HOUSTON -

CenterPoint Energy is warning customers about their upcoming natural gas bills. It says it is seeing higher consumption by natural gas customers as a result of the recent cold snap.

According to CenterPoint, December bills could be two to three times higher than bills sent to customers in November.

"This increase is based solely on higher usage and not on increases in the cost of natural gas, which remains a great energy value. Our cost for natural gas, which is passed on to our customers with no mark-up or profit, is essentially the same as last year," said Rick Zapalac, senior vice president of Gas Operations for CenterPoint Energy.

"Consumers can manage higher natural gas bills by lowering their consumption, making their home more energy efficient and enrolling in our Average Monthly Billing program to spread costs more evenly throughout the year," Zapalac added.

CenterPoint Energy also recommends the following tips:

FURNACE: A furnace is the largest natural gas consumer, and typically makes up about 47 percent of your natural gas bill.
· Lower your thermostat to 68 degrees when you’re home and 65 degrees when you’re not. By lowering your thermostat 10 - 15 percent for eight hours a day, you can save up to 10 percent a year on your heating costs. Installing a programmable thermostat can help you automatically control your heat usage. Add on extra layers of clothing to keep warm.
· Change your air filters monthly. A dirty filter restricts airflow and can increase the operating cost of your furnace by as much as 10 percent. A good reminder is to change the filter each time you receive your natural gas bill.

WATER HEATER: The water heater is the second-largest gas consuming appliance typically making up about 43 percent of your bill.
· Set the water heater temperature at 120 degrees and wrap water heater pipes. Lowering the temperature to 120 degrees from 140 degrees and insulating your pipes can save you up to 10 percent on your water heating costs.

OTHER APPLIANCES: Although they consume less natural gas, you can still maximize their efficiency.
· Run your washing machine, dish washer and gas dryer only with full loads.

MAKE YOUR HOME MORE AIRTIGHT AND KEEP COLD AIR OUTSIDE:
· Seal leaks around doors, windows and other openings such as pipes or ducts, with caulk or weather-stripping. The most common places where air escapes in homes are floors, walls, ceilings, ducts, fireplaces, plumbing penetrations, doors, windows, fans, vents, and electrical outlets.
· If it has been a while, consider adding more insulation in your attic.
· On sunny days, open draperies and blinds to let the sun’s warmth in. Close them at night to insulate against the cold air outside.