With temperatures topping 70 degrees in recent days, the last thing on many people's minds is worrying about heating their homes and thinking about winter.

But that's OK, according to Howard Peterson, owner of Peterson Oil, which has locations in Worcester, Webster and Southbridge. He noted that about 20 percent of his residential customers buy into one of their contract plans, while the remaining 80 percent prefer to "buy as they go."

"Ten years ago, the 80/20 split was the opposite, and prices fell, and the customers who were locked in to (set) prices had buyers' remorse, which has not gone away yet," he said. "It's all about personal preference. Either way, it's seamless for us."

Over at ckSmithSuperior of Worcester, Millbury and Oxford, "less than half" of the customers lock into fixed prices through contracts, according to Robert Stahelski, marketing specialist. He noted that last year's winter was unique, with a long, bitter cold stretch from December to the beginning of January.

"It went on for two or three weeks and caught companies and customers off guard. Then, February was warmer than usual," he said.

According to the state Department of Energy Resources, average prices for heating oil and propane are both up from last year. As of Oct. 9, heating oil is at an average $3.25 per gallon, compared to $2.59 per gallon last October, an increase of nearly 26 percent.

Propane is at an average $3.08 per gallon compared to $2.91 per gallon a year ago, an increase of 6 percent.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its Short-Term Energy Outlook report on Oct. 10, predicting that average bills for most energy sources will rise this winter. The expectation is based on increased forecast energy prices.

EIA said it believes home heating oil prices will rise by 20 percent, while propane will remain around the same. The agency noted that the anticipated higher costs are the result of higher prices rather than a forecast of colder temperatures. Depending on the weather, the degree of the increases will change.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, temperatures for the 2018-2019 winter are expected to be similar to last year for most of the country.

Other factors influencing fuel expenditures include the size and energy efficiency of individual homes, heating equipment, thermostat settings, market size and local conditions.

The EIA expects households whose primary space heating fuel is heating oil to spend an average of $69 more this winter, or 20 percent more than last winter.

That amount reflects retail heating oil prices that EIA forecasts to be 50 cents per gallon, or 18 percent higher than last winter.

Consumption is predicted to rise by 1 percent.

During the heating season, DOER publishes weekly prices surveys on its webpage, www.mass.gov/home-and-auto-fuel-prices. In the off season, those figures are released monthly.

A DOER official said customers unsure whether to sign an oil contract can refer to a tip sheet provided by their agency. The spokesman said that the tip sheet offers information on oil-buying groups or co-ops across the state as well.

Mr. Stahelski said that the best thing customers can do during the purchase process is to ask a lot of questions and not hesitate to get all points clarified.

He recommended that residents have their heating systems looked at annually to "prevent little problems from becoming bigger ones." Tuneups result in more efficiency, less oil use and cost savings, he said.

Mr. Peterson said that oil supply is not a problem. His company is in a unique position because it has its own manufacturing biodiesel plant in North Haverhill, New Hampshire.

Bioheat heating oil is standard heating oil blended with biodiesel fuel made from biodegradable organic and recycled materials. The biodiesel fuel Peterson uses to blend is made from recycled cooking oil.

He said that if everyone switched to a blend (5 percent biodiesel), 400 million gallons of regular heating oil could be preserved.

"Ideally, consumers want to have a full tank going into the heating season (October-March)," a DOER spokesperson said. She added that many dealers do their contract pricing in the off season, so that can be a good time to shop around and look at options.

Mr. Peterson noted that in the "digital age," consumers can and do buy online anytime.

"If you don't have an online presence, you might as well go home," he said.

The Northeast region has more households than other sections of the country relying on heating oil, at 21 percent. That figure is down from 27 percent seven years ago. Nationwide, only 4 percent of customers use heating oil.

Many households in the Northeast have switched to natural gas and electricity for space heating.