Finding Areas in Need of Improvement

home insulation maineWith energy prices so high and inflation rates draining cash from our pockets every day, most Mainers want to save money at home wherever they can.

Here’s an idea: concentrate on air sealing and insulating your home right now. The EPA estimates that homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs by air sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces, and accessible basement rim joists. Read more.

Let’s focus on insulation. Did you know that most homes are under-insulated? Adding enough to meet recommended R-values is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve your home’s overall efficiency and comfort. You can take a deeper dive into insulation techniques here.

To get started, here are some tips to help make sure your home is adequately insulated.

Foundations

Besides reducing energy costs, a properly insulated foundation will keep below-grade rooms more comfortable and prevent moisture problems, insect infestation, and radon infiltration.

Attics

Loose-fill or batt insulation is typically installed in an attic. Loose-fill insulation is usually less expensive to install than batt insulation and provides better coverage when installed properly.

Ductwork

If the ducts in your home are in an unheated or non-air-conditioned space, be sure that they are well sealed and insulated. Have the condition of your ductwork checked periodically so you can head off energy waste.

Cathedral Ceilings

Properly insulating your cathedral ceilings will allow ceiling temperatures to remain closer to room temperatures, providing an even distribution throughout your house.

Cathedral ceilings must provide space between the roof deck and home’s ceiling for adequate insulation and ventilation. This can be achieved through the use of truss joists, scissor truss framing or sufficiently large rafters.

Basements

It’s always a good idea to insulate part, if not all, of your basement. A properly insulated basement can save you money on energy and provide dry, comfortable extra living space. You should install insulation in the basement ceiling, sealing off any foundation leaks, insulating rim joists and sill plates, which are major sources of heat loss in many homes.

Additionally, you should seal around electrical outlets and any exterior venting to eliminate drafts and cold spots. If you are considering finishing your basement to create extra livable space, be sure to insulate the walls and the floor for extra comfort.

Garages

When you’re insulating floors above unheated or uncooled garages, all possible sources of air leakage should be sealed first. This has the added benefit of minimizing the danger of contaminants (from car exhaust, paint, solvents, gardening supplies, etc.) in the garage migrating into the conditioned space.

We hope the above suggestions are useful in maintaining an affordable higher level of comfort in your home. Please visit this page to read more energy-saving money tips.

Little Changes Can Add Up to Surprising Savings

save energy maineBetween high inflation and skyrocketing energy prices, just about everyone is looking for ways to save money. With heating and cooling comprising a big chunk of your total home energy expenses, it makes sense to take some steps so you can conserve on air conditioning now, and then on heat later in the fall.

First and foremost, the key to saving energy and money is improving efficiency at home! And when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of your heating system, one of the best things you can do is schedule an annual heating system maintenance service (also known as a tune-up) with your equipment service provider.

Not only will this ensure that your heating system is running properly, but this preventive maintenance will also ensure that the system is operating at peak efficiency which helps you use less fuel to keep warm. Take the same approach with your air conditioning system. The more efficient it is, the lower your electric bills will be.

5 Tips for Saving Money on Heating and Cooling

  1. Check the air filter on your heating and cooling system on a regular basis. Be sure to change it if you see that it’s necessary to do so. Talk to your equipment service provider if you need assistance on deciding whether you need a new filter. Your technician can also talk you through the steps of replacing, or in some cases, cleaning the filter.
  2. Look to your windows. Lock the hot air out and hold the cool air in this summer by sealing windows. You’ll save money in the long run with this step, which you can accomplish with caulk for nonmoving parts and weatherstripping for moveable joints.

    During the cold months, keep curtains and shades open in sun-exposed rooms to absorb all that free heat and solar energy during the day, then close them at night to keep it in at night. Do the reverse in the summer by closing curtains and shades during the day to block solar heat. Smart window treatments can help manage solar energy throughout the year.

  3. If you’re looking for an all-weather, year-round solution, install a smart programmable thermostat. Whether you’re away or just sleeping through the night, one of these devices will help you conserve energy and save on your bills. In fact, a smart programmable thermostat can cut up to 10% from your annual energy usage!

