Skip navigation

Archive for the ‘Home Heating’ Category

How to Get Off the Oil Price Roller Coaster

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

If we’ve learned anything in the first 16 years of the 21st century, it’s that expecting the unexpected is the best way to plan for the future.

If that sounds a little scary, let’s consider heating oil prices. Who would have guessed two years ago when prices were heading towards $4.00 a gallon that we’d now be looking at prices averaging just over $2.00? As a fuel oil dealer, we welcome the budget relief that low prices offer customers, but want to be sure we (and our customers) think a bit about some of the challenges that this extreme volatility can bring.

Source: Tradingeconomics.com

In Vermont, the good news is that fuel prices are currently averaging 19¢ a gallon below the same month of 2015. The bad news is that we’ve seen a steady price increase since March.

Source - Vermont Fuel Price Report, Vermont Department of Public Service

It’s easy to point to several factors that could affect heating fuel prices as we get closer to the cold winter weather:

  • Some weather experts are predicting the that end of the strongest El Nino in recorded history has started to make a transition into a La Nina-like state which could mean colder than average temperatures and more snow in the Northeast this winter. This is a welcome relief for those Vermonters that depend on the snow for recreation or livelihood, but a potential problem for those of us who will use more heating oil.
  • The presidential candidates have adopted different positions for and against climate change action that could eventually trickle down to affect gasoline and heating oil prices.
  • A recent New York Times article quotes OPEC sources who are speculating that a global output freeze could take place in September, when most members, plus non-members such as Russia, are expected to attend an International Energy Forum meeting in Algeria.

What can we do now to help protect our household budgets from future price increases? To use a sports metaphor, “our best defense is a good offense.”

  1. Do everything you can to improve your home’s energy efficiency and reduce the amount of heating fuel you use. Even simple things like adding insulation and regular heating system tune ups can make a big difference.
  2. Consider harnessing renewable energy sources to heat your home and provide your hot water. Rooftop or in-ground solar along with a cold-climate heat pump is a great choice that is becoming more and more popular.
  3. Sign up for price protection to lock in today’s low prices for the rest of the season. Combine this with a budget payment plan and you’ll eliminate those nasty mid-winter surprises when your oil usage spikes during a cold snap.

At the Energy Co-op, our goal is to help our members use less fossil fuel and save money. Don’t let the fuel price roller coaster leave you at the station. Call us today for a free home energy review or to schedule your pre-winter system tune up.

 

How to be a Climate Change Hero

Monday, December 21st, 2015

The Paris Climate Action agreement signed last week has given new hope to those of us who are concerned about climate change and want world  leaders to join together to find ways to help. At home, President Obama has announced that by 2025 he wants the United States to reduce its total carbon footprint by up to 28% of 2005 levels.

While we applaud the global agreement and think that government goals and promises are a good start, we know that change must also take place from the bottom up, starting in our own homes and backyards.  These changes give new meaning to the old adage, “Think global, act local.”

Most experts in climate change science agree that increasing efficiency is the low-hanging fruit for reducing our carbon emissions.  In fact, many sources including the Natural Resources Defense Council, continue to put efficiency at the top of the list for consideration by both individuals and businesses.

Energy Efficiency 101

Being energy efficient doesn’t mean going without a comfortable and well-lit home or making painful sacrifices. Many energy efficiency measures are low cost and easy to implement. With the many attractive financing options now available, some upgrades can even save you money from day one. Consider these five options:

  1. Upgrade your home energy systems.  Consider a new energy-efficient furnace, cold-climate heat pump, or roof top solar panels.
  2. Weatherproof your home. Install storm windows and close curtains at night to reduce heat loss and energy use. Upgrade insulation in walls, basements and attics to save up to 30% of your energy bill. Not sure where to start? Get an energy audit to provide guidance and to set priorities.
  3. Install low-flow showerheads and wash your clothes in cold or warm water.
  4. Change your lights. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs to eliminate 150 pounds or more of CO2 per year for each bulb you replace.
  5. Plant trees and shrubs. Trees absorb CO2 and give off oxygen. One tree will absorb over a ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

What About Conservation?

