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Punxsutawney Phil Sees His Shadow: What 6 More Weeks of Winter Means for Your Energy Bill

By Direct Energy Business

groundhog day 

February 2 is Groundhog’s Day and once again, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. According to legend, if the groundhog sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter.

As a small business owner, you may find yourself facing the reality that winter is far from over (despite what Phil sees or doesn’t see) and that could have a substantial impact on your energy bill.

What Winter Means for Energy Demand in Your Office

During the winter, the demand for energy goes up. Not only is it necessary to use more energy--whether electricity, gas, or some other method--to heat your business, you'll find that there are several ongoing issues with energy demand inside your office, including:

  • Employees who are less likely to head outdoors for a walk around the business at lunch time, leaving you with the need to keep the lights on (and the break room warm)
  • Increased use of microwaves, ovens, and other cooking supplies, since employees will be more likely to bring food that needs to be warmed up for lunch
  • Increased lighting needs on those last grey, dreary days of winter, when outside light is insufficient to offer help inside your building
  • Increased effort required to heat the water in your hot water heater, which will be colder as it passes through the pipes

Overall, winter is an expensive time of year for many businesses--and in some parts of the country, especially where winters are extremely cold, energy usage peaks during the cold winter months.

Being prepared for that increased energy demand is one of the most effective ways to be sure that when the groundhog sees his shadow and America is faced with six more weeks of winter, your business is ready to withstand it. 

Energy Demands of Winter Outside Your Doors

Unfortunately, the energy demands of winter don't stop with your business.

Across your region, other businesses are struggling to provide the energy needed to keep things running smoothly, whether that means keeping the lights on or keeping the building warm. That means increased demand on the grid--and after a long winter has already gone by, six more weeks of that demand can put increased stress on the energy grid and on your energy provider.

 As a result, particularly if the groundhog's predicted six more weeks of winter come along with snow and icy conditions, you may find that your energy bill remains higher than normal even based on your current rate of energy consumption.

High demand means that energy providers often need to raise the price of energy in order to meet it. Heating costs alone were predicted to rise between 5 and 10 percent across the course of the winter--and that's a number that could continue to increase if winter continues for another six weeks or more. 

How Accurate is That Prediction, Anyway?

If you're worried by the potential cost of rising energy after the groundhog catches a glimpse of his shadow, keep this in mind: Punxsutawney Phil has only been accurate about 36-39% of the time in his predictions when he indicated that a longer winter was in the cards. His accuracy rate in predicting an early spring, on the other hand, was at about 47%.

As for 2018, Phil’s prediction of a longer winter might actually be true.

January, February, and March stand a strong chance of colder than normal temperatures from the Northwest to the Midwest (the Southern Tier, on the other hand, anticipates warmer-than-normal temperatures during those months). 

While you should obviously take a groundhog's predictions with a grain of salt, as a small business owner, it's important that you're prepared for the potential of a longer winter. Whether Phil is accurate or not, you need to be able to cover increased energy costs throughout an extended winter so that your business is able to weather the coming storms. 

What You Can Do to Mitigate Costs

While you can't fly across the country and produce some shade for that pesky groundhog, there are several things that you can do to get your business ready for a later-than-average winter this year. 

  • Make sure your HVAC unit is in working order. If you conducted seasonal maintenance early in the winter, it's probably unnecessary to do so again until spring. On the other hand, if you notice any problems with your unit--including increased difficulty fighting off that long winter chill--it's important to bring someone in to check it out as soon as possible. Not only will this prevent the possibility of future, bigger problems with your unit, it will allow you to take care of a potential energy drain faster so that it has less time to impact your bill. 
  • Keep closing those gaps. Early in the winter, everyone was eager to make sure that you were closing gaps around and under doors and windows to ensure that they didn't get hit by an arctic blast even when the door was closed. As winter drags on, however, the barriers beneath doors and around windows may have been tossed aside in favor of increased convenience for other things. Take the time to go back around your office and check all of your doors and windows. If you notice any gaps, make sure there's something in place to keep them closed!
  • Get creative about taking advantage of natural light. Sure, you might not have natural light available during every hour that someone's in the office, but lengthening days mean more hours of outside light that you can use to full advantage. Tuck back curtains and raise blinds on warmer winter days to let in as much light as possible. Increased sunlight can also help stave off depression as the winter seems to drag on. 
  • Go ahead and start that exercise initiative. Sure, it's chilly outside, but that doesn't mean that your employees have to stagnate around the break room whenever they're not actively working! If you're planning a spring kickoff for an exercise initiative around your building, go ahead and kick it off. It will help add energy to your employees' days and get them out of the break room and their offices during their breaks--and that means less energy you'll spend on those rooms. 
  • Check that unused rooms are still closed off. Sometime over the course of the winter, someone headed into that storage room you'd closed off for the winter, and now, the door's been cracked open for who knows how long. That little-used conference room was warmed up one day for a big meeting, and while the door has been closed since then, the vents weren't closed back off. You may be surprised by how many of your winter energy-saving measures have been overlooked as winter drags on. 
  • Make sure vents aren't closed off or obstructed in the wrong locations. When employees are shivering hard in early winter, they'll go out of their way to make sure vents are open and blowing at full force. By the end of winter, however, they're used to that ongoing chill--and they might not realize that the temperature in a specific area of the office has dropped substantially. Conduct a quick check to make sure that vents are still open and blowing properly. 
  • Don't raise the thermostat just yet. It may be tempting to create that feeling of early spring in your office by raising the thermostat, but hold off! Don't forget that you can save as much as 3% on your energy consumption for every degree that you're willing to drop the temperature of the office. 
  • Check your smart thermostat settings. Winter may be dragging on, but it may well have also lost some of its teeth. Are you in a region where it would be comfortable to allow the temperature to drop a few more degrees at night? Do you need to change the hours that your facility is heated due to changing hours? Make sure your smart thermostat settings are optimized for these important winter months. 
  • Make sure your energy provider is offering the best deal on energy. While you might not be in a position to change your contract this year, if you notice that your energy provider isn't offering your business the best deal in your area, you may find that a contract with a new provider will have a substantial impact on next year's bill. 

If the suggestion of six more weeks of winter has you staring at your budget, wondering how you're going to scrape out enough money to cover increased energy costs for that much longer, don't despair.

Take our quick assessment to see how well you're handling the cold & see what else you can be doing to help potentially improve efficiency and reduce costs.


Posted: February 02, 2018

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