Posts Tagged ‘heating oil’

Breaking the dependence on oil

November 15, 2011

Maine Governor Paul LePage has recently called for a 50% reduction in the use of oil for heating in the state.   Maine is a heavy user when it comes to heating oil.  80% of our homes here are oil heated.  To cut that useage in half by 2014 is an ambitious goal, for sure.  LePage suggests doing this by switching to natural gas and wood pellets. 

There are efforts to move towards natural gas in the state, and I encourage it.  It won’t be fast, however.  While the distribution system is slowly growing, it is not there now.  As for pellets, they are readily available, but if demand for them increases so might cost.   Furthermore, most residential wood burning systems require the user to be hands on.  The pellets don’t fill the stove themselves, and the ashes don’t empty themselves.   This is the same reason why 80% heat with oil instead of wood, also abundant in the Pine Tree state.

What is missing in this discussion is our dependence on BTU’s.  In other words, the focus should be on energy use, first, not fuel source.   Switching fuels doesn’t solve the problem of inefficient leaky homes heating the great outdoors.  It’s like an addict going from one fix to another because it’s cheaper, and they can get more for less.   Fuel switching is treating the symptom and not the problem. 

Weatherization efforts, increased efficiencies of heating equipment, and fuel switching when it makes sense, can have a much greater impact, and a much lower long term cost, than fuel switching alone. Efficiency Maine and the many contractors who have worked with these programs have been chipping away at this.  Tux Turkel from the Maine Sunday telegram reported recently, “Maine residents slashed their heating oil use by 45% between 2004 and 2009.”  We routinely save people that much off of their oil bills.  Governor, we can do this, but let’s treat the real problem and break our dependence on wasteful heating.   

Photo by David L Ryan

Heating Oil Prices Higher—Insulate Yourself from High Heating Bills.

September 21, 2011

Nights are getting cooler.  Heating season is on the way.  And folks across the Northeast and Upper Midwest who heat their homes with oil are facing significantly—painfully—higher prices this winter.

For example, according to NYSERDA prices for fuel oil in the state average $3.83 per gallon, a 33% increase over last year.  In Maine, we see comparable prices.   And the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts the national average to rise further in October.

An 80 cent per gallon increase translates to an additional $800 dollars in heating costs for a home that burns 1,000 gallons per year.  That’s a real dent in the family finances.

EIA Factors that Affect Oil PricesThis highlights the risk in play home heating oil roulette.  There’s huge volatility and uncertainty from unrest in the Middle East, natural disasters like hurricanes, market forces in India and China, or many more factors.  

Homeowners are not helpless, though.  You can make choices.  You can’t control world energy prices.  But you can make your home more efficient so that the price hikes don’t hobble you.

You know how.  Start with a good assessment.  Seal the leaks in your home and ducts.  Improve your insulation.  And look at more efficient equipment, windows, lighting, etc.  We can help you figure out what makes the most sense for you and your home and tailor your project to take advantage of state and utility rebate and incentive programs.  But you’ve got to pick up the phone and start the ball rolling.  Or pick up your checkbook and send another payment to your fuel company or utility for the money you’re wasting.

Bio-fuels: everything comes with a cost

April 7, 2011


image from Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times has recently reported that the increase in production of bio-fuels is altering the price of food despite efforts to avoid it and has also raised other concerns such as hunger issues as well as the potential for political instability.   

Demand for plant based fuel sources can be found in industrially developing areas such as China as well as established countries in Europe and here in the United States.  In fact here at home Congress has committed us to using 36 billion gallons of bio-fuels annually by 2022.

As one could imagine prices are affected by many things including the success of the growing season.  Ironically high oil prices and transportation costs also affect the cost of bio-fuel production.  We too easily forget the interwoven nature of so many aspects of our lives.   

Bio-fuels such as bio-diesel and ethanol can be used to suppliment or replace gasoline and diesel for cars and trucks. Bio-Bio-fuels can also fill in as well as heating oil is in our homes.  They can reduce our dependency on foreign oil when, but not without a cost.  In the U.S. there has been an increase in the use of corn for fuel production and an associated cost increase. 

When the cost of oil goes above $100 a barrel—and we closed above $109 yesterday—bio-fuels start to look more enticing.  We saw a surge in interest in bio-fuels back in 2008 when oil prices skyrocketed.  I suspect it may happen again.

Switching the type of fuel we burn is not really the answer.  For sure there are benefits to bio-fuels, and I won’t discourage the use of them.  There are jobs created, localized production and independence from foreign sources for sure.  In the Home Performance work we recognize how important it is to look at houses as a system.  Like our homes, there is a great deal of interaction that takes place in producing bio-fuels.  What is the impact of switching fuels? 

Home performance retrofit improvements reduce usage in a home.  The best part of a home performance retrofit is that not only do we create a more efficient home, but we create a safer and more comfortable one.  It’s a win-win situation.

So before we start driving the price of crops up by buying all the cassava root we can find as China is doing and raising the price we pay for groceries , consider the less exotic option of fixing things right at home creating the increased efficiency and comfort we need right under our roofs.  Once you’ve taken care of the easy things then consider running your car on beans or root vegetables.

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