Should rising energy bills send you back to the office?

You’ve maybe read these stories in the press about how with rising energy bills it makes sense to stop working from home and return to the office?

This one from the Telegraph quotes some analysis that “working from home will add more than £2,500 a year to already soaring energy bills”.

A number that high deserves some attention – because I simply don’t believe it.

The assertion is that if prices go up again in January, monthly bills will be £789 for those working from home and £580 for those who head to the office, an extra 36%. That is a combination of 75% more gas and 25% more electricity.

I don’t believe that the 75% number is anywhere near right since most gas is used for heating and switching the heating off at home between 8-6 will save some money but you just have to heat the house back up again when you get home. So unless you are sleeping in the office, the gains are not that significant.

Also, I know myself from empirical data (frequent recording of gas/electricity usage in the GFF house) that working from home didn’t lead to a 75% increase in gas usage – in fact we consumed less gas in 2020, 2021 & so far in 2022 than we did in 2018 and 2019. That might be due to a number of different factors (I did sometimes work from home 2017-2019 for example, having kids change things and some winters are worse than others). BUT it’s clear that 75% is not realistic from my experience.

More electricity use is to be expected. Our computers will use about 1 unit a day or 52p from October. Kettles and lights and so on will be used more – so I’ll give you that. But my own experience with electricity is that getting a tumble dryer was a big step change in our usage and getting a heat pump one was a step change down.

I measure these things so that I can manage these things. I’ve been consciously trying to reduce our gas and electricity usage this year and you can see with the red dots (2022 usage) compared with the blue (all time) that we managed to consume a lot less. How? Probably most simply by turning off the heating in the middle of May but in other ways as well – I work in a sleeping bag in winter for example. That’s the sort of miser I am – old sleeping bag GFF in his long John’s.

So, I don’t buy the extra cost argument of going to the office. It’s almost as if someone has decided that we white collar workers of the world have been allowed off their leashes for too long and wants them back in and is spreading misinformation to persuade us.

It’s quite a theme these days – cost of living crisis but if you don’t know that boiling a pan of potatoes is cheaper than a portion of fries at McDonald’s, your problem is mental first and money second.

But, what isn’t particularly mentioned in these news stories is that spending a bit more at home in gas and electricity is the trade-off for not having to spend all the money on the commute. Who’s commute doesn’t cost them a lot of time & money?

Commuting Costs

I have had my share of commutes. I had a nice 30 minute walk or 10 minute through lovely city streets, an unreliable 20 minute bus ride to an industrial estate, a reliable 20 minute scenic tram ride, helicopter offshore, 2 minute stroll from the hotel to the office next door, the one hour car ride in bumper to bumper traffic, the lift share car ride with a Brexit supporter the same way, the 5am bus and 4pm train back home and the travelling salesman commute, leaving the for the airport at 3:30am. I’m sure that there is more but that’s not the point.

Every single one of those had a cost in terms of money and in terms of my own strength and energy. The best was walking to work through quiet streets. The worst was driving. But I did them all because we are told to sacrifice ourselves for our careers and our bosses’ approval and I did that unthinkingly for years.

In all honesty, I think that I was mostly attracted to the FIRE movement because I didn’t want to commute and waste my time going to and from the office. That was my only idea of escape. Now that I’m WFH all the time and in control of my time, I’m not giving it back and I’m much happier this way.

I’m never going back to the office.

My last commute of a cycle to the station, get the bus there, train back cost me on average £20 a day. £100 a week or about £4,500 a year – just for the tickets. Driving was an option and would cost the same plus wear and tear (side point: why does public transport in the UK make you want to take your own car?) My commuting costs are going to be about the same as my annual heating cost – so I’ll stay WFH thank you very much.

Even the Lady who works 2 miles away and occasionally pops into the office thinks WFH the default option. She does cycle when she can but when she has to carry things, the car is an option. Petrol cost is about £1 and parking on top of that plus she ends up eating a lunch from boots or whatnot*. Total cost would be £30 a week if she was in full time or £1,350 a year.
*I was no better by the way – when in sales I spent with abandon in the company’s coin and after that as an engineer, cheering myself up with a packet of crisps on the way home seemed like a small price to pay (80p) for a life of drudgery.

So annual commuting costs for the both of us would be around £6,000 and we’re using less energy WFH. It seems like a no-brainer for me.
We also got rid of one of our cars since we WFH. Owning a car probably costs you as a minimum £1,000 a year and that’s without driving it. For our old VW annually it cost about £150 in tax, £200 in insurance, £350 in servicing and MOT (a grossly understated figure IMO) or £700 a year and ignores depreciation. And that was using Bangeromics to save money. Fancy something built within the last decade and it’ll eat up the mythical £2,500 a year in extra utility bills.

There’s also the carbon footprint problem of private car use but if you use public transport you are only likely to be paying more and putting up with more inconvenience than solo travellers in hermetically sealed petrol powered wheelchairs.

We might not be that frugal in the GFF household but we do only have one car and we can only do that with WFH.

The Value of My Time

I estimate that over the last 16 years of work, I’ve spent a whole year of it commuting and not really enjoying it. That’s a year of my life of which I’m never going to get back and wasn’t ever paid for. Hours and hours of sitting behind a wheel.

I’ve had a few crashes and had my nerves rattled. I’ve done time at the side of the road with a flat. I’ve gone from bed to driver’s seat to office chair to driver’s seat again and done nothing much but felt tired, lethargic and empty. Why would I want to go back to that?

Other Costs Of Work

I’ve not worn a shirt or suit for work in almost 30 months now and there’s no sign that I’ll be doing it anytime soon. I’ve spent thousands of pounds on work clothes over the years and now don’t need to.

I’ve also dispensed with my alarm clock and now wake up naturally in the morning when my kids make me. That beats leaving the house at 5am to catch the bus to work.

My old wardrobe – still in place

Add on to that the time cost of ironing all my stupid shirts and it being another thing that needs to be done before I’m forced to wear the backup shirt with the dodgy collar, weird arm length and missing button.

And why should what you wear have an impact on the work you do? Don’t judge a worker by his collar I say!

What’s the Trade-off?

I reckon that there’s not much extra cost in working from home in terms of bills. But even if there was, it would need to be in the region of an extra £6,000 a year to break even with the cost of commuting (and the extra car). And even then, you’d have to pay so maybe an extra £20,000 a year (after tax) to make me want to go back to an office over 60 miles away each day.

And even then, I might not do it because I value myself at more than they do. The coming cost of living shock is going to hit us and it will cost us – but going to the office isn’t going to solve it and it might just be a false economy, I know that it is for me.

Thanks, GFF


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