With less than one week until winter is officially over, Americans are celebrating the end of the season with an extra "spring" in their steps. What's got them feeling so happy? Two words: fatter wallets.
Nationally, homeowners this winter reaped savings of...
$95 for folks who heat their houses with natural gas
$60 for consumers of heating oil
$47 for those with baseboard electric heating
For this, you can thank Mother Nature.
According to meteorologists, January 2012 was the fourth-warmest January in U.S. history since folks started keeping records of such things back in 1895. Bracketing the sweltering month, December and February also delivered temperatures considerably above average. And generally speaking, across the length and breadth of the continental United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells us that these past three months have given us the warmest winter since 2000.
Three Cheers for Global Warming?
Despite higher prices nationally for heating oil and electricity used in heating homes, the Energy Information Administration reports that this winter, the average cost to keep home fires burning in America declined for the first time in 10 years. Energy usage for heating purposes is down 10% in comparison to last year. And homeowners lucky enough to be "cooking with gas" are finding their bills an average of 13% smaller than last year, benefiting from both higher winter temperatures and lower prices for natural gas.
And that's just the start of the good news.
In addition to homeowners benefiting directly from Mother Nature's warm embrace, taxpayers may benefit indirectly as well, because one of the government's big costs in winter is snow removal. Unsurprisingly, warm temperatures and decreased snowfall mean local and municipal governments were able to spend less this winter. Ohio's department of transportation, for example, reports that it has spent as much as 50% less on snow and ice removal this winter than last year, while North Dakota reaped a smaller but still sizable 24% savings -- and sent the state's general fund a $1.8 million check for funds not used on snow removal.
Money Saved, Money Well Spent
No matter how much you saved this past winter, though, now is not the time to get complacent. As Mark Paquette, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.com, advises: "Mother Nature or weather patterns have a way of evening themselves out. I think it['s] only [a] matter of time before this mild dry pattern flips and we get into a much different weather pattern."
Before that happens -- and before next winter arrives -- start thinking about how the money you saved this winter can save you more money next winter, no matter how cold it does (or doesn't) get.
• Save cash with caulk: Take the $47 you saved on your electric heating bill last winter and invest it in a few tubes of caulk and a gun to shoot it with. Did you know that simply caulking cracks and stopping up drafts in your walls, windows, and doorways can cut your heating and cooling bills by 33%? Energy efficiency experts say that just $50 worth of weatherizing supplies can be enough to save you $150 in heating bills... every year!
• Fund a furnace checkup: What if you saved $60 on heating oil this past winter? In many communities, that's enough to pay for a visit from your friendly neighborhood HVAC technician, who can service and clean your furnace or A/C unit (and warn you of any upcoming repair costs), as well as make sure it's running in tip-top shape for the upcoming heating (or cooling) season.
• Invest in insulation: Did you win the energy savings lottery, and luck out on both high temperatures and low natural gas prices this winter? Good for you. Now, quick like a panther, take the $95 you saved and invest it in a few rolls of Owens Corning "Pink" insulation. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, upgrading your attic insulation from three inches to 12 inches can save you as much as 20% off your annual heating bill, and a further 10% off your cooling bill.
Mother Nature was kind to us in the winter of 2011-2012, no doubt about it. But we can't be sure she'll be in as good a mood when the winter of 2012-2013 rolls around. Fortunately, with just a few of these energy savings moves, you can guarantee your own energy savings -- next winter, and for all winters yet to come.