Energy companies are warning American households to prepare their budgets for a steep increase in their gas and electric bills this winter.
Monthly bills are expected to increase by 32% on average from November 2022 through March 2023 compared to last year, according to New York-based energy company Con Edison. That translates to an average $460 per month for households.
Energy prices in the U.S. are the highest they’ve been in 15 years. Americans can blame it on an increase in the market cost of natural gas, which impacts electric prices as well as supply and delivery costs. The market price increased after the U.S. banned the import of Russian oil, instead relying on the release of emergency oil reserves, which will end in October. The reserves have fallen to their lowest point since 1984, and with fewer suppliers for oil and an increased demand during winter, prices will surge.
Higher energy bills are offsetting the relief Americans have been seeing at the gas pump recently, a sign we’re not out of this era of inflation quite yet. Here are a few ways you can reduce your energy bill in the meantime.
Set your thermostat to a lower temperature
Programmable thermostats allow you to schedule times of the day that you want to dial back on your heat consumption, such as when you’re working or sleeping.
On average, customers can save 10% on their energy bills throughout the year by turning their thermostat back by 7˚ F to 10˚ F, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. But if that is too drastic, even a 2˚ F temperature decrease during winter can save money.
A smaller difference between interior and exterior temperatures generally means your heater doesn’t have to work so hard to heat your home.
Replace or update drafty windows
If you can replace drafty windows, the Department of Energy recommends opting for Energy Star or National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) labels, which helps you compare the energy efficiency of windows and skylights. Replacing old windows lowers household energy bills nationwide by an average of 12%.
But if a replacement isn’t in your budget, you can caulk and weatherstrip your windows to seal any leaks—that should save an average of 5% to 10% of energy usage annually. For extra protection, consider covering them with a heavy-duty, clear plastic film during the winter. When sealed tightly to the frame, cold air is less likely to infiltrate your home.
You can also swap out your window curtains. Thermal backed heavy fabrics, such as velvet or lined polyester, stave off harsh wind blows and prevent temperature drops from entering your home.
Reduce holiday lighting costs
You can trade energy-consuming holiday lighting for festive curtains or outdoor decorations, which can reduce your bill throughout the season. If you’re not ready to part ways with your glowing decorations, switch to LED holiday string lights or battery operated decorations.
Select an energy efficient furnace
Furnaces have become more energy-efficient throughout the years, which is represented in a percentage known as the annual fuel-utilization-efficiency (AFUE) rating. Models from the 1970s typically have a 65% rating, but the lowest efficiency allowed by law today is 78%, according to Consumer Reports.
Some of the newest models run at 97%. While an energy efficient model may cost more upfront, it will decrease your monthly energy bills throughout the lifetime of your furnace.
Select the right size furnace for your home
A furnace that is too small will have to work harder to heat your home, which increases your overall bill. While you may turn to space heaters to make up for the lack of heat, this can also become costly—space heating is the largest energy expense for the average U.S. household, making up nearly 45% of energy bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
On the other hand, a furnace that is unnecessarily large for your home will turn on and off more often, since it heats up your house too quickly. This cycle wastes energy and money. To ensure your furnace is the right fit, contact a reputable contractor who can calculate the heating needs of your home based on industry standards.
Maintain your heating system regularly
Generally, it’s more cost-effective to repair your furnace when it’s not working properly than to completely replace it. Some regular maintenance can be completed by the homeowner, like replacing the furnace and heat pump filters monthly, or as needed. But other routine maintenance should be completed by a trained professional, who can proactively spot any possible faults in your furnace to keep it running at maximum efficiency.