LOS ANGELES - If you've noticed your Southern California Gas bill double or even triple compared to what you were paying last year - you're not the only one.
Earlier this month, SoCalGas issued a statement warning customers of the soaring costs due to a number of factors, including historically high natural gas prices in the western United States, along with widespread, below-normal temperatures on much of the West Coast and high demand for heating by customers in areas with below normal temperatures.
Keep in mind that SoCalGas does not set the price for natural gas. Rather, the prices are determined by national and regional markets. SoCal Gas then buys natural gas in those markets on behalf of residential and small business customers, with that cost billed to customers with no markup, the company said.
To help combat the skyrocketing costs, SoCalGas recommends its customers review the following tips to help save both energy and money.
Setting up Bill Tracker Alerts can help you monitor your consumption to help gauge the amount of your next bill. Enrolling is easy - complete an energy profile through SoCalGas' Ways to Save online tool, which will give you a personalized plan to track progress and determine the best approach to help lower your energy usage.
The company also offers rebates and incentives for upgrades made to home energy-efficient appliances and equipment.
The Gas Assistance Fund offers a one-time grant to help customers pay natural gas bills. The funds are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis and eligible customers are able to apply until the funds are depleted. You can learn more here.
Other customer assistance programs through SoCalGas are also available for qualifying residential customers. The CARE program offers a 20% bill discount, the Energy Savings Assistance Program offers no-cost home improvements, and customers with a qualifying medical condition may be eligible for additional natural gas at the lowest baseline rate through the Medical Baseline Allowance Program.
Tips for appliances
Natural Gas Heaters
Heating is the one of the top energy expenses for most customers. In fact heating can account for more than half of your total natural gas bill. Upgrading to a more energy-efficient model can help you save money.
- SoCalGas provides weatherization and furnace repair/replacement to qualified limited-income customers.
- When away from home for more than a few hours, adjusting your thermostat 5-8 degrees can save energy.
- Install a programmable thermostat to help automatically regulate your home's temperature for comfort control and energy savings.
- Adding insulation in your attic can help maintain desired temperatures throughout your home and is a great opportunity to save energy.
- Keep your heating system tuned-up to operate at maximum efficiency.
- Clean or replace your furnace filters according to manufacturer recommendations.
- For safety and efficiency keep all heating vents and furnace registers free of dirt lint and obstructions.
- Have your air ducts tested for leaks. Leaky ducts can cost you between 10 to 30 percent in heating & cooling costs.f your total natural gas bill. Upgrading to a more energy-efficient model can help you save money.
- When buying a new water heater, choose an ENERGY STAR certified natural gas model.
- ENERGY STAR Gas Storage and Tankless Water Heaters are independently certified to save you money, energy, and support preventing climate change. They use about 10% less energy in comparison to typical gas water heaters. Throughout the lifetime of the unit, it can save a four-person household hundreds of dollars.
- They use about 10% less energy in comparison to typical gas water heaters.
- Throughout the lifetime of the unit, it can save a four-person household hundreds of dollars.
- The energy efficiency of a storage water heater is indicated by its "Uniform Energy Factor" (UEF). The higher the UEF, the more efficient the water heater.
- SoCalGas offers rebates on qualifying ENERGY STAR certified natural gas water heaters. Check with your local water utility to see if they also have rebates.
- Don’t buy a water heater bigger than you need. Before you shop, estimate your household's peak hour demand and look for a water heater with the capacity to meet that demand.
- Always consult a contractor when installing a water heater.
- Visit the ENERGY STAR store locator to find a retailer near you.
Choosing an energy-efficient clothes washer and following a few simple tips can save you money on your natural gas, electricity and water bills.
- ENERGY STAR certified clothes washers use about 25% less energy and 33% less water than regular clothes washers.
- Energy efficient models that have earned the ENERGY STAR certification can save around $370 in energy costs.
- Wash full loads or adjust the water level to fit the size of your load.
- Save money on water heating costs by washing and rinsing your clothes in cold water.
- Select a laundry detergent formulated to clean effectively in cold water.
Natural gas clothes dryers are more energy-efficient than electric ones. They are generally less expensive to operate. If you have an old, inefficient dryer replacing it with a new, more efficient gas model could save you up to 20 percent in energy savings.
- Combined Energy Factor (CEF) is what is used to rate the energy efficiency that reflects the energy use of a clothes dryer. The general rule is, the higher the CEF, the more energy efficient the clothes dryer is.
