I know that this is not a forum for personal electrical questions, but I have a really strange situation going on. I took occupancy about three months ago of a small two family home, one unit per floor. No utilities had been active or turned on in the premises for almost a whole year prior, due to the house was unoccupied.

The building has: 

  • 2 Utica Boiler gas boilers (which have been off at the breakers, I didn't use the heat once)
  • 1 40 gallon Bradford White water heater (electric) not currently set to a timer, but exists. 
  • 2 Refrigerators
  • 1 Speed Queen commercial washer
  • 1 Speed Queen commercial dryer 
  • 2 Electricity Fuse Panels
  • 1 Electricity Meter
  • 1 8000BTU window air conditioner was put in, but it was about a week ago and did not exist prior to that. 

In the first month, April, electrical usage was 2373KWH. In the second month, May - it was 3257KWH. And so far for June, it is at 2641KWH of usage, and so if I were to average out what I can expect to see on the next bill it's somewhere around 4,093KWH of use. 

There used to be two electric meters - however the previous owner decided to run the power from the Floor 1 fuse box into Floor 2's fuse box - it's apparently all hooked into a single 50W breaker on the Floor 2 fuse panel. 

I have dropped some cords from Floor 2 down to Floor 1 load from the laundry machines trips the fuse unless I did that. To power like the AC or computer, I use the Floor 2 drops. 

No one is stealing power, I am farily sure of that. And we don't have a lot of things in either unit in terms of tv's etc, nothing that would cause this type of usage pattern. 

I am highly suspect of either an electricity leak somewhere in the connection to the other breaker box, or perhaps the digital meter is going crazy. I need a starting point please. I am having a guy come out to look at it on Saturday, but I am not sure how effective he will be based on the phone call I had. 

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Did you try unplugging everything in both floors and then looking at the meter to see if it spins when there is no load on the outlets at all?

What about a hot water plumbing leak? I would expect on the order of 5,000 kWh per year with typical usage on an electric tank water heater. But if there's a plumbing leak, then who knows...Also check for hidden electric resistance heat, in bathroom floor tile, for example. Always on outdoor lighting?

Good luck! 

My inclination would be to start with the water heater and the refrigerators.  You are looking for a 4 kW load. or more.  That could be a water heater with a water leak, or a refrigerator that isn't working well.  Also, some substantial outdoor lighting could also be the culprit.

Asuming the guy who shows up is not from the utility, I would have him put a clamp on amp meter on each breaker at the panel(s).  Put it on and look for anything over 10 amps. 50 amps should be enough for the second panel. I assume the dryer is electrically heated.  The usages are high, but not crazy.  

Brent, The fridge would be easy to isolate. You can borrow a Kill A Watt Meter from your local library and put it on anything with a plug. Most libraries have those to lend.

Or they are grounded and there's the short.

With regard to the outside lighting - zero outside lighting, in fact the lighting in the basement as well as for the exterior outlets and lights doesn't work, I am thinking that it was never re-wired into the panels possibly when they merged the lines.  

Check out the DHW unit.  What temperature is the water entering and leaving the unit?  How old is the unit? What shape is it in?  If your temperature leaving the unit is over 120, you have some of the usage.  Get it turned back down.  How many people in the house and how many and long are the showers?  Install low flow shower heads if they are not installed.

How old are those commercial laundry units?  Was it probable they were installed 2nd or 3rd hand at your location?   Do you need the commercial capacity?  Consider the original purchaser replaced them for some reason,  They are usually given a beating and take a lot, but when the parts start going, then the repair expense is high. 

Look around on the internet for the model numbers of all appliances. You can probably find an age of the unit.  That alone will tell you a lot.  You can find the KWH usage on many units, refrigerators etc.  Start estimating the usage portion of the various appliances.  

What kind of light bulbs?  Incandescent, CFL, T-12s???

What reporting on your electrical usage can you get from the Utility Co website.   (I can get daily.)  Get the daily usage or a more frequent breakdown for the whole time you've been there.  Interesting to look at, I did one last year that on Oct 1  AVG Temp 70°F 25KWH;  Oct 5  AVG Temp 70°F 54KWH.  (Both days only had 1 HDD).  Why would that happen?

Contact your Electric Utility,  get past customer service to a branch that can help you run down problems.  You may find a wealth of info and help there. Most have 3 years of records.  The bldg may have been unoccupied for a year before you got there, but if they have multiple years, perhaps they can use their look at that usage to tell you what to look for.

Report back what you find.  This will be interesting.

The California Energy Commission has a searchable appliance database that is quite extensive.  Check out their MAEDBS database. MAEDBS stands for Modernized Appliance Efficiency Database System. It might tell you what your appliances should be using as far as annual kWh's.