    In the spring and summer, the U.S. Energy Department recommends setting your central air conditioning system to 78°F when you’re at home. Program your A/C system to shut off 20-30 minutes before you leave home each day; return the temperature setting to normal comfort levels 20 to 30 minutes before you come home.

    In the winter, the optimal setting is 68°F when you’re at home. Dial it down toward the 60°F range when you’re asleep or out of the house. The temperatures you ultimately choose will depend on factors like the outdoor temperature and your family’s comfort preferences. Remember, these are just guidelines.

  4. Clear away any unnecessary items in front of your baseboards or vents. Whether there are pieces of furniture in the way, a thick rug, or assorted kids’ shoes and toys on the floor, you’ll want this area to be clear in order to make the most of your home’s energy usage. Finally, for safety’s sake, keep the area around your heating system as clean and clutter-free as possible. Never store anything flammable near your system. You’ll also want to keep the outdoor A/C unit clear of any obstruction so its efficiency is not compromised.
  5. Install ceiling fans. Ceiling fans work for your home throughout the year. The circulating air helps keep you and your home cool in the summer. In the winter, reversing the direction of the blades will push down warm air that’s trapped near the ceiling. That helps you use less heat while still keeping your home warm.

You can positively impact your home’s energy efficiency in the biggest way through upgrades to equipment like heating oil boilers and heating oil furnaces. You can read more about this here.

Read more energy-saving tips.

Understanding the Energy Markets and Price Fluctuations

fuel prices maineWhile dealing with higher propane and heating oil prices can be frustrating and downright painful at times, try to take comfort in the fact that propane and heating oil both represent highly efficient and safe ways to heat your home and water—while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

Plus, historical trends have shown us that when it comes to prices, what goes up must come down. It’s just a matter of when. For all of us, the feeling is, the sooner the better.

Global Conflicts and Natural Disasters

When war, political strife, conflict, or natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes occur in other regions of the world, this can impact crude oil and natural gas prices. Since propane is a by-product of both crude oil and natural gas, rising prices for these fuels have a ripple effect on propane.

Before the start of the war in Ukraine in late February, energy prices have been rising in anticipation of the potential sanctions that could be levied on the Russian energy sector if the country went ahead and invaded Ukraine.

Russia carries clout because it is the third-largest petroleum and liquid fuels producer in the world, behind only the United States and Saudi Arabia. It’s a major exporter of both crude oil and natural gas.

Even the hint of a possible disruption in energy supply will heavily influence the buying and selling done by commodities traders. In the frenzied world of investment, this is known as the fear factor.

When Russia eventually invaded Ukraine, and the U.S. placed a ban on Russian imported oil and petroleum products–with other countries expected to follow–that meant there would be a big energy void to fill. Those who make their living in the oil markets don’t like that uncertainty. This includes the speculators who are betting on price moves as well as the hedgers, who are limiting risk for their clients who are involved with either the production or consumption of oil.

Other Recent Factors Affecting Prices

Long-time factors that have always influenced where prices go include the balance between supply and demand. Weather extremes also play a role. If a reduction in supply occurs during a time of high demand, such as the colder months, a scarcer market develops. When a cold snap is especially extreme or lasts longer than usual, this scarcity gets further compounded. People may start to panic buy similar to what we saw at the start of the pandemic with the toilet paper shortage.

More recently, these issues have also come into play:

  • the actual cost of delivering fuel has risen.
  • new expenses have occurred because of COVID-19 related workforce issues.
  • supply chain problems have caused shortages, resulting in shipment delays and inflated prices for supplies, parts, tanks, and other materials.

What Comes Next with Oil and Propane Prices?

We don’t know where things will go from here, but if history is a guide, we can expect to see prices drop pretty significantly in the not-too-distant future. If you would like to read the U.S. Department of Energy’s short-term energy outlook, please go here.

