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Heating bills expected to go up by 17.8% this winter, the highest increase in more than a decade

There are several programs, tips and tricks that can help you save money on heating this winter.

MINNESOTA, USA — Get ready for higher heating bills.

The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association released projections that show the highest price increase in more than a decade.

The projections estimate heating costs will go up by 17.8% for the average American family, from around $1,025 last winter to $1,208 this year.

Those numbers are based on all heating sources combined, electricity, natural gas, heating oil, propane and others. However, the increase for natural gas alone is much higher this year at 31.3%.

"You feel it in your pocketbook,” Michael Schmitz said. “I’d say those numbers are pretty close to what we’re expecting to see here in Minnesota.”

Schmitz manages the Minnesota Energy Assistance program with the Minnesota Commerce Department. He says they are now accepting applications from anyone who might need help paying the bills this winter.

“There are some income requirements that need to be met in order to qualify,” Schmitz explained.

"This year payments are going to average about $500 per household, but for those households that have lower income and higher energy costs, it could be as much as $1,400.”

Schmitz says they're expecting around 150,000 applicants this year, which is higher than usual.

He recommends getting your applications in as early as possible, because there is a small chance that the program could run out of money.

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“It’s always a good idea to get that application in as early as you can,” Schmitz said.

You can request an application for the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program by visiting mn.gov/home or by calling 1-800-657-3710 and press 1 to get routed to the right extension. 

Now is also a good time to apply for the Cold Weather Rule, which Schmitz says is often misunderstood.

"I think a lot of Minnesotans have heard about the Cold Weather Rule and a lot of people think that it means that in the winter you just can't get disconnected," Schmitz explained. "You actually have to contact your natural gas or electric utility company and request a Cold Weather Rule payment plan.

“If you don’t make the plan, or you’re not able to keep that plan by not making payments, then it is possible you could get disconnected.”

Renters and homeowners can apply for the Cold Weather Rule by reaching out to your utility company and filling out an application.

If you can’t reach an agreement with your utility company, or you can’t afford their proposed payment plan, you can contact the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission by calling 1800-657-3782 or emailing them at consumer.puc@state.mn.us.

Another way to save money is to sign up for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which is also managed by the Minnesota Commerce Department.

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"They will do what is called an energy audit. They will basically pinpoint in your home where heat is escaping,” Schmitz said.

And they'll find contractors to do the work for you. The workers will find ways to make your home more energy efficient, like adding insulation, or patching up holes.

Schmitz also recommends wrapping your windows in plastic to prevent heat loss and turning down your thermostat when you're not home.

For more information, or to submit an application for the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program, click here.

To learn more about the Minnesota Weatherization Assistance Program, click here.

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