How to Save on Winter Heating Bills Amid Rising Fuel Costs

We visually highlight the increase in costs for heating fuels between 2020-23, and explain which low-budget projects and long-term solutions can help you save money on heating bills.

Ornella Bianco
Updated Nov 25, 2022
·
12 min read

Costs for many things have been going through the roof recently, and rising home heating bills are one of the biggest concerns for many homeowners this year. With predictions of higher energy prices and a slightly colder winter than last year, it is estimated that the average cost of home heating is going to see an increase of roughly $177 this winter, 17.2% more than last year.

Heating costs make up the biggest percentage of most people’s utility bills each winter. In addition to colder weather, there are many factors that can influence how much heat you use, including extra time spent at home, holiday gatherings, and the age and condition of your home. This article aims to show the increases in costs for heating fuels since 2020, and provide expert advice on recommended projects and smart investments to help you save on winter heating bills.

Heating Costs This Winter Are Expected to Keep Rising

Bar graph graphic showing winter heating cost increases for different heating fuels from 2020 to 2023

The graphic above visualizes data collected from NEADA and shows the increase in winter heating costs for the years 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23. Each set of bars represents one of the four energy sources most commonly used to heat a home; electricity, propane, natural gas, and heating oil. Above each set of bars is the calculated percentage increase over the entire time period.

Since 2020-21, electricity costs have increased the least by $137 (11.5%), while heating oil costs have increased the most by $903 (74.5%). Natural gas remains the cheapest heating fuel out of the four but has seen the second biggest cost increase of $379 (66.1%), while propane costs are the second highest below oil, but have had a slightly lower increase in costs of $670 (57.8%).

Natural gas is currently seeing a bigger cost increase in 2022-23, having seen a more modest increase in the previous year. Electricity, however, has had small but steady cost increases each winter, while both propane and oil had their biggest cost increases between 2020-21 and 2021-22, with smaller increases for the following year. Because propane and electricity costs are both influenced by the cost of other fuels - natural gas for propane, and oil, gas, and coal among other things for electricity - these two materials may see a lag in increases behind the others over time.

How Much More Will You Pay This Winter Compared to 2020?

Electricity Propane Natural Gas Heating Oil
Estimated Cost Increase (2020-23) + $137 + $670 + $379 + $903
Estimated % Cost Increase (2020-23) + 11.5% + 57.8% + 66.1% + 74.5%

This winter season (2022-23), homeowners are expected to pay the following on heating bills:
  • Electricity: $1,328
  • Propane: $1,828
  • Natural Gas: $952
  • Heating Oil: $2,115

Energy-Saving Home Projects to Lower Your Heating Bills This Winter

While homeowners can’t control the cost of heating fuels, there are steps you can take to lower household energy use over the course of the winter. By lowering consumption, it may be possible to mitigate some of the rising costs to heat your home. The 11 projects listed below are divided into quick and affordable vs long-term solutions to help you take at least some control back from rising heating bills.

Simple and Affordable Ways to Save

 An average middle class house in the midwest during cold winter months

Shrink Wrap Your Windows

An inexpensive solution to help lower your energy costs is to apply plastic wrap to your windows. This is an easy project most homeowners can do themselves in minutes. It costs around $10 per box of film, which can wrap most to all of the windows in a home depending on the quantity and size of the windows.

Simply use the adhesive strips included to attach the plastic sheeting to the window frame, and heat the plastic with a hairdryer until it shrinks tightly into place. The plastic will seal up any air gaps to help stop thermal transfer at the windows, which will make your home warmer and more energy efficient. This is a good option to choose if you can’t afford new windows, or if you have poor air seal, and need a temporary solution as the plastic can be removed again in the spring.

Get an Energy Audit

It can be difficult to tell where your home may be losing energy, or how best to improve it. This is where an energy audit can help. During this popular home service, professionals look for the places where your home is losing energy - including heat - and give you a list of recommendations on how to fix it.

