i hate estimated readings

December 18th, 2008

I Hate “Estimated” Readings

Last April, our 20+ year old furnace called it quits.  The cost of the repairs to get it running again were estimated at about 1/2 to 3/4ths the cost of an entirely new furnace, so we decided to replace the furnace instead of making very costly repairs and hoping nothing else went wrong in a furnace already past its estimated life span.  A nice side benefit to replacing the furnace is that the models now are significantly more energy efficient than they were twenty years ago.  Something also true of our refrigerator, which is approaching its 24th birthday.  But I digress…

So weirdly enough, this month I was actually looking forward to getting my natural gas bill.  This past month was the first month that it has been cold enough outside to run the furnace a significant portion of the time, so it would be the first time I could compare last year’s usage to this year’s in any meaningful way.  I can’t directly compare dollar amounts, for the price of natural gas here has gone up 25% since last year.  Ugh.  And, it has been colder this past November than it was in November 2007, by an average of about 6 degrees.  But still, I could make some comparisons.

And when we got the bill, not only was it $50 higher than last year at this time, our usage of natural gas was about 10% more than last year.

I was livid.  I was angry.  I was so irritated with myself and with the new furnace and with life in general.  And then I noticed that for the first time since we moved into this house, the code by the reading of the meter for the beginning of December said “E” instead of “A”.   E = estimated.  A = actual.  So noone actually came and read our meter, they made an estimation based on past usage.  And checking the meter myself, their estimation was at least 25% off of what it would have been if they read the meter.  I’m not sure exactly how far off since I read the meter the day I got the bill, not the day they made their estimation.  But still – not our actual usage.

I could call and correct it, but since this is the first estimated reading they have done in two years, I am reasonably sure they will do an actual reading next month and the over-estimation will balance out with a lower bill in January.   I’m just glad I noticed before I got even more irritated.

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20 Responses to “I Hate “Estimated” Readings”

  1. This happened to me in college. What was insane was that we had our heat set at 60 degrees yet our bill was double what it was for the summer. The next month we didn’t owe anything.

  2. I’ve got an electric furnace and the electric company makes an estimate of my annual energy usage and divides it into 12 monthly payments. I kind of like it because it’s easier to budget, and if I’ve been good all year, I get a big break on the last month. It also makes winter a lot less stressful – and in my opinion, anything that makes winter a little easier is worthwhile.

  3. Estimated usage sounds illegal. I’d call and complain since it’s way more than 5 or 6 dollars over what the actual bill should be.

  4. About 3 months ago I received an estimated water bill that was twice the amount of my normal usage. I felt that part of my bill is paying for a meter reader to come driving by my house with a scanner to read the meter. I paid for the service, yet they did not read it for that month. I e-mailed them and 5 days later they sent a reader out and corrected the amount. I know it would have come back to me the next month, but I have other things to do with that cash!!!

  5. I don’t think I have ever gotten an estimated bill. Can’t wait to hear how it comes out in Jan.

  6. I’d call to find out why it was “estimated”. Sometimes the meter reader has difficulty getting to where s/he could get the actual numbers. It’d be good to know if they made a decision not to read it or if there’s an an issue you need to take care of ;-)

  7. I wouldn’t go for an “estimate” reading on anything. I only and always want to pay for what I actually use and/or consume. This month on the electric I open a bill and about faint. After checking the meter (several days after it was read, too) I called and had the correction made – saved myself $252.00!!!! Now that was a bad/sloppy reading done by that meter reader.

  8. I just read an article that (in Canada, at least) meters are rarely read every month, so gas companies take a number of factors into account, including outside temperature, to make a computer-generated estimate and the estimate is usually higher than actual usage. The author advises that you call your gas company with your own reading. Apparently, some companies also allow you to do it online or will drop off and pick up a meter card that you fill out if, for some reason, they’re not able to access your meter. I think Jay’s idea is a good one – if you’ve never had an estimated reading before, there might have been something preventing them from accessing your meter (i.e., a massive snowbank, a ferocious dog).

  9. I wouldn’t imagine that would even be legal. What if you really needed that money for the month? I can’t imagine what that would do to families who live on the financial edge. Yikes!

