11/01/05 — Wary residents snap up heaters before cold hits

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Wary residents snap up heaters before cold hits

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 1, 2005 1:52 PM

Worries over rising natural gas costs across the country are prompting Goldsboro residents to think of alternative methods to stay warm as winter air creeps into their homes.

Officials say keeping warm this winter will be more expensive for natural gas customers, thanks to hurricane damage in the Gulf Coast.

North Carolina Natural Gas spokesman Headen Thomas said customers should expect high costs.

"At this point, for the five winter months, November through March, bills could be up on average $80 to $100 per month," he said.

Thomas said the spike is directly related to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"About 23 percent of our nation's natural gas supply comes out of the Gulf," he said. "At one point, over 80 percent of that supply was knocked out. We're still at a point where 50 percent of our supply is not online. So there is a significant impact on natural gas prices."

Officials have begun to offer advice and solutions for customers trying to save a few dollars.

North Carolina Natural Gas, which has more than 16,000 customers in Wayne County, is offering an equal payment plan for budget-conscious customers. This plan allows customers to spread costs over 12 months rather than trying to handle several big bills during the winter months.

There are also simple fixes in the home that will help cut energy costs, Thomas said, including turning thermostats down when the family is out of the house and sealing leaks and cracks around windows and doors.

Making sure your furnace is ready for winter now will also be a money-saver later.

"Get your heating system checked out now to make sure it's working for the wintertime," Thomas said.

Some Goldsboro residents say they would rather take their chances with other forms of heat after already living through the stress of watching spiking gasoline prices and trying to balance their budgets.

At local stores, space heaters are in high demand.

Sales began to increase a few weeks ago and many popular brands have already sold out, said Donna Israel, a team leader at Target on Berkeley Boulevard.

"The main one we're getting calls for is oil-filled heaters," she said. "But we're selling out of them."

Monday, only a few dozen heaters were left on Target's shelves. Mrs. Israel said there wasn't nearly such a high demand before natural gas prices began to increase.

"We didn't sell them like this last year," she said.

At the Goldsboro Fire Department, firefighters are worried how increased space heater usage will affect families' safety.

Lt. James Farfour said there are usually a few fires per year that are caused by misuse of space heaters.

"In itself, a space heater isn't a fire hazard," Farfour said. "But sometimes, people put them too close to combustible material like drapes and furniture."

He added that in homes with small children, the heaters can be knocked over, creating problems. Covering the hot power cords with a rug or curtains also increases potential for fire.

And using a space heater might not save families money, either.

Progress Energy official Mike Hughes said that while higher natural gas costs might make other forms of heat seem like cheaper alternatives, this is not always the case.

Many of the heaters currently in high demand are powered by electricity. The most popular are 1,500 watts and could lead to high power bills if used too often, Hughes said.

"Space heaters typically aren't the most efficient way to heat the home," he said.

Hughes added that for a 1,500-square-foot home, customers using space heaters as opposed to natural gas would only save roughly $100 total this winter and would likely sacrifice comfort for cost.

"There is no way a 1,500-watt heater can warm an entire home," he said. "So customers will either pay the extra money and keep the entire house comfortable, or save $100 and only have one or two warm rooms."