Using an ammeter, I would measure each 'hot' conductor leaving the fuses. (Find an electrician that can help, if you are not comfortable or familiar with this).

With everything turned off (appliances, devices, etc.), measured current for each conductor should be near 0 Amps.  Record measured current for each branch circuit conductor.

~23 Amps, at 120V drawing 24hrs/day, 30days/mo would result in ~2000kWh. 

I've come across homes where damaged insulation on a conductor was resulting in power flowing to ground, without tripping breakers or blowing fuses.  The only sign was an unexplained current draw (and high electric bills!).

If there does not appear to be a 'current leak', there may simply be an appliance or device that is drawing an inordinate amount of power.  You'll have to turn these items on (one at a time) to discover which may be sucking more than it should.

Identifying the offending circuit(s) is a fine place to start.   Start at the panel and work your way down the branch circuits.

Jason's suggestion my be a quick way to isolate the high load, IF you have an old style meter that actually spins. Many utilities are converting to the Smart Meters that are digital and don't show instantaneous changes in load.

At 3257 KwH for May, if the draw was constant, the hourly draw would be 3.3 KwH, or 3300 watts. So that is the minimum draw at any time. The extra load could be a cyclical load. If you do have a Smart Meter, many utilities allow you to set up an account on-line and look at your historical load. With some systems you can only look at daily loads, but with others you can look at hourly loads. If the hourly loads in the middle of the night seem to be high (say > 1 KwH each hour), that would point to a constant load.

Using an ammeter to check loads will only work if the extra load is constant or happens to be 'running' at the time of testing (eg.- a well pump that runs a lot, but not all the time), but is worth a try.

Lighting and other light loads would never draw that much. The clothes dryer would not be the problem unless someone was running it at least half of the day, every day. Most things that are plugged in are too small a load to be the culprit. A plug in air conditioner would draw in the ballpark of 10 or 12 amps at 120 volts, which equals about 1.4 KwH if it ran constantly (not cycling).

A leak to ground is rare, and it would have to be at a direct buried cable between the service entrance panel and the meter, where frost action can move rocks through soil and cut the insulation of a cable.

Keep in mind that energy can neither be created or destroyed, only converted from one form to another. That electricity has to be going somewhere, and it usually ends up as heat energy (Second Law of Thermodynamics), so if it is a leak to ground, something is heating up.

If it is the DHW heater, the water would heat up to the point of tripping the high limit switches, unless there was a serious leak of hot water somewhere (at least a large pencil stream).

I once discovered a line voltage thermostat that had failed on, and the electric radiant ceiling heat was on all the time. I was looking during a hot summer day, so the extra heat was not as noticeable. My infrared camera was very useful for finding that.

I would strongly recommend having an actual licensed electrician come out evaluate the entire system, it sounds like he might be busy

Mike Pagozalski--Certified Home Inspector

First of all (as has been noted) it's good you are getting an electrician in there. The current configuration sounds like a hot mess.

That said, this electric use COULD be perfectly believable without dealing with an electrical defect. It's high, all right, but could be possible just from the existing system.  

The one electric water heater serves how many occupants?? We see an average of 2,700 kWh annual savings from swapping out an electric water heater. If your DHW is serving two households, 500 kWh/month is pretty likely usage. If it's set up to 140 - 150 degrees because they were always running our of hot water, you could easily see 700 - 800 kWh on that unit. Add in one hot water leak, and 1,000 kWh isn't out of reach. (And a hot water leak is FAR more likely than an "electrical leak".)

Regardless of the details, it's ALWAYS worth it to swap out an electric water heater to natural gas. (Unless you have to do major plumbing retrofit to accomplish it...)

Great refrigs use 40 kWh/month -- awful ones use 200/month. Your local library might have watt-meters for loan; get one and measure them.

The commercial washer and dryer were NOT designed to be energy efficient. But the usage there is very dependent on occupants and the fuel (which you don't specify.). A residential electric dryer (3 kWh/load) serving two families with several kids each could be 200 kWh all by itself. A commercial-grade unit? I dunno -- maybe double that?? It's probably 220v, so the electrician can identify the draw with a clamp-on meter, but you'll have to do some math to figure out the actual consumption/

Lots of folks have chimed in with good advice on electric sleuthing, but I'll add one; for a few days, try reading the electric meter just before you go to bed, and then again first thing in the morning. Even with a digital meter, that will give you some idea what the low-load usage is. An overnight load of 1-2 kWh would be more or less "normal" -- TVs left on, maybe one cycle on the water heater from doing dishes. Anything more than that would tell me something is amiss.

I hope you enjoy sleuthing -- there's a bit to learn here. But at least this one is worth the work! There's money laying on the table there!


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