In an annual contest of Yankee fortitude, Mainers see how long they can hold out before turning on the heat. A great many of us have already conceded defeat this season. Our toes were cold.
Just how we warm our appendages varies, but three-fifths of Maine households use oil as their primary heating source. That’s more than any other state. And no matter the source, fuel costs are expected to go up this winter. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Winter Fuels Outlook anticipates the following average increases in household heating costs: 30 percent for natural gas, 6 percent for electricity, 54 percent for propane and 43 percent for heating oil. The forecast for some fuels varies regionally. Consumption will vary depending on the severity of winter temps. Heating oil is expected to average $3.39 per gallon compared to $2.55 last winter.
Staying warm is a financial struggle for many Mainers. Last fall, applications increased twofold locally for the Home Energy Assistance Program, federal fuel assistance administered in this region by Downeast Community Partners (DCP). In addition, DCP, which serves Hancock and Washington counties, saw a 50 percent increase in applicants for The Heating and Warmth (THAW) fund. The nonprofit created the fund to assist those who may not qualify for federal programs, such as HEAP, but still need help.
To reduce business and homeowner costs as well as fossil fuel dependence, the state has been promoting and incentivizing the installation of electric heat pumps for years. Last month, Governor Janet Mills reported 28,000 of the pumps were installed in Maine buildings over the past year. The state has a goal of 100,000 new installs by 2025.
Heat can go right out the window in buildings that are not properly weatherized. Roughly 25 percent of Maine’s housing stock was built before 1940, but homes of all ages could benefit from some buttoning up. The Energy Saver page on energy.gov has a handy guide for do-it-yourselfers where homeowners can find instructions on sealing air leaks and insulating pipes.
The recently announced Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan will earmark $25 million in federal funds to weatherize more than 3,500 low- to moderate-income households in Maine. Rebates through Efficiency Maine will help with the cost of weatherstripping doors and windows and insulating attics and basements.
For both safety and savings, homeowners should be familiar with their heating equipment and how to maintain it properly. All function differently. For instance, it pays to turn the heat down when you use an oil furnace but with a heat pump, maintaining a stable temperature is more efficient.
Winter will be here before we know it. Best to be prepared.