By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–First comes the frigid cold, then comes the big utility bills.   If you haven’t received a larger than normal heating bill this winter, it’s probably coming.   3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan tells us about simple things you can do to keep costs under control.

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As early as October the government predicted that 90 percent of the nation’s homes would have higher heating bills this winter.  According to the Energy Information Administration costs would be 2% higher for those heating with electricity, 9 percent higher for propane users and those who use natural gas could expect a 13% price hike.  Only oil customers were expected to get a break and pay about 2% less.

But those price hike predictions came before we got hit with some of the lowest temperatures in two decades.  Ben Armstrong with PECO says, “It’s important for customers to understand that they will be billed for the energy that they use, the electricity and natural gas that they use to keep their homes warm during these extreme cold temperatures.”

So how do use less energy?  Well adjusting your thermostat, even slightly, can have a significant impact on your bill. According to Armstrong, “On average you can anticipate a 5 percent savings, per degree that you’re able to lower your thermostat during these extreme temperatures.”

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Check to be sure that your furniture isn’t blocking your heat registers.  Armstrong also recommends “In the daytime when the sun is out you want to keep your blinds and shades open to allow the sun to heat your home naturally.  During the evening hours close your blinds and shades to ensure that you’re not allowing that heat to escape.”

Another way to avoid sticker shock?  See if your utility company offers a budget plan and if so, sign up.  Customers on a budget plan have their bills averaged out so that when there are spikes in usage, like now or in the summer during a heat wave, they won’t feel the pinch as much.

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