Pandemic-induced inflation has made a lot of necessities, from the milk you drink to the gasoline you put in your car, a lot more expensive in the last year. Those increased costs are likely to extend to your heating bill this winter, according to a recent report from the Energy Information Agency, which gauges heating costs between October 1 through March 31 and estimates how frequently and to what extent the temperature drops below a comfy 65 degrees.
The reason for higher winter bills is twofold: The price of energy is more expensive this winter, and experts are predicting that there will be more colder days, meaning homeowners will need more of that pricey fuel to keep their houses warm.
Consumers who use natural gas as their primary heating fuel, about 47% of U.S. households, can expect to spend 30% more this winter as they did last year, according to government estimates. The estimated average bill of $746 factors in a projected 27% increase in the price of natural gas, and a 2.4% increase in consumption.
Families that rely on electricity for heat, about 40% of U.S. households, can expect a 6% increase in costs. The national average bill: $1,268.
Typical bills are likely to vary widely, depending on how cold the winters are where you live and what kind of fuel you use to heat your home. For example, the EIA forecasts that Midwest households using natural gas could spend over 48% more than last winter, for an average $818 total, while those that use propane might shell out nearly 69% more. Northeast households using electricity could pay $1,538 on average, or 9.6% more.
Anticipating higher heating bills could be important for your budget, and there are moves you can make to mitigate the cost. "Heating a home is usually the largest energy expense that somebody has," says Lizzie Rubado, spokesperson for the nonprofit Energy Trust of Oregon. As such, "dealing with heat is also usually the biggest opportunity that folks have to save."
A good first step on finding those savings is to get your HVAC system checked out before it gets really cold, says Mallory Micetich, a home expert at Angi (formerly Angie's List). "Have the technician come out to see if it is in working order," she says. "This will help you prevent some of those really costly problems if something happens midwinter."
A servicer can also take a look at places where you might be losing heat, like windows and doors, and give you recommendations on how to seal them up, Micetich says. "Windows [and] doors are the biggest way heat leaves your home in the winter," she says. "Anything that you can do to prevent those drafts if you have the time in the budget."
Resealing the seams where your windows meet the casing with caulk or adding weather stripping to your exterior doors can usually be an inexpensive DIY project.
An even simpler solution? Get some new window treatments. "Winter is a time to use heavy window coverings. Yes, you might be sacrificing some light, but the more heat you can keep, in the better," Micetich says. Blackout curtains are "great for sleeping in and also great for keeping that heat in."
If you're up for a bigger project, replacing your traditional thermostat with a smart one can take the guess work out of economizing your heat usage, Rubado says. They learn from your behavior and raise the temperature when you're home and lower it when you're away.
"The estimate is that for each degree you lower the thermostat, you can save around 3% on your bill," Rubado says. The Energy Trust recommends keeping your home at between 65 and 68 degrees, and dropping it to around 60 degrees at night.
Lower-income families who anticipate struggling with their heating bills this winter can apply for assistance through both national and state programs. The federal government has a calculator to help determine your family's eligibility. Check what aid your state, local agencies, and utility providers offer.
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