3 Times Is Not A Charm

Randy Newman is an avid “06880” reader.

No, not the singer/songwriter/arranger/composer/pianist. He doesn’t live in Westport. Except for his song “Short People,” he has absolutely no connection with me.

This Randy Newman lives a normal Westport life, in a normal Westport home. It’s 3,000 square feet. He and his wife Jill have 3 kids, ages 11, 9 and 6.

The Newmans are environmentally conscious. “We have Energy Star appliances out the wazoo,” Randy says. “We have LED lights all over. I even yell at my kids to turn them off.”

The Newmans' house.

The Newmans’ house.

A while back — responding to an “06880” story about energy audits — they had one done. The house passed with flying colors.

But, Randy says, for the past few months CL&P has told the family they use 3 times the amount of energy of an average Westport home.

Surprised and curious, Jill asked friends if they received any reports. They had. In fact, their reports show multiples of the “average usage” too.

The house — built in 1986 — is in a wooded area. In the past 5 years Randy has replaced all the windows, the furnace, his HVAC system,  and the washer and dryer. The Newmans heat their water with oil.

According to the blue line, the Newmans' energy usage is 3 times the Westport aerage.

According to the blue line, the Newmans’ energy usage is 3 times the Westport aerage.

Randy is diligently trying to figure out why his usage is so relatively high. He even installed a TED 5000 energy usage meter, showing real-time consumption.
“At one point I suspected someone was stealing my electricity,” Randy says. “It wasn’t until I used TED that I learned much of my usage was from lights.” So he added even more LED lights, which led to some reduction in usage.

“Do I like A/C?” Randy asks. “Yeah. Do I have a big TV? Yeah — a couple. But 3 times the average?  I don’t watch that much TV in the cold.”

Randy wonders, “Is everyone in Westport using 3 times the Westport average?”

If so, we should change our name to Lake Wobegon: “where all the homes are above average.”

(Gotten a notice from CL&P about your energy usage? Click “Comments” to share your story. And please, use your full, real name.)

32 responses to “3 Times Is Not A Charm

  1. We have received the exact same letter.

  2. Mary Ruggiero


  3. Mary Ruggiero

    Have the McMansions skewed the average per sq ft?

  4. Candice Savin

    I too received a notice from CL&P that our enery usage was above average in our community. I too have a 300 square foot house that has had an energy audit. I too suspect something fishy is going on here….

  5. Kerry Fitzgerald

    We are energy conscious too and don’t even have A/C just window units that we hardly run and we too are 3x the average. I did not follow up as diligently as the Newman’s, just threw the “info” away, but interested to see comments. Hmmmm….

  6. Got one too! We use 11% more than neighbos, but used 12% less than last year…basking in the (stark) glow of CFLs!

  7. Ernie Lorimer

    They started this program about two months ago with a random sampling. Looks like it will be quite effective!

    The energy audits, outside of the CFL bulbs, aren’t really about electricity use other than HVAC. If you snoop around with a Kill-a-Watt you can be surprised at what is sucking power. The newest flat panel TVs use about $1.50 a month in electricity, but the always-on cable box (and thanks to Cablevision you can’t hardly use a TV in Westport without one) is $5/month. A desktop computer left on is around $20/month. Each outside light on overnight is $4/month.

    55% of the housing stock in Westport is 4+ bedrooms but the average household size is well under 3, so a household size of 5 is naturally going to use more electricity than average just opening and closing the refrigerator and doing laundry. Still, 3Mwh/month is some kind of bill.

  8. Same here: their “analysis” seems to significantly overstate my relative consumption. – Chris Woods

  9. I have been receiving exactly the same notice and our house is geothermal!

  10. Ever think about installing solar panels on the roof and becoming independent of CL&P altogether. As a matter of fact, they are required to buy back the surplus energy your home may produce.

  11. Ellen shedlarz

    I only live in the house 2 days a week and they said I use 3x the amount of my neighbors. I throw the report away.

    • Corporate profit maximizing and greed without ethics has most likely resulted in these reports.

