Mark Skaer

Should this winter turn bitter cold you can bet your bottom dollar that winter heating costs will rise in 2007-08.

If you are to believe USA Today, consumers will likely pay record prices to heat their homes this winter, with a particularly big jump expected in heating oil bills. According to a group of state energy aid officials, otherwise known as the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), the average U.S. household will pay $992 in heating costs this winter, up $94, or 10.5 percent from last winter.

In this same NEADA report issued in late September, it noted this increase might be particularly dramatic. The average U.S. heating oil bill is expected to be a record $1,834 for the winter, up 28 percent from a year ago, and double the cost seen four winters ago. Average prices are expected to top $3 a gallon, up from $2.48 last winter.

As stated in USA Today, the sharp, expected increases are attributed to elevated crude oil prices and low inventories. It noted that 8 percent of U.S. homes use heating oil, mainly in the Northeast. “Everything points to a tough couple of months,” NEADA executive director Mark Wolfe told the newspaper. “(Some) people who could afford last year’s prices, can’t afford this year’s.”

According to the USA Today article authored by Barbara Hagenbaugh, natural gas customers are expected to see their tab rise nearly $50 this winter to $881, a 5 percent increase. It noted that more than one-half of U.S. homes are heated with natural gas. And, according to NEADA, electricity customers will likely see a 7 percent increase in their heating bill to a record $883.

EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE TECHNOLOGY

Of course, with all of this less-than-jubilant cold news, contractors can supply hot solutions for homeowners and customers over the next 90-or-more days. Opportunities exist to upgrade, improve on energy consumption, and so much more.

Don’t be surprised if your customers inquire about ground source heat pumps, either. Based on a recent conversation at the Skaer family’s Thanksgiving dinner, it appears the general public is becoming more and more educated concerning air source heat pumps and geothermal heat pumps. (After all, if my brother-in-law makes more than a few coherent and true observations on the subject before throwing a mound of turkey and gravy into his mouth, it tells me the technology is catching on and practically becoming mainstream.)

The sad fact is rates have doubled and almost tripled in some areas in the past decade for natural gas and propane, but electricity has remained fairly constant. Electric fluctuations and/or increases often are outweighed by rebates or reduced electric rates.

Still, recent fuel rates have increased demand and forced people to become more educated on energy efficiency - and this includes geothermal. As contractors should know, the geothermal heat pump, also known as the ground source heat pump, is highly efficient and an energy choice that is gaining wide acceptance for both residential and commercial buildings. Its great advantage is that it works by concentrating naturally existing heat, rather than producing heat through combustion of fossil fuels.

With green being in, one could argue that geothermal heat pumps will become the rage. Makers of the systems will argue for the cause, of course, as well as for their products, equipment, and accessories. After all, it is rather difficult going against a system that can transfer heat stored in the Earth or in ground water into a building during the winter, and can transfer it out of the building and back into the ground during the summer.

Of course, those who oppose this system point to the upfront costs. At an industry conference, John Herbert, a sales engineer and territory manager for Hydro Delta Corp., noted that the high-end equipment may cost between $1,500 to $1,900 per ton, while loop installations may cost as much as $3,000 per ton. Typically, he said, installation cost may be $10,000 to $15,000 more to go with geothermal than high-end conventional systems.

Having said that, makers of these systems can show that geothermal is less costly in the long run.

In the big picture, if you have not approached this technology for whatever reason, it is now worth your business to examine it.

For more information regarding the subject, visit the International Ground Source Heat Pump Consortium (IGSPC), www.igshpa.okstate.edu.

Publication date: 12/17/2007