For Immediate Release - September 08, 2005

Containing Winter's High Heating Costs

State Outlines Steps to Maximize Heating Efficiency, Look for Best Deals

With production implications from Hurricane Katrina still uncertain, it's almost certain that oil and natural gas prices will remain high this winter. The heating season begins in October and home heating oil prices have already surpassed last winter's average of $1.97 per gallon, this week averaging $2.61 per gallon. The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs advises consumers to get started now with a plan to contain the anticipated higher costs.

"Households that take simple and inexpensive steps to prepare their homes and heating systems can maximize efficiency and save between $100 and $200 over the course of the season," said Consumer Affairs Director Beth Lindstrom. "Start now by cleaning the oil burner and target areas that leak heat for weather-stripping or caulking. Know your budget, follow the heating oil surveys and call a wider sampling of dealers to get the best weekly price or contract possible," Lindstrom added.

The Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources will begin posting weekly home heating oil and propane price surveys on its website at www.mass.gov/doer during the first week of October. Commissioner David O'Connor urges consumers to think carefully about seasonal contracts. "A fixed price contract locks in a price for the season while a capped price contract limits the maximum per gallon price for the season. Be sure to confirm with dealers whether the contract price will go down should retail prices fall below the capped price offered," said Commissioner O'Connor.

Director Lindstrom added, "Some oil dealers and utilities allow customers to spread their heating payments evenly throughout the season or year. The budget billing feature is an attractive option to consumers whose finances are even tighter during the winter months." Lindstrom also urges consumers considering seasonal contracts to ask the following questions:

  • Is there a termination fee if you end your contract early?
  • Is the contract for full-service and does it include maintenance, emergency service and automatic delivery?
  • Is there a deposit or pre-payment required? How and when will billing occur?

Low Cost Ways to Winterize Your Home

  • Identify the areas where air can leak out of your home.
  • Caulk or putty window parts, door parts, foundation and molding cracks.
  • Use weather-stripping to insulate doors and attic accesses.
  • Be sure fireplaces are fitted with a tight-sealing damper and keep it closed when not in use. If a fireplace is used infrequently, use a chimney block to eliminate heat loss.
  • Make sure kitchen and bathroom vent dampers close properly.
  • Begin the season with a clean oil burner and a furnace tune-up.
  • Set thermostats lower overnight and consider a programmable thermostat to automatically regulate temperatures.
  • Consider energy efficiency programs funded by gas and electric ratepayers and offered through public utilities. Go to www.masssave.com or call (866) 527-SAVE. Free energy audits and incentives for insulation, EnergyStar lighting, appliances and heating systems are among the services that may be offered.

Options for Managing Heating Bills

  • LIHEAP Fuel Assistance Program: Beginning November 1 st, homeowners and tenants can apply for fuel assistance based on income eligibility through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program ("LIHEAP"). Fuel assistance provides payments to energy providers to defer some of the costs of monthly heating bills. Call (800) 632-8175 or visit www.winterheating.com for more information.
  • Salvation Army Good Neighbor Fund: To apply or learn about eligibility, call (800) 262-1320, (617) 542-5420 or visit www.magoodneighbor.org.
  • Oil Co-ops: They are buying groups formed to help consumers purchase energy at lower costs. A list of oil co-ops in the state is available at www.mass.gov/doer as part of the fuel assistance tip sheet or you may contact DOER at (800) 351-0077.
  • Shop Around: The Massachusetts Oil Heat Association offers a statewide list of member home heating oil dealers at www.massoilheat.org.
  • Gas/Electricity Discount Rates: Income eligible applicants may take advantage of discounted rates and protection against service termination. Look into arranging winter payment plans with gas and electric utilities.

Additional consumer tips and information on saving energy are available at DOER's website, www.mass.gov/doer.