If you aren’t willing or able to spend money on efficiency improvements, consider conservation. Often confused with efficiency, energy conservation involves behavior changes that don’t cost anything extra but can have a big impact on your home energy use.

  1. Drive less. You save one pound of carbon dioxide for each mile of driving you eliminate.
  2. Stop idling. Turn off your engine when you are picking up your children at school or waiting in a drive-through line.
  3. Cut hot water use. Turn your hot water heater thermostat down to 120 degrees. Run your dishwasher and washing machine with full loads only.
  4. Adjust your thermostat. Moving your thermostat down just two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer could eliminate about 2,000 pounds of CO2 a year for an average household.
  5. Turn off “ghost “power. Plug televisions, computers and other appliances into a surge protector and switch off the surge protector after you turn off the appliances – or use an advance power strip.
  6. Recycle and reuse. Recycle your old newspapers and magazines, cardboard, glass, metal, and recyclable plastic containers. Find creative ways to reuse items instead of discarding them.
  7. Be green in your yard. Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage that you send to landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  8. Shop smart. Buy products with less packaging and reusable or recyclable packaging in the first place.

Calculate your household’s carbon footprint

Before you upgrade or conserve, you can check the EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate household greenhouse gas emissions arising from your home energy use, transportation and waste disposal. This tool helps you understand where your emissions come from and identify ways to reduce them. It can also give you a way to measure your progress.

Spread the word

Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends that energy efficiency is good for their homes and good for the environment. The small steps each of us take today to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air pollution will add up to a livable planet for our children and grandchildren.

Don’t Let Low Fuel Prices Fool You

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

If you’re the type of person who just went out and purchased a large SUV because gas prices are flirting with $2.00 a gallon, don’t read this. On the other hand, if you see low energy prices as an interesting opportunity, read on.

Everyone who drives a car or heats their home with oil, propane or kerosene is aware that prices have dropped dramatically since last year. There are many factors effecting current low oil prices. These include sustained high output from OPEC nations, the ability of American frackers to cut costs and maintain output, and lower demand from China. Like all complex international issues involving markets and energy, it’s anyone’s guess as to when prices will rise again – or whether they have further to fall.

The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association has published these numbers for average Vermont fuel prices as of the end of August, 2015 compared with those of a year ago:

Type of Fuel

Aug 2015

Aug 2014

Change

No. 2 Fuel Oil

$2.45

$3.59

-31.92%

Kerosene

$3.01

$4.10

-26.64%

Propane

$2.30

$2.81

-18.15%

Reg. Unleaded Gasoline

$2.64

$3.66

-27.88%

Diesel

$2.96

$4.01

-26.33%

As an energy efficiency advocate and heating fuel supplier, the question on my mind is, “Will lower home heating costs discourage homeowners from investing in energy saving improvements for their homes?” After all, we’ve all got plenty of things to spend our money on!

We suggest that it makes the most sense to take the money you’re saving on your energy bills and invest it in ways that make those savings permanent. If you do so, you’ll be protected from future price spikes, cut your carbon emissions and make your home more comfortable as well.

A good place to start is with an energy audit from the Co-op. For only $100, we complete a thorough assessment of your home’s energy use, insulation levels, heating system and appliances and provide a written report with our recommendations for saving money and cutting your fossil fuel use.

Fossil fuels are not the only energy source that costs less these days. There’s more good news for homeowners interested in powering their homes with renewable energy. According to a 2014 report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency, electricity from biomass, hydro, geothermal and onshore wind are all competitive with or cheaper than electricity from coal, oil and gas-fired power stations, even without financial support, and despite falling oil prices. Solar is leading the cost decline, with module costs falling 75 per cent since the end of 2009 and the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar falling 50 per cent since 2010.