Nothing will make your local Maine heating oil or propane company happier than when prices return to normal.  Until then, trust your heating fuel supplier to look out for you and let’s hope that—regardless of what happens with energy prices—we will soon be living in a more peaceful world.

Green Fuel for the Future Sees Local Growth

biodiesel jobs maineMaine is one of the states at the forefront of the growth of biofuels, and Mainers will benefit with jobs as well as cleaner-burning home heating fuels like the Bioheat® fuel.

A great example is Bangor-based Biofine Developments Northeast Inc., which is expected to locate its new multiphase biofuels refinery at a former mill site in Lincoln. The facility should be operational in 2023 and it’s predicted to add 200 full-time jobs.

Biofine will partner with Sprague Resources LP, of Portsmouth, N.H., one of the largest distributors of Bioheat fuel, a mix of traditional heating oil and biofuel.

Biofine will use its technology to convert woody fiber waste from lumber and paper mills into ethyl levulinate, which the company has branded EL100. The goal is to convert 100 tons of wood waste per day, which will result in an estimated three million gallons of ultra-clean heating oil each year.

The company reports that EL100 emits zero greenhouse gas emissions and, like Bioheat fuel, it can be used safely with current home heating oil systems.

This is the latest example of the quest to find more eco-friendly renewable liquid fuels. The continued growth of Bioheat fuel already results in a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions!

A Green Future Powered by Bioheat Fuel

Advanced heating fuels like Bioheat fuel combine ultra-low-sulfur heating oil and biodiesel, composed of organic products like used cooking oil, tallow, fats and wood waste. Produced in the United States, it is one of the cleanest-burning energy sources.

Biofuel, also known as biodiesel, is a gallon-for-gallon substitute for petroleum-based fuels. Widespread regional use of Bioheat fuel annually prevents more than 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of removing 320,000 vehicles from the road.

Plus, homes that heat with energy-efficient Bioheat fuel use less energy overall. Right now, and in the years ahead, you should feel great about heating your Maine home with renewable heating oil!

Biodiesel Production Grows

Today, more than 125 production plants around the country make biodiesel. The United States biodiesel industry produces about three billion gallons of biodiesel now.

Increased production isn’t just about achieving a cleaner environment. It’s about building a stronger economy too. The biodiesel industry supports nearly 60,000 jobs and generates billions of dollars in GDP, household income and tax revenues.

You can read more about Bioheat fuel here.

Look Beyond Your Home Heating System

heating bill savings maineWhen trying to find ways to save money and conserve energy, you should think of your entire Maine home as a system. That system has three main parts:

  1. The building envelope – roof, walls, windows, doors and foundation
  2. The occupants themselves – their energy decisions and overall energy usage.
  3. The mechanical systems – furnace, boiler, water heater, central air unit, etc.

Each component contributes to your home’s energy efficiency and you can make a positive impact on energy usage (and your energy costs) in a number of ways.

Let’s start with the building envelope. Many homes are colder than necessary in the winter due to poor insulation levels. In the average home, about one-third of heat loss occurs through the ceilings, which should have a minimum of six inches of quality thermal insulation to keep heat inside the home, where it belongs. Otherwise, some of your heat will rise through the ceilings into the attic and then seep outside. What a waste of heating energy! Read more about insulation levels.

During the summer months, you could do little things like installing curtains or drapes to block the heat of the warm sun coming through your windows. Or raise your thermostat setting by just one degree. These changes could save you more than you might think! In the winter, take advantage of the sun’s free solar heat by leaving drapes and curtains open during the day.

Take Savings to a Higher Degree

As far as your own energy decisions, investing in a smart programmable thermostat is a wise move. When used correctly, it will pay for itself in just a short time. If you choose a Wi-Fi thermostat, you can control your home’s temperature from your smartphone.

In the spring and summer, the U.S. Energy Department recommends setting your central air conditioning system to 78°F when you’re at home. Program your A/C system to shut off 20-30 minutes before you leave home each day; return the temperature setting to normal comfort levels 20 to 30 minutes before you come home.

