What Does It Cost To Run A Home-Heat

Cost To Run A Home

What Does It Cost To Run A Home-Heat

What Does It Cost To Run A Home


There are so many ways to heat a home today, from hot water to electric.  Let me take you through them all to give you a better understanding.

Zones – A zone is a part of the home that is controlled by a thermostat that controls the amount of heat to that part of the home.  The more zones the more control you have over the heating in the home.  A great home for heat efficiency will have a zone in the master bedroom, 1 in the living room area and typically include the kitchen and dining room.  One in the bedrooms upstairs, 1 in the basement, and sometimes 1 in the garage.  The more zones the more expensive the system is to install but the more you save down the road in fuel costs.  For example: You only sleep in the master bedroom from 10:00pm to 7:00am and you like to sleep at 70 degrees.  So you set the thermostat to 70 degrees for the time from 10:00pm to 7:00am and the rest of the time you set it at 62 degrees.  If you work during the day then set the home at 62 from 8:00am to 4:00pm and then when you get home at 5:00pm the home will be warm for you.  If you have kids coming home at 3:00pm then move the heat to start at 2:00 so the home is warm for them.  Follow this logic around the home and you can save hundreds of dollars over the year.  Believe me if you plan on staying in the home for many years the savings will be much more then the increased cost of the installation.  Plus your home’s value will be higher with the extra zones.

To get heat into a home you need a fuel, the most common are heating oil, natural gas, propane, wood, and electricity.


OLD Standard Oil Fired Boiler                    NEWER Style Oil Fired Boiler

Oil is a very common way to heat your house.  Basically home heating oil is the same as diesel fuel, the only real difference is that diesel you purchase from the pump has a die in it to make it colored so if you get caught with home heating oil/non marked diesel in your vehicle, you could be in for a hard time from the state.  Plus diesel in the winter time has an additive in it to help stop it from freezing.  So if you run out of home heating oil, and you cannot get the oil person to come out right away, get a 5 gallon gas can, make sure it is empty, go to the gas station and get 5 gallons of diesel and put it in your home heating oil tank.  Then you need to purge the oil lines on the burner motor and you are up and running.

For companies that sell home heating oil, the largest selling feature is it is Safe and you have many choices of companies that sell home heating oil.  This is true, you will never hear of a house blowing up from an oil spill.  Oil fuel is so safe, that it is hard to set on fire, and no spark will ignite it!  What they do not tell you is that oil when burned is about 80% efficient – depending on your boiler.  So for oil and gas to be the same value you would have to use up 20% more oil to get the same as gas.  Plus an oil fired furnace (called a boiler) should be cleaned every year.  This typically ads a cost of about $400 per year to your bill to heat your home.


One thing to consider is that you must always check your gauge on the oil tank, just like your car, unless you are on auto fill from your oil company.  Oil tanks come in two types, the old standard steel 250 gallon tanks, and the new dual wall modern tanks.  The old tanks today only come with a 3 year warranty, the new tanks come with a life-time warranty.  Yes the new tanks are more money but much safer and will last a long time.

Oil can run your boiler/furnace and hot water heater but not much else.

The price argument about oil being cheaper than gas, is very hard to make.  The problem is that when oil is down around $2 per gallon, a good argument is made that yes oil is cheaper, but as the price of crude oil jumps up, and it can drastically, this causes the price of oil to jump up.  Gas companies are much slower to respond, they can take months or a year to change the price either up or down.

Natural Gas – this is a good choice for many people, but you must have natural gas on the street to get it in your home.  Natural gas comes from the large unity companies (National Grid, Unitil, etc.) and sometimes this is the same company that provides your electricity.  Natural gas can run your heat, dryer, stove, oven, hot water tank, gas grill, fire pit, lanterns, etc. 

You can convert many boilers over to natural gas, in a lot of cases the cost is about $2000.  This is something that the gas company might do for very little money or hire an independent HVAC person to do the conversation.

Propane - If you are in an area that does not have natural gas then you can choose to use Propane.  The same devices in your home that can run on natural gas can also use propane.  The only modification you must do is change over the gas flow control as propane is under much more pressure then natural gas.  These change over kits are not expensive, but most of the time require a professional to install them. 

A warning here, Natural Gas and Propane are very dangerous, do not attempt to work with any devices or appliances that use either of these gases or touch the gas lines as, this could cause a leak and this is how a home blows up!

Here is something that you might not know, when you order propane for your home or business this requires a tank.  Typically tanks are sized for the building.  These days most of them are under ground with the lines running under ground to the building.  Most tanks cost about $2500 installed but if you do not pay for the tank at the time of installation then you will be paying a more per gallon for your propane.  When I moved into our new home, the cost of propane was $3.10 per gallon, when I went on-line to check other prices I got prices of $1.58 per gallon.  WOW was I upset.  I found out that the difference was the price of the tank. So I asked the natural logical question “when I pay off the tank with the extra money I am being charged, will the price of my propane go down” and the answer was NO!  So basically after I have paid for the tank I will be paying 70% more for my home heating then the person that paid for the tank upfront. Plus, I am locked into this propane company for ever.  NOT COOL!

