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Preparing for pricey winter bills

From getting furnace tune-ups to small steps to lower energy usage, there are several actions you can take that may help.

INDIANAPOLIS — Mark Scheidler gets a furnace tune-up every year.

He doesn't skip the service because if his equipment doesn't run properly, it can cause pricey problems.

James Miller with Howald's Heating, Air Conditioning and Plumbing said maintaining your system is like maintaining a car. 

"If you buy it and you drive it for 20,000 miles without changing the oil, that becomes more or less user error," Miller said.

During his annual visit, Miller makes sure Scheidler's equipment isn't working harder than it needs to. The harder the equipment works, the more money it costs.

"The motor wants to move only a particular amount of weight on it. And if you have a dirty wheel, that equates to more weight, more load on the system," Miller said. 

A furnace tune-up isn't the only thing Scheidler does to control heating costs.

He and his wife upgraded their windows in the past decade, replaced their home's weather stripping and made sure the garage door stays closed.

Lowering my energy usage

Anthony Swinger with the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor — or the office that helps keep an eye on our utility companies — said there are simple things you can do around your home that will add up to savings. 

He said energy-savers include setting your water heater at 120 degrees, unplugging chargers and countertop appliances you aren't using, and making sure your ceiling fan is spinning in the right direction.

"If you set it on clockwise and a low setting, that will help push the warm air back down," Swinger said. 

While all of this can help, plan for a punch.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that bills for people with natural gas will be 29% higher, and electricity will be 6% higher.

Swinger suggests checking out your utility company's winter projection for the best estimate.

"Citizens Gas, CenterPoint Energy and NIPSCO, the three major natural gas utilities serving Indiana, issued their projections in mid-October," Swinger said. 

There's also budget billing, which is what Schiedler uses.

It's when your utility company averages your monthly payments to prevent big swings in your bills.

"I just felt it was easier to do. These are for budget purposes; you know how much you're going to pay every month, and then, they reconcile up in the December bill for payment in January," Scheidler said. 

I need help paying my bills

If you need help with your bills, help is out there.

Contact your utility department, call 211 and apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor adds that,  "Consumers should also be aware of the state’s winter disconnection moratorium, which applies only under specific circumstances. By law, electric and natural gas utilities in Indiana may not disconnect service between Dec. 1 and Mar. 15 if the consumer:

  1. Is receiving help from the federally funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  2. Has formally applied for LIHEAP funds and has qualified, with the utility receiving written proof.

Customers who are protected by the moratorium are strongly encouraged to continue to pay heating bills through the winter, even if they can only make partial payments."

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