Saturday, March 5, 2011


Many of you probably figured I was talking about our taxes, and that would be a logical assumption. However, the fact of the matter is that, being self-employed, our taxes are far from trivial and I haven’t completed them yet. Oh well. We’re getting a refund, anyway: $1,500 in overpaid gas bills.

When I posted this to Facebook, a friend responded by asking, “Wow, how does that happen?” It’s a great question, but the answer is sort of complex. As such, I’ve chosen to post it here.

We bought our current home in July, 2007. One of the smartest things I did was to offer the sellers $5,000 more than asking price, so we could get cash back at closing and do some upgrades to the house. The most significant of these happened, a few days before we moved in: I hired the company that did the original HVAC system to come in and zone that system. By the time we moved in, there was one zone for the entire downstairs, one that covers most of the upstairs, and a third for my home office (which stays warmer due to its many computers and peripherals). I figured the zoning would save us money, but I didn’t know how much; I just knew they’d start out charging us roughly what our predecessors paid—which probably wouldn’t be enough, since our predecessors probably didn’t have as many electronics as I—and adjust from there.

A few months after we moved in, Vectren (our gas company) contacted us, saying that our meter was broken and that we had ten days to schedule a repair, or they would shut off our service. I called up to schedule the service, but while we were talking, I mentioned the zoning. The service rep immediately canceled the service call, stating that the zoning could totally account for the difference. I marveled that the zoning had made such a difference that they thought the meter was broken.

Eventually the time came for them to adjust our budget payment, but since BillPay handles all our bills, I didn’t notice immediately and just kept paying as we always had. By the time I did notice, they owed us over $1,100. I called them up and requested a check. Our account was zeroed, the check was cut, and our budget was recalculated—a month after my call. Given the delay, I forgot to change the payment.

In Summer 2009, we further upgraded the system by installing a return in my office and each of the bedrooms. We also had them balance the ductwork, each bedroom getting a larger or smaller duct, as needed. This made a huge difference in the comfort level of our house—we completely retired our space heaters!—but also seems to have further reduced our gas bill, since the system isn’t working against the formerly pressurized bedrooms. Again, they presumably reduced our budget amount, but since they didn’t tell us, the payment was never changed.

Long story short: between our significant upgrades and continuing overpayments, it all adds up. They’re zeroing our balance again, taking this month’s usage out of our $1,500 credit, and issuing us a check for the rest. Once we see how they’ve recalculated our budget, I’ll finally drop our payment and probably reroute the difference to our savings account. No reason to give them our interest!

Thus, the bottom line: when we moved in, Vectren calculated our bill based on its experience with the previous owners, which makes sense: it’s the same house, so our usage—while not identical—would probably be fairly similar. After 3½ years in our home, though, they’ve had to issue us $2,600 in credits. You can’t tell me zoning doesn’t work! :-)

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