  12. Megan Acquino Slingo

    I received the same letter in Monroe, as did my neighbors…my one neighbor had the exact same figures on his…Granted during the holidays my consumption triples because of our Christmas light display, but I know our consumption right now is very low. While i think it’s a good idea for CL&P to send out info on simple easy and low cost ways to reduce energy consumption…the letter they are sending is a scare tactic!!!

  13. Elise Russi

    We have a 2800 square foot house that is 46 years old with no updates of any kind. Our energy use is near the level of our “most efficient” neighbors and well below our neighborhood average. Our oil use is low. Our secret? House temperature is set at 63 in the winter except for 6 to 9 pm when it is 68. In summer, the AC is set at 76 and our attic fan does most of the job removing hot air. We do not put on outside lights unless we have guests. Inside lights are only on in rooms with people in them. Finally, we only have one cable box and TV, and no desktop computer, so our phantom electricity loss is low. Our CL and P bill last month was around $100.

  14. We too got a report showing us 3x the typical usage. the consistency of 3x seems pretty fishy.

  15. Stacy Prince

    2800 square foot geothermal house with energy-saving appliances: Same notice.

  16. Dan – we live in 1175 sf home – Drumlin Road is ‘average’ for late 1940’s – bit got a similar message in the bill. I believe the average spoken to is statewide and represents smaller size homes with less energy utilization equipment than Westport. Randy needs to relax and disregard his bill – he’s doing fine. Chris

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Ernie Lorimer

      The notice purports to normalize for square footage. But I agree it isn’t clear where the comparable homes are and what they’re like.

      Still, a $600/month electric bill, in non-A/C season? I would faint dead away.

  17. Received the same notice. Was told that our usage was much higher than “average”. I was really surprised since I have an autographed copy of “Earth in the Balance” and my wife, thankfully, throws nickels around like manhole covers. I calmed down when I considered the source of the analysis. Net – don’t worry.

  18. For comparinson purposes, maybe we can all enter our actual usage from the monthly bill. The Newman’s letter shows they used 3027 KWh in the month. Is that what their bill shows as well? My latest bill shows we used 936 KWh in April. (We generated over half of that with solar, so we paid for 375 KWh.) We’re a family of four in a 3400 square foot house. We have two teenagers who tend to leave lights on, and one 42″ plasma TV. Everyone has a computer. The number of 3027 KWh seems pretty high – it is about 3X what we used in a similar sized house, also with oil heat. What are other folks’ KWh readings from their bills?

    • Scott Smith

      This string inspired me to look at the numbers on my CL&P bill, first time in years. I live with my teen son in a small old house (1,300 sf) in Westport with all the tech gizmos and little insulation but new windows. My last bill was 242 k; $73.87. And I thought that was a big carbon footprint, relatively speaking. I don’t feel deprived, but wonder what’s going on in that house of yours!

  19. Not sure it this will make you feel good or bad, but I have a 4200 sq ft 4 br house with 3 high SEER (efficient) a/c compressors and 2 air handlers. Keep the house in the 71 range in the summer and 68 in winter. Installed all new ridiculously thick insulation in attic and replaced most old windows with new Marvins. Average 1500-2000 kwh per month in the fall, winter, and spring and 3000-3500 kwh per month in the summer.

  20. Luciano Morelli

    Got the same letter but we are in the top 18% in terms of efficiency. 10 year old house, 4.5k sq ft (on four floors), three A/C condensers/air handlers, dual pane windows, LED lights on the high usage areas, someone home 24/7 so energy is constantly being used. Three person household. During the last twelve months, we used 11,254 kwh. By far most of the energy is used in the summer (we are worse than average in the Summer). Installing some solar blinds to help with that. We have a lot of south facing windows that are totally undressed.

  21. Luciano Morelli

    Forgot to mention, if you log onto your account at CL&P, it will show your usage compared to average neighbors and to efficient neighbors by month for last twelve months.

