Thanks to lower energy costs and forecasts for a milder winter, Americans will pay less to heat their homes this year that they did last winter.
In its latest report, the federal Energy Information Agency projects that households will spend an average of $960 this winter for heating fuels, 8 percent, or $84, less than last year.
The biggest drops are in homes using natural gas and propane, where prices will drop by 12 percent and 14 percent, respectively. For those using electricity or heating oil, costs are expected to fall by 2 percent.
The declines are a reflection of much lower oil and particularly natural gas prices this year. Oil prices, which had soared to $147 a barrel last winter, are now trading around $70 a barrel.
For natural gas, the fall has been even sharper. Natural gas prices peaked at $13.6 per thousand cubic feet in the summer of 2008. They are currently trading at $5, after having fallen to around $3 per thousand cubic feet just a few weeks ago.
The latest projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast this winter to be one percent warmer compared with last year and one percent milder than the 30-year average, calculated between 1971 and 2000.
Heating degree-day projections vary widely between regions. The Midwest, a major market for propane and natural gas, is projected to be about 4 percent warmer than last winter, while the West is projected to be about 4 percent colder, the government said.
The energy agency sees oil prices rising to $75 a barrel by the end of next year, and gas at $5 per thousand cubic feet.