CHICAGO — It’s that time of year again. The temperature drops and the gas bills rise. About half of the respondents (52.2%) to the latest Wire survey believe natural gas costs are going up, and that they’ll end up paying more.Twenty percent expect their natural gas bills to be comparable to last year’s bills, and 11% believe gas costs will rise, but they won’t feel the crunch because they have made their laundry more energy efficient during the last year. Nine percent expect their gas bills to be lower than last year, and eight percent aren’t sure what to expect in terms of their upcoming gas bills.BATTLING THE BILLSOperators are becoming more aggressive in their quest for energy efficiency. Forty-nine percent of respondents have made their laundry more energy-efficient since last winter. Their actions have included adding new dryers or water heaters and using more insulation.FORECASTING THE DAMAGEThere seem to be conflicting views when it comes to natural gas prices. On one hand, there are stories about falling natural gas prices due to a slow economy and reduced consumption. On the other hand, there also seem to be plenty of stories about how natural gas bills will rise this winter in various markets.Thirty-eight percent of respondents expect their natural gas bills to rise no more than 10%, while the same number expect a rise of 11-20% this winter season. Nineteen percent see a 21-30% hike, and only 5% expect bills to skyrocket more than 31%.RAISING PRICESWill operators raise prices in order to combat higher gas bills? Thirty-nine percent of respondents will raise prices only if their gas bills skyrocket, while 26% will raise prices regardless of the size of the increase. Twenty-four percent don’t expect to raise prices, and 11% aren’t sure about a price hike.The biggest operator fear (32.6%) is that a price hike will cost them customers. Operators also fear (30.4%) that nearby stores won’t raise prices. Twenty percent say you can only raise prices so many times a year.Subscribers to American Coin-Op’s Wire e-mails — distributed weekly — are invited to participate in an industry survey each month. The survey is conducted online via a partner website. Each survey is developed so it can be completed in 10 minutes or less. Readers are encouraged to participate, as a greater number of responses will help to better define operator opinions and industry trends.Click here and follow the menu instructions to sign up for the free e-mail service.