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There's help to cut heating bills

Households face higher energy costs this winter, but there are still ways to save.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 1, 2011 10:45AM

This post comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.


SmartMoney on MSN MoneyIf the storm that dropped up to 30 inches of snow from Maryland to Maine over the weekend is any guide, this winter could mean lots of snow -- and with it, higher heating bills. But experts say there are still ways to keep energy costs down.


Many Americans were socked with high-than-usual energy bills this past summer. Unfortunately, winter won't provide much of a break. The Energy Information Administration expects the average household with heating will spend a record $2,493 from October through March, up 8% from last year. Those heating with propane will spend as much as $2,979 (up 9%); natural gas, $744 (up 3%); and electricity, $956 (down 1%).


Higher fuel prices account for the bulk of the jump, says EIA economist Neil Gamson. Although the forecast figures for a milder winter than last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said consumers -- particularly those on the West Coast -- could see another La Nina year with plenty of snowfall. "Until (Oct. 28), we had a very warm October, so that will help a little bit," Gamson says. Post continues below.

For consumers looking to cut costs this winter and beyond, experts recommend looking into financial assistance from the government while it lasts. Federal tax credits worth up to $500 for energy-efficiency home improvements, in place most years since '05, may expire at the end of the year, says Ronnie Kweller, a spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy. Eligible projects include new insulation (10% of the cost, up to $500), biomass stoves ($300) and energy-efficient windows (10% of the cost, up to $200) -- so long as the items meet federal guidelines.

A handful of states also have rebate cash lingering from the "cash for clunker" appliance program of 2010 and more recent initiatives, according to the Department of Energy. Oregon, for example, still offers 70% of the cost for a qualifying gas furnace, up to $2,000. Ohio reimburses 100% of the price for an Energy Star-qualified gas, oil or propane furnace. The government estimates the more efficient products could cut your energy bill by as much as 15%, to boot.


It's not too late to shop around for deals on fuel either, says Gamson. Providers' rates largely depend on when they purchase their fuel supply, so calling around or joining cooperative buying groups that locked in prices months ago could yield a better price.


Consumers can also cut their energy costs by making smaller home improvements, says Dayle Zatlin, a spokeswoman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. A home energy audit, available for free in many states, can help pinpoint problems -- including too-thin insulation and drafty areas.


Spending as little as $30 for some caulk and sealing kits can cut your energy bill by up to 20%, a savings of as much as $1,000 a year. Actually programming your programmable thermostat so that the house is 10 to 15 degrees cooler while you're out at work and asleep can save you up to another 15%, Zatlin says.


More on SmartMoney and MSN Money:

Nov 1, 2011 8:41PM

I am so sick of these energy companies.  They keep telling us to we conserve and then they up the prices to make more money on selling us less.


Just like Nevada Energy,   received $138 million in stimulus money to help create jobs.  Nevada Energy put in smart meters, hiring less than 200 temporary employees to install these units.  These smart meters will eliminate 72 full time meter reading positions.  And, now Nevada Energy has asked for a 9 to 15% increase in their rates.  Nevada is one of the worst hit states in the union, housing and unemployment.  GREEDY

Nov 1, 2011 7:44PM
If it snows enough, pack the snow as high as you can against the house.  It will help insulate it.
Jan 16, 2012 12:18PM

Energy Companies are beholding to their Stock holders ! they will always ask for an increase higher than what they really need. When they get a lower number They say look how much we saved you! That's called a "Jewish Discount" Politicians use this SCAM all the time. They ask for $ 10 million increase, the commision gives them $ 5 Million. and all they needed, was 3 million.  They get  2 Million more than they asked for and then tell us, look we saved you $ 5 million! Aren't we nice? If the Idiot in charge in Washingto were to get rid of the Dept. of Energy we would / could be Indepent of The Oil  Thieves and Gasoline,Heating Oil and all of the rest of the Energy we use would be HALF the PRICE !!!! Vote the scum bags in Washingtoon out! There got to be some one else who has a better Idea !


Dec 6, 2012 1:48AM

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