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Utility Diaries: A Month of Bills in Urbana, Illinois

In Utility Diaries, we look at what different households across Illinois pay in a month for utility expenses. 

Today’s household consists of two people in a rented house in Urbana.  

Housing Background

  • Location: Urbana, IL
  • Household Size: 2 people
  • Housing Type: House
  • Rent or Own: Rent
  • Square Footage: 1,215
  • Year Built: 1954

Energy Usage

  • Heating: Gas forced-air furnace
  • Cooling: Central air
  • Average Monthly Gas Usage: 65 therms
  • Highest Gas Month: February, 194 therms
  • Average Monthly Electric Usage: 361 kilowatt-hours
  • Highest Electric Month: August, 591 kilowatt-hours

Water Usage

  • Average Monthly Water Usage: 4,000 gallons
  • Highest Water Month: July, 4,500 gallons

Telecom Plans

  • Internet Speed: 200 Mbps
  • Cellphone Plan: Unlimited calls, text, and data (1 line)

Utility Companies and Charges Last Month: 

  • Gas: Ameren Illinois, $61.81
  • Electric: Ameren Illinois, $34.35
  • Water: Illinois American, $52.44
  • Sewer: Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District (paid by landlord)
  • Internet: Xfinity by Comcast, $50
  • Cell Phone: Verizon, $42
  • Garbage: Mel’s Disposal, $18
  • Recycling: U-CYCLE (free for Urbana residents)
  • Last Month’s Total: $216.60

Do you have an alternative electric or gas supplier? 

We do not. The City of Urbana has a municipal aggregation contract for residential electricity supply with Homefield Energy that expires in January 2023, but we opted out of the program. Instead, we are signed up for Ameren’s Power Smart Pricing program, where we pay the real-time hourly rate for electricity. Even counting the monthly program fee of $2.25, over the last 12 months, we have saved $9.74.

Have you participated in any programs to save on your bills?  

In addition to Ameren’s Power Smart Pricing program, we are enrolled in Ameren’s Peak Time Rewards program. Every summer, we are notified on days where Ameren expects high electricity use, and if we lower our usage that day, we get automatic credits on our bill. 

While we do not qualify for Ameren’s Income Qualified energy efficiency program, we were able to get a “free”* smart thermostat from Ameren, as well as discounted LED lightbulbs. 

*We didn’t pay anything for the thermostat, but like all Ameren customers, we pay into the energy efficiency programs through a tax on our monthly bill. 

“My Energy Overview,” Ameren’s estimates of how we use energy, available through our online utility account.

What do you do to save energy and water at home?

We use LEDs and faucet aerators on the bathroom and kitchen sinks. We also unplug nonessential appliances (not the fridge) when we’re not using them and wash clothes on the cold setting. In the winter, we keep the temperature around 66 degrees, and in the summer, 78 degrees. We’ve thought about putting a plastic bottle with rocks in it in the toilet water tank to retrofit our toilets into low-flow toilets but haven’t done that yet. 

Because we rent, we aren’t in control of the efficiency of our furnace, AC and refrigerator/freezer. Our home is older, very drafty and could use better insulation, but that’s out of our control. We have patched up some cracks in the baseboards with caulk as DIY air sealing

What are the details of your telecom plans? If you have internet service, do you own your modem and router? If you have cellphone service, do you own your phone? 

We are on the Xfinity Blast! plan, which means we are charged $86 per month for 200 Mbps but only pay $50 because we get automatic discounts from Xfinity. There is a $10 discount for auto-pay and paperless billing, and a $26 contract discount that will end on February 28, 2022. This past February, we called to get the discount renewed for this year. 

We work from home and stream for entertainment, and, other than occasional outages in our area, don’t have any trouble with our internet connectivity. We own our modem and router, which was purchased in 2016, so we don’t pay any rental fees.

We each have a cellphone, but only pay for one plan because the other plan is paid for by work. The paid plan is $42 per month for unlimited talk, text, and data. I paid for the (refurbished) phone upfront last year. I don’t pay for a phone warranty plan, preferring to pay out of pocket if I need to replace the phone. I replace my phone about every four years. 

Do you worry about paying your utility bills?

Luckily, we have two incomes in our household and don’t worry too much about paying our bills. We each pay roughly $100 per month for utility service. Our trash, internet, and water bills are relatively stable, but our gas and electric bill can fluctuate a lot, so we try to be conscious of our heating and cooling costs. If we weren’t able to pay our bills, we would enroll in financial assistance programs as soon as possible. 

Have a question about your utility bills? Call CUB’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-669-5556 (Monday through Friday, 9am-4pm) to speak with a consumer advocate. 

Get your utility bills reviewed for free! Email ubc@citizensutilityboard.org to have a CUB staffer look over your bills and identify ways to save, including extra charges that may be costing you.