BUFFALO, N.Y. — Karen Merkel, a spokesperson for National Fuel, says a customer bill for the winter heating season — which is typically from November to March — will increase significantly compared to last year.

"Unfortunately, your natural gas bill is trending the same way that every consumer product and expense has been," she said.

Merkel says National Fuel is approximating that winter season bills for an average residential customer will be $1,023 for customers in 11 counties across Western New York.

"That, compared to last year, with a 10% warmer than normal winter, is about a 50% increase," Merkel said.

She says National Fuel customers have not seen bills this high since the winter of 2008 to 2009. She says the reason for the increase is because the cost of natural gas is has spiked and as the economy improves post-pandemic, there has been an increased demand for it.

"What we do know, is that approximately half of the gas that will be used this winter has already been purchased and put into our storage fields, so we know at least looking at that, that winter heating season bills will be significantly higher this year," Merkel said.

National Fuel advises customers to start preparing now for this winter and higher bills.

Ian Donnelly, a project manager with T-Mark Plumbing Heating and Cooling — a company contracted by National Fuel — says now is the time to have a professional inspect heating and cooling systems to make sure everything is working. He says you can help prepare your home as well.

"Take a look to make sure that you don't have any windows that are potentially open in the basement or there's any drafty areas in the home,” said Donnelly. “If there's any rooms you're not spending a lot of time in, think about closing those doors, maybe even closing the vents. That's going to help the spaces you spend most time in reach temperature, thus the equipment run as much as it might.”

Donnelly says if you have a hot water tank, you can have it flushed by a professional or potentially lower the temperature on your hot water tanks so it's not using as much gas. He also says if you have a forced air furnace, you should change the filter once a month, because restricting airflow will burn more gas and heat the house less quickly. Finally, a programmable thermostat can help save money.

"If you're not home for eight, nine hours during the day, what you can do is set the programmable thermostat, drop the temperature maybe eight degrees or so, and have it heat back up once homeowners are on their way back home," Donnelly said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday that the state is taking steps to address rising global energy costs and supply issues. Those actions include alternative supply reviews, where officials will review utility emergency plans to address alternate fuel supply disruptions during peak gas demand.

Merkel says the recommended thermostat temperature is between 65 to 70 degrees, and if you're out of the house, keep the temperature at 58 degrees. She says that can save at least 10% on an energy bill. There are also payment assistance programs offered. You can find out more about the programs at nationalfuel.com.