The bad news is that this also means many current state and federal subsidies and rebates may be phased out, discontinued or not renewed when they expire. The 30% federal tax credit for solar expires at the end of 2016, for example.

The Energy Co-op’s always urges homeowners to start with an energy audit. After that, our approach is three pronged:

  • First, and most important, we make sure that the home is safe and healthy, free from mold, risk of carbon monoxide leaks and things like asbestos and vermiculite. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 400 people in the U.S. die every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. The National Fire Protection Agency reports that in 2011, faulty heating equipment was implicated in an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires.
  • Second, we focus on energy and money saving improvements like stopping drafts and adding insulation.
  • Third, we look into alternatives or replacements for old, wasteful boilers and furnaces.

Our main point is, don’t go the SUV route and rush to purchase a gas-hogging vehicle while gas prices are low, only to regret your decision when prices go up. Instead, take advantage of low energy prices to create a safer and more energy-secure home.

We believe that there has never been a better time to invest in efficiency improvements. Right here in Vermont rebates and incentives are still available – and we’re told that winter – and home heating bills – are on the way!

 

Why should home heating fuel dealers help homeowners use less fuel?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

As homeowners embrace energy efficiency and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels for heating their homes, heating fuel dealers have an opportunity to move to a new, more profitable business model . This new model is designed to  offset lower heating fuel revenues by offering new efficiency services and products.

According to statistics compiled by the Thermal Efficiency Task Force , heating oil usage in the average Vermont home has declined from a high of 1,400 gallons per year in 1973 to a low of 764 gallons per year in 2011.  We see a similar trend with Energy Co-op members. After allowing for changes in winter weather, our members and customers have cut their oil use by an average 23% over the past 13 years.  Good for the planet, not necessarily good for business.

What are the key steps that fuel dealers must take to capture the opportunity within this shrinking market? The new model builds on the trust that fuel dealers have established by providing their customers with reliable fuel deliveries and 24/7 service for their heating equipment. This gives fuel dealers a competitive advantage for offering new services, provided some key strategies are in place:

Partnerships are key

The Vermont Public Service Department has supported the creation of the Efficiency Excellence Network (EEN) which encourages strategic partnerships between members of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, Efficiency Vermont, and Home Performance Contractors. The Efficiency Excellence Network is designed to encourage fuel dealers and home performance contractors to work together to promote energy efficient equipment, energy audits and home energy upgrades.

As a founding member of EEN, the Energy Co-op now partners with several home performance contractors to make efficiency improvements in members’ homes.

To promote these partnerships, the Vermont Public Service Department worked with CEDF (Clean Energy Development Fund) and VLITE (Vermont Low Income Trust for Electricity) to create the Heat Savers program to provide funds to support up to $7 million in low-interest financing of clean energy measures. The Heat savers program is available only to EEN members working with Opportunities Credit Union and VSECU to offer attractive loans to their customers.

Opportunities and challenges for the new fuel dealer business model. 

Changing consumer behavior is never an easy task. Neither is it easy to change the way fuel dealers do business. But both are critically important to grow the home performance and energy efficiency sectors of the Vermont economy and cut our carbon emissions.

Fuel dealers must find innovative ways to expand their offerings in a wider competitive environment that includes electricians and HVAC contractors.

According to the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, only 28 of the 47 home heating fuel dealers within a 50 mile radius of Burlington offer heating system service and installation. This is clearly points to the opportunity for expansion.

