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DEFINITION of Heating & Cooling Terms
DUCT SYSTEM & DUCT DEFECTS
ENERGY STAR PROGRAM
FLOOR RADIANT HEAT Mistakes to Avoid
FRAMING DETAILS for BETTER INSULATION
FREEZE-PROOF A BUILDING
GREEN BUILDING CONSTRUCTION
HEAT LOSS in BUILDINGS
HEATING COST SAVINGS METHODS
HOUSE DOCTOR, how-to be
INDOOR AIR QUALITY & HOUSE TIGHTNESS
INSULATION INSPECTION & IMPROVEMENT
LEED GREEN BUILDING CERTIFICATION
SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEMS
THERMAL IMAGING, THERMOGRAPHY
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WIND ENERGY SYSTEMS
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This article provides tables comparing current & historic home heating cost for different energy sources: home heating oil, electricity, natural gas, coal, pellet stove fuel, and firewood in the United States. We compare home heating cost per thousand (or million) BTUs for these different fuels. We provide tables listing current costs of various building heating fuels, historical heating fuel costs, including heating costs for coal and propane heaters, efficiency of different types of heating equipment, other costs associated with each type of heating system, and links to articles on how to reduce heating costs.
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We also include formulas to adjust our current heating cost calculations to local prices in your area, and we provide links to energy cost sources, predictions of changes in energy costs, and to articles explaining how to save on home heating costs through heating system adjustments and service, insulation, stopping drafts, etc. Sketches in this article are courtesy Carson Dunlop Associates.
Heating Cost Predictions by the US EIA - recent history of predicted & actual heating fuel prices
Increasing Home Heating Fuel Prices: 2012
By January 2012, the price of home heating oil had risen well above the price of natural gas as a heating fuel, though it remaind below the price of propane (LP gas). For homes in the Northeastern United States for the winter of 2011-2012, the New York Times reported that the average winter heating cost for a home would be a summarized in our list below. The NY Times indicated that the gap between gas and oil prices was expected to continue to widen.
Typical Home Heating Fuel Prices: 2009 and 2008
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Average household expenditures for all space-heating fuels are projected to be $1,137 this winter (October 1 to March 31), a 15-percent increase over the estimated $986 spent last winter. The largest increases will be in households using heating oil and natural gas.
The projected increases primarily reflect higher prices, although colder weather than last winter will also contribute to higher fuel use in many areas. During 2008, the cost of natural gas and coal for electric utilities is projected to be 36 percent higher and 12 percent higher, respectively, than last year.
As electricity providers continue to pass along these increased costs, U.S. residential electricity prices are expected to grow by 6.2 percent this year and 9.4 percent in 2009. Price increases are expected to be especially pronounced in the Middle and South Atlantic regions."
Table Comparing Latest Home Heating Energy Costs in the U.S. for Oil, Gas, Wood, Electricity
Below beginning at Table 1 we give Comparisons of Current vs Previous Home Heating Costs per BTUh by Fuel Type in the United States. First let's look at some basic facts about heating fuel properties.
The heat content of a gallon of home heating oil, a cubic foot of natural gas, and a cubic foot of firewood are compared in Carson Dunlop's sketch.
To make sense of these numbers we also need to include an estimate of the relative costs of these fuels [see table below] - with the warning that energy costs vary widely by geographic area, using firewood is a bad idea in some areas where wood is not plentiful nor renewable, and energy content and efficiency of heating appliances can vary widely too.
Look at heating equipment state of tune, heating efficiency and building heat loss rates, not just fuel cost
The efficiency of delivery of heat into the living area of a building varies widely depending on the heating equipment and heat distribution system design. If 50 % of the heat produced by a fuel we are using goes up the chimney rather than into our building, our heating efficiency is just 50%, and regardless of our fuel cost we are probably spending too much on heat. A heating furnace that is 85% efficient is delivering 85 cents of heat into the building for every dollar spent on heating fuel.
Some "heating" methods are so inefficient that they are not recommended. For example, attempting to heat an older home with an open fireplace is likely to draw so much fireplace combustion air into the building that the home operates at a net heat loss when operating the fireplace even though right in front of the fireplace we feel warm.
