Residential heating is likely to cost less this winter than last winter. Here are five reasons why:
- Natural gas prices are lower than they were a year ago. Natural gas is not easy to store, so when businesses are using less of it, it leads quickly to lower prices. (Unfortunately, oil prices look to be about the same, and electricity prices have edged up slightly.)
- Last winter might have been on the mild side, but forecasters are predicting milder weather this winter.
- Millions of homeowners have improved their homes this year to reduce heat loss, mostly by sealing gaps and cracks and adding insulation. These might seem like small improvements, but engineers say they typically improve heating efficiency by 5 to 15 percent. Some homes also have new furnaces, which are more efficient than the old ones that were replaced.
- With foreclosures proceeding at a record pace, more homes than ever will sit vacant this winter. The vacancy rate for apartments might also, by winter, be the highest it has ever been.
- With unemployment going up, consumer incomes declining, and consumer credit harder to get, consumers are forced to cut back in all areas of spending, including heat.
Yes, this list is not all good news, but the reduced energy consumption is good for the U.S. economy, which may sit a little more comfortably with the smaller energy imports.