(Article adapted from Property & Casualty 360 article, “Here are 8 ways to lower your energy bill this winter.”)
By now, most of us have started up our heating systems in order to stave off the morning’s chill, because let’s face it, when you’re up to five or six blankets on your bed just to stay warm at night, something’s gotta give.
Property Casualty 360 wrote an article in which they interviewed New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman about tips he recommends to help residents reduce their heating costs this winter. Well, while the resources in this article may be great for New Yorkers, we live in Michigan. So I’ve adapted the article to include some local resources that actually might apply to you.
So below are seven tips Attorney General Schneiderman suggests to keep your energy bills from breaking the bank this winter.
1. Shop around
Did you know that you have a choice in deciding who offers you natural gas in Michigan? No? Well you do. There is a list of Licensed Alternative Gas Suppliers depending on what company services your utility (i.e. Consumers Energy, DTE, MGU, SEMCO).
As you are shopping around, it will be helpful to ask the following:
– How long have you been in business and servicing this particular area?
– What are your market rate prices and fixed/capped rates? Are you offering any promotions or discounts?
– What are the standard conditions and fees contained in the contract? What services are included, is there an early cancellation fee, what is the duration, and does the rate rise or fall based on the market?
– How does the company’s advertised rate compare to the current market rate?
2. Don’t shop only on price
Even if you have a choice in terms of providers, it’s important to look at the whole picture, and not just on the price. Make sure you use a reputable supplier. Winter heating is a safety issue, after all. If you want to check a supplier’s reviews, look to the Better Business Bureau for additional information about a company.
3. Ask for price protection
Flat-rate payment plans, in which the customer pays the same rate each month regardless of utility usage, can make for less headache when winter rears its ugly head. Price shifts can occur on a traditional, variable plan, especially if there is a particularly cold month and everyone starts using more heat.
4. If you use propane, check your tank readings before and after fillings
Plain and simple. You want to guarantee that you are given the amount of propane you are paying for. (This comes back to #2, make sure you work with a reputable company.)
5. See if a cooperative is available in your area
“Some areas have cooperatives that use their collective buying power to negotiate better prices for [propane] and service charges. Suppliers will offer better prices for a guaranteed customer base of likely repeat buyers.”
One such cooperative in Michigan is Midwest Energy Cooperative.
6. Explore available programs and ask for help
The Department of Human Resources (DHS) provides information about getting help from state programs that use federal money to assist low-income families with energy costs.
It’s always best to call your energy fuel provider to explain the situation rather than simply not paying your bill.
1. Home Heating Credit
– Offers support for heating costs. Michigan Department of Treasury determines eligibility and makes payments.
2. State Emergency Relief
– This is a crisis intervention program that provides assistance for energy-related expenses such as heating fuel, electricity and home repairs.
3. Weatherization Assistance Program
– Provides free home energy conservation services to low-income Michigan homeowners and renters. Services reduce energy use and lower utility bills.
Additional information can be found at the Coalition to keep Michigan Warm website.
7. Conserve, conserve, conserve
At the end of the day, of course, the best way to lower your utility bills is to use less energy. The Federal Trade Commission has these suggestions:
– Check your attic, attic stairway, garage walls and basement to make sure they are properly insulated.
– Wrap your hot water heater in an insulating jacket.
– Schedule an annual tune-up for your heat pump, furnace, or boiler.
– Seal and insulate leaky ducts and doorways to prevent heat from escaping and drafts from coming in.
– Install drapes or coverings over windows so cool air doesn’t enter your home.
– Close the doors to rooms that are not in use.
– Prune shrubs that may block airflow to your heat pump (if applicable).
– Install ceiling fans, which promote air circulation and efficient heating.
– Install a programmable thermostat, so you can set it to use less energy and heat at night and when you are not home.
Check out Consumers Energy’s “100 Ways to Save on Your Energy Bill.” They list several suggestions about things you can do to reduce energy in various areas of your house.
Are you interested in learning more about alternative heating sources? The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety explains using Pellet Stoves, Space Heaters, Wood Stoves and Fireplaces. Read the article here.