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A less expensive winter?

By Samantha Vercellino

The weather may be bitter cold now, but experts are predicting milder overall temperatures

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this winter, bringing Midwesterners out of their temporary hibernation, and hopefully, giving us a break on our bills.

How big a break? Chicago utility Peoples Gas, which charged the highest gas rates in the state last winter at well over $1 a therm, is predicting that customers could pay $150 less on their bills from November through March. Nicor gas also is expecting reduced heating bills: about $125 less than the previous year.

Based on forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, temperatures in the Midwest are expected to rise by 16 percent this winter.  We will still see spurts of intense cold, but the periods in between will be much more bearable. Breaks in the cold will allow Midwesterners to reduce their natural gas, electricity and propane consumption and cut their heating costs.

Even though the Midwest is a big user of natural gas (80 percent of Illinois homes use it to heat their homes), gas consumption is expected to fall here by 13 percent, according to the Energy Information Adminstration (EIA), the statistical arm of the Department of Energy.

The EIA also expects households heating primarily with electricity and propane to spend less this winter. Consumers using electricity will use approximately 7 percent less while propane users will see their consumption drop by 13 percent, the EIA estimates.

However, weather can be unpredictable (last winter taught us that), and saving money is always in season. So use these simple tips to weatherize your home and cut your utility bills.