Your Utility Bills are Going Up. What are You Going to Do About it?

Earlier this week I received a very polite letter from my local natural gas utility. It's message: Your rates are going to increase by 35-40 percent this fall. Sorry 'bout that.

While a bit unexpected, I can't say it's altogether unsurprising; energy rates are going up across the board. I doubt there's a person in this country who hasn't noticed that gasoline costs about $4 per gallon these days.

Photo credit: Unhindered by Talent @ Flickr

My natural gas utility, NW Natural, provides me with heat, fuel for my cooktop, and hot water, services which I'm happy to pay for, as they combine to help keep me warm, fed, and clean. Still, the thought of having to pay somewhere between a third and half more per gallon of hot water and houseful of warm air this fall doesn't exactly thrill me. And, it seems, I won't be the only one.

Because of rising commodity prices and steady demand, natural gas customers in Missouri, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, for example, can expect to pay at least 20 percent more to their utility this fall; in Utah and Wyoming , that number is about 40 percent -- yikes.

Photo credit: Patrick Denker @ Flickr

So, what's to be done about this? Unfortunately, there aren't as many quick 'n easy fixes -- a compact fluorescent light bulb-like increase in efficiency without any sacrifice in performance, for example -- for furnaces, water heaters, and stoves. TreeHugger Lloyd was able to cut his gas consumption in half in one day, which is pretty remarkable, by installing a tankless water-heating system, but that's a fair to large-sized investment (and out of the question for me as a renter, unfortunately). Solar hot water is really coming in to vogue, but, again, requires some pretty serious homework and investment to get rolling; both upgrades will pay for themselves in reasonable amounts of time, but, as easy and quick fixes go, aren't at the top of the list.

Still, there are a few things that can help those of us facing higher natural gas utility bills this fall.
1) Turn down the damn thermostat and put on a sweater; according to the Alliance to Save Energy, a one-degree reduction on the thermostat will save you about 3 percent on your heating bill.
2) Insulate your water heater; buy a blanket at your local hardware store (shouldn't cost more than $20) and you'll save between 6 and 9 percent. The D.O.E. has some solid info on the do's and don'ts of this process.
3) Spread the heat with a well-positioned and slow-rotating fan, that'll help ensure that heat from your radiator or heater doesn't just drift up to your ceiling, but spreads pleasantly throughout the room.

Hit up TreeHugger's How to Go Green: Heating guide for more tips. My thermostat's going to be lower this winter; what about yours?