Officials have warned customers that this year's heating bills will be more expensive than years past. But now that the bills have arrived, some are still experiencing sticker shock.
Ross Township Trustee John Rooda, whose northwestern Indiana office processes applications for state and federal assistance, said families have bills of more than $500 a month this winter.
"It's really bad," he said. "I don't think in many cases people have ever seen bills like this."
Eliza Vela, executive director of Gary Neighborhood Services, has seen bills reach into the thousands of dollars before -- but only if the bills were past due. Vela said now she sees current bills topping $1,000.
"We're very much concerned about the bills we're seeing coming in," Vela said.
Locally, some residents have noticed a difference in their home heating expense.
"They're higher," Ralph Roads, of Brazil, told The Brazil Times during a random telephone survey on Wednesday. "Mine went up $40 this month from last year."
Mr. Roads paid $237 for gas to heat his home on S.R. 340 last month.
Donna George, of Brazil, is taking conservation hints to heart. She has plugged all the spaces she can find in order to stop heat leaking from her home. She also plans to finish drywalling and insulating her attached garage.
"You know, every time you open the big garage door, you lose heat," Donna said.
Another reason for higher costs may be the weather.
"My bill went up quite a bit; maybe because of the cold days and the snow," she said.
She didn't know offhand if her bill was higher than a year ago.
At any rate, she doesn't anticipate having to ask for help paying her heating bills this winter.
Not everyone has experienced a hike in their heating bills and location may be one reason.
Connie Rowan lives on Alabama Street and her heating bill hasn't risen any from a year ago -- yet.
"But, I haven't seen my next bill and I'm afraid it will be higher because of all the cold weather," she said.
Mrs. Rowan hasn't lowered her thermostat or taken any measures to account for her stable heating expense.
Northern Indiana Public Service Co. spokesman Tom Cuddy said more people have been calling the utility about their bills.
"We've been working since August to help spread the word that gas costs are going to be high this heating season," Cuddy said. "Typically, people don't notice that message until they get their first heating bill." Cuddy said families can expect to pay an average of $310 more during the winter months this year than they did last year. The cost of natural gas is up nearly 50 percent from a year ago, and temperatures have been well below normal for this time of year.
Cuddy said customers should call NIPSCO prior to receiving their bills to discuss payment-plan options.
He also urges homeowners to offset the costs of heating by lowering the thermostat, turning the water heater down, changing furnace filters and adding weather stripping and caulking around windows and doors.
Longtime Valparaiso resident Joe Hojnacki replaced his furnace three years ago with the most efficient one available at the time. Yet the NIPSCO bill that arrived on Tuesday was a whopping $429.
"Thank goodness I got the new furnace," Hojnacki said. "I can't imagine what that 30-year-old furnace would cost. It probably would be $600."
Valparaiso resident Cory Thompson saves money by keeping his thermostat at 60 degrees while he's home and 58 degrees when he's away from home.
"People joke and say I'm cheap," Thompson said. "Maybe I am."