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Heating Costs Worry Homeowners

Story Filed: Wednesday, September 13, 2000 1:14 AM EDT

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) -- With high energy prices forecast this winter, many homeowners around the country are already insulating, tuning up or replacing heaters, and looking for price breaks well before the first frost.

Usually, it takes some good stiff cold to get homeowners to snap into action.

But Damaso Vazquez of Holyoke was shopping Tuesday for attic insulation on a 70-degree morning in short sleeves at a Home Depot. He said he expects to pay more than 50 percent more this winter to heat his house with natural gas.

``I think these gas prices are outrageous,'' he said. ``We're paying too much as it is.''

He converted his home from oil eight years ago to save money. Now, he said, he feels it was all for nothing.

In northern Minnesota, Herb Benz, superintendent of the Roseau School District, said he will have to raid other parts of the budget to cover increases for natural gas this winter. ``You have no choice. You have to heat the building,'' he said.

Some homeowners are servicing their furnaces and boilers to make sure they operate efficiently. Others are replacing their heating systems, hoping for future savings.

``In the last two weeks it really hit people,'' said Rick Peterson, sales manager of Berkshire Air heating contractor in West Springfield. ``They're very, very alarmed.''

Heating oil dealers said they are seeing more customers than usual choose fixed-price contracts, price caps or payment plans that spread out bills over the entire year. Other oil companies, jittery over the up-and-down market, are refusing to offer such deals at all.

``It's like running a casino right now,'' said Victor Allinello, who operates East Providence Oil Co., R.I. ``The house has to cover its bets.''

The Department of Energy predicts that heating oil will cost an average of $1.31 per gallon nationally at the start of the winter, almost one-third higher than a year ago. Natural gas is forecast to be 25 percent higher, at $8.59 per thousand cubic feet.

The higher prices are blamed partly on OPEC production limits and booming demand because of the strong economy.

Roger Riskedahl, owner of All Seasons Insulation in Bismarck, N.D., said higher propane prices may be contributing to the booming business in attic insulation.

A few lucky souls are sitting pretty.

James McIntosh of Springfield added about 700 gallons of heating oil to his tank at 61 cents a gallon a year ago. His reserve stands at 1,500 gallons, or enough for three winters. And even he isn't content: He was shopping for weatherstripping this week.

``I like to keep the house nice and tight. Why waste the oil?'' he said.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, Jeff Scott bought an old farm house in Southampton a month ago and is already thinking about converting it from oil.

``Coal,'' he said with a smile at the irony. ``I think it's progressive, actually, futuristic.''

-- (, September 13, 2000

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