Manage winter home energy costs during the pandemic

Extension and Outreach banner

When prioritizing expenses, a major household bill is utilities (e.g., electricity, gas, water and sewer, landline and cell phone, and internet/cable). The highest utility cost is typically heating the home.
 
Plan for increasing home heating costs over the next six months. COVID-19 may increase these costs because many families are spending more time working and/or learning from home.
 
Average Iowa household utility expense of $2,580 varies widely according to the size of a home, climate, and utility usage patterns. Regardless of what you pay for utilities, there are ways to pay less.
 

Step 1: Check Eligibility and Request Energy Assistance 

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists households with a portion of the home heating bills, particularly those facing disconnection or who have trouble paying their utility bill. Early applications for LIHEAP started October 1, with November 1 through April 30 as the annual application timeframe through a local community action agency. A general overview of the LIHEAP program is available in multiple languages. Application help from a local Community Action Agency is found on the Iowa Department of Human Rights' website https://humanrights.iowa.gov/dcaa/where-apply, but individuals must call in for an appointment.

Step 2: Ask for A Winter Moratorium

Your utilities may not be shut off during the “winter moratorium” if you apply for and qualify for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This program helps many low-income households pay their heating costs. If you are certified eligible for LIHEAP, utilities cannot shut off your gas or electric services from November 1 through April 1. You should try to pay as much as you can on your utility bills, even during the winter moratorium. It is always best to keep making payments to the maximum extent possible during any period when your utility provider is prohibited from disconnecting your service. Making payments during the winter moratorium creates “good will” with the utility company (with whom you may be negotiating a payment plan) and also keeps the problem from getting worse.

Step 3: Manage Utility Bills

Know How Much to Expect. Ask your utility provider for how much the utility bill was last year for your home or apartment. Electric and Natural Gas average monthly costs start at $215 and go higher depending on the size of your home and weather conditions. Pay as much as you can afford monthly.
 
Weatherize. Leaky or old windows can account for 10 to 25 percent of heating costs due to warm air escaping. Replace windows with double-pane windows or install storm windows. Get help from the Iowa Weatherization Assistance Program at https://humanrights.iowa.gov/dcaa/weatherization.
 
Lower the Thermostat. Dial down the thermostat and save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F while you're awake and set it lower while you're asleep or away from home. Even one degree lower can make a difference. Industry figures for every degree you turn down your thermostat (and leave it for 8 hours) you save between 1 and 3 percent of your heating bill. 
 
Free financial counseling is also available to all Iowa residents through ISU Extension and Outreach’s Human Sciences Specialists in Family Finance. We can help revise budgets, prioritize spending and link you to community resources. To do so, contact Iowa Concern at 800-447-1985 and ask for free financial counseling. 
 
Find this and more family finance information by visiting or subscribing to ISU Extension and Outreach’s MoneyTip$ blog online at https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/moneytips/.

Share |