As Pennsylvania moves into the latter part of winter, 13,500 households that started the season without a safe source of heat still don’t have one.
Data released Wednesday by Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission shows there are fewer homes without a utility heating service this winter compared to last year. But when money’s tight, many families still turn to heating sources that pose fire risks.
“Typically when you’re looking at a home that’s using unsafe heat, it would be using things like fireplaces and space heaters in lieu of their central heating systems,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a spokesperson for the commission.
In December, the PUC reported 19,300 homes without electric or gas heat, which indicates that several thousand families have gotten their service reconnected in recent months. Pennsylvania utilities cannot turn off residents’ heat during the winter without approval from the PUC.
Hagen-Frederiksen said families struggling to pay their heating bills have options, but many people don’t know they exist.
“Until you reach that stage, people don’t necessarily make note of the types of programs and services that are available to them,” he said. “When they reach the point that they’ve stopped paying their utility bills, it very quickly gets to a crisis situation.”
He said families in that situation should contact their utilities, which may offer financial assistance and programs to help people heat their homes more efficiently.
The PUC is studying home heating issues, looking at heating costs for low-income households and evaluating the services in place to help people pay their bills, Hagen-Frederiksen said.