Orange flames on gas stove

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)!

Turn up the thermostat or use electric space heater?

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:

Energy sourceunit cost (Dec-18)cost per kWhcost per therm
natural gas$0.554/therm$0.019/kWh$0.554/therm
electricity$0.121/kWh$0.121/kWh$3.543/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.

Energy sourceunit cost (Dec-18)
adjusted
cost per kWhcost per therm
natural gas$0.652/therm$0.022/kWh$0.652/therm
electricity$0.121/kWh$0.121/kWh$3.543/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!

2018 Electricity Usage

With final billing in from ComEd, here are the numbers:

MonthkWhHourlyPricingFlatRateSavings!
January 1896 $249.41 $240.08 -$9.33
February 1651 $164.02 $216.72 $52.70
March 1349 $144.21 $172.02 $27.81
April 1081 $133.31 $138.61 $5.30
May 1170 $125.22 $150.18 $24.96
June 2028 $199.31 $258.90 $59.59
July 2173 $192.18 $269.91 $77.73
August 1817 $182.07 $232.32 $50.25
September 1789 $177.72 $223.87 $46.15
October 986 $112.58 $128.41 $15.83
November 1075 $126.15 $138.60 $12.45
December 1069 $129.27 $137.90 $8.63
2018 Totals 18084 $1,935.45 $2,307.52 $372.07

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:

MonthkWhEnergy CostAverage cost per kWh
January 1896 $139.41 $0.0735
February 1651 $72.45 $0.0439
March 1349 $66.52 $0.0493
April 1081 $68.08 $0.0630
May 1170 $55.92 $0.0478
June 2028 $90.09 $0.0444
July 2173 $107.92 $0.0497
August 1817 $95.20 $0.0524
September 1789 $100.00 $0.0559
October 986 $51.59 $0.0523
November 1075 $61.06 $0.0568
December 1069 $64.47 $0.0603
2018 Totals 18084 $972.71 $0.0538

If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please feel free to contact me.

Hello world!

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!