The data on utility costs were obtained from Housing Questions 11a through 11d in the 2011 American Community Survey. The questions were asked of occupied housing units. The questions about electricity and gas asked for the monthly costs, and the questions about water/sewer and other fuels (oil, coal, wood, kerosene, etc.) asked for the yearly costs.
Costs are recorded if paid by or billed to occupants, a welfare agency, relatives, or friends. Costs that are paid by landlords, included in the rent payment, or included in condominium or cooperative fees are excluded.
The cost of utilities provides information on the cost of either home ownership or renting. When the data is used as part of monthly housing costs and in conjunction with income data, the information offers an excellent measure of housing affordability and excessive shelter costs. The data also serve to aid in the development of housing programs to meet the needs of people at different economic levels, and to provide assistance in forecasting future utility services and energy supplies.
The American Community Survey questions ask for monthly costs for electricity and gas, and yearly costs for water/sewer and other fuels. Since 1999, the words "or mobile home" were added to each question, and Question 11b, which asked "Last month, what was the cost of gas for this house, apartment, or mobile home?" had an additional response category, "included in electricity payment entered above."
Research has shown that respondents tended to overstate their expenses for electricity and gas when compared to utility company records. There is some evidence that this overstatement is reduced when yearly costs are asked rather than monthly costs. Caution should be exercised in using these data for direct analysis because costs are not reported for certain kinds of units such as renter-occupied units with all utilities included in the rent and owner-occupied condominium units with utilities included in the condominium fee.
Data on utility costs in the American Community Survey can be compared to previous ACS and Census 2000 utility costs data.