What to Do When Cold Weather Hits

(UNDATED) – When the weather turns cold, you bump up the thermostat in your home to stay comfortable. And even if you don’t, the plummeting temps outside make your heating system work harder to maintain your thermostat setting.

When you get your electric bill a month later, the amount you owe seems much higher than you think it should be. And you ask yourself, “How did this happen?”

Barbara Higgins

“Customers who don’t change the setting on their thermostat may think their energy usage doesn’t change, when in fact, energy use varies depending on a variety of factors, including the temperature outside,” said Barbara Higgins, Duke Energy senior vice president, and chief customer officer. “We might not remember those variations in energy use, because we pay for the energy long after we use it.”

Fortunately, Duke Energy provides customers the resources they need to accurately compare energy use from one time period to the next.

“Instead of comparing dollar amounts, it’s more accurate to compare average kilowatt-hour per day usage month to month,” said Higgins. “Once you understand how much energy you used, you can then begin to look for some of the reasons your usage increased or decreased.”

For example, many customers are now working from home during the pandemic. Extra energy use can come from more cooking, more laundry, more electronics while working from home. Keeping children at home all day can also add to your monthly energy use without realizing it.

One important reason for increased energy use in winter, of course, is cold temperatures. “If you set your thermostat at 70 degrees, and the outdoor temperature is 50 degrees, it doesn’t take much energy to make up that 20 degree difference,” Higgins said. “But if the outdoor temperature falls to 30 degrees, and your thermostat stays at 70 degrees, your heating system has to work longer and harder to make up a 40 degree difference. And that means higher energy bills.”

The number of days in a customer’s billing cycle also varies. This is normal and occurs throughout the year. A particular billing cycle could include several additional days compared to the previous cycle.  A longer billing cycle will cause more kilowatt-hours to appear on a bill.

So how do you bring energy use under control? Here are seven ideas:

  • Reduce your thermostat to the lowest comfortable setting. If you have a heat pump, maintain a moderate setting or use a programmable thermostat specifically designed for use with heat pumps.
  • Leave drapes or blinds open during sunny winter days to allow the sun to warm the house. Close them at night to help insulate your home.
  • Have the heating and air conditioning system checked regularly to maintain performance. Duke Energy offers qualified customers rebates to help offset the cost of replacing older HVAC units with more energy-efficient ones.
  • Replace standard incandescent bulbs with light-emitting diodes (LED). LEDs are more efficient while giving off the same amount of light.
  • Operate ceiling fans in a clockwise direction, which pushes warm air back down into the room.
  • Change air filters regularly. A dirty air filter makes a heating system work harder, which uses more energy.
  • Set your water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees to help you reduce your monthly water heating bills.

The best way to track and understand your usage in near-real time is to register your Duke Energy account online. Once registered you can access previous bills – up to 24 months – and look at your energy usage by the week, day and hour. Click “Menu,” “My Usage & Savings” and then “Energy Usage.”

Customers can also view usage information from the Duke Energy App, available in the App and Google Play stores.

Care for others

  • It is always a good idea to be prepared for a power outage. Make plans now to move family members – especially those with special needs – to safe, alternative locations in the event of an extended power outage.
  • Check on elderly neighbors to ensure they are safe and have adequate heat in their homes. The National Institute on Aging offers more information to keep older adults safe during cold weather.
  • Keep pets inside during extremely cold temperatures. Like humans, animals can suffer from hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-weather injuries, including death. The Humane Society offers tips to keep your animals safe this winter.