How to Combat High Heating Prices

It's time to stock up on scarves.

Home heating prices are on the rise, with a 28 percent increase in oil prices expected this winter, up to a 30 percent increase in propane and up to a 7 percent increase in electricity.

Even natural gas isn't exempt from increased costs -- forecasters predict its price will rise up to 5 percent.

But there are ways to combat some of these cost increases. "Good Morning America" financial contributor Mellody Hobson shares her tips on how to handle the heat this winter.

What can be done to stave off the high prices for families using oil?
You may want to consider having your tank filled now -- before the high winter season. Call your home heating oil provider and tell them you want to be filled up. This will let you lock in today's prices before the winter cold.

Second, call your energy company and ask if you can enroll in a prepay program, which will lock in your rate -- meaning more stability and predictability in your home heating prices in the coming months.

And third, don't forget to shop around. Contact your local county office today and ask for phone numbers for each of your local oil vendors -- it's the best hub for getting those numbers directly. Then call them, and feel free to negotiate. There will be fluctuations in price, especially if you are 55 years of age or older. Sometimes there are discounts for seniors -- don't be afraid to ask for them.

What can families who use electric or natural gas do this morning to stave off higher prices?
At these prices, no one can afford to let the heat slip through a window or underneath your door. Prepare for the cold months ahead by weatherizing your home. This includes caulking, to ensure that your windows won't let any heat out.

Weatherizing your home can lower your energy use by 10 percent to as much as 50 percent.

How cost effective is it to switch from heating oil to natural gas?

Which heat source you use, whether it's natural gas, electric, propane or heating oil, often depends on several factors. For starters, geography plays an important role.

For example, if there is not a natural gas line connected to your home, switching from heating oil to natural gas supplied heat may not even be an option for you. Whatever source is in the greatest abundance in your region of the country may prove to be the least expensive. So, even while home heating oil prices are up this year, if you live in the northeast, it might be even more expensive to access an alternative source.

Is there a silver lining to this dark cloud surrounding heating prices?
If government forecasters are correct, Mother Nature may help ease the burden on your wallet in the coming months. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that most of the United States will see above-average temperatures from October to January, particularly in the northeast, which represents the largest heating oil market worldwide.

Moving into the second half of winter, we may see a return to more normal range temperatures. While these predictions bode well for the overall cost of heating your home this winter, keep in mind that last winter was exceptionally mild, milder than the predictions for this year.

Therefore, demand is expected to increase for all home heating sources this year. For example, in the case of home heating oil, a 2 percent up-tick in demand is expected for the period of October to March. And, as we know, with increased demand often comes increased cost.

Why is this happening? How did we get to this point?
It comes down to simple supply and demand. Experts say we have the lowest supply in five years. And as global economies continue to expand, so does the need for fuel.

Crude oil is hovering right around $80 a barrel and could zoom upward with event the slightest market interruption, such as a gulf storm before the end of hurricane season or major disruption in the Middle East.

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