Last week during the polar vortex, the kids and I noticed that the normally blue flames on our gas stovetop had a decidedly orange tint to them. I was concerned that there was something that changed to our gas supply or to our gas system. Having read reports of some people having trouble with their gas meters, was a trouble call to Nicor in my future?
A little more searching online revealed another possible reason — ultrasonic humidifiers. As it had turned out, I had indeed ordered a few ultrasonic humidifiers from Costco last Monday which were immediately placed into service after their delivery. We discontinued their use on Saturday when it got warmer outside and by Sunday the flames had returned to their normal blue color.
Apparently, these new ultrasonic humidifiers are very efficient , putting a gallon of water in just under 24 hours. But they put everything into the air — including any dissolved minerals or salts (from water softeners). Those items end up being burned in the gas flames and consequently change the color. Sounds weird, doesn’t it?
It was time to run an experiment. View the results below (via YouTube)!
With the Polar Vortex descending upon us this week, I thought I would go through a little calculation to see which option makes more sense (and costs less dollars).
How to compare Natural Gas to Electricity
To be able to properly compare natural gas to electricity, we need to figure out how to compare their cost. Each of the two energy sources are delivered and measured using different units. Natural gas delivered and billed in therms, electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh). Luckily, someone has already gone to the trouble to calculate how many kWh are in a therm — 29.3072 (source: Wikipedia).
Using this conversion factor, we can compare the relative costs of the two energy sources:
unit cost (Dec-18)
cost per kWh
cost per therm
For the purpose of turning energy sources into heat, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that natural gas is a much cheaper form of energy than electricity. Natural gas is 6.4x cheaper than electricity.
What about furnace efficiency?
If your furnace uses plastic pipes, it’s a high efficiency furnace (>97%). If you have a standard efficiency furnace (mine is ~85%), some of your energy is lost up the chimney. So for my situation I’ll need to adjust for that by dividing my unit cost for natural gas by 0.85.
unit cost (Dec-18) adjusted
cost per kWh
cost per therm
This changes the cost differential slightly, but natural gas is still 5.4x cheaper than electricity.
Turn up the thermostat!
Bottom line is that heating with gas is several times cheaper than heating with electricity. If you have the option of heating with natural gas or electricity, natural gas is the way to go!
With final billing in from ComEd, here are the numbers:
Not a bad year with only one month with a bill higher than flat-rate. I’ve been on hourly pricing since July 2008 and in all that time only 5 months have been higher than flat rate, most have been in winter with Jan-Mar of 2014 being particularly bad — remember the Polar Vortex?
Reading your Utility Bill
Electricity bills consist of three components: the cost of the energy (supply), the cost to deliver that energy (delivery) and taxes and fees. A typical ComEd bill breaks them down visually:
If you have a different electricity supplier than ComEd, it would be indicated on the left hand side of the graphic. In my case ComEd is the supplier and the delivery company.
Alternate Electricity Suppliers
Every so often I get an offer in the mail to switch to a different energy company for the “supplier” part of my electric service. In every case what sounds like a way to save money would turn out to be the opposite. The latest offered to lock in my electric rates to $0.065/kWh. The graphic above was taken off the December 2018 bill. Taking the cost of the energy ($64.47) and dividing by the total kWh (1069) yields a cost of $0.0603 per kWh. Even in one of the smaller savings months (vs. ComEd flat-rate), I would still be under the offer from the competitor. Below are the monthly energy costs (supply) and the average cost per kWh for each month in 2018:
Average cost per kWh
If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please feel free to contact me.
Finally getting around to updating my personal website and decided to use WordPress content management system. This should allow me to update it on a more frequent basis. I’ve already given some thought to some upcoming posts centering around some of my areas of interest. Check back in a few weeks to see what’s new!