- Check the ductwork to be sure that it is clear of obstructions and that the outside vent opens and closes properly.
- Dry full loads, but don't overload or over dry. Separate lightweight and heavy clothes for more energy-efficient drying.
- Dry two or more loads in a row to take advantage of the heat still in the dryer.
- Clean the lint filter before drying each load. Not only does this help your dryer perform more efficiently, it is also an important safety measure.
- Clean the machine. Periodically remove any buildup of lint and dust from the dryer exhaust, the back of the dryer and behind the lint screen.
- Replace leaky exhaust terminals. Check the outside dryer exhaust terminal to make sure it closes as it was designed to do and is not blocked with lint.
Natural Gas Fireplaces
For a warm and cozy atmosphere, consider installing a natural gas fireplace insert, which can also provide a heating source for a room.
- Highly efficient natural gas fireplace inserts can heat up to 1,000 square feet of living space.
- Install glass doors in front of your fireplace to help keep warm air in the house. Natural gas fireplace inserts not only help keep your house clean, but create less pollution than wood-burning fires.
- Add an elegant cast iron fireback to your fireplace to promote heat transfer into the room.
- Use your energy wisely. Don't run your natural gas fireplace when you're not in the room to enjoy it.
Natural Gas Barbecues
- A natural gas grill can be permanently installed in your yard, or portable models are available with a quick-disconnect.
- When you use a natural gas grill constructed of stainless steel, you have a unit that will prove long lasting, and provides a true commercial-quality kitchen appearance. Other grill exteriors are made of enameled steel and aluminum. Look for heavier, thicker grades for the longest life.
- Top-rated burners, cooking grids and grates are made of stainless or enameled stainless steel, cast or brass.
- For an additional fee, a representative from SoCalGas will connect your natural gas barbecue.
Pools and Spas
Natural gas pool and spa heaters use less energy and heat water faster than electric heaters. You can help save on energy costs by following a few simple steps.
- Lower the pool or spa heaters temperature setting.
- Install a time clock to preset and minimize heating hours.
- Keep your spa or pool covered when not in use. Well-fitted pool and spa covers help prevent heat loss and can lead to savings.
- Consider purchasing a solar pool cover. It uses the sun to heat the water’s surface.
- Reduce pool filtering and automatic pool sweep time to a minimum and schedule it for off-peak hours before noon and after 6 p.m.
- Check the accuracy of your spas thermostat. An inaccurate thermostat can cost you hundreds of dollars each year.
- Consider replacing your pool pump. When programmed appropriately, variable speed pumps can deliver significant energy savings for all pool loads and without degrading performance.
Caulking and Insulation
- Caulking and weather stripping help seal your home and reduce drafts keeping heat inside during winter and cool air inside during summer.
- Caulking works best for gaps that are 1/2" or smaller. For larger gaps, you can use a foam sealant that comes in a spray can.
- There can be substantial savings for taking the time to seal behind windows and door trims, even if your windows are airtight.
- Insulation blocks the flow of heat through attics floors and walls by forming dead air spaces.
- Adding insulation in your attic can help maintain desired temperatures throughout your home and is a great opportunity to save energy.
Cooking and Natural Gas Ovens
Natural gas is the number-one choice for chefs and it’s no wonder it’s instant on instant off and distributes heat evenly.
- Don’t preheat your natural gas oven if you don’t have to. If you’re baking breads and cakes pre-heating your oven may be necessary. For most foods like casseroles and broiled items pre-heating isn’t necessary.
- Don’t open the oven door while food is cooking. Leaving the oven door open could lead to significant temperature loss and wasted energy.
- Cover pots when cooking and cook by time and temperature guides.
- Cook several meals at the same time.
- Use pots and pans that fit the burners. Pans that fit a burner absorb more of the energy reducing the amount of heat lost.
- Keep oven and burners clean. A clean oven uses energy more efficiently.
- Never use the natural gas range for room heating. It is not designed for this purpose and can create a hazardous situation.
- Skip the drying option on your dishwasher.
- An ENERGY STAR dishwasher can save you around $130 annually in utility bills.
- Using an ENERGY STAR dishwasher can save you over 230 hours every year from no longer having to scrub, rinse and dry each dish.
- Look for ENERGY STAR certified dishwashers with energy-saving settings, such as partial load setting (which uses less hot water) and energy-efficient drying cycles.