Roadmap to new business model

We are fortunate that Vermont’s policies and programs provide support to utilities and fuel dealers that want to innovate. To capture new business opportunities fuel dealers should:

  • Create or build service departments that serve as a resource (consultant/coach) for questions about heating system efficiency. Be sure that the people staffing this department are not just reacting to problems, but are also recommending pro-active solutions.
  • Use National Oil Heat Research Association (NORA) certification to support service technician training and build consumer confidence.
  • Create working partnerships to finance and install energy efficiency improvements. For example, the Energy Co-op of Vermont has completed 40 energy audits since the spring, resulting in home energy upgrades for 17 customers. It’s a modest but important beginning.
  • Offer high-value incremental services such as heat pump installations, BioHeat deliveries, pellet heating equipment, solar hot water heaters, and other clean technologies.
  • Provide easy-to-access information (across multiple communication channels) for turn-key financing options, rebates and incentives.

The Energy Co-op of Vermont has embraced many aspects of this new business model since its founding in 2001, combining our role as a fuel supplier with a sustained campaign to educate our members and build their understanding of the value of all kinds of energy efficiency services. We realize that the ability to offer effective, comprehensive solutions will depend on maintaining strong partnerships, providing great service and continuing to earn the trust and confidence of our members.

 

Mobile Home Efficiency

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Mobile homes here in Vermont offer many opportunities for energy savings. There are 22,000 mobile homes in 244 parks scattered across the state. They make up more than 7% of our housing stock. Nearly 75% of Vermont’s mobiles are more than 40 years old. With few new mobile homes being built, many owners are busy looking to retrofit and improve their older homes, and to make them more energy efficient.

Improving mobile home efficiency starts with a few easy upgrades:

1) Furnace tune-up: Making sure heating systems are working as efficiently as possible keeps heating bills down. Furnaces should be serviced by professional technicians once a year.

2) Fixing Drafts: Sealing cracks around doors, windows and other spots doesn’t cost much and can cut energy use by 10% or more.

3) Insulation: Blowing insulation into the belly of a mobile home can help keep winter’s cold air from creeping in through the floors. If there is space between the roof and the interior, insulation can also be blown in to help reduce heat loss through the roof.

4) Storm Windows: Interior storm windows help reduce heat loss during Vermont’s coldest months.

5) Energy efficiency:  When installed correctly, modern light bulbs and power strips help homeowners save on electric bills each month. Every penny counts and money not used on utilities can be spent elsewhere.

With financial support from Efficiency Vermont, the Energy Co-op is working to help mobile home owners save energy and money. Our goal is to work with mobile home owners to make simple improvements and to identify opportunities for future energy upgrades. If you are a mobile home owner here’s what the Energy Co-op provides:

  • energy-saving light bulbs, aerators and shower heads
  • an advanced power strip
  • pipe wrap insulation
  • information on energy saving opportunities
  • a walk-through assessment of your home to look for more ways for you to save energy and lower your kerosene bills.

All of this, plus a tune-up for only $49. Call the Co-op before May 31, 2014, if you’re interested: (802) 860-4090.

For more simple tips to help Vermont’s mobile home residents save money, save energy and live more comfortably, check out “Do-it-Yourself Mobile Home Energy Efficiency” (PDF) from the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

Winter Heating Tips: Attic Heat Loss

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

It may be obvious to some but many folks don’t realize just how much heat they lose through their attics. Poor attic insulation and sealing can result not only in higher energy costs during the winter, but also during the hot summer months when you’re trying to keep your home cool. For this reason, how your attic is constructed  and insulated is the most important part of saving huge amounts of money on energy bills year round.

As warm air pushes up to the top of your home it allows colder air to be pulled in from below from your basement, leaky windows, or just poorly insulated walls. As the warm air leaves it heats and melts snow on your roof, creating icicles and ice dams in the eaves. Since there’s very little heat along the eaves of your roof, the melted snow refreezes. Icicles and ice dams are the most obvious sign that you’re losing heat out of your attic and that better insulation could keep you more comfortable AND save you energy dollars. These are what are typically called, “shell improvements” in the energy business, and represent the easiest way Vermonters can make a significant impact on their home energy efficiency.

