E32: Electric meter reading demystified

I will admit to all and sundry that I was totally challenged when it came to my electrical usage, including reading my utility bill and reading my meter. I decided at the end of last year to figure it out. I started by analyzing last year’s utility bills (and the previous year) to establish my own electrical usage benchmarks, or priority baselines.

Before I get into this post I want to apologize up front if I sound like I am talking down to my readers, or I am insulting my audience with the obvious. Think of Denzel Washington in the movie, “Philadelphia,” saying many times throughout the movie, “Now pretend like I am a third grader and explain that to me.” Seriously people, I suffer from a condition akin to wheels locking on ice. My brain’s synapse activity seizes when I am trying to translate Engineer-speak™ and teh associated maths. It has long been my belief that a bunch of men of the engineering persuasion got together sporadically over the last 150 years just to fuck with English literature majors by creating nerd herd speak.

As a nod to the Riot for Austerity, the Electrical Usage average for American family of four is said to be 900 kWh per month. A 90% reduction would be 90 kWh per month. Last year my average was 330 kWh per month and this year it is 228 kWh for a reduction of only 31%. But, compared to the American Average, mine is a 79% reduction. This translates to about $30/month.
Update: 2/12/08 meter reading shows a jump of 48 kWh. I forgot to turn off the water heater one day and also found I used the heater more frequently.

Now, as to the heat category and cooking category I have achieved a 100% reduction from the American average. This is because I used electrical energy for all of it. Thanks to Freeze Your Buns, these numbers are good. But, the real savings has come with not using my electric water heater. I only use it for a few hours each week when it is time to shower. So, this is $0/month.

Elemental Meter Reading

The dials are like watch faces in a row (every other dial moves counterclockwise).
Notice that when the pointer is between two numbers, record the lower of the two numbers.

Example 1:

When the pointer seems to be directly on a number (dial B in both examples seem to point to "6"), look at the dial to the right (dial C). If that pointer has not yet passed"0", (dial C in example 1), record the lower number, or "5" on dial B.

Example 2:

But if the pointer on the dial to the right has passed "0" (dial C in example 2), record the number the pointer is on, or "6" on dial B.

Elemental Energy Usage Costs for Household Appliances

Lighting – I made the switch at the beginning of the year to CFL. I don’t use lights much at all.

Incandescent Light Bulb, 100 watts

$.01 per hour

Equivalent Compact Fluorescent Lamps

(CFL), 27 watts

$.01 per 4 hours

Cooling Equipment – Each summer I have a fan on 24/7 for ‘white noise’ and a breeze.

Central Air Conditioner (3-ton)

$.48 - $.66 per hour


$.01 - $.07 per hour

Room/Window Air Conditioner

$.09 - $.28 per hour

Heating Equipment – I am not sure what my space heater, on a couple hours a day, runs.

Electric Baseboard or Electric Central Heater

Small Homes – Space Heater, oil filled

$35 - $110 or more per month

fraction of this I believe

Electric Baseboard or Electric Central Heater

Large Homes (2000 sq ft or more)

$114 - $400 or more per month

Gas Furnace

Small Homes

$16 - $40 or more per month

Gas Furnace

Large Homes (2,000 sq. ft. or more)

$41 - $200 or more per month

Cooking Appliances – My versions are scaled down from the family models.

Electric Oven (toaster type)

$.30 - $.60 per hour

Electric Range-top Burner (induction plate)

$.07 - $.30 per hour

Gas Oven

$.05 - $.11 per hour

Gas Range-top Burner

$.04 - $.08 per hour

Microwave Oven *(minimal, but daily use)

$.01 - $.03 per 10 minutes

Household Appliances – I use the community coin washer and hang all my clothes. I don’t own a dishwasher, freezer or stereo system. Hair dryer and other small appliances banished to shed.

Clothes Washer

(cold wash - cold rinse)

$.03 per load

Clothes Washer

(hot wash - warm rinse)

$.23 per load

Clothes Dryer Electric

$.30 - $.60 per load

Clothes Dryer Gas

$.10 - $.16 per load

Color Television (biggest use as w/computer)

$.01 - $.05 per hour


$.08 - $.09 per load


$15.00 - $30.00 or more per month

Hair Dryer (banished to shed)

$.01 per 5-minute use

Personal Computer (biggest use as w/TV)

$.01 - $.02 per hour

Stereo System

$.01 - $.03 per hour

Refrigerator (Frost-free), 16 cu ft 6.3 cu ft

$10.00 - $18.00 per month

Water Heater Electric 20 gal., 4 -24 hrs/mo

$20.00 - $70.00 per month

Water Heater Gas

$7.00 - $19.00 per month

Vacuum Cleaner (banished to shed)

$.05 - $.09 per hour

Elemental Electrical Bill Reading
Source: "The Big Picture — A Step-by-Step California Guide to Smarter Home Energy Use," distributed statewide in English, Spanish and Chinese by all four California Investor-Owned Utilities.
I confess that I got myself so confused poring over a year of electrical bills I practically had to read the paraphrased instructions that follow out loud to myself. In my own defense, my bills are not this simple. They are filled with abbreviations that mean nothing to me; e.g., EECC, DWR Bond, PUCRF Exp., and CERS Exp. SDE& G were to have sent me information last month. I didn’t follow up.

Total Usage

647 kWh

Baseline Allowance

266 kWh

Baseline Usage

266 kWh @ $.10077

Non-Baseline Usage

381 kWh @ $.12039



Electricity use is measured using units of kilowatt-hours, abbreviated as kWh on the bill. (Forgot to mention this, the capitalization of the *W* is all part of the boys fucking with us, see Engineer-speak™ and teh associated maths above.)

Up to a certain amount of electricity use, called the baseline usage, the cost of a kWh is one amount, which on the sample bill is $.10077/kWh or 10.077 c/kWh.

Electricity usage less than the baseline allowance of 266 kWh, the cost is $.10077 per kWh. For amounts greater (>) than the baseline usage, the cost is higher - $.12039 per kWh.

Adding their baseline usage (266 kWh) and non-baseline usage (381 kWh), is denoted as total usage (266 kWh + 381 kWh = 647 kWh).
Multiply baseline usage (266 kWh) by the baseline rate ($.10077/kWh) to determine baseline cost (266 kWh x $.10077/kWh=$26.80). Second, non-baseline usage (381 kWh) multiplied by the non-baseline rate ($.12039/kWh) to determine their non-baseline cost (381 kWh x $.12039/kWh=$45.87). Now add the baseline cost and the non-baseline cost ($26.80 + $45.87 = $72.67) to obtain their total electricity cost for the month.

Now, if you don’t mind. I want to go lie down in a dark, quiet room.

Flickr Credit: In London, 3.3 tons and 7 meters tall, this Weeman represents all the electronic and electrical waste you produce in your lifetime.