- ENERGY STAR certified dishwashers are able to increase water temperatures to 140 degrees, which increases disinfection in comparison to hand washing.
- New ENERGY STAR certified dishwashers save more than 8,000 gallons of water a year!
- Check with your local water utility to see if they have rebates for new energy-efficient dishwashers.
Leaky ducts can waste energy used to heat and cool your home. In fact leaky ducts can cost you between 10 to 30 percent in heating & cooling costs.
- Have your ducts tested for air leakage. If you suspect an air duct problem have a contractor check behind registers in your crawlspace or in the attic for crushed disconnected or leaky ducts.
- Ducts should be repaired with mastic-type sealant not duct tape.
- Clean your ducts to increase the airflow and minimize contaminates released by the duct system.
- Insulate heating or air-conditioning system ducts with one to two inches of insulating batting.
- Be sure a well-sealed vapor barrier exists on the outside of the insulation on cooling ducts to prevent moisture buildup.
Around the home
Choosing an energy-efficient air conditioning and heating system and following a few simple tips can save you money on your electric bills.
- New air conditioners are far more efficient than older designs. ENERGY STAR certified equipment can save nearly $140 on your annual energy bill.
- Find a unit that is the right size and has the highest SEER that is within your price range. Look for the ENERGY STAR label to ensure that your air conditioner is among the most efficient in its class.
- Set your air conditioner thermostat to 78F or higher health permitting when you’re at home. Set it at 85F or turn it off when you’re away from home.
- Consider installing a programmable thermostat to regulate usage.
- Clean or replace filters regularly according to manufacturer recommendations. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for air conditioner maintenance and operation such as replacing dirty filters and keeping vents clear of obstructions.
- Use a fan instead of your air conditioner to circulate air.
- Open windows for cool air during the evening and early morning.
- Close blinds or other window covers to block direct sunlight.
Home Office and Den
- Turn off lights, computers and monitors, and other office equipment when they are not being used, when you leave a room and at night. If your computer is plugged into a power strip, be sure to switch the strip off after shutting down your computer.
- Replace regular incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent light bulbs (CFL) or LED bulbs. CFLs use about 70% less energy than incandescent bulbs and LED bulbs are about 90% more efficient than incandescent bulbs.
- If your computer has a "low power standby," be sure it is set in that mode.
- Turn off lights (and other appliances) when they are not being used and when you leave a room.
- Use Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) in recessed fixtures. CFLs use about 60 to 70 percent less energy. Save time and money by replacing bulbs in recessed light fixtures less often.
- Replace your halogen torchiere lamp. Using one torchiere six hours a day costs between $50 to $75 per year.
- ENERGY STAR labeled outdoor light fixtures are more efficient than conventional fixtures and help save you money on utility bills.
- Outdoor light fixtures, including post- and wall-mounted fixtures, floodlighting and ground-level walkway lighting provide safety, security and decoration.
- Install timers, time clocks or photocells to ensure that exterior lights are turned-off at the appropriate time.
- Check with your local electric utility regarding the availability of rebates and incentives for energy-efficient exterior lighting.
Refrigerators can eat up more energy than any electrical kitchen appliance in your home. New, efficient models use about half the electricity compared to older refrigerators.
- Look for an ENERGY STAR certified model to ensure high-efficiency.
- If you have two refrigerators, or an additional freezer, consider whether you really need to operate more than one.
- Turn off your refrigerator’s moisture control. Doing so can reduce energy use by about 10 percent.
- Dirty coils on the back or bottom front of your refrigerator can make it work harder than necessary. Check and vacuum them at least twice a year. Proper maintenance can improve your refrigerator's efficiency by about 10 to 30 percent and extend its life.
- Allow hot foods to cool before placing them in the refrigerator. Hot food decreases the temperature in the refrigerator temporarily, forcing the refrigerator to work harder to keep the air cool.
- Don't leave the refrigerator door open any longer than absolutely necessary.
- Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Check them by placing a flashlight inside and close the door. If you can see light with the door closed, replace the seal.
Natural gas patio heaters utilize radiant heat warming objects instead of the air surrounding them. When shopping for a heater, be aware of the size of the area to be heated.
The efficiency of patio heaters is affected by the wind so it's best to install them in a sheltered area providing specified minimum clearances for combustibles.
Permanently mounted directional natural gas patio heaters can be installed in eaves along walls or on specially designed posts and are less affected by air movement adding to their efficiency.
City News Service contributed to this report.