Consumers Energy estimates they'll pass on an 18 percent increase to their customers this winter. That's trickle down from a 33 percent increase they say they've seen in natural gas in the last year.
That increase will amount to about $15 each month for the average Consumers Energy natural gas customer, an upcharge on the average $115 bill their customers see during the winter months.
Consumers Energy offers tips for keeping costs down like cleaning furnace filters, caulking windows and doors carefully, and turning down the thermostat one degree for a one to three percent savings.
There are also programs to make payments easier. The Winter Protection Program puts off some of the high cost until warmer months. An Equal Payment program splits them throughout the year. Consumers Energy encourages their customers to call as soon as they anticipate a problem paying their bill.
Many localities also offer help with heating for low income families.
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Winter Heating Safety Tips
Fire Places and Wood Burning Stoves
- When buying a wood stove, make sure that it is UL listed, and is of solid construction.
- Ensure that your stove or fireplace is installed properly. Wood stoves should have at least 36 inches of clearance from the nearest combustible surface, and must be mounted on a floor with adequate support.
- Chimneys should be inspected annually by a professional service, and cleaned if necessary. Creosote, a by-product of wood burning, builds-up in chimneys over time depending upon usage, and creates an extreme fire hazard if not removed.
- Check the chimney for cracks or loose masonry, and for separation from the structure.
- Make sure that the spark arrestor on the top of the chimney is firmly attached, and is not clogged.
- Always have a metal mesh screen in front of your fireplace to help prevent hot embers from igniting near-by objects.
- Keep air inlets on stoves clear, and never restrict the flow of air into a fireplace.
- Seasoned wood (at least one year old) is best for burning, as soft or moist wood will cause a more rapid creosote buildup.
- If you use synthetic logs, follow the manufacturer's instructions. Using more than one log at a time, or breaking the logs into pieces, can cause an excessive amount of heat, and create more carbon monoxide than your fireplace can safely handle.
- Never use any flammable liquid to start your fire.
- Keep all flammable liquids away from your fireplace.
- Keep all flammable materials away from your fireplace. One spark hitting a flammable object can ignite it.
- Do not use a fireplace for paper or other waste material disposal, such rapid hot burning can cause a flash fire of built-up creosote.
- Do not use charcoal indoors. Charcoal gives off lethal gases that if not vented properly, can cause death without warning.
- Before going to bed, make sure that the fire is out, and the damper is open. A closed damper, with live coals, can cause the coals to re-ignite, causing a release of carbon monoxide.
- Do not discard hot ashes in or near the house, nor in the vicinity of any combustible material. Ashes should be soaked in a metal bucket and placed outside your home.
- Firewood should be stacked at least 30 feet away from your home.
- Keep the roof and rain gutters clear of tree leaves and other debris.
- Your gas-burning furnace should be inspected once a year to ensure safe and proper operation. If you are unsure of how to do this, contact a professional.
- Make sure that furnace controls are operating properly. Does the thermostat start and stop the furnace at the set values?
- Inspect the wall surfaces and ceiling near the furnace and the chimney. Hot or discolored walls or ceiling could indicate that more insulation is required.
- Do not use the space around a furnace for the storage of any combustible materials.
- Do not place a throw rug, or any other materials or objects on top of, or near, a floor furnace outlet.
- Change forced-air furnace filters at least once a year; more often is better, depending on use.
- Be sure the heater is UL approved, and in good operating order.
- Inspect exhaust parts for carbon build-up, and other blockages.
- Be sure the heater has an emergency shut off in case the heater is tipped over.
- Never use fuel-burning appliances without adequate room ventilation; burning fuel produces deadly fumes.
- Use only the fuel recommended by the heater's manufacturer.
- Keep the kerosene, or other fuel, stored in an approved container, in a well-ventilated area, and outside the house.
- Refuel the heater outside of your house.
- Never fill the heater while it is in-use, or still hot from use, and never overfill.
- Keep young children away from the heater.
Electric Space Heaters
- Make sure that the device is UL approved
- When tipped over, the heater should shut itself off
- If you must use an extension cord, make sure that it is rated for the amperage used by the device
- Make sure that it does not overload the circuit
- Never use an electric space heater anywhere near a bathtub or sink
Other Safety Tips
- Never use an oven, range top, or any other such device, for supplemental heating.
- Be sure to have at least one working smoke detector, and one working carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home. These detectors should be inspected and cleaned, as necessary, on a monthly basis.
- Battery operated units should have their batteries replaced once a year.
Source: http://santamonicafire.org (Santa Monica Fire Department Web site) contributed to this report.