  10. This is really interesting, and it’s a real wake-up call. I’m going to start looking at my utility bills more closely. I agree with others that it’s a good idea to find out if there was some temporary obstruction to reading the meter – but still, I wonder if utility companies might try to cut costs by “estimating” costs rather than having human meter readers.

    I expect that state laws permit some flexibility in utility billing in order to protect the utilities – however, I don’t know that for certain.

    I wonder why there can’t be some cyber “mission control” that reads the meters remotely – without human errors or the need to estimate.

  11. There isn’t an obstruction – if I get another estimated reading I’ll call and ask but my meter sits on the side of my house 4 feet from the road right next to the electric one – and the electric one got read just fine. Maybe there was a threatening possum ;)

  12. LOL!

  13. Our electric company does this as well and we had the same complaints. We contacted them and they sent us cards so we could read our own meter. We just have to be diligent about reading it and getting it into the mail on time. Perhaps your company offers the same?

  14. If paying the bill is a problem, call them with a corrected reading and tell them you will be paying less than the billing. That’ way they should not ding you for a small or not in full payment.

    If you are ok with it and the money is not an issue, pay up this month and enjoy the slide/ride next month.

  15. @Marsha: Here in WI, I believe utilities are allowed to estimate up to 6 consecutive months. But of course you can mail in a card or request an appointment for a reader to come out if you aren’t happy with the estimate. Many companies do read meters remotely, but even those systems aren’t perfect. For example: the battery in the meter radio transmitter might die or the truck might not drive close enough to your house to pick up the signal. Utilities tend to estimate on the high side because most people would rather get a refund rather than a big bill once the utility takes an actual reading!

  16. Oh I feel your pain! I live in an apartment above a store, and the meters are in the basement so if the store isn’t open, the guy can’t get in to read them. My last TWO bills were estimated, and both are double what our actual bills have been. I called to complain the first time wondering where the hell they got that estimate from, and since we’d been in the apartment less than a year, it was mostly based on last year’s usage.

    Well, since moving in we’ve had the landlord weather-proof the front door (we could see light coming in before. They actually built a whole new door-frame to be able to put proper weather-stripping around it). We’ve also plastic-sealed our windows and most importantly, the skylight in our bedroom which currently has 12 maple keys stuck in it that have blown in from outside somehow. Clearly we are wasting far less heat than the previous tenants were and by the time they do an ACTUAL reading, they will probably owe ME money!

  17. Our water meter is read every other month. The month the bill is estimated it is about $60 the month that they read it is $34 so in reality it should be $40 something every month. We’ve lived here nearly 10 years and it has never changed. Our water bill also includes trash pick up.

  18. Hmm… I’d sure call and let them know a new furnace had been installed and so you feel an actual in-person reading is in order, not an estimate based on an older, less efficient model. That’s not fair to you. They’re supposed to be rewarding people who replace old equipment, not beating them about the head & shoulders.

    Hereabouts the City water bureaucrats will swear up and down that their reader got out of his truck and wrote down the figures, even when (suspiciously) two statements running show exactly the same readings. At least you have them telling you the truth….

  19. Wisconsin Energies aka WE Energies (Yes – Weinergies) used to estimate the readings at our old place, then they installed new meters and we got actuals every month. What they would do is estimate one month & get an actual the next month (only during the winter months) – things would even out. However, at the old place their estimations were based on the previous residents who must have been energy unconscious as the estimates were 2x our usage. I would call in the actuals and they would gladly adjust until I got one no-service rep on the phone who called me a liar. I ended up calling back the next day with actual bills to show their over-estimations and wrote my state senator who managed to get some Wienergies manager to call me up and apologize. Eventually any estimations at that place were based on our usage history.

    In our new house it appears they are doing the one month actual & one month estimated, the first estimation I have had did not appear out of line.

    I have also had estimates fall in my favor, again it catches up.

  20. Just an update about my ridiculously high estimated bills:
    I finally got an actual bill and i was right. I had almost nothing to pay because of the high estimates they’d given me.

    And just today I found out the reason the previous tenants’ bills were so high: they were running a grow-op in the apartment!! I made jokes about it when I got those crazy bills, but I never thought it would actually be true! The store owner downstairs was telling us all about it today and how they discovered it because their irrigation system screwed up and started flooding his store. Insane!