How to reduce heating bills as energy costs spike due to inflation

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As frigid temperatures continue to grip the Chicago area, you may notice your heating bill is even higher than the cold weather calls for.

The Consumer Price Index for products is up almost 7%, with the cost of just about everything going up in 2021. But it's far worse when it comes to energy costs, which have spiked 33% nationwide.

"It was like, I thought it was a mistake," said Evelyn Perkins. "I really didn't think that it was $250 higher than the previous bill.

Perkins, a landlord in Olympia Fields, was floored when she saw the most recent gas bills for her home and the properties she rents out.

"I've got a lot of people who are retired and on fixed income, so I don't know if they're gonna be able to manage it," she worried.

"There's some market forces at play, having to do with decreased exploration and drilling during the economic downturn of the pandemic," explained Sarah Moskowitz, Deputy Director at Citizens Utility Board. "Then we saw a little bit of an increase in economic activity and which increased demand for natural gas in production may not have really picked up in time to meet that demand fully."
So how can you beat energy inflation as temps dip down into single digits? Experts at the Citizens Utility Board said to first try turning the temperature down, only by a few degrees. It could make a big difference over time, especially if you turn down your heat when you leave the house compared to keeping it at a consistent temperature.

"Oh, man, I get that question so much. You're not going to like my answer. It depends on the home," Moskowitz replied. "But in general it is recommended that you do reduce your heat in the winter or your air conditioning in the summer when you're not home. Otherwise, you're just expending all that energy."

You should also seal drafts with foam tape and change your HVAC air filters to reduce costs. And even though official pandemic programs, and moratoriums on shut-offs have ended, you should still work with your utility if you're behind on the bill.

"So it's really on the consumer to reach out and try to come to some kind of arrangement to prevent disconnection," Moskowitz said. "Both Peoples Gas and Nicor offer free home energy assessments and other energy efficiency programs that I think people should take advantage of."

"It's really hard. It wasn't expected. I guess there was no heads up that this is coming," Perkins added.

There are also financial assistance programs available through the state and other agencies. Many can be found on the Citizen Utility Board's website CUBHelpCenter.com, which has additional links for assistance:

Click here for more information on utility bill assistance from the state of Illinois.
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