About 11% of U.S. households indirectly pay for using electricity, natural gas, fuel oil or propane through rent, fees or to a third party such as a housing authority, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Data from the most recent Residential Energy Consumption Survey show that 12.4 million of the 118 million U.S. households paid some or all of their energy costs indirectly in 2015.
Indirect payment of energy bills was more likely for households in multifamily buildings, of which 34% paid indirectly. Only 2% of single-family homes made indirect energy payments. In the Northeast, 22% of households pay energy bills indirectly. In the South, 6% pay the bills indirectly, as the area has the lowest share of apartments and households in older homes. Among households that earn less than $20,000, 23% paid some or all their energy bills indirectly, compared to 5% of households earning at least $80,000.
Homes that don’t directly pay for energy costs have less of an incentive to install energy-efficient appliances or lights, or decrease thermostat settings while away from home, according to the EIA.
Electricity is used in nearly every home, and 7% of households indirectly pay for electricity. Of the 69 million natural gas-consuming households, 11% indirectly paid for their natural gas. More than 40% of households in multifamily buildings indirectly pay for their natural gas. Of the 7 million homes that use fuel oil, 15% indirectly paid for it. Among the households that use propane, 5% indirectly paid for it.
Nearly 75% of households use more than one fuel, and about 40% of households paying bills indirectly paid for electricity and another fuel indirectly. About 34% paid electricity directly but the other fuel indirectly.
In 1984, 18% of all households paid energy costs indirectly. The share of households indirectly paying their electricity bills has been flat between 1984 and 2015, while the share of homes indirectly paying their natural gas bills has fallen from 22% to 11%, over the same period. The decline can be attributed to natural gas utilities installing direct-metering devices or apartment building owners installing sub meters behind the utility meter.