Have your heating system inspected, cleaned, and tuned. When servicing oil heating systems we often found that the efficiency of a dirty, poorly tuned oil boiler or furnace might be as low as 60% or even worse. But thorough cleaning and tuning of the same system would bring older equipment up to aroudn 78% efficient (a 30% reduction in heating costs) and on newer higher efficiency systems we could see efficiencies in the low 90% range.
Factors Considered in Calculating Buildnig Heating Cost
Back in 1971 Hank Spies (Small Homes Council) pointed out that estimating the seasonal cost of heating fuel is complicated because actual building heating cost depends on a collection of variables besides just the cost of the fuel, including:
In comparing heating fuel costs Spies noted that we have to assume that we are comparing homes operating under the idential conditions. Where heating fuel cost varies as a function of the volume purchased, one must also use the average purchase price for that individual building - which can be tricky to know when preparing general tables comparing fuel costs.
See HEAT LOSS in BUILDINGS to consider the effects of building heat loss rate on home heating costs. See HEATING COST SAVINGS METHODS for expert advice on how to significantly reduce your home heating costs.
Look at hidden heating costs not just heating efficiency and heating fuel costs
If changing from one heating fuel to another means you also have to install new heating equipment, fuel storage tanks, piping, heat distribution pipes or ducts, or perhaps build a chimney for a new woodstove, then be sure to consider the cost of those items when comparing heating fuel costs. In the 1970's we heated our home with "free" firewood from a state forest, but we had to buy a truck, chain saw, woodstove, and chimney as well.
Table 1 - Comparisons of Current vs Previous Home Heating Costs per BTUh by Fuel Type in the United States
Our calculations and formulas are shown below so that readers can plug in local fuel costs to calculate local cost per 1000 BTUs of energy for their building.
It's inaccurate to only compare heating fuel costs if you want to know how much it may cost to heat your building among alternative fuels.
Heating Fuel CostData Sources
2012 home heating oil prices: New York State, NYSERDA, web search 02/24/2012, original source: http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/Page-Sections/Energy-Prices-Supplies-and-Weather-Data/Home-Heating-Oil/Average-Home-Heating-Oil-Prices.aspx2012 and other natural gas residential prices for natural gas: NYSERDA, op cit. and U.S. DOE Energy Information Administration
2012 Propane heating costs: U.S Energy Information Administration EIA, web search 02/24/2012, original source: http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_pri_wfr_dcus_nus_w.htm
Gas and oil and wood prices from various sources listed below including the U.S. Energy Information Administration - October 2008 data.
Efficiency warning: this table does not (yet) reflect the differences in efficiency of various types of heating equipment, nor do we reflect the enormous differences among buildings insulation and draft proofing condition, nor differences in the set temperatures to which people adjust their thermostats.
 How do we calculate fuel cost per thousand BTUs: In the boxes of our table above, we note in smaller font the HC and UC values computed to assure that the scale is the same in both heat content and unit cost before calculating the cost per thousand BTUs in cents.
A BTU (British Thermal Unit) is a measure of heat energy defined as the quantity of heat that would be required to increase the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.
Since we convert all of our fuel costs into cost per 1000 BTUs we can then make an "apples to apples" comparison among fuels. See HEAT LOSS: How to Calculate Heat Loss in a Building for more details.
Unit Cost (UC)__ x 100 = Heat Cost per 1000 BTUs
(We multiply (UC / HC) x 100 to express our final number in "cents" per 1000 BTUs just for ease of reading.)
Example - propane cost per 1000 BTUs:
Example - natural gas cost per 1000 BTUs:
Example - electricty cost per 1000 BTUs: for Electric heat, to obtain the electricity cost per thousand BTUs, we divide .11 (cost per KWH) by 3.413 (thousands of BTUs in one KWH). Incidentally, FYI the number of KWH needed to provide 1000 BTUs of electric heat = 1 / 3.413 or 0.29 KWH. (0.11 / 3.413) x 100 = 3.22 cents per 1000 BTUs of electric heat
Contact Us by email to suggest content additions or corrections to this table comparing building heating fuel costs.
Heating costs became a great concern to Americans during the 1973 oil embargo when home heating oil costs soared from 1972 prices of $ 0.20 per gallon to a new high of $1.73 a gallon in 1973. Homeowners rushed to find alternative ways to keep warm. Some people tried heating with wood (the author); portable kerosene heaters became popular (and very dangerous when not properly used, leading to fires and deaths).
