Consumers seek ways to tame growing heat bills
NEW YORK — Many residents will pay sharply more to heat their homes this winter, according to government forecasts. Fuel prices are rising and forecasts call for cooler weather, in some areas, after two relatively warm winters.
Natural gas, propane and electricity prices are expected to rise, affecting 94 percent of American households. Heating oil prices are expected to fall slightly but remain higher than most other fuels.
One obvious way to lower your heating bill is to lower the thermostat — sleep under a few more blankets, watch TV in a sweater, and use a programmable thermostat to turn the heat down when you are away or fast asleep. The Energy Department estimates that a resident can save 1 percent on their heating bill for every degree a thermostat is set back.
Beyond putting on a turtleneck, there are other ways to keep your home comfortable without breaking the bank. Here are a few:
• Think of the sun as a heater, and your drapes as a blanket. Open drapes when you are getting direct sunlight, then close them at night to keep heat from escaping.
• Make sure the damper in your fireplace is closed when you aren't using it.
• Keep air vents clean and uncovered so heat can easily flow throughout your home.
• Shut off kitchen fans and bathroom fans as soon as they are no longer needed.
• It takes more energy to heat water in cold weather. You can lower the temperature of your water heater a bit and still get a hot shower, and use cold water to do laundry and rinse dishes. Insulate pipes that move hot water around the house.
A look at the government's forecast for winter fuel costs shows why homeowners will want to use some cost-cutting measures this winter. Natural gas customers will pay an average of $679 this winter for heating, up 13 percent from last year. Electricity customers will pay $909, up 2 percent. Propane customers in the Midwest will pay $1,453, up 9 percent, and propane customers in the Northeast will pay $2,146, up 11 percent. Heating oil customers will pay $2,046, down 2 percent.
At the same time, funding for low-income heating assistance is falling. In 2010, Congress set aside $5.1 billion for heating assistance. This year, Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, is expecting $3 billion.
Many states and utilities offer incentives for home energy audits and home weatherization programs that include measures such as adding insulation, installing more efficient windows, and replacing an old boiler or furnace.
These investments can pay for themselves in heating savings in just a few years, especially when energy prices are high.
Switching from oil heat to natural gas is expensive — it costs $5,000 to $10,000, depending on how much workers have to do to reconfigure the heating system. But the Energy Department says the average heating oil customer will pay a whopping $1,367 more this winter than the average natural gas customer — and that gap is expected to remain wide. If it does, the payback for a switch would be four to seven years.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Nonprofit hospitals in Western Pa. feel pain in finances despite Affordable Care Act
- Online price battle heats up with intraday price fluctuations
- Hospital finances still crying ‘ouch’
- 8 Western Pennsylvania hospitals penalized over infections
- Beacons track shoppers’ smartphones amid retailers’ aisles
- Stock market makes biggest gain in 3 years
- Ford expands air bag recall across U.S.
- FedEx to buy product-return firm Genco in e-commerce push
- Peet’s Coffee & Tea closes its 3 Pittsburgh stores
- Wesco cautious, reaffirms guidance
- Forward Township road to gas well waits for repairs