In the winter, the optimal setting is 68°F when you’re at home. Dial it down toward the 60°F range when you’re asleep or out of the house. The temperatures you ultimately choose will depend on factors like the outdoor temperature and your family’s comfort preferences. Remember, these are just guidelines. But don’t set your thermostat too low or else you risk frozen pipes.

Read more about energy savings with a programmable thermostat.

To learn about how you can make a positive impact on your home’s energy efficiency through upgrades to mechanical systems like boilers and furnaces, please consult with your heating service contractor.

Smart & Safe Ways to Save Money During Winters in Maine

home energy tips maineEveryone wants to save money on heat, especially when temperatures dive into the single digits and the wind chill factor makes us want to stay under the blankets until spring arrives.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to save money on heating your home, but please do it in a smart way and never takes chances with your safety.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you reduce your risk of frozen pipes, as well as electrical and heating fires.

Don’t Sleep with Your Space Heaters On

In an effort to save money, some people have shut off their furnaces (or turned their thermostat way down) and use electric space heaters in their most commonly used rooms. But doing this vastly increases the chance of frozen pipes. Overusing electric space heaters can also make your utility bill soar.

There is nothing wrong with using a space heater for some extra warmth. But if you do use a portable heater, always turn it off when you leave the room or go to sleep. Always keep pets and children away from space heaters. Be sure you can keep your space heater away from anything flammable!

Never Set Your Thermostat Below 60 Degrees

Setting your thermostat setting too low is another way to raise your risk of frozen pipes. Water pipes near outside walls or in unheated spaces are especially prone to freeze-ups. The risk increases if cracks in your foundation allow cold air to enter. It’s a good idea to set your thermostat a little higher when temperatures get very low.

Don’t Close Your Heating Vents.

Another common mistake is closing the heating vents in seldom-used rooms. The belief is that this will conserve heat and save money but we do not recommend this.

Closing some vents disrupts normal airflow, causing an imbalance that will just make your furnace work harder. Closing vents can also raise the risk of frozen pipes, especially in rooms that tend to be on the cold side anyway.

It’s always better to keep the temperature at a comfortable level throughout your home and program it to energy-saving settings when the house is empty or everyone is asleep.

If you have a zoned system, you can vary the temperature in different rooms, eliminating the temptation of shutting the heat off completely in parts of your home.

Please contact your local Maine heating oil dealer if you would like further advice on smart and safe ways to save money on heating your home.

What Keeps You Warmer?

low carbon home heat maineThere has been a push in recent years to make electricity the default energy choice for everything in our homes. These efforts are based on the inaccurate claim that this all-electrification movement will reduce our carbon footprint. But the fact is, this strategy could have a major negative impact on our homes, our comfort, our planet and our wallets.

On the surface, electricity may seem “cleaner” than propane, but it’s not. Electricity production generates the second-largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly 60% of our electricity is still generated from natural gas-fired and coal-fired power plants.

Propane is by far, the more environmentally-friendly choice because its low-carbon, high-energy output, and versatility make it a perfect fuel for everyone.

Fast Facts from the Propane Education Research Council.

  • The Energy Star program gives propane a source site ratio of 1.01, compared to 3.03 for electricity from the grid. This means it takes 3.03 units of electricity to produce and deliver one unit of energy to a home, compared to only 1.01 for propane
  • Propane is electric grid-free, making it a valuable partner energy source at solar and wind generation facilities when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.
  • Energy should be affordable, so that no one has to go without, but the share of income that low-income households spent on electricity rose by one-third in the last decade.
  • Propane produces 43% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than using an equivalent amount of electricity generated from the U.S. grid.

Learn more about propane and the environment here.

The Problem with Electric Heat Pumps

When it’s really cold, there isn’t generally enough heat energy outside for your heat pump to keep you comfortable. The house just never seems to warm up. If temperatures drop to the single digits, many people complain that they can’t get their home much above 60 degrees. Find out how heat pumps work.