The first and easiest step is to figure out exactly just how much heat you’re losing through an energy audit for your home. We have an established step-by-step system beginning with some simple math and ending with a comprehensive plan that allows you to decide how best to proceed. Our Energy Audit will tell you exactly how efficiently your home is, where improvements should be made, and recommend some simple steps you can reduce your energy use and save money on your fuel bills. Some of these improvements you may want to make right away, while others would be better to hold off for the future. We also will help you choose the right contractor to make energy upgrades to your home.

Whatever you choose to do, with each season that goes by know that the earlier you make an investment in your home’s efficiency the more money you’ll save. As a first step, we can help you decide whether an Energy Audit makes sense for your home, with only TWO pieces of information from you:

  • Total heated area of your home (square feet)
  • The amount of heating fuel you use each year (oil, kerosene, pellets, etc.)

With this information we can quickly figure out whether an energy audit makes sense for your home. Give us a call! (802) 860-4090.

Here’s a great (short) video of what attic heat loss and necessary improvements looks like:

What’s the deal with heat pumps?

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Richard Faesy from the Energy Futures Group and an Energy Co-op of Vermont Board member, provided us with this article about heat pumps. We thought we should pass it along to you:

“Heat pumps seem to be in the news recently. In April, Efficiency Vermont launched a new program promoting them and Green Mountain Power recently launched a heat pump rental program that appears to be wildly successful. They expected to hear from about 200 customers but, instead, received inquiries from more than 600. What gives?

BSR members are intrigued with the technology and are excited to see heat pumps designed for Vermont’s climate now available at reasonable costs. Besides biomass, we now have a fossil fuel alternative that can automatically heat (and even cool) our homes at about half the operating cost of oil or propane. And since heat pumps run off electricity, we can now deliver zero net-energy heating and cooling systems by adding PV panels to off-set the heat pump load. If all this is so good, what’s the catch? Is this another one of those “too good to be true” technologies that will be gone after an initial flash in the pan?

Actually, heat pumps have been around for decades and are the primary means of heating and cooling buildings in most of the world outside of North America. The technology is the same as that used in refrigerators to concentrate heat and move it from one place to another. With a refrigerator, it works to gather up the heat in the food storage area and then dump it into the kitchen. With today’s heat pumps, in winter they concentrate heat from outside (even in temperatures down below 15 degrees below zero) and then deliver it inside. In the summer they do the opposite to cool the building by moving heat from inside to outside.

While we have been installing “ground-source” heat pumps in the Northeast for decades that are able to move heat between buildings and the ground (or water wells within the ground), they tend to be pricey, typically $20,000 to $40,000 installed. The new “air-source” heat pumps do not require drilling expensive wells or digging long trenches as are necessary for the ground source units, and can be installed for about $4,000 per unit for those systems that work in Vermont’s “cold climate”. These “cold-climate air-source” heat pumps can provide up to about 20,000 Btu/hour, so you would typically need a few systems for a well-insulated tight Vermont house, provided the layout works to allow heat distribution. For two systems, that’s $8,000; not bad for a heating and cooling system that cuts oil bills in half!

If you want to know more about which units work best in Vermont’s winters and what incentives are available for installing cold climate heat pumps in existing homes to displace oil and propane, take a look at Efficiency Vermont’s heat pump page.

To find out more about direct experience with this technology in real Vermont homes, installation issues, costs, applicability in certain homes and more, come to a panel discussion at On The Rise Bakery in Richmond, November 25, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. We hope to see you there.”

Here at the Energy Co-op, we’ve known of heat pumps for a few years, and install Mitsubishi heat pumps around northwestern Vermont. Right now, Co-op Guardian Plan members receive 0% financing and a 10% discount on our Mitsubishi heat pump line. Send us an email or call us at (802) 860-4090 for more information or a free estimate.

Member: Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Renewable Energy Vermont, Local First Vermont

© 2008–2017 Energy Co-op of Vermont, P.O. Box 111, Colchester VT 05446 | Tel: (802) 860-4090 - Toll Free: (866) 626-4328 - Fax: (802) 951-9157