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Winter heating costs expected to rise

Officials suggest ways to save

Published: Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 11:23 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Johnnie Smith of Dahlquist Heating and Cooling replaces a filter Monday while servicing a furnace at home in Sycamore.

When it comes to cutting down on winter heating costs, Jim Chilsen recommends not making your home work harder than necessary to make you comfortable. 

Chilsen, Citizens Utility Board spokesman, said there are many little things people can do that can make a big difference on their gas bill. The board is a nonprofit organization that represents utility customers’ interests. 

“Nobody would say their gas bills are low,” he said. “While it’s good news that gas prices have been relatively stable in the last few years, people are still struggling to pay their energy costs. Practicing energy efficiency at home is still a necessity.” 

In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration is predicting the cost of heating a home in the Midwest with natural gas will increase almost 12 percent this winter, while remaining the most cost-effective option.

The average household in the Midwest will spend $713 heating a home with natural gas from October through March, compared with $974 for homes heated with electricity and $1,584 for those heated with propane, according to the administration’s December forecast. Last year, the average Midwest household spent $638 heating a home with natural gas, $955 heating a home with electricity and $1,333 heating a home with propane.

No matter the energy source, customers can cut costs by buying a programmable thermostat that will adjust home temperature automatically at different times throughout the day. People can save up to 3 percent on their heating bill for each degree lowered on the thermostat, according to the board. 

Gregory Freeman, owner of DeKalb-based All-Star Heating and Air Conditioning, agrees a programmable thermostat is the way to go. But there can be drawbacks if the thermostat is set too low because heating the house will take longer and become more expensive. 

Freeman suggests people have their furnace filters changed every 30 to 45 days. They should also have the furnace regularly cleaned and checked to ensure it is working at maximum efficiency. 

“It’s like your health or automobile, you have to maintain it,” he said. 

Other ways people can save on energy is keeping a home well-insulated by not only blocking cold air from doors and windows but fans, vents and plumbing underneath sinks.

Close doors to rooms that are not in use and clear radiators, registers, air returns, baseboards and furniture of dust and other obstacles.

One commonly held myth about gas utility companies is that they cannot turn off the service during the winter season. Companies can shut off service if temperatures are expected to stay higher than 32 degrees for the next 24 hours.

“If people are behind on their bills, they shouldn’t think they’ll get a break in the winter,” Chilsen said. 

For their part, ComEd officials offer financial assistance programs to customers struggling with electricity bills, such as Residential Special Hardship grants, ComEd Helps Active Military Personnel and Non-Profit Special Hardship programs. Details on who qualifies for these assistance programs are available through their website at ComEd.com. 

Paul Callighan, ComEd spokesman, said the average monthly bill for a residential customer on the ComEd energy rate is about $73. For customers who use Nicor Gas Co., the current gas costs is 40 cents per therm this month, compared to 45 cents per therm for December 2012, according to their website.

Another myth customers have on energy costs is that nothing can be done to cut the costs. Chilsen pointed out people can use cubenergysaver.com, which can give customers money-saving plans for free. 

He said if people are in danger of losing their heating service during the winter, they can contact the Citizens Utility Board and have their rights as a customer explained, along with access to the necessary resources. 

“The No. 1 part of being a utility customer is knowing your rights,” he said.

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