Americans are paying an average of $1.60 per gallon of gas, according to the Lundberg survey of more than 7,000 gas stations nationwide. That's an 11-cent increase over the past two weeks, and the highest price since June 2001.
The causes are clear: strikes in Venezuela, a possible war with Iraq, and the failure of the controversial "Turn your teenager's face into oil profits" program.
You can't control the cost of a barrel of crude, but you can take steps to cut your heating and gas bills. Here are a few tips:
Heating your house
1. Properly insulate your house. Check the attics, walls, and basement/crawl space, especially the spaces between the floorboards and joists.
2. Seal the leaks. Go around the outside walls of your house with a candle, particularly the windows, doors, electrical outlets, and baseboards. If the flame flickers, it might be due to a tiny crack that lets hot air out and cold air in. Seal it with caulk or weather stripping.
3. Warm your windows. Anywhere from 25% to 40% of heat loss is due to windows. One solution: Put a blanket or, better yet, a sheet of plastic or a shrink-wrap product (available at hardware stores) around the window. This will block drafts and create an insulating pocket of air.
4. Humidify the house. Moist air feels warmer than dry air.
5. Give your furnace a checkup. Clean filters can make a furnace 10% more efficient. Also, if the heating ducts are in an unheated area (such as the attic), they should be insulated.
6. Install a digital thermostat. By turning down your thermostat when you go to work and turning it back up when you get home, you could save $300 this year. A digital thermostat -- which costs about $30 and is a breeze to install -- can regulate the temperature for you.
7. Close crawl space vents. If you have a crawl space, there are probably vents around the foundation of your house. Close 'em up for the winter, but make sure you reopen them in the summer to prevent moisture from accumulating.
8. Turn on ceiling fans. Since hot air rises, a fan on low will circulate the heat throughout the room.
9. Move to Cuba. We hear Guantanamo Bay is very popular these days.
Driving your car
1. Know where the cheap gasoline is.
2. Plan your trips to save gas. When possible, choose a route that involves more highway driving and less stopping and starting. Avoid rush hour. Consider carpooling.
3. Inflate all tires to the proper limit. Under-inflated tires use up to 4% extra fuel for every five pounds of under-inflation. Plus, under- and over-inflated tires have shorter life spans.
4. Air conditioners can reduce fuel economy by 10% to 20%. However, if you're driving at highway speeds, keep the windows and sunroof closed. Use the vent, and the AC only if you must.
5. Driving 70 mph instead of 55 mph requires 20% more fuel. Also, you'll get more of the green lights if you drive the speed limit since lights are usually timed to keep traffic flowing.
6. Drive at a steady pace. Quick acceleration or slamming on the brakes wastes gas. Use cruise control whenever you can to keep your speed steady.
7. Regularly tune up your car. Dirty air filters alone can increase fuel consumption by 10%. Change your oil every 3,000 miles. A well-lubed engine requires less energy.
8. Get rid of extra baggage. Fuel economy drops 1% for every 100 pounds of stuff your car has to lug around.
9. Walk or bike instead of drive. Most us need the exercise.