You can then proceed to take care of the biggest offenders first, rather than attempting to make changes that you only hope will help. After the energy audit, some companies will roll the cost of the audit into the cost of a bigger project if you use that company to take care of the work. This may include installing weather stripping, air sealing, or even insulation. The national average cost of an energy audit is between $145 and $420, depending on your home size and the level of the audit performed.

Monitor Your Thermostat

No matter what type of heating system you use, one way to lower your heating expenses at no additional cost to you is to turn down your thermostat. By turning it down when you aren’t at home, or using the ASHRAE recommended settings of 68 degrees during the day and lower during the night, you reduce the amount of fuel you’ll use. In addition, you can lower the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees if it’s currently set higher.

These changes can be made manually at no cost, or you can invest in a programmable or smart thermostat that can automatically lower the temperature when you’re away to help you save. The cost of having a programmable thermostat installed lies between $105 and $400, while smart options can range from $200 to $500. Choosing the right thermostat can make your life easier and save you a significant amount on your monthly energy bills.

Check and Maintain Your Heating Systems

Maintaining your heating system in good condition can help ensure that it’s not working too hard and using more energy than it needs to. This means making sure that it’s cleaned and inspected regularly, and that you are changing the filter at least once a quarter. Clogged filters can make the system work harder than it needs to, which in turn burns more fuel. Likewise, if you have forced hot air, make sure your ducts are inspected and repaired if necessary, as they could be losing heat through leaks as the air travels through them.

Having your heating system serviced regularly including replacing the worn parts and cleaning any necessary areas can help ensure it’s functioning optimally. Some types of heating systems - such as those that burn oil - require more maintenance than others. Electricity-fueled systems need little to no maintenance, while gas and propane-fueled systems may need moderate amounts. HVAC inspections cost around $250 - $400 on average, but many companies will offer maintenance contracts that include the inspection at no cost. You can pay yearly rates of $100 - $500, to cover all recommended maintenance for your system.

Talk to local pros to get quotes for your HVAC inspection

Reduce Heat Loss from the Fireplace

If you have a fireplace in your home - particularly an older, wood-burning fireplace - it could be a major source of heat loss. As the wind blows across the top of your chimney, it creates a vacuum, causing warm air to be pulled up from your home and out of the chimney. If the fireplace is no longer in use, you may want to consider having it plugged and sealed as well.

By shutting the flue tightly when it’s not in use, investing in doors that cover the front of the chimney, and making sure that the flue is tightly sealed you can help prevent this heat loss from occurring. You should also have your chimney inspected, particularly if you use the fireplace frequently, to help improve efficiency and overall safety of the fireplace. It costs between $100 to $500 to have your chimney inspected, depending on the level of inspection and the number of flues your home has.

Install Weather Stripping

If you have air gaps around your doors and windows, this can allow thermal transfer in these areas. This means that heat may be escaping from your home during the winter, forcing your heating system to work harder to heat your home and raising your energy bills. One way to help stop this is to install weatherstripping around your doors and windows.

Weatherstripping comes in many different forms, including alternatives that you can install yourself to help lower costs. This is a good solution for many homeowners who have older homes where the doors and windows may not be the best fit. Most homeowners pay around $200 - $600 to have a handyman install weather stripping in their home.

Long-Term Saving Solutions

Dining room in a modern apartment with neutral double-layered curtains

Invest in Window Treatments

A good long-term solution can be to invest in better window treatments for your home. Window treatments including drapes, shades, and insulated curtains can help stop thermal transfer at your windows. To maximize energy efficiency, you can experiment by layering window treatments such as horizontal blinds and curtains, or cellular shades and drapes.

By opening them during the day on the south side of your home you can allow sunlight to enter and help warm the space. Close them again at night to stop that heat from escaping. The average cost to install window treatments such as blinds ranges from $300 to $1,000. Costs will vary depending on the number of windows you have and their size, as well as the materials used. Heavier, thicker materials do a better job at keeping in the heat, but they may have higher costs.

