It's July and we're celebrating last winter's heating season. Why? Because we just got our final delivery of heating oil and we learned that for the winter of 2008-2009 we used 53 gallons less than last year! And to make victory even sweeter, this winter was about 8 percent colder than the previous one.
We're very pleased with our conservation efforts! We've been on a nine-year quest to lower our heating-oil usage, and through a variety of techniques—some expensive and some less so, we've cut our consumption of the fuel by more than half.
Get a load of these numbers: In the winter of 2000-2001 we used 1,500 gallons of heating oil. This past winter we used 667. How did we manage to get our oil consumption so low? Let's take a quick walk down memory lane.
This was our first full winter in our house, built in 1924. Our old asbestos-covered coal boiler, converted to oil probably back in the early 1950s, was still in our basement. We had a 1950s mechanical thermostat on the wall that took numerous tries before it would successfully kick-start old “Frosty” in the basement. Total oil consumption: 1,500 gallons. Total heating-oil cost at an average price of $1.54 a gallon was $2,300. Just think. At last the approximately $3.50 we paid in the winter of 2007-2008, our heating bill would have been more than $5,500!
We didn't keep very good records for the next few years, but our total usage was down to 1,040 gallons. In my notes I had a notation that it was a warm winter. I also recall trying to keep the house temperature cooler.
A big new development: We got a new oil burning furnace. The workmen finished the installation a day before we needed to turn the heat on in October, so we got a full winter's benefit from the new unit. Oil used: 937 gallons. Again, not much detail except for a notation that it was a chilly winter. But still, that's a lot of oil for a new unit. A clue: We noticed that our new furnace needed multiple tries—maybe as many as 10—to get up and running. See next year below.
It might have been a good time to consider switching from oil to gas, but oil prices were much lower than they were today, so we decided to keep using the same fuel. If we had switched, it would have taken many years to pay off the investment. See this link.
Eureka! My husband decides we have a faulty thermostat. Remember I said it was an old mechanical one? A spring thermometer pushed together, or separated, two electrical contacts that would control the power to the furnace, depending on the temperature set. The thermostat was so old, the contacts weren't seating properly.
We had our heating-oil distributor install a new thermostat, and we went one step better. We bought a programmable model so that it would automatically turn down the heat at night. Oil used: 858 gallons, and I had a notation that this was the 11th coldest winter on record. Now we're getting somewhere.
Not much going on this winter. Oil used: 868 gallons. Have we found the new minimum level for our oil consumption? Read on.
No new heat-saving tricks. But we had the warmest January on record. Oil usage: 741 gallons.
Oh oh. A retreat. Oil usage is 824 gallons. But at least now we're keeping better records. While this winter was 6.8 percent warmer than normal, it was 5.8 percent colder than last year. So we don't feel so bad about using more.
A 100-gallon savings this winter. Total usage was 720 gallons. The winter was 1.4 percent warmer than last year and 7.3 percent warmer than normal. But the biggest benefit came by shutting off the radiator in a spare second-floor bedroom and closing the door. We also covered an especially leaky window in our family room with that plastic window wrap that stretches tight when you apply heat from a hair dryer. That cut down on a lot of draft.
Eureka! We broke below 700 gallons for the first time, burning only 667 gallons this winter. Our main investment was to have professionally installed weatherstripping around our front door and the door that leads to our back porch.
What a difference that made in our comfort level! Before, you could see daylight around some parts of the edge of the front door, and the bottom our our porch door had no seal at all. See this link for more on how we had this done. After the installation, we felt no draft whatsoever, and we can only imagine how much heat we lost around these poorly sealed doors.
We're hoping to use even less heating oil this coming winter. In May we had our attic area insulated. See this link for stories about our insulation project. The owner of the insulation company said we may see a 20% reduction in our consumption because of the insulation. We'll have to see!
Through a variety of lifestyle changes, equipment upgrades and weather-repelling actions we've managed a 56 percent reduction in the amount of heating oil we're using, and we hope to keep the reductions coming.
Have you tried cutting your heating costs? Please comment below on what you've tried and what kind of result you've had!