Where does every penny of your energy bill go?

Amid soaring electricity prices, Conor Pope calculates how much it costs to run a house on an average day

From the moment you roll out of bed in the morning and stare bleary-eyed into the power shower, to the second you turn off the lights and turn off your Kindle, iPad, phone, or maybe even your real book later tonight, you spent money – and you spent it in an almost invisible way.

The bad news is that you’ve been spending that money faster than ever in the past few days as energy prices have skyrocketed, largely due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

When we part with most of our money, it’s easy to identify where it’s going. If you walk into a store, all products are clearly priced, menus show how much food in restaurants costs, and we regularly receive bills from our broadband and mobile providers showing what we are paying for and why. Whether we bother to review these bills is another matter altogether.

Utility companies send bills, of course, but they are as vague as they are incomprehensible. With energy prices rising at a staggering rate – some people will see prices soar by more than €1,000 over the next 12 months – now is a great time to take a hard look at exactly where our energy money is going and how we might hang onto some of them.*

But where to start ? Early in the day of course.

Shower
It’s 7am and the phone alarm wakes you up. You fall into the electric shower. Five minutes under the hot water jet costs about 22 cents based on a standard electricity rate.

Leaving all your devices on standby overnight will cost around 20% of the cost of their actual usage

Hair
Once you’re done showering, you might find yourself in the privileged position of needing a hair dryer for 10 minutes, in which case you’ll spend another 10 cents to make yourself look dry and presentable.

Breakfast
And now it’s time for breakfast. You boil the kettle for a teapot, which adds another 4 cents to the running total. If you decide to have coffee instead, you can probably brew a decent cup for no more than a penny using your Nespresso machine.

Your morning toast costs another 2 cents and, because you have free time, you have porridge. You don’t want to bother with the jar, so you microwave your Progress Oatlets for 2 cents.

Lights
You obviously won’t want to have breakfast in the dark, so you’ll need at least a few lights on. In fact, you’ll probably need lights on for a good part of the day and night – at least until the clocks go forward next week. Keeping one light bulb on for an hour will cost around 1 cent and if you have five on for 10 hours during the day it will cost you 50 cents.

Linen and dishes
When your morning meal is done, you load the dishwasher and run it on a two-hour cycle. That’s another 98 cents spent. Today is laundry day – although if you have children you may find that every day is laundry day. Running the washing machine on a two-hour cycle will cost you 98 cents more.

Taking a 5 minute shower will cost you around 22 cents. Photography: iStock

You’ll have to dry the clothes and you can’t hang them up because it’s Ireland and it’s March and it’s going to rain so – almost as if you’re made of money – you roll out the dryer. If your clothes only take two hours to dry, you’re wasting an extra $2.22 – literally.

To work
And therefore to work. Spending eight hours working on a desktop computer will cost you 48 cents, although if you switch to a laptop and leave it plugged in for much of the day, the cost drops to 18 cents.

Hot water
It’s almost 11:00, so you make more tea for an extra 4 cents. And then, at noon, you realize that one of your worst nightmares has come true. You’ve only gone and left the immersion for four hours – you can’t even remember why you turned that damn thing on in the first place. It doesn’t matter, you wasted the guts of $3 to heat up your water tank for no good reason.

Cooling
At lunchtime you make a carbon-neutral sandwich – yum – although most of the ingredients come from your fridge, which works 24 hours a day to keep your food fresh or frozen at a cost of around 2, 5 cents an hour or 60 cents a day.

You’re making more tea so it’s another 4 cents more.

housework
At this point, you might decide the house needs a vacuum cleaner – or a vacuum cleaner as the folks at Dyson or Miele would prefer us to say. The good news is that 20 minutes of suction only costs 8 cents. The bad news is that you just vacuumed for 20 minutes.

Tumble dry at your own risk, never leave electrical appliances on standby and only activate immersion if you win the lottery

Entertainment
When your workday is done, you turn on the TV, or if you can multitask, you might have it on all day in case you missed something exciting on Judge Judy or wanted to laugh at the idiots on The Chase.

If left on for six hours, it will cost you an additional 16 cents. Your Alexa plugged in and hooked on your every word — or spying on you for Big Tech — will cost you 2 cents a day, while charging your dead phone to full costs another 5 cents.

Having dinner
And suddenly it’s dinner time. Cooking a casserole or roast in your oven for two hours will add £1.44 to your daily bill – but it has the advantage of cooking everything at once.

Overnight
If you like an electric blanket and turn it on for two hours before climbing into a double bed, you’ll be toasty warm for about 12 cents.

Leaving all your devices on standby overnight will cost around 20% of the cost of actually using them, meaning you could end up spending around 36 cents a day because you can’t bother unplugging things.

Photography: iStock

Using your oven for two hours will add €1.44 to your daily bill. Photography: iStock

So far our running total is €11.57 – although it’s actually more like €8.57 if we assume leaving the dip was a one-time oversight, so we’ll exclude from the count. While some of the costs here won’t be incurred on a daily basis – the laundry, the oven, the vacuum cleaner – others are, which is why when spread over a year our energy bills soar so high .

Heating
Of course, with all our shopping, we forgot to heat our house. And that’s where the big spending comes in. How much you spend on heating depends entirely on how warm you like your home to be, how big it is, and how well insulated it is.

Allowing €1.64 to centrally heat a three-bedroom house for one hour, the cost of not unreasonably using six hours in a day will be €9.84, taking the total cost energy for our house for a day in winter for €18.41.

If you were to spend at this level every day, that would bring your total energy cost over a full year to around $6,000.

The good news is that for much of the year energy costs are significantly lower than shown here – the heating bill alone can drop by up to €2,000 in the warmer months. Even so, few Irish households will have change from €3,000 over the next 12 months. And with prices likely to continue to climb, things may get worse before they even start to improve.

Photography: iStock

Reducing heating can be a great way to cut costs. Photography: iStock

Is there anything you can do? Wear more clothes and use less heat. Turning your thermostat down one degree could reduce your heating bills by 3-10%. Don’t heat your house if you’re not there, so turn off the heat at least 30 minutes before you leave.

Don’t light up rooms you’re not in. Only run washing machines or dishwashers when they are full, dry them at your own risk, never leave your electrical appliances on standby and only turn on the immersion if you win the Lotto. Washing clothes at 30 degrees will save you money and damage your clothes less, while the economy settings of all other appliances will do what they say and help you save.

A smart energy meter from any utility allows you to monitor usage in real time, and you should always look to switch providers every year. According to the folks at Bonkers.ie, an active switch can save around $500 per year, which will offset most, if not all, of the recent price increases we’ve been facing.

* Figures based on a typical standard unit price for electricity incorporating an additional 20% to reflect recent and future price increases

Edward N. Arrington