Pay energy bills and you can’t have failed to notice that these costs are currently very high. But why is heating so expensive right now?
For almost all US energy bill-payers, home heating costs involve significant expenditure because they remain at what the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) identifies as near record levels.
To understand what’s happening, we asked the experts about the cause of these high prices for heating a home – and to advise on the measures you can take to lower your costs as much as possible – and this is what they told us.
Why heating a home is so expensive
Which type of heating is cheapest to run varies according to the fuel used. In its winter fuels outlook 2023 the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expected US households that use natural gas, and those in the western United States regardless of fuel, to spend less on heating in November through March than last winter. However, those using heating oil were predicted to spend slightly more compared to last winter.
Yet despite possible savings versus last year’s prices, overall heating costs remain high, making a major impact on households’ expenses. So what are the reasons for these increased heating costs? This is the lowdown.
Reasons for high heating costs
There are many factors that affect how much Americans pay for heating. ‘Primarily, the rise in heating expenses can be attributed to the growing costs of energy sources like natural gas and oil, which are subject to market fluctuations and geopolitical influences,’ says Justin Bohannon, owner of Affordable Solutions HVAC & Electrical.
Closer to home, weather matters. How cold a winter is in a particular region affects how much energy is consumed by a household and therefore the size of bills, of course. But it can also increase costs. ‘In colder seasons, especially in regions with extreme weather conditions, the demand for heating increases, which can drive up prices,’ says Mark Morris, independent HVAC consultant.
Justin Bohannon owns Affordable Solutions HVAC & Electrical and is a qualified HVAC Technician. Justin and his team provide surfaces ranging from AC repair and installation to furnace repair, heat pump installation, and HVAC maintenance.
The infrastructure can also affect what you pay. ‘In some areas, the heating infrastructure is outdated and less efficient, leading to higher operational costs,’ says Mark.
But heating bills can also be high because of the individual heating system. ‘Many homes are heated by outdated systems that aren’t energy efficient,’ says HVAC expert Josh Mitchell, owner of AirConditionerLab. ‘These systems require more fuel or electricity to produce the same amount of heat as a newer, more efficient model would.’
Josh Mitchell is, a plumbing expert and HVAC technician and the owner of Air Conditioner Lab and Plumbing Lab
Ways to reduce heating bills
Make sure your home is well insulated. ‘You can reduce home heating costs by upgrading your home’s insulation, especially in the attic where more heat tends to escape,’ explains HVAC, plumbing and fire protection expert Bill Ivey, principal consultant of Ivey Engineering. ‘Something else you can do is seal drafty windows by caulking around window frames and applying weatherstripping. When a home is well insulated or sealed effectively, the furnace won’t have to work as hard, which saves energy.’
Care for your heating properly, too. ‘A well-maintained furnace can also help reduce heating costs,’ says Bill. ‘Have your furnace cleaned and inspected by a certified HVAC technician every year. Something as simple as changing the furnace filter every six months can also contribute to reduced heating costs. When a filter becomes clogged, the furnace doesn’t run properly.’
Bill Ivey has worked in HVAC, plumbing, piping and fire-protection design for over 40 years. A licensed Professional Engineer in 10 states and a licensed contractor in two states, Bill has worked at all levels of designing, bidding, and managing construction projects.
A new system is also worth contemplating. ‘Consider upgrading to more energy-efficient heating systems, such as modern HVAC systems with higher SEER ratings,’ says Mark Morris, HVAC Technician. Think thermostat, too. ‘Use programmable or smart thermostats to better control heating and reduce energy usage when not needed,’ Mark says.
And you might want to investigate eco-heating: ‘Exploring alternative heating sources, such as solar panels or heat pumps, can provide long-term energy savings,’ says Shlomo Cherniak, owner of Cherniak Handyman Services. ‘While the initial investment may be higher, these options can significantly reduce reliance on traditional heating fuels.’
Mark is an independent master plumber and HVAC technician, currently with Deluxe Plumbers.
Help with costs
There are assistance programs available for those who are struggling with heating bills. The federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists eligible low-income households with their heating and cooling energy costs.
‘Many utility companies offer budget billing plans, energy audits, and assistance programs to help manage heating costs,’ says Mark Morris. And there are state and local programs, too. ‘Various state and local government programs offer grants and assistance for home heating costs and energy efficiency improvements,’ he says.
Is it cheaper to run heat or AC?
Heating your home uses more energy and costs more than any other system in your home, according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Saver resource. For an individual home, how winter bills for heating actually compare to summer bills for air conditioning will depend on local climate and the weather experienced in a particular year, among other variables. However, heating a home is generally more expensive than cooling it.
Measures to keep bills down can be complemented by simple heat-retaining tricks that can help keep rooms at a comfortable temperature. Get savvy, too, about the ways in which you can keep a bedroom warm without heating, or keep a living room warm without heating. And for better control of your budget be sure you’re not making common heating mistakes.
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Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.
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