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Cuddle up or pay up, America. Your utility bill could bite you where it hurts this winter.

Getting “smart” is one way to save

Might as well start with the bad news. In the last year, the cost of heating your home with gas has gone up 33.5%; with electricity, 15.9%.

But, with a colder-than-average winter forecast for much of the country and the impact of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on the cost of energy, the winter 2022-23 outlook is raising the temperature on consumers’ wallets. 

This winter, the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) outlook estimates that natural gas users could pay 51% more than last year; heating oil users, 37%; propane users, 36%; and electric users, 20%.

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn't good for much, but for heating oil consumers, the pandemic cut down on global oil demand, said Katharina Buchholz, in Statista’s calculation of the impact. But the pandemic's gone and it's Russia taking its place. 

“As the invasion of Ukraine and embargoes against Russian energy products have caused turmoil on global markets, oil price fluctuations are being more immediately passed on to consumers, for example through gasoline or heating oil prices rising quickly,” Buchholz said.

Ways to cut your utility bills

ConsumerAffairs did a bit of research to see what the energy-saving options in 2022 look like. Here’s what we found:

Wouldn't you know it?

Is there a way you can fend off the chill that energy prices could put on your budget? According to EfficiencyMaine’s cost of energy calculator, firewood is the least expensive way to go. 

Based on the current price of a cord of wood ($296), the calculator estimates it would cost an average $1,259 per year to use firewood to heat your home. That’s about $700 less than using a geothermal heat pump; $400 less than a conventional heat pump; and about $1,300 less than a natural gas furnace.

Get “smart”

If you don't have a fireplace but you love technology, the newest utility-saving idea comes from all the “smart devices” and “smart plugs” that consumers can buy to control the utility-sucking items in their home. 

And they’re fairly inexpensive, too. For example, ConsumerAffairs found plenty of smart plugs on Amazon for as little as $25 for a pack of two with two outlets each. That would cover a coffee maker and toaster in the kitchen, and a table light or two in the bedroom. 

There are also smart water leak and freeze detectors, thermostats, light bulbs, appliances, sprinkler systems, and garage door openers – all of which can be operated remotely via a smartphone app.

Time-based utility rates enter the picture

One way that consumers might be able to curb their utility cost is by signing up for time-based utility rates.

The Department of Energy (DOE) says that many utilities are introducing innovative programs to encourage customers to use electricity during off-peak hours – usually ranging from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. when the kids are at school and people are at work, times when electricity demand is at its lowest.

“Smart meters and home energy management systems allow customers to program how and when their home uses energy. If you are able to shift your power use to off-peak times -- such as running your dishwasher late in the evening -- these programs can save you money,” the DOE says.

Time-based utility rates aren’t everywhere, but the list of states where they’re available is growing. Local utilities in California, Arizona, Massachusetts, and other states have adopted the pricing alternative. It may be worth some Googling to find out if your state or local utility company offers the same.

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