You may end up using all sorts of electric space heaters, which are the most expensive way to generate heat. Or you may also rely on backup electric strips, which are also expensive and often emit a burnt odor; this is caused by dust and other residue that has built up around the strips.

This lack of warmth is a common problem with older heat pumps. Although new technology supposedly has made heat pumps more efficient and better suited to colder climates, it seems as if most consumers are not sold on that yet and don’t want to risk their comfort on electric heat. Plus, heat pump conversions can be very expensive.

Our Aging Power Grid

The electric infrastructure in this country fails us time and time again, causing massive disruption, frustration, and discomfort. Most of today’s grid was built in the years following World War II. But now, it’s reaching capacity and old equipment is failing. Upgrading our electric infrastructure will be a massive—and ultra-expensive– undertaking. The last thing we need right now is for the electric grid to be strained by an enormous new demand—by electric cars, all-electric homes and more.

Propane: the Clean Choice

Because propane has such a low carbon content, it’s a clean-burning energy source that can reliably fuel homes, heat water, and even power vehicles.

Propane generates more Btus than an equivalent amount of electricity, so you need much less propane to produce the same amount of heat energy.  Propane furnaces produce much higher indoor air temperatures than their electric counterparts, guaranteeing that you will keep your home toasty warm even during the most frigid nights.

Also, clean-burning propane appliances are efficient, because they waste very little fuel in the combustion process, unlike electric-powered appliances.

That’s why, hands down, propane is better for the environment and for your home comfort.

new biofuel maineBiofine Developments Northeast Inc. of Bangor, recently announced that it has reached a tentative agreement to locate its new multi-phase biofuels refinery on a former mill site in Lincoln, Me. The facility is expected to be operational in 2023.

Biofine will partner with Sprague Resources LP, of Portsmouth, N.H., one of the largest distributors of Bioheat® fuel, a mix of traditional heating oil and biofuel.

Biofine will use its technology to convert woody fiber waste from lumber and paper mills into ethyl levulinate, which the company has branded EL100. The goal is to convert 100 tons of wood waste per day, which will result in an estimated three million gallons of ultra-clean heating oil each year.

The company reports that EL100 emits zero greenhouse gas emissions and, like Bioheat fuel, it can be used safely with current home heating oil systems.

This is the latest example of the quest to find more eco-friendly renewable liquid fuels. The continued growth of Bioheat fuel already results in a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions!

Carbon-Neutral is On the Horizon for Bioheat Fuel

The efficiency and cleanliness of Bioheat fuel are leading us on a bright path to a carbon-neutral future that is not too far away. 

Here’s an example of how Bioheat fuel is already making an impact. Just two heating oil retailers in New England displaced nearly 1.5 million gallons of heating oil with approved Bioheat fuel in the first half of 2020. Doing this resulted in an 80% reduction in GHG emissions, compared to traditional heating oil.

For the heating oil industry to achieve its 2023 target of 15% fewer emissions, the standard Bioheat fuel blend will need to be in the 20% range. The good news is that there are already many heating oil companies in New England that are delivering Bioheat fuel at this level. Some are even delivering blends as high as 50% (B50 Bioheat SuperPlus™ fuel)

The production of Bioheat fuel supports local industries, local farms and local economies. Switching to Bioheat fuel, which is a gallon-for-gallon substitute for higher-carbon-intensity, petroleum-based fuels, does not require any changes to current high-efficiency heating oil systems. In fact, running your heating oil system on this cleaner fuel will mean your system is operating more efficiently and you’ll need fewer repairs and maintenance over time. It’s truly a win-win. Bioheat fuel is good for you, and good for the environment.

Read more about Bioheat Fuel.

hvac installation maineAt some point, you will need to decide if you should spend money to repair your heating oil system or replace it with a more efficient and modern heating oil furnace or oil boiler. While there are many variables in making this decision, there are some key issues you need to consider. This should help you decide which direction to go. Here are four guidelines to consider.

