You might end up spending less to keep your home warm this winter, according to a US government forecast.
The trends vary depending on what part of the US you live in and how you heat your home, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s Winter Fuels Outlook.
“The outlook this year is mixed, though we expect that most households will pay less,” EIA Administrator Joseph DeCarolis said in a briefing on the forecast.
The most positive news in the forecast is for those who use natural gas to heat their homes — about 46% of US households. The EIA expects natural gas prices to be significantly lower this winter compared with last winter, and the average household spending on heating with natural gas is estimated to be about $600. That’s an improvement in natural gas prices, which have risen significantly since 2020.
Here’s what you should know about upcoming winter heating bills and how you can take more control over your heating costs this year and in the future.
Why are heating costs expected to be lower this winter?
Two different broad factors, each with its own complicated backstory, determine how much you pay to heat your home. The first is how much energy you use, and the second is how much that energy costs.
The big drivers behind this forecast, especially for natural gas, are on the supply side — the price of energy. “This winter we expect natural gas prices for residential consumers to be down more than 20% from last winter, so that’s a big drop,” DeCarolis said.
The cost of heating homes with electricity — the primary heating source for about 41% of American households, and the most common in the South — is expected to drop a little bit. Much of that is also driven by the cost of natural gas, which is used to generate a significant portion of the country’s electricity.
A smaller percentage of the US uses propane (mostly in the Midwest) or heating oil (mostly in New England) to heat homes. The EIA’s forecast expects flat or increased costs for those fuels, which are more directly affected by changes in wholesale fuel prices.
The other major factor is how much energy you use to heat your home. While that can vary significantly from one individual home to another, national and regional trends are generally caused by the weather. If it’s colder, you’ll use more energy. If it’s warmer, you’ll use less.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that December through February will be warmer than average in the northern part of the continental US, thanks largely to El Niño.
The EIA’s forecast, based on the past 30 years of weather data, is expecting a mild winter, especially in the West, which had a very cold winter last year, DeCarolis said. The EIA forecasts the average spending on natural gas for the West to drop from $843 last winter to $590 this winter.
What could affect winter heating costs?
Like all efforts at predicting the future, this forecast is just an educated guess. On the weather side, the biggest risk is the aforementioned El Niño, a natural and recurring weather phenomenon of warmer than normal surface temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean.
The EIA’s forecast, based on different weather data using 30-year trends in heating degree days, didn’t take El Niño into account.
“The effects of each El Niño are of course different, but NOAA notes that El Niño in general acts to tilt the odds toward weather that is cooler than average across much of the South and toward drier and warmer conditions across many of the northern regions,” said Tim Hess, EIA’s Short Term Energy Outlook product manager.
Another factor that could affect costs on a regional or national level is if a significant storm or other kind of extreme weather affects the supply and therefore the price of a fuel like natural gas. Such an event happened in 2021, when a winter storm in Texas and other states affected both the demand and supply for natural gas, causing a temporary spike in prices.
“Even though they declined back to where they were prior to the winter storm relatively quickly, those high prices were very consequential for consumer bills for natural gas,” said Corrina Ricker, senior natural gas modeler at EIA. “That type of event is not something that we model in the (forecast), and it’s a big source of uncertainty for our forecasts.”
How can I save on energy costs this winter?
The good news is these predictions cover general trends, but you have a lot within your control when it comes to how much you actually spend to heat your home. “If you’re trying to determine household spending for an individual household, that’s going to depend a lot on the size of the home, the efficiency of the equipment within the home, the settings of your thermostat, as well as other conditions,” DeCarolis said.
Here are a few ways to watch your own spending:
Watch your thermostat
When it’s cold outside, it doesn’t need to be hot inside. The best temperature to set your thermostat to in the winter is about 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Department of Energy. If you’re asleep and snuggled up under blankets, you can save even more by setting the heat to seven to 10 degrees cooler than you have it during the day. The same is true if you’re out of the house.
A smart thermostat can automate a lot of these features and help you save more money by keeping the temperature where it needs to be and not heating your home more than is necessary.
Improve your energy efficiency
Heating your home is one thing. Keeping it warm is another. You don’t have to go full-on passive home to reduce your costs through efficiency, but there are some steps you can take. Identify places where heat is escaping from your home and seal them up. Windows and doors are particular culprits.
Check your insulation and make sure you aren’t losing a lot of energy through poorly insulated walls or ceilings. The cost of insulation upgrades can even qualify for a federal tax credit, making the financial math a bit easier to handle.
Consider going electric and solar
If you’re really tired of paying the gas bill, tax credits and incentives also exist for high-efficiency electric heating equipment, namely heat pumps. A heat pump works a bit like an air conditioner in reverse (and, when you need to cool your home, it works a bit like an air conditioner).
But a heat pump or similar electric heating source just shifts your spending from a gas, propane or oil bill to the electric bill. For that, you’ll need to look at ways to reduce your electricity use or generate your own. Solar panels are an effective way to produce some of the energy you need to heat your home right on your rooftop.