You are about to pay even more to heat your home. Here’s what you can do about it.

As September draws to a close, this is a good time to think about the cost of heating and what you can do about it. For some, it may mean committing to living in a house or apartment that is a little cooler than you might want. Others might consider following a plan that averages payment over 12 months. And some may need to seek public assistance.

Here are some things to know:

Q. How much are the energy costs higher?

A. It depends on how you heat: natural gas, oil or electricity. Just over half of Massachusetts households heat with natural gas, while about a quarter use oil and just under 20% use electricity.

Q. By how much will natural gas prices rise?

A. Predicting future energy prices is a risky undertaking. But a good source could be the Energy Information Administration. In its September “Outlook Report” it includes data on natural gas prices for the first three months of next year, the winter time in New England. Last winter, according to EIA data, natural gas prices increased by a whopping 21% from the previous year. And the report goes on to forecast a 15% increase for the winter of 2023.

A 15 percent increase this winter on top of last winter’s 21 percent increase would place a substantial burden on all consumers, especially fixed income ones.

But the EIA estimate may prove overly optimistic for consumers. National Grid, one of the largest utilities in the region, has filed a request to state regulators for a tariff hike of up to 24 percent for this winter.

D. And the heat of the oil?

A. The three-month average price of a gallon of home heating oil in Massachusetts in the winter of 2022 was $ 4.32, according to EIA data. As of September 6, the average cost of a gallon of home heating oil was $ 4.73, about 10 percent more than last winter, according to data from the State Department of Energy Resources.

But keep in mind that home heating oil users have already seen an astonishing 57% increase in price in the winter of 2022, compared to the previous year, according to EIA data.

Q. What about electric heating?

EIA data shows that there was a 12% increase in New England in the winter of 2022, compared to the previous year. And it goes on to forecast a 17% increase for the same period in 2023.

Again, two consecutive years of double-digit increase.

And it could be a lot worse. National Grid this week called for a whopping 64% increase in its electricity tariff.

Q. What is the best way to save on heating costs?

A. Use less energy by turning down the thermostat. The Department of Energy recommends setting the thermostat to 68 degrees or less when you are home and awake and to 60 degrees when no one is home or sleeping. That alone could save you 10 percent, the DOE says. (A programmable thermostat can help you control your settings.)

Eversource, the region’s largest utility, says you can cut your natural gas and electricity heating costs by about 60 percent by turning down the thermostat from 75 degrees to 65 degrees.

Eversource, the region’s largest utility, says you can cut your natural gas and electricity heating costs by about 60 percent by turning down the thermostat from 75 degrees to 65 degrees.Eversource

Q. Other steps I can take?

A. Stop leaks, especially around windows and doors. Get a free home energy rating from MassSave, which is sponsored by state utility companies and funded with utility bill surcharges.

Q. Can I get a “price protection” plan?

A. Yes, contact your oil supplier to discuss two varieties: cap or fixed price. If you get a limit, the price you pay per gallon cannot exceed a certain level. Of course, the cap is not free. You have to pay your provider for it. If you buy a “fixed price” protection plan, you are basically betting that the price of oil will rise over the course of your contract and that your supplier will have to absorb that increase. But if the price goes down, you lose because you don’t participate in those savings.

Q. What is a “budget plan”?

A. Most oil traders and utilities will project your costs for a full year and allow you to divide them by 12 and pay the same amount monthly. It makes getting through the winter a little cheaper.

Q. What about assistance?

A. Financial assistance is available, but it requires navigating a somewhat complicated system. But you don’t have to do it alone. There is help available. If you or someone you know needs help, a good source is the statewide network of community action agencies. Here is a list that includes every city and town in the state. And here’s a state website for support information. Act now, while you have time.

Q. What kind of assistance is available?

A. The “Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program”, commonly known as “fuel assistance,” is available to homeowners and renters, including renters who are not charged separately for heating. Eligibility is based on income and household size. For example, a family of four qualifies with an income of up to about $ 81,500.

Advocates of low-income residents fear that the amount of assistance this winter will be substantially less than last year, when fuel assistance benefited from a one-time infusion of $ 4.5 billion from American Rescue. Plan, a pandemic aid package.

Financing for fuel assistance has now returned to the prepandemic level of approximately $ 4 billion annually. An analysis from the National Consumer Law Center says low-income consumers could receive about a quarter less care than last winter. Supporters are now lobbying Congress for more funding.

Q. Will electric and gas utilities offer assistance?

A. Companies, including Eversource and National Grid, offer forgiveness of overdue balances and discounted rates to eligible low-income families. And every family, regardless of income, can contact utilities and set up a payment plan on an overdue amount. As long as the agreed payments are made, the service will not be interrupted.

Q. What are the rules on switching off the electricity or gas?

A. Low-income families remain protected against business interruption if they are seriously ill or have a child under 12 months at home. The elderly are also protected against being turned off.


I have a problem? Submit the consumer issue to sean.murphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: