Annie Asks You: What Should I Do About My Oil Bill?

Kill me now. My oil company estimates that my heating bill this winter will be $5,000! Yes, there are three zero’s at the end. You may be thinking that I live in a mansion, but no. My two-story house is 2,500 square feet with three bedrooms. Six years ago the bill was around $1,200 a year. Last year it was $2,500.

I live in the northeast and we experience cold winters. But do I like heating with oil to begin with? No, not at all. Oil fumes are unhealthy. Oil is a non-renewable resource. Oil pretty much sums up a lot of what I don’t believe in. So why do I have an oil burner? Because quite a big chunk of cash is needed to overhaul one’s heating system to be eco-friendly.

Enter an oil bill of $5,000 a year and climbing, and that is a reality check of its own. If I am going to be dishing out a big chunk of cash anyway, don’t I want to invest in something that is ultimately sustainable? You bet your cord of fire wood.

My question to you is what type of sustainable heating system makes the most sense for me? I’d love your suggestions while I continue to blog about my findings and decisions. I’ll incorporate your wisdom and expertise when it fits the bill. Note that I am also working to save energy, here and there, by caulking cracks and holes and considering non-toxic insulation. I’d prefer to eliminate my oil tank completely.

I am going to be very frank and open here. I am a single mom in her 50s, and my one child is a sophomore in college (did I say a very expensive college?). I make a good income but I don’t have the cash to pay for a total switch of my heating system. What I do have is a $30,000 home equity loan with a zero balance. I could use some of that credit to invest in a renewable energy system for my home. I’d rather pay the hundreds of dollars a month I will be paying for heat no matter what for something sustainable.

At the moment I am considering the options. More background is that the house is on the north side of a hill and I don’t get a lot of sun or wind. I live on seven private acres of land. My existing heating system is hot water base-board with a good boiler. The hot water is heated by the boiler.

A very eco-friendly wood stove? A cord of wood is almost $200 where I live and I would need five to six cords of wood at the minimum to heat the whole house almost exclusively with wood. I’d also need to upgrade to a better stove, and add in fans to circulate the air throughout the house.

A pellet stove? Pellets for such stoves can be scarce and are getting more expensive. Besides, how would I react to burning organic corn pellets if I have a mild corn allergy? I know that there are other types of pellets besides corn, but the fact that the pellet stove only works with pellets deters me, especially as dealers of pellets start price gouging because of the oil price situation. If the pellet infrastructure completely breaks down the pellet stove will be useless.

I keep inching towards geothermal, but I was just told on the phone to a sales person that the cost for my house would be somewhere around $35-50,000! (Believe me, I am getting second and third opinions.) I am heartened to read from the guy who wrote The Tipping Point and Blink, that his system wascloser to $20,000. I also worry about piercing the Earth with so many holes if we all started doing it.

Given that I live in the northeast, so far I don’t need much air conditioning. There are a few weeks a year when it would be a great relief to have it, however, and one great aspect of geothermal is that it provides whole house air for just the electrical cost to run the pump.

Meanwhile, I am learning about air source heat pumps. While not great for my climate (for my climate they’d be turned off at 20F), I might be able to heat and cool with it two-thirds of the year. (Like geothermal, air source heat pumps cool the house, too.) I need to investigate the amount of electricity it would take to power it. Maybe I could install enough solar panels to power the system? (Only about one-third of my roof gets direct sun). Or get a solar space heater?

Lastly, I am looking into government and state rebates and initiatives and loans for greening up one’s heating system. I’ll keep you posted on this research.

Please chime in! Even though it’s 100 degrees outside now, it’s not too soon to think about the coming winter, especially with the rising oil prices. Let’s all help each other buck the system of this very frightening winter heating scenario! For more on the rising oil prices, check out this blog Why are oil bills so high? And to take action against oil companies reaping in record profits on our backs, click here. Also be sure to give me your suggestions by posting a comment below.


carole hagen
.7 years ago


Annie Bond
Past Member 9 years ago

from Annie, continued:
Here's the url for the energy audit blog about how an audit helped jumpstart a 311% savings in heating.

Headsup to everyone, though, that as we tighten up our houses we need to learn the lessons of the 70s oil crisis, when houses were sealed up tightly and people
got sick from indoor air. If the house is too tight people must consider an air exchange system.

I'll get an audit for this house and report about it. Thanks.

