Home Heating Options Part 1

Wayne Harvey

Updated 2 years ago

With a tough economy and rising fuel costs, many Mainers are looking for ways to make their home heating dollars go further.That may include spending money for changes to their heating systems.It may be an initial cost, but many are finding they can recoup that investment in just a few years by switching from heating with oil.For those in the heating and air conditioning industry, that switch is a change they’ve seen a lot recently said Eastern Maine Community College’s Rick Gomm. “When I started in the field, we basically, everything was oil heat, cast iron construction boiler or a steel boiler. Within the last ten years of being in the field, I’ve seen it gone to not even putting cast iron boilers in, and everything is going wall hung condensing.”Many Mainers heat with a wood stove or an oil burning furnace, but that could be changing. In an effort to save money, more Mainers are looking for more efficient and cheaper options.”Number two fuel is somewhere around 30 dollars per million BTU’s, if you compare that with natural gas, the cost is right now about 13 dollars per million BTU’s,” said Charlie Veilleux, the Co-Chair of EMCC’s Refrigeration, Air Condition and Heating Department. “An average home might use a hundred or 125, let’s just say 100 million BTU’s per year, so you’re looking at reducing your energy costs at least from 3100 dollars for the oil system down to maybe 1300 dollars for the natural gas system. So it’s a significant energy savings.”There are a number of options out there to replace oil, and all have their pros and cons, according to Veilleux. “Oil is, has a reasonable initial cost. You can look at a heat pump system, a geothermal system would have a very low operational cost, but it would have a higher initial cost, so you’d have to balance that.” “If you wanted to burn wood, that could be an option for somebody. Propane, again propane equipment probably has a little higher efficiency, a little higher energy cost than fuel oil but probably less maintenance, plus it has the advantage that you don’t have to deal with the fuel storage inside your home.”There are also options that can help reduce how much oil or wood you burn, like an air source mini split heat pump, but again those come with positives and negatives.”Be able to provide cooling in the summer time, very, very efficiently and be able to provide heating in the winter time for a majority of the season,” said Veilleux. “That would get you in that 200 to 400 percent efficiency range. The draw back with the air source heat pumps is that as the outdoor temperature drops, the heat output goes down and the efficiency goes down so at some point they’re not going to be able to keep up with the heat loss and you’re going to have to make up some of that heat with your oil fired system.”The biggest savings may not come with changes to your furnace, but in what you do to your home.”A lot of people jump and want to completely go off of oil, but if you can conserve a little bit you’re going to save as well,” said Gomm, who is the other Co-Chair of the Department at EMCC. “You can convert from oil to wood or to natural gas or you can add a heat pump or anything, but realistically I think you have to look at the construction and design of your house. If the air blows through it, you’re just going to be heating with something else. It’s still going to cost you to heat.”For Part two of this special report view this story