    • Ernie Lorimer

      Thanks for this tip. I’m not in the program, so I can’t do the comparison, but I do see that you can get usage going back to 2007 in an easily downloadable form. Our average use declined from 980 kw/month in 2007-2009 to 740kw/month last year. That works out to $500/year in savings. (I didn’t average over the last three years because, you know, we spent more than half a month without power in that period.)

  22. Elizabeth Thibault

    With a 50 year-old 1300 Sq Ft house that was only supposed to be used temporarily, we have no energy efficiency at all. (Confirmed with the energy audit that was done last year, when we explored solar options.) Most of our energy use comes from electronics, since all our bulbs are CFL or LEDs, and I try to avoid using the furnace and A/C until we can’t stand it (or there’s a risk to the pipes,) because it doesn’t make sense to waste the energy when it’s going to seep out the walls.
    Adding this comparison is actually one of the easiest ways to save energy, from a community standpoint – see BusinessWeek: http://buswk.co/1ppip7V
    I scanned the report report to allow comparisons – this is a smaller, older home: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjYQpMuL

  23. Here too. Exactly 3000sf. According to them, we used 111 percent more than our neighbors which I completely believed because we have 6 residents and most on our street have two or three. But I had my house audit and it was insulated more a few years ago. I highly recommend doing it, especially if you’re getting ready to sell. I have the name of a guy who does insulation and helped me with a renovation on a house in Fairfield that I am sure would pass with flying colors as well. Green is good.

  24. Michele Lamothe

    We got the letter too. 1700 sq ft house. 40’s vintage. Never updated except new windows but well insulated. Lot of shade from mature trees so we get away with no (or occasional inefficient window) AC (this is huge I think overall but not relevant this month). 2 old little tube TV’s w/cable boxes . No desktops. 2 adults and no kids so we only keep the house comfortable for the pets when we’re not home, lights off except the one room we’re in etc. CFL’s throughout. Appliances old but energy star. Motion lights outside (and we even have some low wattage tree uplighting). Last month 24% less usage than “efficient” neighbors. Our actual (from our bills) and the report match and avg’s about 400kw per month (“efficient neighbors” 524/ “all neighbors”: 1045 last month). Our bills usually $70-80 per month; maybe a couple $100 plus bills in winter; $150+ if really cold. Love to know what’s making the big difference? We’re using just 13% of Randy’s usage??

  25. Hmmm. We had a malfunctioning thermostat in January that tried to cook us (85dF with electric heat), and still ended up 400 kwh underneath all neighbors. I think the report advised us to remove our second fridge. I had a good laugh at that one – our kitchen barely fits the one fridge plus one person who doesn’t mind bruises on their elbows.

    For those folks who asked around and saw many others with the same ‘above average’ usage, there may be a sample bias – e.g. if you have kids, you probably know other families with children the same age. Or there may be a few super efficient houses pulling the average down (i.e. you may be close to the median, but not the average). The house next to the one in which I grew up had a southern-style pass-through that let breezes through the house – no A/C in the summer, like Michele’s house, makes a big difference in energy costs.

  26. Mary Ruggiero

    We recently moved just over the Westport line. Our first bill with UI was more than double our previous usual bills with CLP! While this house is a tiny bit larger, we Also now have forced air with 2 air handlers..part of the difference. Since that move we have changed all overhead cans to LED …about 40 of them, and changed generation companies, bringing the bill down about 100 per month. About 1200 kWh. We will now focus on those constantly on tv’s and desktop computer. But even without taking that step,
    Our bill is about where it had been before the move. Whew!

  27. Thought of something else so I dug out the binder from a workshop I went to on green building: proper house siting can have a large, and lifetime, effect on the energy use of a building. In Austin (where the workshop was held) a lot of homes were in subdivisions, and houses on one side of the street used a lot more electricity than the houses on the other side because their long sides faced full afternoon sun in the west. So it may be that you have your heat or AC set to the same numbers as your neighbors, but your house’s compass orientation, or tree coverage, or roof overhang angle, are working against you.