Home energy prices are soaring as demand for oil and natural gas continues to outstrip supply. Russia’s war in Ukraine is also putting upward pressure on oil and gas prices.
From February to March, national home heating prices jumped 26% to $4.92 a gallon. Natural gas prices have fallen in recent days, but are still up 87.8% year over year. Americans are spending more money heating their homes, just as they are paying more for gasoline and a host of consumer products. At 7.9%, inflation is at its highest level in 40 years and energy costs are up 25.6% year-on-year, according to the Consumer Price Index of February.
“Over the past 18 months, natural gas prices have increased more than 500%,” says Lauren Urbanek, senior energy policy attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Fossil fuels are really sensitive to price increases. This, of course, trickles down to the consumer, making people who heat their homes with natural gas and fossil fuels very susceptible to higher heating prices.
Even as the country enters spring and possibly warmer weather, high home energy prices will persist for several weeks, especially for residents in the Northeast, which has the vast majority of oil-fired customers. For budget-conscious homeowners, the good news is that there are ways to save, including the following.
Reduce your consumption
A surefire way to reduce your home energy bill is to reduce your consumption. According to Energy Star, you will save 10% on your energy consumption for every 10 degrees of temperature drop in your home. If you have a programmable thermostat, you can set it to do this automatically when you’re at work or when you sleep.
If you are traveling, consider setting your water heater to a vacation setting. You don’t need a 40 gallon tank of water heated to 120 degrees or more if you don’t take a hot shower for a few days. Remember to turn it back on when you return from your trip.
Closing doors to unused rooms can also help you conserve heat. The heat will stay in the room longer, which means your system won’t have to pump in more hot air. If you have an oil heating system, Energy Star recommends cleaning and adjusting it every year, while a gas system can be cleaned every three years. Regular maintenance will increase its lifespan and reduce heating costs.
Weather your home
Leaks and gaps around your windows and doors cost you money in energy. Fixing them won’t break the bank. That’s why Urbanek recommends weatherproofing your home by sealing window cracks and gaps with caulking and reducing drafts by installing more or new insulation. This is especially true if you live in a home that was built over a decade ago, when energy efficiency was not a priority for builders. Uninsulated or under-insulated walls and attics can lose a great deal of heat. According to Energy Star, approximately 30% of a home’s heating energy literally comes through the windows. “About 80% of homes in the United States were built in 1999 and earlier. In this case, the energy efficiency upgrades are worth it,” says Urbanek.
If you’re in the market to replace your oil or gas boiler, Urbanek advises considering an electric model such as a heat pump. Technology has improved in recent years, with heating and cooling integrated into one system. “It is much more efficient than its gas equivalent, saving energy over time and running cleaner,” says Urbanek.
Seniors on a fixed income who are struggling to pay their utility bills, replace a furnace, or make energy improvements to their home can get financial assistance through the government’s energy assistance program for low-income households (LIHEAP). The program is federally funded but administered by the states. To find out how to apply in your state, use this link.