A woman pulls her car out of the snow during a heavy snowstorm on January 29, 2022 in Stony Brook, New York.
André Theodorakis | Getty Images
After a few months of winter and two major snowstorms that hit much of the eastern United States in January, many Americans may realize that they are going to have to pay high heating costs.
For some, this will put additional pressure on budgets already hit by rising inflation.
About 20% of Americans struggled to pay their energy bill in full at least once in 2021, according to a December study by HelpAdvisor.
Those who were unable to pay their bills often postponed paying for necessities such as energy, which could put them and their families at risk. In the past 12 months, at least 18% of Americans have kept their homes at an unhealthy or unsafe temperature, and 28% have skipped a basic expense like food or medicine to pay an energy bill.
“It’s absolutely surprising,” said Christian Worstell, Senior Writer at HelpAdvisor.
Additionally, the households most likely to be unable to pay bills or skip other essentials to do so tend to be those with children under 18, people of color, and people struggling. already to live on the lowest incomes, he added. .
“It looks like the problem has accelerated slightly, but that’s nothing new,” he said.
According to the US Energy Information Administration’s Winter Fuels Outlook 2021 report, nearly half of US households that heat with natural gas are expected to spend 30% more than last winter on average. The 41% who heat with electricity should spend 6% more.
The smaller number that heat with propane or oil — 5% and 4% of households, respectively — could experience even greater cost increases. Propane users will spend 54% more this winter, while fuel oil users could see their bills increase by 43%, according to the report.
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Inflation is the culprit. Energy prices rose 29.3%, according to the December consumer price index from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fuel oil is about 40% more expensive than last year, electricity is up 6.3% and natural gas is up more than 24%.
These increases could crush household budgets if families are not prepared.
“It’s important for landlords, tenants and businesses to keep costs down as best they can, especially as we head into these colder winter months,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, under -Principal Assistant Secretary of the Office of Energy Efficiency of the United States Department of Energy. and renewable energies.
How to check invoices
There are some things people can do to help reduce heating costs this winter.
One is to check your windows for any leaks, which you can do yourself or with the help of a home energy audit, where a professional will come and assess your home’s energy efficiency and make suggested updates.
“Windows are a very large part of that energy bill,” said Steve Hoffins, vice president of US window marketing at Cornerstone Building Brands. “Depending on the climate and the size of the house and everything else, that could be 15% to 20% of your heat going out the windows.”
You can combat window leaks by sealing them with removable caulk, films or even spray foam, he said. A permanent fix can be updating your home with new, energy-efficient windows, which could save you hundreds of dollars a year in utilities, depending on the size of your home, Hoffins said.
You can also turn down the temperature on your water heater, make sure your fireplace damper, if you have one, is closed when there’s no fire, and even lower your thermostat a few degrees at night.
Some utility companies, such as electric and gas, may give you a rating that compares your energy use to that of your neighbors, Speakes-Backman said. If you notice that you’re consistently using more energy than those around you, it might be time to pay for a home energy audit. In some states, utility companies may even offer the service for free, so it’s a good idea to check.
“Find out what are the first and cheapest ways to make a difference, then look at some of the longer-term solutions,” Speakes-Backman said.
In addition to temporary fixes, tenants should check their lease and speak with their landlords to see what changes they’re allowed to make, Speakes-Backman said.
Tenants can also ask their landlord to adjust the heating system. They can make sure air vents or radiators aren’t blocked by furniture and remove window air conditioners they use in the summer.
Plan for the future
This winter could be warmer than last year, which could mean people are using less heat. And, some states regulate utilities, which means prices cannot be increased without approval.
Additionally, natural gas futures fell about 40% from their October high on warmer weather forecasts.
But that doesn’t mean consumers can breathe easy — the price of natural gas is still up more than 50% on the year.
Those looking to make permanent improvements to their home should turn to resources such as Energy Star’s upgrade and weather protection programs that are available to many low-income households across the United States. United.
An Energy Star home upgrade won’t be limited to heating and will help people have a more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly home. The average household can save $500 a year if they undergo such an upgrade, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the EPA, federal tax credits and utility rebates are available for many energy-efficient upgrades that can help offset costs.
“There are also utility-run programs in some parts of the country that allow low-income families to access energy-efficient upgrades at no upfront cost to them,” the agency said.
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