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A Gas Rollercoaster

March 20, 2010
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Yep, it’s been a while since the last post… we moved out on the 26th; on the 27th, we flew to New Jersey to visit Sue’s parents for a week; when we returned “home” (Have we mentioned we are living with our friend & real estate agent Mary? Sounds like a good post for Sue to write…), we focused on getting settled in to our temporary digs. This weekend, Sue’s Mom is visiting us for a few days because Sue is being celebrated with an “Award of Distinction” from Washington University.

Though we HAVE spent some time reviewing roof solutions – we visited a green roof installation, and are starting to talk to MEP engineers for heating/cooling/solar-thermal ideas.

Now for an update on our gas & heating situation. I wrote a post when we got our first gas bill – what a shocker. (See here.)

Thinking it was going to get colder, we set about making a few changes that would reduce our heat loss. We figured our biggest improvement was the “Big Ass Foam” insert that we made for the dock door. It was 10′ high by over 6′ wide, but still light enough for one person to slide it in & out and lock it in place. Here are some before & after photos.

Dock door with large gaps

B.A.F. insert, sealing up holes

B.A.F. insert, sealing up holes

So after those fixes were finished, we waited patiently for the next gas bill to arrive. With each passing below-32-degree-high day, we crossed our fingers that our BAF and other fixes would save us some money.

We checked the mailbox at Wilmington one cold snowy Saturday – the gas bill was here!

Anxiously we opened the envelope, unfolded the tri-fold sheet – scanned quickly for the dollar amount – HooRay! $147.58! For giggles I checked the stats – our gas company reports the number of degree days for the last billing period. I remembered the first bill – had 739 degree days for those 27 days. Knowing the last month was significantly freezier, I wasn’t surprised to read the the degree days over the last billing period was 1209. That means with roughly 60% colder temps, we reduced the bill to one third! We were jazzed!  Knowing February is our coldest month, we felt pretty good about leaving things just the way they were for the next month of gas bills.

~~~

Many weeks go by, which were filled by all of the tasks related to moving out of our little house.

March arrives; we are back from visiting Sue’s folks, and a peek in the mailbox – Ahhhh… another gas bill. With more confidence than anticipation, I open it, read the dollar amount, and carefully close it back up. I would wait to react in front of Sue – she was somewhere else in the building. (That’s the disadvantage of having a B.A.B. – not knowing where on the premises your significant other might be hanging out.) I yelled around a few corners. She was back in what we call the “Red Room” looking for some supplies.

I tell her: “Well, we got another gas bill!” Sue: “Oh yeah, is it good news?” Me: “Hmmm… I’m not quite sure what to say – because it’s OVER A THOUSAND DOLLARS!” We both remain calm. I tell her I’ll call the gas company the next day. SURELY something must be wrong. Maybe they added an extra zero somewhere. Screwed up and want us to pay a year in advance? Perhaps the wrong gas meter. Who knows.

~~~

My conversation with the gas company was lengthy and frustrating – as usual with any mega-utility company. In the end, the final result was that our low February bill was not a true meter reading – it was just an estimate. Had an actual HUMAN been involved with that estimate, instead of some computer-driven algorithm or average of past 12 months of mostly zero gas activity, they might have recognized it would have been impossible for February’s bill to be lower than January’s bill. But alas, no humanity intervened, and that low $147 bill was simply a temporary low valley, like when you have that slow near-ground cruise halfway through a rollercoaster ride – just moments before the HUGE finale plummet when your stomach rises to your throat and you have to scream to push it back down. Now imagine you just received a thousand dollar gas bill. For a place you don’t even use.

Mega-utility explained that the March bill was an “actual” reading.  Meaning a human or electronic device in a drive-by truck checked the numbers on the gas meter. I was told the February bill was an estimate. The March bill was a “catch up”. “Catch up?” I asked. “Does anyone review these? Don’t you see how consecutive bills of $447, $147, then $1000+ can be quite a shock, without any change in activity or thermostat settings?”  They must be trained to not react. “Let me investigate…” and I was on hold for another ten minutes. They came back and basically told me the SAME story, just using different words to make it SOUND like new news. They used “MAKE UP” instead of “catch up”.

So the zeroes were accurate, and this was actually our bill. I guess we’ve still got some heat-loss investigations around our B.A.B. – maybe there’s some black hole of heat where warm air just gets sucked into another dimension.

In the end, the only light at the end of the tunnel is that in a few weeks, we can safely just turn off the heaters, since freezing temperatures are soon to be over with.

At least for 8 months or so.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    March 22, 2010 7:47 am

    OUCH!!!

    I won’t complain about the $248.00 electric bill I just paid for February (the coldest on record for Florida)…I’ll just be happy about the fact that it will be 82 degrees here by Thursday. Yeah SPRING!

    Wishing you warmer, drier weather soon!

    Susan, Mike, & Phillip

  2. Loulie permalink
    March 21, 2010 11:43 am

    Sue and Tom-
    Let’s review. 13,000 SF in the ‘Lou, where you can freeze your ass off in February and then fry it in July. $1,000 heat bill when you are not even living there. Hmm, sounds like
    While you have probably explored a plethora (I know that is a big word for 9:30 on a Sunday morning) of options, are you looking into solar panels, rather than the green roof? Thermal mass v technology solution that can (and will) sputter out at some point seems like a reasonable investment. And then we can talk about tax credits (which you . Not sure about the roof structure requirements there, but we were assured that our 2×4 @16″ oc would not need “much” beefing – he he, read our blog for that update in the summer.
    I have also been reading about these super cool 42″ (yes, that is “) tall wind turbines that are pretty darn quiet. I will dig up the article and send along.
    Let us know when the trip to Vegas is a good option. Must go – Polly is now shaking in anticipation of breakfast.
    xoxoLou

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