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CONSUMER ALERT

Weighing the costs of oil heat against electric and gas heat

(The Boston Globe/File 2007)
By Mitch Lipka
Globe Correspondent / November 16, 2008
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Q. I have electric heat and hot-air heat in my home. I have not used the electric heat for many years but have heard that at this time it is cheaper than oil - is this right? Over the years I have removed some of the baseboards, but some remain so I am thinking of using a combination of oil and electric if it would save me some money.

Anonymous

A. Winter in New England is serious business, and expensive, too. It can't hurt anyone to go through an exercise of making sure places where cold air leaks in - windows, the roof, etc. - are sealed up. Where cold air comes in, hot air goes out.

While the equation is constantly changing with the price of electricity and heating oil, using the current average cost per kilowatt-hour for residential electricity in Massachusetts and the average cost of home heating oil, it still is cheaper to use oil. Electricity is more efficient than oil, but still costs considerably more to generate the same amount of heat.

If you visit www.warmair.net/html/fuel_cost_comparisons.htm you can fill in the blanks for a variety of fuel sources and compare the cost differences.

NStar is currently charging $1.24 per therm for gas and about 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity. A therm, which is the amount of gas needed to generate 100,000 BTU, is equal to about 100 cubic feet.

The average price of a gallon of home heating oil in Massachusetts was $2.85 last week, according to the state Department of Energy Resources.

A University of Massachusetts study estimated it could cost more than $2,500 to heat the average home in the state with heating oil and about $1,800 using natural gas. About half of the state's homes are heated with natural gas while 36 percent use heating oil, the study said.

The study did not cover alternative heating sources, including electric heat.

A calculator available from the US Department of Energy, which looks at a variety of heating sources and compares the cost for generating the same amount of energy, shows that electric heat would cost at least 70 percent more than using oil.

The City of Boston offers some home-heating tips, including using a programmable thermostat and insulating your attic. To see the tips go to www.cityofboston.gov/mayor/energy.asp.

You can also visit the website of your utility company for more details and tips. Some offer energy audits. Most offer online tools such as those at www.energyguide.com. Another online resource is www.MassSave.com, a public-private partnership that offers tools and advice for energy savings.

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