Study: Extreme Weather Causing Higher Utility Bills

Light bulb and pile of coins

© seksan Mongkhonkhamsao - Moment/Getty Images

Over the past 12 months, extreme weather—which has ranged from heat waves to forest fires to unexpected frigid temperatures—has caused not only caused damage to homes but also prompted higher electricity bills for a growing number of homeowners nationwide, according to a new study from Sense, a home energy management resource.

In a survey of more than 1,100 homeowners, Sense researchers found that nearly half—or 48%—of owners are looking for ways to reduce electricity consumption to help cut those higher costs from climate change. For example, some homeowners are taking steps to better maintain or upgrade their HVAC system, adding insulation, or upgrading their windows.

Weather disaster events in 2020 led to $95 billion in damages, more than double the 41-year average of $45.7 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2020 saw a record number of named Atlantic storms and large wildfires recorded in California. What’s more, Tornado Alley residents in the Midwest and South saw a record-breaking number of storms along with frigid temperatures last year.

Homeowners located in Tornado Alley—an area that stretches from northern Texas to South Dakota—reported the largest impact from extreme weather in 2020 compared to other regions in the U.S. Seventy-six percent of homeowners in that region reported personally experiencing extreme weather—compared to 53% in other areas of the country. Also, 59% of homeowners reported seeing higher utility bills or their home's damage compared to 36% of the rest of the country, according to the Sense study.

As a result of such costly damages and high alert weather patterns, more than half—54%—of all homeowners surveyed reported being concerned about climate change due to extreme weather.

Looking for Ways to Reduce Energy Use

Nearly half of homeowners looked for ways to reduce their home’s electricity consumption or took steps to improve the efficiency of their heating and cooling systems. But Sense researchers said that many homeowners also overlooked some more practical solutions, too. Here are a few retrofits that could make a difference, according to Sense:

  • Vampire power zapped by consumer electronics and other devices that stay on continuously in the home can account for 23% of the average home’s electricity bill. But only 44% of homeowners surveyed say they turn off consumer electronics when not in use. Also, consumers could put electronics on smart strips with timers to help save electricity costs too.
  • Only 12% of homeowners replaced their HVAC system with a heat pump, which Sense researchers note is a much more efficient approach than conventional systems. Sense experts note that heat pumps will be a key technology to adapt homes to climate change.
  • Eleven percent of homeowners reported using their utility’s free app or a home energy monitor to track their energy usage. The apps or monitors allow owners to get more insights into exactly what’s using most of the energy in the home so that they can then take steps to address it.
  • Just under one-third—or 29%—of homeowners installed smart thermostats in the past year. “Technology advances like smart thermostats and smart-home energy monitors will also help consumers to manage their home energy more efficiently while making their homes more reliable,” Sense researchers noted in the study.
  • Twenty-seven percent of homeowners added insulation or upgraded windows, and 29% maintained their HVAC system to help better try to curb annual energy consumption. About half of an average household’s annual energy usage goes to energy sources for space heating or air conditioning, according to the Energy Information Administration. “Tightening the home’s envelope and making HVAC systems more efficient can have a substantial impact on home energy usage,” Sense researchers note.
  • Removing smaller energy wasters can also make a difference, such as by replacing incandescent lightbulbs in ceiling fixtures with more energy-efficient LEDs.