Paying your electricity bill is a depressing monthly task.
The frustration usually lies with the uncontrollable — energy rates, utility charges and unavoidable fees baked into the electricity cost. Unless you live in a deregulated state — where you can choose your electric supplier and electric rate plan — there is only one factor you can control: your electricity usage.
CNET’s Eric Mack learned the importance of monitoring his home’s energy consumption the hard way when he moved his family completely off the grid in 2020. The Mack family relies on solar energy, which has helped them become “stingy with electricity” and focused on conservation.
“I can tell you how much energy every light or gadget in my house uses. I know how much wattage my laptop is using when its fan is running or when it’s plugged in and in sleep mode,” said Mack in his personal account about living off the grid.
Electricity is essential for survival. It’s crucial to be mindful and efficient in our use if you want to save money and optimize energy consumption, says Jake Edie, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, who teaches a course on clean energy in the electric grid.
If you want to understand your energy usage on a deeper level, it requires knowing a few (lightly) technical terms and understanding some (basic) math. We’ve got all that — and a bit more — below. Both knowledge and electricity are power: Learn what you need to make your electric bill look the way you want it to.
Once you calculate you monthly usage, what do you do with this knowledge?
Shop and compare rates, plans and providers at ChooseEnergy.com, which, like CNET, is owned by Red Ventures. Your monthly usage will help determine which energy plan works best for you.
Glossary of key terms
 Joule (J): A unit of energy equal to the work done by a force of 1 newton when moving the distance of 1 meter
 Watts (W): The flow of 1 joule of energy per second
 Watt hour (Wh): 1 watt of power over 1 hour
 Kilowatt (kW): 1,000 watts
 Kilowatt hours (kWh): 1 kilowatt hour (or 1,000 watts) over 1 hour
 Megawatts (MW): 1 million watts of electricity
Understanding your electricity usage
To understand your electricity usage, you need to know a few key terms.
Your energy bill is likely to deal in kilowatthours, though it might be useful to first understand watts and kilowatts.
“Generators, appliances, and all energyconsuming devices are rated in terms of power, typically expressed in watts, kilowatts, or megawatts,” said Edie.
A watt is the measure of a specific amount of energy (a joule to be exact) over a certain amount of time. (“One joule is the energy required to lift an apple one meter into the air,” Edie said.) If you use one joule of energy continuously over the course of one second, you’ve used one watt. If you use 1,000 watts you’ve used a kilowatt.
Watts might be familiar because of lightbulbs. It takes 40 watts to turn on a 40 watt lightbulb. If you run that lightbulb for an hour, you’ve used 40 watthours (or .04 kilowatthours). Your utility charges you for electricity measured in watthours or kilowatthours. If your electric rate is 15 cents per kilowatthour, you’d pay 6 cents for turning on that light for an hour.
If a hair dryer is rated at 1.5 kilowatts, it uses 1.5 kilowatts of power when in operation, but how much energy it uses depends on how long it’s on and how much electricity used. It uses 1.5 kilowatthours of energy if used for an hour. That’ll cost you 22.5 cents at our imaginary electric rate of fifteen cents per kWh, but if it’s only used for 15 minutes, it uses a quarter of that energy and you pay less than 6 cents. This understanding is vital when calculating electricity usage.
You can use the same understanding for powergenerating equipment like solar panels. A solar panel with a maximum power of rating of 500 watts will, in an hour under ideal conditions, generate 500 watthours of energy — or 0.5 kilowatthours, if it operates for 2 hours, that’s 1 kilowatthour of energy produced.
Watts, kilowatts, watthours and kilowatthours
Here are some handy formulas to understand the relationship between the units of energy discussed above.
Watts to kilowatts
watts / 1,000 = kilowatts
A kilowatt is 1,000 watts, so just divide the number of watts by 1,000 to get the number of kilowatts. A dishwasher’s power rating of 1,200 watts could also be written as 1.2 kilowatts. To go from kilowatts to watts, just multiply instead of divide.
Watts to watthours
watts x time in hours = watthours
The same dishwasher rated at 1,200 watts that runs for an hour will use 1,200 watthours.
Kilowatts to kilowatthours
kilowatts x time in hours = kilowatthours
That dishwasher, which is rated at 1.2 kilowatts, that runs for 1 hour will use 1.2 kilowatthours. After 2 hours, it will use 2.4 kilowatthours.
How to calculate your electricity usage and cost
“The simplest way to determine your daily or annual usage is to refer to your utility bill,” says Edie.
To locate your monthly energy usage on your electric bill, look for a section labeled “Usage” or “Electricity Consumption.” It is usually displayed in kilowatthours and is accompanied by a breakdown of your usage for each billing period.
To understand how your usage breaks down even further, Edie suggests looking up and logging your appliances power ratings. Using these power ratings, multiply these figures by the watt hours per day that each appliance is used daily and annually.
“By following this auditing process, you can bridge the gap between the abstract concept of energy consumption and its tangible impact on your household,” he said.
To get an annual cost estimate for each common appliance, you can use this appliance energy calculator provided by the US Department of Energy.
There are tools on the market that can help you measure your appliance usage on a granular level. “A little device called a Killawatt has become one of my best friends,” Mack wrote in this CNET story about living off the grid. “It reveals precisely how much power any appliance is consuming.”
Formula for daily appliance usage
Power in kilowatts x hours used per day = daily energy usage in kilowatthours
To calculate daily energy usage for an appliance, multiply the power consumption of an appliance in kilowatts by the number of hours it’s used per day.
A dishwasher that used 1.2 kilowatts to run will use 1.2 kilowatthours daily, if it runs for an hour. At the electricity rate of 15 cents a kilowatthour, that will cost you 18 cents.
Formula for annual appliance usage
Daily energy usage x number of days it’s used per year = annual energy usage
To check an appliance’s annual energy usage, multiply the daily energy usage by the number of days it’s used in a year.
If that dishwasher gets used three times a week (or 156 days each year) over the course of the year, we’ll use 187.2 kilowatthours, because 1.2 kilowatthours x 156 = 187.2. If you get charged 15 cents per kilowatthour, the electricity your dishwasher used costs $28.08 a year.
All appliances have energy guide labels that provide information about their energy consumption. These labels are on the appliance itself or in the product documentation. In addition, the energy guide label offers details on the estimated annual electric usage and cost for the appliance.
You can refer to the US Department of Energy’s website to find out how much energy your appliances use and what it costs you annually. Here are a few examples of common household appliances and their average power consumption:

Refrigerator: 100 to 400 watts

Air conditioner: 500 to 3000 watts

Washing machine: 500 to 1,500 watts

Laptop computer: 30 to 180 watts

LED light bulb: 5 to 20 watts
How to lower your electricity bill
Here are some practical tips to help you with energy costs and reduce your electric bill:

Unplug unused devices: When not in use, unplug devices and appliances that consume standby power, such as chargers, electronics and small appliances. These devices can still draw power and contribute to your energy consumption even in standby mode.

Switch to energyefficient appliances: Consider upgrading your appliances to energyefficient models. Look for appliances with Energy Star labels, which consume less energy without compromising functionality.

Use energyefficient lights: Switch to energyefficient LED bulbs, which use significantly less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. Turn off lights when not in use and make the most of natural light during the day.

Insulate your home: Insulate your home and block all nooks and crannies that allow air or heat to leak.

Adjust thermostat settings: Adjust your thermostat settings in summer and winter to conserve energy.
FAQs
Where can I find my monthly energy usage on my bill?
To locate your monthly energy usage on your electric bill, look for a section labeled “Usage” or “Electricity Consumption.” You’ll see a breakdown of your usage for each billing period displayed in kilowatthours.
How much do appliances cost on my energy bills?
To estimate the cost of individual appliances on your energy bills, you can refer to their power ratings, typically measured in watts or kilowatts. First, multiply the power rating by the number of hours the appliance is used, then divide by 1,000 to convert to kilowatthours. Finally, multiply this by your electric rate (per kilowatthour) to approximate each appliance’s cost. You can also use this appliance energy calculator provided by the US Department of Energy.