Last winter was the mildest on record for the United States, but sadly, there probably won't be a repeat this year. Instead, temperatures this winter are expected to be close to normal - that is, about 20 to 27 percent colder than last year east of the Rockies, and about one percent colder in the West, where 2011 temperatures were more typical.
So bundle up, and be ready for higher home heating bills. According to the annual Winter Fuels Outlook from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, heating bills will rise 20 percent for heating oil customers, 15 percent for natural gas customers, 13 percent for propane customers and 5 percent for electricity customers. Heating oil customers are expected to pay an average of $3.80 per gallon, the highest price on record. That will mean record heating bills, at an average of $2,494 per customer for the season. That's nearly $200 more than the previous high, set in the winter of 2010-2011.
Use a set-back thermostat that can be programmed according to the home's occupancy levels. Properly set to reduce the heat when nobody's home, a programmable thermostat can save you about $180 in annual energy costs.
Seal air leaks in the home and add insulation. You can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs - or up to 10 percent on your total annual energy bill - by sealing air leaks and insulating your home. "A typical household spends approximately $1,000 a year on heating and cooling, so proper sealing and insulation can save homeowners as much as $200 per year," said Chandler von Schrader, Residential Program Manager at Energy Star. "Sealing air leaks stops drafts, and adding insulation blocks heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer."
Get a home energy audit. The cost of a home energy audit depends on the type of audit - from "clipboard audits," which are quick but less thorough, to more fully comprehensive audits with diagnostic tools (blower door, infrared scanning and screening of the heating/cooling and distribution system). Clipboard audits take about an hour and often cost less than $100, or are even free in some cases. "Comprehensive audits can cost up to $500 or more, can take many hours to complete, but they produce a detailed report on making whole-house comfort and efficiency improvements," von Schrader said.