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Heating bills expected to climb this winter

Columbia Gas can't predict exactly what customers will pay, but natural gas prices are rising.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Americans could feel a gut punch this winter as the federal government reports heating bills may jump as much as 54% compared to last year.

"We want them home safe and warm," said Faith McGrain of Columbia Gas.  

McGrain said it's hard to predict exactly what bills will look like simply because the company doesn't control the market price of natural gas, which is based on supply and demand.

McGrain did say, however, that natural gas prices have gone up more than 50% in the past three months. 

"If customers are interested in choosing to shop in a more competitive marketplace for a natural gas commodity, that is delivered to their home, then they can participate in the choice program," McGrain said.

Nearly half the homes in the U.S. use natural gas for heat, and representatives with the U.S. Energy Information Administration said customers could pay an average of $746 this winter, 30% more than a year ago. 

RELATED: Natural gas heating your home? This could be the most expensive winter in 13 years

In the Midwest, bills may jump 49%. It could be the most expensive winter for natural-gas-heated homes since 2008-2009.

"We have things like payment plans, assistance programs. We partner with local organizations like the Salvation Army or local community action agencies," McGrain said.

Meanwhile, representatives with the Better Business Bureau said now is the time to get your home ready for winter. Plug any air leaks in your walls, windows and doors. 

"We got those plastic sheets that you can tape around your window and you use your hair dryer to tighten them up. Boy, it was wonderful. The home was much more comfortable and we saved on the heating bills as well," Dick Eppstein with Better Business Bureau said.

The BBB believes one of the biggest mistakes people make is forgetting to change the filter on the furnace and you'll want to get it tuned up as well to make sure it's running as efficiently as possible.