There's a crispness in the air, and shadows are growing longer. The scent of pumpkin spice wafts from every café door. Fire-colored leaves crunch beneath our feet. Fall is here; winter is coming. And this year, big sticker shock is also coming.

In this article we share two impressive facts about the number-one most effective energy-saving home improvement, and we add a dash of urgency due to a startling new statistic.

Heating Oil Prices Skyrocket 204%

Right now heating oil prices are up $2.13 per gallon over this time last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The national average price of a gallon of heating oil skyrocketed from $1.04 to $3.17. This reflects a 204% climb.

Residential propane prices climbed even more, 215%, from $0.82 to $2.59. What's going on?

"A confluence of factors that determine energy prices have converged to boost the value of oil, natural gas, liquids such as ethane and propane, and coal," writes Anya Litvak at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Economies are recovering from the COVID-19 slump. Chaotic weather has disrupted some traditional energy flows. Natural gas stored underground in the U.S. is below its five-year average."¹

The U.S. isn't alone in this regard. Canada faces the same high costs, and analysts predict an expensive winter in Europe too.

Winter Is the Most Expensive Season

Heating is our most expensive use of electricity at home by far. This isn't true in all regions of the country (here in Southern California we fret about the high cost of air conditioning), but it's true enough to bring up the national average. Among single-family detached homes, heating accounts for 46% of energy consumption. Air conditioning accounts for a mere 8%.

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Coal, oil, wood-burning stoves, and natural gas are usually less expensive alternatives to electricity for heating your home, but not this year. Coal production is winding down, and natural gas prices are climbing, and heating oil, as we said, is up a lot. This leaves us with wood.

But before you go out with a chainsaw to harvest firewood, it's reassuring to know that all these prices, although higher than they have been in several years, are not record highs. We endured more expensive winters in the mid-2000s. "These aren’t record highs, but in the North American market prices have been quite low the last few years," explained Canadian economist Rob Roach. "So we’re going to feel this, as consumers. It’s going to be an expensive winter."²

Insulation brings a 117% Return on Investment

This brings us to the number-one, most effective home improvement: attic insulation. Good insulation saves money year-round, and the attic is the easiest place to add it.

We told you we had two interesting facts to share about insulation.

First, According to a survey by Remodeling magazine, for every $100 spent on attic insulation, you can expect to recoup $116.90 when you sell the home. That represent a 117% return on investment. Your home value goes up and your HVAC costs go down: win-win!

Second, insulation "can significantly reduce heating and cooling bills throughout the year," said the U.S. Department of Energy. "On average, you can save up to 20% on your home’s heating and cooling costs or up to 10% on its total energy costs by adding insulation to attics, floors, crawl spaces, and accessible basement rim joists, and by reducing unwanted air leaks all around your house."³

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Good insulation has always been a smart home improvement, but this winter it's even more relevant. When we're paying around 200% more to heat our homes, we especially don't want the heat escaping through the attic. Improving your attic insulation is probably the best home improvement project you could undertake right now.