Coal stoves, and solar energy saw renewed interest. About a decade later in 1982 debate continued among energy suppliers about whose fuel was most cost-efficient. Oil heating companies argued that electricity was the most costly way to heat a home; electric companies rebutted that heat pumps were efficient. Coal and woodstoves improved in energy efficiency and ease of use. In the Hudson Valley area of New York State coal usage increased at one coal dealer from 40 customers and 1000 tons in 1980 to 600 customers and 3000 tons of coal in 1982.
Tables 2 and 3 below provide comparable heating cost data for 1982. In 1982 we suggested and currently in 2008 we still recommend that people wanting to save on home heating costs start by making their home properly insulated and sealed against drafts.
1. Poughkeepsie Journal, 11/28/1982
Table 3 - Comparison of the Cost of Heating Fuels with Efficiency of the Heating Devices that Use Them
The basic cost of heating fuel per BTU is not enough data to determine the most cost efficient way to heat a home because even with a lower-cost fuel in hand, if the efficiency of the heating equipment is low you may be sending a high portion, up to 50%, of your heating fuel dollars up the chimney instead of into the building.
For example, because an indoor kerosene heater requires extra combustion air to avoid potentially fatal carbon monoxide hazards, some folks tried increasing the safety of their heater by leaving a window open. But drawing more cold air into the building can result in a net increase in heating cost. (Portable kerosene heaters may be both unsafe and illegal for indoor heating use - check with your local fire officials and building officials.)
1. These efficiency factors were calculated as the percentage of energy extracted from the fuel (compared with the amount of energy in the fuel itself).
If a heating appliance were 100% efficient, 100% of the heat energy in a given unit of heating fuel would be extracted by the heater and delivered to the heat distribution system (hot water baseboards, radiators, warm air supply ducts, electric heating baseboards). What the table and data also do not reflect are efficiency losses in the heating distribution system itself, such as leaky air ducts or improperly routed hot water heating pipes. -- DF.
2. This data is for un-vented kerosene heaters (a safety concern).
3. Central Hudson Gas and Electric estimate, 11/28/1982
In addition to comparing the current cost per BTU of heating fuels in your area (Table 1), and comparing the relative efficiencies with which your heater converts the BTUs to heat delivered into the building (Table 3), we also need to consider other costs associated with each fuel including those listed below:
Notes to Table 4: General comment: be sure that your home has working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors regardless of choice of heating fuels.
(1) Delivery cost is normally included in the price for this fuel.
(2) Delivery cost may be included in the price for firewood; variation in actual amount of BTUS delivered varies significantly depending on the species and dryness of the firewood and the tightness of stacking of the cord or face cord that is delivered.
(3) Maintenance must include daily stove cleaning and removal/disposal of ash and slag waste
(4) Annual inspection and maintenance recommended for safety; gas fired equipment generally requires less cleaning and adjustment than oil-fired equipment; improperly operating equipment or a damaged or blocked chimney is dangerous and can produce carbon monoxide hazards.
(5) Annual maintenance is necessary; failure to maintain oil fired equipment is likely to result in significantly lowered heater efficiency, increased heating cost, and possible loss of heat.
(6) We have not considered environmental cost associated with pollutants depending on the utility company's choice of fuels to be consumed at the power generating plant, such as high vs low sulphur content coal, acid rain, cost of nuclear site protection, disposal of nuclear waste, nor of plant replacement costs which will affect current or future utility company rates
(7) Heat Pump operating cost variables & COP Calculations:
Details about heat pump COP and operating efficiency variation are at HEAT PUMP COP.
Additional heating cost factors:
A Concise History of changes in estimates of U.S. Oil & Gas Reserves
Increasing Estimates of U.S. Oil & Natural Gas Reserves
Exxon CEO Rex Wilson (quoted in Newsweek Magazine, October 2010), provided a nicely succinct history of estimates of United States oil and natural gas reserves and usage from 1979 to the present. Here are some of the facts listed by Mr. Wilson, who said that he expects U.S. reliance on oil as well as an adequate supply of oil to continue for some time yet:
Decreasing Estimates of Some U.S. Oil & Natural Gas Reserves
Here is a different view of oil and gas reserves, showing downwards, not upwards estimates, dramatically different from the picture one might take from Mr. Wilson's comments above:
According to a very brief news report appearing in The New York Times, 27 October 2010, in turn reporting from AP,
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