How To Reduce Your Gas Bill
There is one easy way to lower your natural gas bill this winter – sit tight and do nothing!
That’s right. After years of rising prices, the cost of natural gas is expected to be lower for the winter of 2023-2024. That news is straight from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, which announced that natural gas prices should be about 7.8% lower than last year. Home heating oil prices are expected to rise.
“Prices were affected by a lot of national and international events, including weather and the war in Ukraine,” Patrick Cicero of the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate said. “Right now, the whole system is simply functioning better, which explains the forecast for lower prices. That is good for consumers.”
That doesn’t mean you should actually do nothing. It is always smart to improve your fuel efficiency by sealing leaks and tuning up your equipment. It will lower your costs even more and you’ll be better prepared for future fluctuations in price.
A good start is to take all of your monthly utility costs – gas, electric, water and sewer – and look for specific ways of saving money on utilities.
There are strategies for lowering each portion of your monthly costs and cutting expenses all around. So, what are some practical tips for a lower natural gas bill in the winter, and all-year round?
Reasons Why Your Natural Gas Bill May Be High
No matter where you live, many of your expenses are subject to change based on a multitude of factors, some obvious and some almost startling. The COVID-19 crisis is one example of the latter. So is the war in Ukraine.
Costs are set by basic factors: supply, delivery, local, state, and federal taxes. Each of those factors are affected by current events like severe weather or disruptions in normal supply chains. Regardless of those “X factors,” there are things within your control that can lower your gas bill.
If you buy a newly constructed home, one benefit is that your heating and cooling systems are also new. If you buy an older home, or you’re living in one you’ve been in for a while, your reality includes aging equipment.
Older equipment is more likely to break down or operate less efficiently with age. On top of that, older equipment may have been made and installed before the advent of superior technology and tighter regulations. All of that can translate into using more energy – natural gas, in this case – to generate the same amount of heat.
Brand-new equipment is expensive, but an investment worth considering. Less expensive is annual maintenance on older equipment to maximize its efficiency.
“The low-hanging fruit for homeowners is sealing your windows and doors and routine maintenance on your furnace,” Cicero explained. “You should regularly clean and tune your furnace, change the filter, that sort of thing. Check with your gas supplier for programs that help with updating your home equipment.”
Your parents were right. Letting heat and air conditioning escape really does cost more money every month. Check your insulation and add more, if practical. Check windows and doors for places where heat could be escaping. There are many inexpensive ways to improve their efficiency at your local hardware store. Look for a window insulation kit, foam panels or spray foam, or magnetic window insulation.
Where you live in the United States has a huge effect on your gas bill. In Southern California, for example, the winter lows are only in the mid-40s, while summer temps never get below the 60s. In Michigan, on the other hand, the average summer temperature is mid-70s, but winter turns bitter, and the average lows are in the teens to lower 20s.One good idea: Prepare for winter – checking and maintaining your equipment and your insulation – in the milder months. Prepare for summer before it is uncomfortably hot to work on your cooling equipment.
High Water Temperature
That water heater in your basement or garage can be using more energy than you realize. Manufacturer set the default temperature as high as 140 degrees, but the recommended temperature is 120 degrees. Your water heater has settings that you can control. Simply lowering your water temperature to 120 degrees can translate into significant savings.
Natural Gas Supplier Charges
The gas company that sends you a bill every month doesn’t “make” natural gas. It buys gas from suppliers, and the price it pays (and passes on to you) fluctuates based on supply, demand, external forces, politics, weather, pipeline problems – almost anything you can think of. It may seem unbelievable that a war in Ukraine, a hurricane or an earthquake can affect your gas bill, but all of those things can have an impact on the global market.
Ways To Reduce Your Gas Usage
There’s not much you can do about an earthquake or a pandemic. You do have some control over how much natural gas you use. Gas prices may rise. There are ways for you to reduce your consumption and lower your monthly bills.
1. Use Proper Insulation
There is typically insulation between the inner and outer walls of your home. Improving on that and filling gaps are the most obvious ways to prevent heat from escaping your home.
There are smaller projects that can be among the best ways to save money around your home. For example, weatherstripping and caulking around doors and windows to fill in gaps; putting insulation in your attic or under your roof (heat rises!); and putting blinds and curtains on windows. Basically, keep the hot air in and keep the cold air out.
2. Compare Suppliers and Lock In Rates
A fixed-rate mortgage can prevent your monthly payment from fluctuating based on the Federal Reserve’s decisions about interest rates. The same is true for monthly gas prices. If you lock in a fixed rate with your natural gas supplier, prices won’t jump because of a natural or political event.
In many states, you can shop for your natural gas supplier. That includes finding a supplier that offers locked-in rates. The U.S Energy Information Association is a good place to start a search for your options, depending upon your home state.