Laure: Awww, thanks! You know, my former mother-in-law had a window quilt installed for every single window of their house and what a difference! While I want to spend most of the money on a bigger retrofit, I might really consider window quilts on the north side of the house in a place that already feels drafty.

Mari Basque
Mari 's9 years ago

Clearing the Air: Heat With Wood
posted by Ronnie Citron-Fink Oct 5, 2008 1:00 pm

If you are thinking about heating with wood or pellet? The stores here are handing out loans here for them. It's worth a shot to try. The payments on the pellet stove are not even $200.00 a month. This will save you thousands.

Mari Basque
Mari 's9 years ago

We live in the state of Maine and here we go into a deep freeze. We bought a wood burning pellet stove for this winter because we'd freeze to death otherwise. We go into a deep freeze here.

There is a very HIGH demand here for the pellet stoves! Such a high demand that it won't get here until november and we bought the stove in July.

We put a few hundred down and got a loan for the rest. We have to make payments each month on the stove. See if you can get a loan for an alternative heating source.

We do have wind energy here. Maine is known for the Mars Hill Project. We just can't afford our own and most people here heat their homes with oil.

I just read a good article here about wood burning being eco friendly wish I saved the URL now.

Gloria Wood
Gloria Wood9 years ago

Wear fleece, including a hat. An electric blanket allows me to keep heat lower in bedroom. Shallow dishes of water placed in each room add humidity, making air easier to heat. I wash dishes by hand when my hands get cold or do a few jumping jacks.

Carrie H.
Carrie H9 years ago

Green power is expensive. Send the estimate to you senator ask him to pay it for you. Host a comunity meeting/BBQ in your back yard about prices and see if your neighbors would be willing to go in on a larger geothermal system and contact the electric company to find out if they would buy excess energy, Chena Hot springs in alaska uses geothermal and it is cold geothermal, it covers the energy needs you can reach them here I would be care full about paying some one to build a geothermal system for just 1 home. Even small geothermal can produce much more energy than what is needed for 1 home.

Annie Bond
Past Member 9 years ago

James: I had never heard of heating hot water baseboard heat with solar hot water panels and I am excited about researching this technology. Thank you so much for tup! And yes, I am gong to get lots of estimates!

Cheryl: Yes, you did read that correctly. I am single and live in a 2,500 square foot house. Why? For one thing, this is my daughter's home, she is just starting her sophmore year in college, and would be devastated if I moved just yet. Secondly,this house is a major gift for me because I am severely sensitive to pesticides and I looked for years before I found a home that was safe from lawn/garden/orchard pesticide drift. I can't justify the heat, for sure, but if I could get sustainable heat I could feel that living here was justified (for more than my health!) (I am thinking about renting out a room or two,but I love my privacy...)

Cheryl H.
Cheryl H.9 years ago

Did I read that correctly-one person living in a 2,500 sf house? I'm in my 50s also and just moved from a 2000 sf place because it was too big.
Anyway-if a move isn't practical, you might also check your insulation, widows, and/or landscaping. I wonder if there's a way you could have zone heating put in-only heat the rooms you use.

James D.
James D.9 years ago

Dear Annie,

You should be able to get up to 70% of your hot water heating from solar hot water panels (which are different from solar electric/ photovoltaic panels and are A LOT CHEAPER). As you are aware both geothermal and air source need electricity to power the pump however only a small amount of electricity is required. My advice with both of these is to get lots of quotes.

Annie Bond
Past Member 9 years ago

I read your comments early this morning on the east coast, before going out to work in the garden. While weeding it washed
over me how kind and thoughtful each of you are to take the time to give me your suggestions for solving my dilema over heating with
oil. Thank you for your generosity and good ideas.

Caralien: My sister has the same situation. She has to open the windows in the winter her NYC apartment is so hot! I'm worried that
tenants will suffer with "surcharges" once landlords' feel the pain of their oil bills. How crazy for them to waste all that energy.

Larry: Thank you for your suggestion. I'll spend time at that website and contact the company for more information. One hesitation I have
about a wood fired boiler system is that I want something that I can easily do when I am 80 or 90.

Sean: Yes, I like the cozies! Last winter in fact I did close off part of the house and that did help. And I always wear lovely wool slippers and sweaters. I am content with the
heat at around 62F. I love your generosity with your Cub Scount idea. Go for it!

Randy: Thank you for reminding me about a home energy audit! What an important step. I came across this inspring blog about
how an energy audit helped jumpstart a 311% savings in heating.