Home heating fuel cost hikes are hurtling toward the northeast like a midwinter blizzard.
It's going to cost people more to keep their homes toasty, or even barely comfortable, this winter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
EIA is projecting a colder winter and higher prices for natural gas and propane. The cost of fuel oil will be a smidgen lower, but still high.
Household expenditures for natural gas and propane will increase by 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively, this winter heating season (Oct. 1 through March 31) compared with last winter," according to the agency's Winter Fuels Outlook, released Tuesday.
"Projected U.S. household expenditures are 2 percent higher for electricity and 2 percent lower for heating oil this winter. Although EIA expects average expenditures for households that heat with natural gas will be significantly higher than last winter, spending for gas heat will still be lower than the previous five-year average," it said.
Adding to the woe, this winter is expected to about 3 percent colder in the northeast than last winter, the report said.
In Pennsylvania, about 38 percent of households are heated with natural gas; 29 percent by electricity; 20 percent by fuel oil; and 9 percent by propane, according to EIA.
Due to the partial government shutdown that began on Oct. 1, the percentages of homes heated by anthracite and wood were not available. That information comes through the U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey.
Steve Ohl, president of R.F. Ohl Fuel, Lehighton, said what goes up, must come down.
"I think it's a natural balance happening. All energy prices will seek a level it's like water, it seeks its own level. I have to believe that over time, things will get back to a certain level," he said.
Over the past 20 years or so, "oil was always averaged out as the least expensive alternative. I like to look at averages," Ohl said. "If you focus on a narrow point, you're not seeing the whole picture."
He said the company looks at those averages when a customer asks which fuel to use.
"But we also do a cost analysis of the home to find out what's best," Ohl said.
Some local families are shifting their heating methods while others are taking the hikes in stride.
Resa and Frank Hall of Palmerton heat their home with electric, backed up by propane. They also have an infrared heater.
"We have a propane fireplace in the basement, with registers to the upstairs. The rest of the heat is baseboard electric heaters. A couple years ago we invested in an infrared heater for our upstairs, in the living room and dining room with a vaulted ceiling," Resa Hall said.
Frank said he's not upset about projected increases.
"In the long run, it's not much of an increase," he said.
The couple fills their 100 gallon propane tank once a year, and Frank Hall said the infrared heater they bought two years ago saves them a lot of money.
"It's a great supplemental heater. It allowed me to turn off two-thirds of the heat in living room/dining room," he said.
Charlene and Jim Belzner of Andreas, who have heated their home with propane, are turning to home-grown heat this winter.
"We're going to use wood heat for our primary heat, since we have roughly six-and-a-half acres of woodland and many downed trees from storms," Charlene Belzner said. "We will keep our vent-free propane fireplaces as secondary heat sources, just in case the fire goes out when we are not home so that it doesn't get so cold that our pipes could freeze."