Air-Seal Your Home

Air leaks can happen not only around doors and windows but they can also be found in your ceilings, light and plumbing fixtures, outlets, and wall switches. Like thermal transfer at doors and windows, these air leaks can be causing your heating system to need to work a lot harder than it should to heat your home.

By sealing them up, your system won’t turn on as often, which will help reduce the cost to heat your home, while also making it more comfortable. You can pay between $600 - $2,300 on average to air seal your home, depending on the location of the leaks, the home sealing method or material used, and your home size. The cost can also vary depending on how many leaks there are. This is why it’s a good idea to have an energy audit done first, so you can determine exactly what areas to seal up.

Wall or Attic Insulation

Many homes are underinsulated, meaning that they do not have adequate insulation to stop energy transfer and heat loss. Adding insulation to the walls and attic of your home can help lower your energy costs while making your home much more comfortable to live in. In general, home insulation costs between $3,000 - $7,000, but the type and amount of insulation used will impact the cost.

Spray foam insulation has some of the highest costs at $3.15 to $7.50 a square foot, but is also the most efficient. Exterior foam board ($2.40 to $3.75/sq.ft.) installed beneath your siding also provides good efficiency, while blown-in insulation into the walls ($1.65 to $3.80/sq.ft.) and batt insulation ($0.65 to $2/sq.ft.) are the least expensive, but provide less efficiency overall. Most homes do use a mixture of different materials based on where you are losing the most heat.

Invest in High-Performance Windows

If your home has older windows that are a source of heat loss, replacing them with double-pane, gas-filled, or high-performance glass windows can help you save money in the long run. Different types of windows are recommended for different climates, with things like low-E glass recommended for cold climates, and triple-paned windows for higher energy savings.

New window replacements cost between $3,500 - $10,500, depending on the number, type, and size of windows involved. You can also install storm windows to help reduce heat loss from existing windows at a cost of $2,000 to $5,000, which can be a good choice for historic homes or homes with specialty windows that you do not want to replace.

Consider Upgrading Your Heating System

If your heating system is older, upgrading to a more energy-efficient system can help you save a lot of money on your heating bills. The most efficient systems include heat pumps ($5,000 - $30,000), geothermal heat pumps ($12,000 - $30,000), and solar water heaters ($8,000 - $10,000). Keep in mind, though, that what’s the most efficient for one climate may not be the most efficient for another. For example, heat pumps may be a good solution for supplemental heat in very cold climates, but may not be the best choice for providing all of your heat. In the south, however, a heat pump can more than adequately meet your needs.

Geothermal heat pumps can also be very efficient, but you may need to have a property that is large enough for installation, which for some people may not be feasible. In these instances, you may want to consider installing radiant floor heating ($2,000 - $6,000) which is more efficient, and which can use gas, propane, oil, or electricity depending on the availability of fuels in your system, while still helping you save.

Talk to local pros to get quotes for your solar water heater installation

Alternative Money-Saving Advice for Homeowners

Man reading and calculating how much he can save with on home winter heating bills

In addition to the many projects you can undertake to help lower the cost of your heating bills this winter, there are also many cost-saving programs currently available to homeowners to help pay your bills. Energy Star home upgrades and home weatherization programs are accessible for many low-income households across the US, with federal aid available that can help make your home more efficient.

Many households can also get tax credits on energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment that will not only save you upfront but will also help lower bills going forward. Some households can also get tax credits for home construction projects that improve energy efficiency on windows, doors, insulation, and other projects that help stop thermal transfer. Speak to your local municipality, or tax expert to find out what projects may qualify.

You can also reach out to your local utility company. Many companies offer things like price capping for low-income households, as well as energy-saving upgrades at no up-front costs. Combined, these programs and the various projects you can take on from DIY to major home upgrades can all make a difference in how comfortable you stay this winter and how much you can save on heating bills.

About the Author:

Ornella is a home improvement specialist at Fixr.com. She is always researching home renovation projects and communicating advice to homeowners through our articles, reports, and visualizations.