As usual, you can blame the Polar Vortex.
In this case, it’s increasing the demand for propane gas, one of the key sources of heating for thousands of homes and businesses.
From the middle of December through January, the price of propane increased by more than $1 per gallon. Even more alarmingly, prices jumped as high as $4-$5 per gallon by the beginning of February.
While this phenomenon can be blamed in part on the unexpected demand for heating fuel due to the Polar Vortex, there are actually a few more factors that have influenced propane prices, starting as early as last fall.
According to the Vice-President of the National Propane Gas Association, a huge wet grain harvest placed greater demands on propane stores for drying. This depletion, just a few months before an unusually cold winter, had a huge impact on national supplies.
Additionally, there have been distribution problems because of maintenance to bad pipelines. As a result, propane and natural gas suppliers in the Midwest states heaviest hit by the Polar Vortex are struggling to meet the demand.
Whatever the reason for the shortages, paying up to $5 a gallon for propane is no joke, and many consumers are angry, frustrated, and worried about being able to heat their homes through the rest of this bitter winter.
With that in mind, here are five tips for surviving the Midwest propane shortage.
1. Increase your heating efficiency
The obvious way to save money on your gas bill is to use less of it, which may seem impossible under the current weather conditions.
But there are many inexpensive things you can do to lower your bill, such as insulating your home’s windows with plastic, finding and sealing any air gaps in walls and around windows, shutting off unused rooms, lowering your thermostat several degrees at night, and layering up.
2. Bake, don’t shake
Ovens put off a surprising amount of heat, so opt for recipes that require baking or roasting this winter, and heat your home cheaply while you cook. Of course, this will only be cost-effective if your stove is electric, although gas stoves still use less gas than furnaces.
3. Use other sources of heat
My in-laws got creative when gas prices skyrocketed. They heat their home partially by wood stove, so instead of using their gas ranges, they started cooking dinner on top of it. While you may not be able to get this ingenious, there may be other ways to heat your home or reduce the use of natural gas in your daily life.
If you have a wood or corn-burning stove, consider converting it into your main source of heat — especially if you can get fuel for free from your own resources. Energy-efficient electric space heaters are safe and can effectively heat a room, so you don’t have to rely solely on the furnace.
4. Consider switching to geo-thermal
Geo-thermal heat has become more popular in recent years, due to its reputation for being clean, environmentally friendly, incredibly efficient, and much cheaper in the long run.
The only catch is the cost of the initial investment. The average cost of converting to geo-thermal is around $23,000, with the heating system costing up to $9,000 and installation costing up to $30,000. However, converting to geo-thermal will decrease your utility bill up to 30%, a savings that will more than pay for the expense in 10-15 years — and you could get a tax break for energy efficient updates.
5. Watch for price gouging
Lastly, even though you can expect to pay more for fuel this winter, don’t hesitate to question pricing that seems outlandish. Compare your bills with your friends and neighbors to ensure you’re not being taken advantage of.
How are you handling the propane shortage? Any tips to add?