The price per gallon you get for propane is based on the usage.  Do not be shy to call the company and tell them what you are using.  I have my garage, BBQ grille, fire pit, and other devices connected so I get the best rate as I use a lot of propane. 

One more good bit is news, because I am using propane (or natural gas) I do not have to pay every year to have my boiler cleaned.  These gases burn at 99%+ efficiency. You should clean your gas fired boiler ever 4-5 years, as dust and dirt can collect in the unit.


Wood stoves – are very popular in homes that have access to wood.  Wood stoves are a lot of work to keep running, as wood is dirty, heavy and you need a lot of it to heat a home.  You can spend a good part of the summer and fall cutting and chopping wood to heat your home over the winter.  You can also purchase wood, it is sold by the cord.  A cord of wood is a stack of wood that is 4’ x 4’ x 8’ in size.  Now most of the people that deliver split wood to burn just put it in a dump truck and call it a cord, so you are not assured of getting more or less than a cord of wood.  Plus if you want dried wood, that is a season old, or green wood that is freshly cut.  Dried wood is always BEST.

A cord of mixed hardwood, when burned, produces approximately 19 million BTUs of heat. It takes 135-140 gallons of #2 home heating oil to equal that amount of heat. A cord of firewood in this area costs approximately $250-$300 and #2 fuel oil fluctuates.  Oil prices would have to be at $1.85-$2.22 per gallon to equal the value of wood, but there is no labor involved in home heating oil.


Pellet Stoves - are great and clean and easy to run.  You buy bags of pellets, typically each bag is 40 lbs.  You get 50 bags on a 1 ton pallet.  Most stores that sell pellets sell them by the ton, and they are much less money by the ton.  Most of them deliver.

The cost of a ton of pellets is almost the same as a cord of wood but pellets offer 12% less volume then a cord of wood.  As a result to justify a pellet stove – assuming you already own the stove – home heating oil would have to be at $2.07-$2.50 to equal the cost of pellets. 

Keep in mind – using a pellet stove, or a wood stove, or a oil boiler/furnace, it all depends on the quality of the unit, the efficiency of the unit and how clean you keep it.

Oil in general is 80% efficient in boilers/furnace but some of the newer ones claim 90%.  Natural gas and Propane is at 78-89% efficient (most units today run at 98%).  Wood stoves are typically at 50-70%, and pellet stoves are at 79-83%.

Electric Heat - this was covered in the section called Electricity but lets just say this is a very expensive way to heat a home.

Now that you have a better understanding as to how the heat is created, now let me take you through how the heat is transferred to the different parts of the home.

The most popular is hot water or electric via baseboard heat or radiant heat in the floor (most radiant systems are water but some are electric).  The next is forced hot air from ducts through the house.  This is where you see holes in the floor and ceiling that are covered by vents covers.  Some vents feed the rooms with heat and the others take the air back down to the heating unit to recycle the air.  With a forced air system you can, in many cases, add A/C to the system.  With hot water baseboard/radiant, you cannot. 


Hot Water Heat – Most homes use hot water to heat the home and all baseboard units that are not electric use hot water to distribute the heat around the rooms and the home.  Somewhere in the home is a unit that heats the water up and a circulator motor moves the hot water to different parts of the home.  1 circulator motor per zone.  Today many new homes are having tank-less on demand heating systems that heat the hot water as you need it.  Most of these systems use natural gas or propane to make the heat as they are very efficient and the units are about the size of one kitchen cabinet.  Older homes and homes that use oil to make the heat use a boiler (what some people call a furnace).  The boiler is a unit, typically found in the basement and it has a motor on the front that ignites oil mixed with air that is shot into a chamber that takes the fire and heats up chambers full of water.  As the thermostats call for heat, the circulators turn on and pulls the hot water from the boiler, the boiler sensor detects the water temperature dropping and starts up the blower motor.  

A boiler can also feed a hydronic system that sends hot air through the home.  These are the preferred system in most homes today.  The home will have a unit called an air-handler typically found in the basement and one in the attic.  The water lines are fed to the air-handler and as the thermostats call for heat the circulator sends hot water through the lines to the air-handler, a fan in the air-handler kicks on to force the air in the house through a unit inside the air-handler that looks like a car radiator.  In-fact the unit basically is a radiator but in reverse.  This system is chosen for most homes because it does not dry out the air, and allows for central AC in the home.

The furnace is a unit that heats air and then send the hot air through the home.  A furnace can use oil, natural gas, propane, wood, coal, corn, pellets, etc. to heat the air.  These systems are not as popular in new homes today because they do not allow for an AC unit to be attached to them for central air, and they dry out the air in the home more than the hydronic systems.\

Heat Pump - In the BLOG called AC, I will review Heat Pumps as they are almost always part of a HVAC (Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning) system.

We hope you have enjoyed this BLOG, please keep coming back for more helpful information.

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