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I Wasn’t Home! Why Am I Being Charged?

You’ve just returned from a long holiday and you’re expecting a cheap electricity bill. To your surprise, it’s higher than you expected. Why would you be charged for electricity when you weren’t home? Whether you are gone for long hours each day, go away every weekend, or took a month-long holiday, there are a variety of factors to keep in mind when looking at a post-holiday electricity bill.

So why are you being charged?

  1. To Keep Your Milk Cool

Your refrigerator is the main appliance that is always on. So regardless if you’re home all day or away for the week, your fridge is still working hard at keeping your food cool. When you leave for holiday your fridge doesn’t know it’s empty, so even though you’re not using it, it continues to work hard. Refrigerators and freezers such as undersink water coolers, office zip boilers, and beer and wine fridges also fall under the ‘always on’ category.

What can you do about it?

Newer fridges often have a ‘Holiday Mode’ that prevents them from using unnecessary amounts of electricity while you are away. So as you get into holiday mode – put your fridge in holiday mode too. Just be sure to empty your fridge of anything that will spoil (ahem, the milk) before you leave. An energy efficient fridge can help create cheap electricity bills for you in the future.

  1. To Service Your Property

Perhaps the most common reason customers are surprised at post-holiday bills is the daily supply charge. The daily supply charge, or what is sometimes called a service to property charge, is a fixed daily rate, regardless of how much electricity (or gas) you use during your billing cycle.

While this doesn’t sound ideal, the daily supply charge is important. It helps you stay connected to the electricity grid, and goes toward the maintenance and upkeep of the electricity poles and meters in your area.  In other words, it’s the cost of having electricity (and gas) continuously serviced to your property. So even when you’re on holiday, a daily supply charge will still apply.

What can you do about it?

The daily supply charge depends on three things: the network you live in, the type of tariff your meter is on and your electricity company. Regardless of your electricity company or how much electricity you use, a daily supply charge will appear on your bill. However, if you want to know what to expect while you’re away, you can calculate it yourself based on your rates and average billing cycle. This will help you budget for your gas and electricity bills while you are away on holiday.

  1. To Heat Your Water

Your hot water heater is another appliance that continues to run whether you are at home or not. Hot water systems that have a storage system will continue to reheat water every day, regardless if it’s being used. Similar to your fridge, it might not use a lot of energy, but it will use some. If your water heater is electric you may be able to tell how much energy it uses on a daily basis (this is if you have a two rate meter with a controlled load).

What can you do about it?

Similar to refrigerators, some newer models of water heaters have holiday modes, allowing you to adjust the temperature before you leave for holiday. But if it doesn’t, should you turn it off? The answer depends on a couple of things. First, you should consider how long you will be away for. If you’re only away for the weekend, it likely isn’t worth turning off. However, if you do plan on being away for a couple of weeks it can be a smart choice. This is especially true if your water heater is old and prone to leaking. The last thing you want is to come home to a flooded house!

If you have an electric hot water heater, it can be switched off at the switchboard (where your mains circuit is). The switch should be labeled “Hot Water.” If you have a gas hot water heater, it can be switched off at the unit. Alternatively, you can switch off the main valve at your gas meter – but keep in mind this turns off all gas access to the house. Even if you have a solar hot water tank, it will have an electric of gas booster that can be turned off to save energy. Just be sure you don’t turn off the circulation pump or else you won’t have a full tank of hot water when you get home!

You’ll also need to consider what it will take to turn the hot water heater back on. Depending on the type and size, you may have to wait an hour for the water to heat back up before you can use it. If it’s an older model you need to make sure you can turn it back on yourself without the help of an electrician or plumber. If it’s a gas unit you will need to relight the pilot light, which can be tricky on older units. Something to keep in mind if you’re looking forward to a hot shower after your long holiday!

  1. To Keep Your Pets Comfortable

While this doesn’t apply for those going on holidays, something else to consider is the cost of keeping your pets comfortable. If you are gone for long hours during the day and you keep the TV, aircon or lights on for your pets, it can affect your electricity bill. Just like your fridge or water heater, anything that is on and using power for an extended amount of time can increase your electricity bill.

Depending on its size, age, and energy efficiency, TVs can use anywhere between 90 to 400 watts per hour, averaging around 250 watts. This means keeping a TV on in the background all day can cost you anywhere from $20 to $250 a year. Similar logic follows if you keep your lights or aircon on during the day to keep your pets comfortable. Although it may not seem like much, the cost can add up throughout the year.

What can you do about it?

The best way to reduce costs throughout the year, whether you are traveling or not, is to make sure your appliances are energy efficient. When looking at energy ratings, a good rule of thumb is that for every additional star, there is about a 20% increase in energy efficiency. This is important to keep in mind when purchasing new appliances. Although a new appliance with a 5 star energy rating may be more expensive upfront, it can save you hundreds of dollars throughout the years when compared to a cheaper appliance with a lower energy rating.

  1. To Keep Devices on Standby

Finally, it’s easy to assume that devices plugged-in, but not on, certainly couldn’t be using any power. But that’s not necessarily true. Anything plugged into an electrical outlet, but not in use, will still use small amounts of power. While you don’t need to worry about items such as desk lamps or radios, other items such as your microwave, coffee machine, gaming consoles or electronic chargers continue to use low levels of power on “standby mode”. These items, particularly chargers, continue to draw power from the wall socket and are ready to use as soon as you need them. The same goes for anything on an automatic timer in your house. Items such as pool pumps, heated floors, and fish tanks also continue to use power when they are not in use.

What can you do about it?

During your day to day life, unplugging these appliances might not be critical, but it is something to consider when asking yourself why you’re receiving an electricity bill. And while keeping your microwave or charger plugged in won’t break the bank, you can choose to unplug or switch off your devices at the wall before leaving for your holiday – every bit counts!

While parts of your bill will remain the same, such as the daily supply charge, there are steps you can take to reduce your energy bills while on holiday. By improving your home’s energy efficiency and being mindful of the appliances that will use power, you can better prepare yourself for that post-holiday energy bill.

Planning on receiving a bill while away? Set up direct debit to never forget to pay a bill.