According to data from the Census Bureau, the typical American family spends about $2,850 per year — or about 22% of total housing costs — on their utility bills. With working from home on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are beginning to experience one of the hidden costs of working remotely: increased utility spending.

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that industrial and commercial electricity usage both have declined due to shutdowns, stay-at-home orders and increased remote working in the wake of the pandemic. In contrast, residential electricity usage in the last few months is higher than the average for the last five years. Not only has working from home led to increased electricity, internet and phone usage for residential customers, but many Americans are using more energy for things like cooking and running the dishwasher more frequently as well.

Energy usage depends greatly on climate. Households in colder climates tend to use a lot of energy in the winter for heating, while people in warmer climates see their highest energy usage during the summer months. According to data from the EIA, households in the Northeast and Midwest use the most energy on average. Households in the more temperate West region use the least.

Spending on utilities depends not only on climate but also on energy costs, which vary geographically. With total utility spending (including electric, gas, other heating fuels, water and sewer) in excess of $280 per month for the typical household, residents in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Alaska and Rhode Island spend the most on utilities. Total utility spending is lowest in New Mexico, Montana and Idaho, where median utility costs are less than $200 per month.

West Virginia and Mississippi households spend the most on utilities as a percentage of total housing costs. Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs is 50.1% for West Virginia and 41.7% for Mississippi homeowners. At the other end of the spectrum, Hawaii and California homeowners spend the smallest share of their housing costs on utilities, at 14.1% and 13.4%, respectively.

In the smaller metro cities category, St. Joseph ranks eighth in the country for households that spend the most on utilities. For people in financial peril, that often means they’re reaching out for help from organizations like Community Action Partnership of Greater St. Joseph, which can assist them through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Rachael Bittiker, the public affairs and community development director for CAP St. Joseph, said with unemployment and people struggling with burdens like medical bills, response for help with utility bills has risen during the pandemic.

“A lot of the people that we serve ... they’re in a situation where they’re working, but they’re working in jobs that may not provide insurance and all the extra benefits on top of that. So a medical issue can really put a person down now, then they’re turning to services like the LIHEAP program, which can help kind of bridge those gaps,” she said.

Whatever direction the pandemic will go in the fall and winter, CAP is prepared to help people as their utility bills go up because of an increase in amenities like heating during the colder months.

“Our plan is to keep them processing applications, because it’s a necessity. We have families and children that are going to go without power and that’s something that we’re not prepared to see happen,” Bittiker said.

While some of CAP’s employees are working from home, intake specialists are at the office accepting and processing LIHEAP applications. To make it a contactless experience, people can obtain an application inside the center’s food box in front of its administration building at 817 Monterrey St. After it’s filled out, they can drop it in a special slot at its front door meant for applications.

“We try to make it as contactless as possible just for the safety of our customers and our staff,” Bittiker said.

To find the metropolitan areas that spend the most on utilities, researchers at Filterbuy analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau on owner-occupied housing units. The researchers ranked metro areas according to their respective median monthly utility costs, including electricity, gas, other heating fuels, water and sewer. The researchers also calculated median monthly utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs.

To improve relevance, only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metro areas were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size:

Small metros: 100,000–349,999

Midsize metros: 350,000–999,999

Large metros: 1,000,000 or more

Here are the metropolitan areas that spend the most on utilities.

Large Metros That Spend the Most on Utilities

15. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-Virginia-Maryland-West Virginia

Median total utility costs: $252

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 12.6%

Median electric costs: $140

Median gas costs: $80

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $63

Median water and sewer costs: $50

14. Memphis, Tennessee-Mississippi-Arkansas

Median total utility costs: $253

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 26.3%

Median electric costs: $190

Median gas costs: $60

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $17

Median water and sewer costs: $20

13. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Indiana

Median total utility costs: $255

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 25.5%

Median electric costs: $140

Median gas costs: $80

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $42

Median water and sewer costs: $42

12. Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky-Indiana

Median total utility costs: $255

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 27.2%

Median electric costs: $150

Median gas costs: $80

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $33

Median water and sewer costs: $58

11. Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, California

Median total utility costs: $258

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 16.5%

Median electric costs: $120

Median gas costs: $50

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $29

Median water and sewer costs: $83

10. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Median total utility costs: $267

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 29.8%

Median electric costs: $120

Median gas costs: $90

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $75

Median water and sewer costs: $58

9. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Virginia-North Carolina

Median total utility costs: $270

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 19.8%

Median electric costs: $150

Median gas costs: $70

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $50

Median water and sewer costs: $66

8. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware-Maryland

Median total utility costs: $278

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 20.2%

Median electric costs: $150

Median gas costs: $90

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $100

Median water and sewer costs: $50

7. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas

Median total utility costs: $280

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 21.1%

Median electric costs: $170

Median gas costs: $50

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $17

Median water and sewer costs: $70

6. Birmingham-Hoover, Alabama

Median total utility costs: $280

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 33.1%

Median electric costs: $180

Median gas costs: $50

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $29

Median water and sewer costs: $40

5. Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas

Median total utility costs: $283

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 25.7%

Median electric costs: $150

Median gas costs: $70

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $39

Median water and sewer costs: $50

4. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Connecticut

Median total utility costs: $283

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 18.7%

Median electric costs: $140

Median gas costs: $100

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $117

Median water and sewer costs: $40

3. Providence-Warwick, Rhode Island-Massachusetts

Median total utility costs: $283

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 20.0%

Median electric costs: $120

Median gas costs: $100

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $117

Median water and sewer costs: $42

2. New York-Newark-Jersey City, New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania

Median total utility costs: $300

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 14.9%

Median electric costs: $150

Median gas costs: $100

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $150

Median water and sewer costs: $46

1. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Massachusetts-New Hampshire

Median total utility costs: $309

Median utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs: 16.5%

Median electric costs: $130

Median gas costs: $100

Median other fuel costs (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.): $125

Median water and sewer costs: $50

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Residents in the eastern half of the country spend more total on utilities than those in the western half, with Alaska being the notable exception. Residents in the Northeast in particular — with hot summers and cold winters — spend the most on utilities. Nationally, the median total monthly utility bill is $238, and median utility costs as a share of total housing costs comes out to about 22% for American homeowners.

For the small and midsize metros that spend the most on utilities, many homeowners in these areas spend upwards of 30% to 40% of their total housing expenditures on utilities. Workers in these metros who are now working from home due to the pandemic could see these costs rise even higher. These workers will save on commuting costs, but their increased spending on energy and other utilities could add up to more than what they’re saving by staying home.

To determine the metros that spend the most on utilities, researchers at Filterbury analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample. The researchers ranked metro areas according to median total utility costs. In the event of a tie, the metro with larger median total utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs was ranked higher. Only households who owned their home were included in the analysis.

Only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metro areas were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size:

Small metros: 100,000–349,999

Midsize metros: 350,000–999,999

Large metros: 1,000,000 or more

News-Press NOW reporter Andrew Gaug contributed to this report.

To determine the metros that spend the most on utilities, researchers at Filterbury analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample. The researchers ranked metro areas according to median total utility costs. In the event of a tie, the metro with larger median total utility costs as a percentage of total housing costs was ranked higher. Only households who owned their home were included in the analysis.

News-Press NOW’s Andrew Gaug contributed to this report.

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug