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A colder winter could turn cruel for those struggling to stay warm in Snohomish County

Rising costs and dropping temperatures are creating wait lists for people whose water heaters and furnaces are failing.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — With a colder, wetter winter in the forecast, firing up the furnace could send a chill down your spine when the bills come in.

Energy rates are climbing, leaving people and even charities struggling to keep up.

The average cost for heating oil and natural gas is up 27%, nationwide. Electricity has climbed 10% and propane prices have increased 5%.

Tim Otness said the temperature in his Everett mobile home drops into the 40s at night.

"You just have to think about a lot of things," he said. "You gotta keep your mind off it."

A tiny space heater is all Otness has to warm his home. His furnace is broken and he doesn't have the money to repair it. A general contractor of 40 years, Otness would fix it himself, but he can't.

At 72, Otness has a bad hip and uses a wheelchair.

"It's just about as frustrating as it can be," he said.

Otness wears a leather coat indoors and covers himself with blankets, with extra blankets waiting on the floor beside him for when temperatures fall.

A blanket covers the sliding glass door to keep as much cold out as possible.

"It gets pretty cold at night, so I just pile the blankets on." Otness said.

With prices rising for fuel and energy, a recent survey found 1.3 million people in Washington (23%) will turn their heat on when the average outdoor temperature reaches 34°F. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in four Americans struggle to pay their heat bills in the winter.

The cost of furnaces and water heaters have increased 19%. 

"It's disheartening," said Cynthia Andrews of Lynnwood's Homage Senior Services. 

The organization helps people fix and replace those appliances across Snohomish County. They took care of 45 seniors last winter.

This year, there is a waitlist and rising prices have them looking at a $40,000 shortfall - meaning some seniors will likely have to be left out in the cold.

"If we don't have the funding we don't take them off the list," said Andrews. "We put them on a waiting list until we can serve them when funding comes through the next year, but there are some folks who have been waiting a long time for heat."

Homage is launching a fundraising campaign to help bring additional winter services to more seniors. 

Last week, the Biden administration gave Washington state nearly $75 million for various programs to lower energy costs and help low income families pay their heating bills through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Plan. Click here to find out more. 

For now, Otness simply hopes help will come soon, with another cold night ahead.

"You just take it day by day," he said.

Cloudy weekend, few showers | KING 5 Weather 

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