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Questions to Consider When Deciding How to Heat Your Home

burn-163844_640How you decide to heat your home shouldn't just depend on the cost of fuel and installation.  Other important aspects to consider are convenience, safety, efficiency, the structure of your home, and how you want it to look, feel, and operate.  In the end, the right decision can save you money and make your life easier.

Before you Decide: Questions to Ask Yourself

Your Home

  • How long do you plan to own your current home?
  • Are you planning to build a new home and install a system that can be built into the plans, or are you planning to retrofit your current home to accommodate a change in heating fuels or methods?
  • Will you be using a current heat source?
  • Do you occupy your home all winter or travel south?
  • How was your home built and what is it made of?  Also, consider how big it is (in square feet), how it's insulated, the height of the ceilings, and the types of floorings, windows, and doors.  These factors affect the amount of room you want the heating system to use and the rate of heat loss within your home.
  • How warm do you want to keep your home?  Many people consider 68 degrees Fahrenheit an ideal temperature.
  • How will the system affect your home's resale value?

Your Lifestyle

  • Do you like a passive or a forced air heating system?
  • How important is the look, including vents and chimneys, and the sound of the heating system to you?
  • Do you want your heating to be automatic, or do you like to adjust and/or feed it?
  • Which economic or environmental values are important to you and your family?
  • Is how the current system or another system affects the environment important to you?
  • What are the physical capabilities and time availabilities of the people living with you?


  • How important is the time and effort involved in maintaining a heating system?  For example, the need to refill tanks manually can take more time compared to electric heating, which is automatic.
  • Does your current heating system need a lot of maintenance?
  • How much maintenance will it need in the future?
  • Are service and repair people readily available?
  • If the heating system fails in the middle of the night, how do you plan to repair it?


  • How safe is your heating system?  Certain forms of heat are more dangerous than others; burning wood is statistically more harmful in terms of house fires.  Wood and any fossil fuel heating system can malfunction and produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, as can unvented burners, fireplaces, and space heaters.
  • Will the need to allow for more safety affect your overall costs?  In some cases, with wood heating, your home insurance options can be limited or insurance can cost more.

Operating Costs

  • How much does your present heating system really cost to operate?

If you're not sure, The Maine Governor's Energy Office's Home Heating Calculator can help you estimate the cost of fuel for different heating appliances in an average well-insulated home (1500 square feet).  For instance, a house that size would need about 540 gallons of fuel oil per year (or about 50,000 British Thermal Units [BTU]).

You can also download an Excel spreadsheet for more detailed calculations, based on an average price of fuel, the efficiency of the heat source, the amount of heat it produces, and other factors.

For example, No. 2 heating oil at an average price of $3.66 per gallon, with a furnace or boiler that is 78% efficient and produces 108,178 BTUs, is estimated to cost $3,281.80 to heat an average Maine home yearly.

  • What is the cost to install and run a different heating system?
  • How much capital do you have to install the system or make changes?
  • Are tax credits available for installing a new system or upgrading?
  • What are you willing to do to reduce the operating costs of your current home heating system?

Energy Auditing

An energy audit is an important step in determining which form of heating is best for your home and in reducing your overall energy costs.  It can reveal where you lose heat the most and the places that should be insulated.  Factors to consider:

  • Where are your greatest energy losses?
  • How long will it take for an investment in energy efficiency to pay for itself in energy cost savings?
  • Do the energy saving measures provide additional benefits that are important to you -- for example, increased comfort from installing double-paned, efficient windows?
  • Can you do the job yourself or do you need a contractor?
  • What is your budget?
  • How much time do you have for maintenance and repairs?

For more information on how to do your own audit, visit The U.S. Department of Energy's home energy tips Web page.

An alternative to doing your own energy assessment is to get advice from your fuel utility or an independent energy auditor.

A professional energy auditor uses special test equipment to find air leaks, areas without insulation, and malfunctioning equipment. The auditor analyzes how well your home's energy systems work together, and compares the analysis to your utility bills. After gathering information about your home, the auditor will recommend cost-effective energy improvements that enhance comfort and safety. Some will also estimate how soon your investment in efficiency upgrades will pay off.

The state-funded program Efficiency Maine promotes cost-effective and efficient energy use.  For more information about loans for energy upgrades, incentives for weatherization, and federal tax credits Efficiency Maine offers through their Home Energy Savings program, visit their website.

The State of Maine offers low-income homeowners and renters The Central Heating Improvement Program (CHIP) and weatherization programs, heating, and electricity assistance through The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  Contact your local Community Action Program (CAP) for more information.


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