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How Much Does it Really Cost to Heat Your House?

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Come on, let’s compare apples to apples! When Tom Typical* tells me it costs him $3,000 to heat his house, he’s talking oranges! The $3,000 is what he paid to the local oil company to deliver the heating oil. It doesn’t include the other yearly costs directly associated with heating – the cost to clean his boiler, to replace filters, the other heating costs, and let’s not forget what it will one day cost him to replace that old boiler!

One of the beauties of passive solar heat is the operating costs are darn near zero ($0)! That’s right, heat from the sun costs nothing. The sun has never sent a bill and never will!

Sure it costs more to build a house that uses the sun, but not so much more. And, when you compare solar to the true cost to heat with fossil fuel the “payback” is shorter than you might think. Let’s use Tom Typical* as an example:

  1. Yes, the 755 gallons of heating oil he bought cost about $4 a gallon, or $3,020. But that is just the beginning of the true yearly cost.  Oil distributors report that the average sale is 1000 gal in upstate NY.
  2. He also paid for other heat, but didn’t think about it. He burned about a half cord of wood – figure $125. Plus, all the electric consumed in the house gives off heat. Typically close to 80% of the electric energy is converted to heat that helps keep you warm in the winter and makes you uncomfortable during the rest of the year. So, let’s say Tom is pretty typical in this regard and uses 8,000 kWh a year or 6,750 kWh during the heating season. At 80% for heat and $0.161/kWh, this is another $864. So, other heat is costing Tom $989!
    Big brown house
  3. Cleaning and maintaining the oil boiler costs money. Last year Tom spent $199 to get a good cleaning and replace his oil filter.
  4. Not only Tom, but a lot of people don’t think about the space that oil boiler and tank are taking up. In Tom’s case, this is conditioned space that could be used for something else if he didn’t need to heat his house with the device. To estimate the cost of that space, take the square feet of the house and divide by the annual maintenance costs and taxes (not heating and electric – we already have these cost figured). Tom has kept records for the roofing, painting and other major repairs over the years, plus his fire insurance and taxes; he estimates these costs to be about $7,500 per year. So, the 31 square feet the boiler and tank take up cost Tom another $93 a year.
  5. Another big cost often overlooked is the cost to replace that boiler. A good, energy efficient boiler today will run you about $8,000 installed and probably last another 25 years. That is another $320 yearly

    Note: forced hot air furnaces are lucky to last 15 years today, with their thinner metal and smaller tubing. This is due to the large temperature difference between the furnace side and the house side in the heat exchanger and all the expansion and contraction that goes on throughout the course of a heating season. Boilers, with water on the house side suffer less from this problem and therefore typically last longer.
  6. Add up the various cost components and you get an eye-popping $4,621 or 153% what Tom thought he was paying.

My point: Most people think of just the fuel bill when asked how much it costs to heat their home. As you can see it costs considerable more. Take a minute and calculate your true cost to heat – get a worksheet in RESOURCES below. Solar is looking better all the time!

Download a .pdf Worksheet to calculate your real cost of home heating.

* Tom Typical has the typical 2500 square foot house that is fairly well insulated (HHI = 7) and heats with oil that cost in the neighborhood of $4 a gallon and is heading North!   

Bruce Brownell has been designing and building energy efficient, passive solar homes for over forty years as Adirondack Alternative Energy Homes. This cost consideration was presented to hundreds during the 70’s with the first energy crisis.  Contact him at (518) 863-4338. See his website:


.pdf Document:   Heating Cost Worksheet

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