Study: Homeowners Fear Surging Utility Bills This Winter

A deep freeze across the country is sparking concern about home heating costs, especially in states feeling this week’s arctic blast the most.

As temperatures plunge across the country, more homeowners are starting to panic about what’s likely coming next: costly winter utility bills.

Rising energy costs have already been prompting more Americans to tighten their budgets and search for energy-saving hacks, according to a new survey from Payless Power, a retail electricity provider. People have plenty of reason to be concerned: The average U.S. household likely will pay 17% more this winter on heating over last winter, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.

About a quarter of 1,000 consumers surveyed say they’ve already been “shocked” by expensive utility bills, prompting them to reduce their overall spending—such as on groceries—as a result, the Payless Power survey finds. The findings came before an “arctic blast” put more than 75% of the U.S. population in temperatures below freezing over the past week.

As homeowners fret about bills, the survey’s findings “offer a stark reminder of the hidden costs of homeownership,” says Brandon Young, CEO of Payless Power. “While many focus on aesthetics and amenities, the practicality of utility expenses, especially electricity, is often overlooked. This lack of foresight is leading to financial strain for many, with one in four new homeowners compelled to cut back on spending after encountering unexpectedly high energy bills.”

Read more: 8 Winter Energy-Saving Tips for a Cozy, Efficient Home

Less than half—47%—of homeowners say they considered potential electricity costs when choosing a new home, the survey finds. As such, “the shock of a first power bill in a new home has over a quarter of recent movers tightening their belts,” Young says. “Our study reveals a concerning gap in house hunting priorities. This oversight is particularly striking in states like New Hampshire, where residents are desperately seeking power bill relief more than anywhere else in the nation.”

Indeed, New England residents appear to have the greatest energy woes, increasingly searching online for relief from utility bills, according to the survey, which factored in Google trends data. Besides New Hampshire, residents in other New England states, including Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Delaware, are increasingly searching for relief from heating costs. States like Wyoming, North Dakota and West Virginia also had a high percentage of homeowners searching for savings.

Size and Age Matters in Homeownership

The bigger and older a home, the higher the utility bills, the Payless Power study finds. For example, a home that is 3,000 square feet or more had energy bills that were more than double those of homes with less than 1,000 square feet, the study finds. Further, homes built in the 1990s and 2000s tended to have higher monthly energy bills—averaging about $200 or more—than homes built in the 2010s, which average $146.

“The lower power bills of new homes may be due to increased popularity of and investment in energy-efficient design and engineering, with more homes built with energy-efficient windows, energy-saving appliances, higher-grade insulation and other energy-saving techniques,” the study notes. However, the study found an exception: Homes built prior to the 1950s had the second-lowest electric bills. Researchers speculate this is likely because energy-efficient renovations were completed.

Energy savings chart

Taking Steps to Cut Costs

Homeowners can use many tactics to try to curb rising utility bills this winter, from leveraging natural light to investing in energy-efficient updates. “Simple upgrades, such as installing programmable thermostats or optimizing insulation, can significantly reduce electricity costs,” Young says. “Our findings show that such adjustments not only lower utility bills but also enhance overall home comfort, particularly during challenging winter months.”

Here are additional ideas for homeowners:

  • Watch the thermostat: Respondents to the Payless Power survey say they kept their homes at 73 degrees. But lowering the thermostat by a few degrees this winter could result in savings. says homeowners can save on energy costs in the winter by setting their home’s thermostat to between 68 degrees and 70 degrees while they’re awake and even lower while they’re asleep or away.
  • Use off-peak hours: Many utility providers offer reduced rates during off-peak hours, Payless Power’s study notes. Consider shifting high-energy activities, like laundry and dishwashing, to off-peak times. This can vary by utility company, but typical peak times during the weekday often occur between 1 to 7 p.m; off-peak hours tend to occur between 9 p.m. to 10 a.m.
  • Make energy efficiency updates: Trim power bills by installing energy-efficient alternatives, like LED bulbs or Energy Star–rated appliances. Switching all household light bulbs to LEDs or compact fluorescent lights can save hundreds of dollars a year, studies show. Also, don’t leave electricity running or plugged in for your devices while you’re away. These “vampire” energy drainers can account for up to 20% of your energy bill.
  • Seal the house: Homes are full of cracks and gaps that may contribute to higher bills. Check for drafts around windows and doors, and seal openings with caulk or weatherstripping to prevent energy leaks. The U.S. Department of Energy says that improperly sealed air leaks can contribute up to 40% of a home’s overall heating and cooling loss.