household, you can anticipate that a water heater will use about 310 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Water Heater: consider scaling back the time you spend in a hot shower, don’t run water when you’re not using it, and consider replacing appliances in your home that can monitor your hot water usage.

Washing Machine & Dryer

A washing machine will use about 9 kWh per month while a dryer will use about 75 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Washer and Dryer: always wait for a full load before washing, clean your lint trap between dryer loads, and air dry your clothes outside during warmer months (if you can!)

Refrigerator

A refrigerator will use about 105 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Refrigerator: keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible!

Range & Stovetop

This will, of course, vary on the type of range or stovetop you use, but expect an oven range to use about 58kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Range and Stovetop: Keep the oven door shut as much as possible, cover your pots and pans to help trap heat, and keep your range and stovetop clean. Better yet, invest in a more energy efficient range or stovetop!

Dishwasher

Your dishwasher is probably using close to 30 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving electricity With Your Dishwasher: don’t do the dishes unless you have a full load and scrape excess food off your plate instead of rinsing!

Microwave

Your microwave likely uses about 15 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Microwave: Unplug it when it’s not in use but use it when you can (it’s a faster way to heat food up, which also requires less power!)

Television

A TV Will use about 27kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your TV: unplug your TV when it’s not in use, try using power strips that can detect when your devices are in standby mode, and try streaming through more efficient devices, like a tablet.

Lightbulbs

Depending on your wattage, you can expect to use about 50 kWh per month lighting a 4-5 room household.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Lighting: upgrade your lightbulbs to a more energy-efficient brand and remember to turn the lights off when you leave a room.

Additional Energy Conservation Strategies

Of course, the easy answer is to use your appliances less frequently, and when you do use them, be smart about conserving energy. But, there are plenty more tips out there that can help you conserve energy in every single room in your household. We’ve compiled helpful guidance right here:

  • Replace or cover drafty windows
  • Find and seal any leaks in your home (check spaces under doors, windows, and more!)
  • Make sure you’re scheduling regular service appointments for your AC and heating units
  • Unplug your appliances when they’re not in use or consider using a power strip that can cut all power to these appliances when they’re turned off.
  • Keep air moving throughout your house with efficient ceiling fans so you don’t have to use AC as much
  • Lower your water heating costs by scaling back your hot showers

Interested in learning more about electricity? Looking for ways to conserve energy, cut back on expenses, or be more energy conscious in general? Well, you’re in the right place. Our WattDoesitUse blog is all about sharing unique ways to conserve electricity, become more energy-efficient, and help you enhance your electricity literacy, too! Got a tip for our readers on how to conserve energy in their households? We want to hear it. Drop your advice in the comments below! Have questions or suggestions for new blog topics? Leave us comments about that, too!