Get ready — winter is coming, and so are those big gas bills to heat your home. Oil prices hit their highest level in 13 months as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Crude prices passed $95 per barrel early September 28, reported OilPrice.com. Bent Crude also hit a new high for 2023, topping $97 per barrel.
The cost of natural piped gas also rose slightly — 0.1% higher than the month prior — after falling a substantial 16.5% over the last year, according to the latest data in the Consumer Price Index for September 2023. Natural gas prices have decreased this year but low U.S. stockpiles could cause sticker shock this winter.
If it’s a cold winter, lower-than-normal U.S. stockpiles of distillate fuels following the OPEC+ crude supply cuts and higher demand from Europe could push up prices, Reuters reported. Distillate inventories, which include diesel and heating oil, were 15% below the five-year average by late August.
“We are living barrel to barrel and there is just no room for errors in the system,” Price Futures Group analyst Phil Flynn told Reuters. “If we get a cold winter, there are going to be significant price shocks.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas prices are a function of market supply and demand. Decreases in supply and increases in demand typically result in higher prices. Short-term increases in demand and/or a reduction in stockpiles can cause significant changes in natural gas prices, and even more so during the winter.
There are things you can do, however, to help bring down the costs of your heating bill this winter, said Anthony Carrino, a 25-year expert in the world of construction and home design. Speaking with GOBankingRates, Carrino says there are a few ways to upkeep your HVAC system that will help it run more efficiently and bring down the heating bill in the process.
1. Regular Maintenance (and Timing)
First and foremost, he advises, maintenance is key. And it should be done on a yearly basis. “Think of it like going for regular checkups at the doctor rather than waiting for the time when you need heart surgery, and only finding that out after having a heart attack,” Carrino illustrated.
And timing is key, he added. “The middle of summer is the worst time to have air conditioning serviced and the middle of winter is the worst time to have heating serviced. So I’m always looking at the shoulder seasons, meaning the fall right now, as the time to get your heating system looked at.”
This not only ensures your system is running properly and efficiently (which ultimately saves on your gas bill), avoids back order issues if you need replacement parts, as well as prevents emergency services and having to pay up to four times the standard service fee. “Doing maintenance and also replacing things when HVAC techs are not in the highest of demand will save your pocket,” said Carrino.
2. Replace HVAC Filters as Necessary
A simple thing you can do yourself at home is change your HVAC filters. “I’ve been harping on this tip for 10 years and will never stop,” Carrino highlighted. “It’s something you can do yourself and takes a maximum of five minutes. […] The idea is that the more you replace that filter, the more efficiently your system runs. If you have a clogged filter, your system is working two to four times as hard to suck the same amount of air through the same filter in order to condition it for your home.”
Carrino shared that the best way to do this is by pulling out the existing filter to see the size you need for a replacement. You can find them typically in front of a return air vent versus the register (the actual mechanism that pushes the hot or cold air into a room). Carrino advised it’s best to change out the filter every 30-45 days if you live in a home with smokers, pets, asthmatics or anyone with bad allergies; if you don’t have any of those conditions in the home, once a season is fine.
3. Install Smart Thermostat
It was also recommended to keep heating bills low with the aid of a smart thermostat. If you don’t have one yet, they are relatively easy to install (or affordable to do with a technician) and can save some real cash. “Given how pervasive they are in the industry now, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be using one of them,” Carrino pointed out.
Many smart thermostats work off an app, so you can change settings on your phone when you are out and about, which is certainly ideal for setting up a daily schedule. “If you know you’re out of the house from 8 am to 5 pm, for example, there’s no reason to keep your heat or air conditioning at that super comfortable level,” advised Carrino. “Even a couple degree change in the thermostat setting for a few hours is going to be reflected in your energy bill, so I strongly recommend this option.”
4. Consider Alternative Heating System Options
If you really want to save big on your heating bill, Carrino pointed to replacing your entire HVAC system to something more modern, called a dual fuel unit, a technology that Trane has developed. It works similar to a hybrid car concept where you get the benefits of both an electric, air-sourced heat pump and a gas furnace.
“Electric heat pumps run very efficiently so long as your outdoor air temperature is 40 degrees or above. Once you get under the 40-degree mark, it starts to get more costly to run the electric heat because the system has to work harder to get the air temperature to where you want it to be,” Carrino noted, adding, “The dual fuel system is able to utilize the electric part of the heat pump and produce heat for your home at a really efficient rate and then, as it dips into the colder temps as we get into later November through February, it will in fact start to utilize gas. So it’s a system that is smart enough to know which is the most economical fuel to use at a given time.”
Though the cost would be more of an upfront investment to install a new system, it could be worth it in the long run and may be part of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act rebates that reward homeowners for making energy-efficient modifications to their homes. The guidelines for the program are still being developed, but Carrino thinks there’s a good chance dual fuel systems are part of it considering their high energy efficiency rating.
Besides getting a new HVAC system, scheduling regular maintenance, changing filters and upgrading to a smart thermostat are good practices to get started on now before winter hits and as the devastating ongoing conflicts in Europe trickle down closer to home.
“So long as that fuel supply remains constrained and we have to fight to open up reserve energy stores we have here, prices will likely stay on the higher end,” Carrino surmised, adding of his expert tips, “These are nominal dollars to pay to find out about a problem before it’s a catastrophe and it will help you to keep the HVAC system running super efficiently.”
Selena Fragassi contributed to writing this article.
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