12.8.14

Tips for Buying Home Heating Oil

Google is my friend. Whenever I start writing a blog post, like this one, inspired by my mom (HI MOM!), I always start by doing a Google search on the topic. It’s just a good research practice—to see what else has been written on a topic you’re writing about. A topic like, for example, heating oil.

Normally the results are fairly straight forward. There will be articles and blogs on the topic at hand, some credible, some not-so credible. That’s why the Google results for this particular search, “tips for buying home heating oil,” surprised me.

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On the first page of results there are official government tips from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York (I’m sure that this is Google pulling data from my location) as well as consumer protection agencies offering advice. Who knew home heating oil was such a serious, potentially contentious issue? (Full disclosure, probably everyone who owns a home, and me, the renter, was the only one in the dark.) In any case, I was shocked by what these search results implied. To me they screamed “hey consumer! You’re going to be ripped off here, make sure you’re ready.”

Maybe that’s a bit extreme. But in any case, it intrigued me. I’m not an investigative reporter, and I won’t pretend to be a home heating oil expert (clearly), but just that simple Google search made me interested to learn more. Here’s what I found.

  1. As part of your home winterization process, you should consider doing an energy audit. A professional will visit your home, and go room-by-room to assess your home’s energy use. Many will also go through historical energy bills, to determine what you can do to increase your home’s efficiency. The United States Department of Energy suggests this site to find an energy audit professional in your area.
  2. Before purchasing oil, schedule a tune-up on your furnace or boiler. This can help reduce the amount of oil you’ll waste. Also, if your furnace or boiler is over 20 years old, consider replacing it with a newer, energy-efficient unit.
  3. Know the capacity of your tank, and try to determine how much oil you’ve used in past years—this will help you figure out how much oil you’ll need to make it through the winter. You definitely don’t want to over-buy or be left with no oil on a freezing day.
  4. Check your state’s Department of Consumer Protection or Energy & Environmental Protection to see rates for home heating oil in your area. These are typically updated regularly throughout the season, and will help you recognize what you should be paying for heating oil.
  5. Make sure the dealer you select is registered with the state Department of Consumer Protection, as required by law. Check your state’s Consumer Protection Agency website for details.
  6. Know your options. When buying home heating oil you typically have three options: market price, fixed price and capped price.
    • Market price means you’ll pay whatever the price of oil is on the day of your delivery, with no contract.
    • Fixed price is contractual, and locks you in at the current rate for the year—meaning you’re price won’t go up, but it also won’t go down.
    • Capped price is also contractual, and sets a rate your price can’t go past, but allows for your rate to go down with the market prices.
  7. Look into an oil-buying cooperative. Oil co-ops connect local buyers in an area to negotiate discounts on home heating oil. Participating oil dealers benefit by receiving a high volume of guaranteed, repeat business and then in turn are able to significantly reduce their profit margins from those charged to the general public.
  8. Also look into heating assistance programs. There are local, state and federal government heating assistance programs available for homeowners who meet certain criteria; i.e., low income, the elderly or disabled. To find out if you’re eligible, go to the “Benefits Finder,” http://www.benefits.gov/.

What are your best tips and tricks for ensuring that you get the best price for home heating oil?

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