3. Turn Down the Thermostat
This is the most obvious option, but it can be the toughest one to implement, especially if your household includes family members who are more sensitive to cold. It may take some convincing, either through reasoning or suggesting a warm sweater or leggings. The savings can be 5%-10% of your monthly bill.
Learn to work your thermostat. If no one is home during the day, lower it to 65 or 66 degrees until people start coming home. If it’s set at 68- 70 degrees during the evenings, lower it again at bedtime, when everyone is under the covers. A few seconds of effort every day can lower your gas bill without having much impact on your family.
4. Get a Smart Thermostat
No, that doesn’t mean your current thermostat is stupid. It’s just another technology development, like a smart phone or smart appliances, which allows better management of your day-to-day affairs.
The old-school approach is to lower and raise your thermostat setting by hand. A smart thermostat can be programmed to make those adjustments at the same time every day. If you’re going to bed and realize you forgot to adjust the thermostat downstairs, a smart thermostat will seem like a wise investment.
5. Lower the Water Heater Temperature
If you use scalding hot water to wash clothes or dishes, or for baths or showers, lowering the water heater’s setting will save you money on your energy bills. Your clothes and your dishes will get just as clean if the water is a couple of degrees cooler.
Setting the water heater temperature at 120 degrees can mean significant savings. It is worth at least experimenting to find the right balance for you.
6. Keep Windows and Doors Closed
Remember. Your parents were right: We’re not heating the whole neighborhood!!!
Letting heat escape, while letting cold air in, is a surefire way to raise your monthly natural gas costs. Sealing openings around your doors and windows doesn’t do much good if you leave the windows and doors open. That includes leaving your front or side door open and trusting the storm door to handle all the work.
Covering windows, with shades or heavy curtains, can prevent warm air from escaping. But consider uncovering South-facing windows during the hours the sun is on them. That natural solar heat can help.
And if you must raise a window to clear smoke from cooking dinner, remember to close it again, as soon as possible.
7. Wear Warmer Clothing
If your family members are walking around in shorts and tee shirts in January, you may be able to lower the heat a few degrees. Tell everyone to find sweater or sweatpants, a hoodie, or some legwarmers.
Comfort doesn’t have to cost you more every month.
8. Use Your Fireplace Sparingly
Say what? Burning wood would seem to be the most natural way to heat your home. But things are rarely as simple as they appear.
A fireplace is pleasant and perfect for a romantic evening. As a heating source, it is not so perfect. Most of the heat goes straight up the chimney and out into the cold. That creates a vacuum that is quickly filled by outdoor air seeping into the space any way it can. Next thing you know, your gas heater is working harder to keep the room warm enough.
9. Reverse Your Ceiling Fan’s Direction
Ceiling fans turn counterclockwise, which is great for moving cooler air around your room. Most ceiling fans have a switch, on the fan itself or on a remote control, which reverses the direction of the blades. Clockwise motion draws cooler air up while forcing warmer air down to replace it.
Every little bit helps.
10. Use Space Heaters
A space heater is not the way they keep astronauts on the International Space Station cozy. The space in question is that area in your house that needs a little extra warmth on a cold day. A safe, energy-efficient space heater can warm up a room when needed without using more natural gas that will show up on your monthly bill.
More Tips To Save Money at Home
Focusing on your gas bill, and ways to lower your gas bill, is a good thing. It is even better if that is part of an overall assessment of your budget, meaning where your money goes and how you might hold on to more of it.
“One thing I like to tell people is to be vigilant,” Cicero said. “Pay attention to your bill. Reach out to your utility. Most have payment assistance programs. It is better to be proactive and make an outreach rather than wait for problems to arrive. And be careful what your contract (with your supplier) says about locking in a price.”
It is always a good idea to create a budget for one simple reason: You can manage your spending better if you know where the money is going. The job of creating a budget may seem like a lot of effort, but that initial work can result in a lot of saved effort (not to mention money) in the future.
While it is important to identify and implement savings on your monthly bills – mortgage or rent, utilities, auto payments and insurance – there is a benefit to finding other ways to cut regular costs. For example, you can save money on groceries. That’s not a single monthly bill, but as long as you and your family are going to eat, you should make the best deals for yourself.
The importance of budgeting can also be seen in your ability to recognize where you should not be spending money as well as where you can reduce costs. Finding withdrawals for subscriptions and services you don’t need allows you to cancel those overlooked drains on your bank account.
And who knows? Maybe reducing costs and cutting waste will allow you to flip the script and start saving money.
About The Author
Phil Sheridan writes about managing personal debt for InCharge. He spent over 30 years learning about labor negotiations, salary caps, stadium negotiations and a lot of other finance-related matters as a reporter and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and ESPN. Phil will use those experiences to make readers more comfortable about their own financial situation.