  1. The age of your heating system – If your heating system is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing it. The average life span of a heating oil system is about 20 years old.
  2. Repair vs. replacement costs – A new heating oil system is a significant investment for your home. But repair costs can be high, too – and with a repair, you have to consider the possibility of the problem happening again in the future. Here’s a rule of thumb: if your heating oil system repair exceeds 50% of replacement costs – especially on an older unit – you should probably replace it.
  3. System efficiency – Old heating systems burn more fuel because of their inefficiencies, which means you’ll get higher heating expenses. An old heating unit could have an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) of less than 70%. A replacement model can be 85% efficient or higher.
  4. Safety–If your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, it will release dangerous carbon monoxide into your home. If your heat exchanger is cracked, you should have the heating system replaced immediately. A cracked heat exchanger means the end for your furnace because it cannot be repaired.

Choosing the Right Heating Equipment

When discussing your replacement options with your heating oil equipment expert, you’ll most likely learn about the importance of proper sizing.

  • Sizing refers to the heating system’s Btu rating. If your equipment contractor installs something too powerful (oversized), it will give you more heat than you need, wasting energy and money.
  • But if the system doesn’t have enough power (undersized), your home will not feel comfortable, and you will spend more on fuel because the oil boiler or oil furnace will keep switching on and off throughout the day.
  • To determine how much power your home’s heating system needs, an experienced heating oil service installer will do tests that show how much heat your home loses in the winter.

A Proper Installation Holds the Key to Performance

Once the right system is selected, your heating oil service expert will install it the right way. This requires skilled technicians with specialized training. The bottom line: installing a new heating system will increase energy efficiency and save you money, as long as the boiler or furnace is sized and installed correctly.

It’s always best to work with a full-service heating oil company, who can escort you through the process that results in an ideal home comfort solution. That’s because everyone on staff—from the equipment service manager to the technicians to the installation team—is a certified expert.

How You Benefit From a New Heating Oil System

You can expect to reduce your annual fuel expenses by 20% or more—depending on the age and efficiency of your current system—not to mention virtually eliminating high repair bills, with a replacement system.

A new heating oil system is also a green choice. Emissions from an old system can be significantly reduced by upgrading to a high-efficiency heating oil system. Today’s heating oil systems are efficient and their emissions are negligible. Advances include systems with reduced fuel-firing rates. Plus, today’s wide use of Bioheat® fuel in Maine is reducing emissions even further. Read more about Bioheat fuel.

Don’t wait until your heating system fails on the coldest day this coming winter! Start doing your homework now by contacting your full-service heating oil company.

efficient home fuel maineAs a result of its high efficiency, propane is a cost-effective choice for your Maine home. You’ll see the benefits of this with your fuel costs, especially if you use propane to run appliances, like your stove or clothes dryer, or heat your water, in your home. Some people swear by it as a great way to heat their home, too. Many Mainers also like to extend their backyard time beyond summer with efficient propane-powered patio heaters, pool and spa heaters, firepits and more. Read more about propane.

As you can see, propane is a versatile fuel that has many uses, But, here’s another important attribute that should never be overlooked. Propane is also an extremely clean-burning heating fuel source.

With propane, you’re relying on a fuel that produces next-to-zero greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants. It can reliably and efficiently heat homes and water, fuel multiple indoor and outdoor appliances, and even power vehicles.

What’s more, the propane industry is committed to making propane even more environmentally friendly than it is today. To reach a goal of creating less environmental impact, there are efforts underway to reducing harmful emissions and particulate matter from our atmosphere.

The Growth of Renewable Propane

One exciting development has been the growing production of renewable propane, which is a by-product of the renewable diesel process. Developers of renewable propane in both the United States and Europe have been perfecting methods to produce propane from renewable sources such as biomass, animal oils, vegetable oils, and other triglycerides.

Millions of gallons of propane a year can be produced in this way—and those numbers will continue to grow in the years ahead.

The propane produced through this process has all of the benefits of traditional propane. It’s clean, affordable and reliable. It also leaves an ultra-low carbon footprint when compared to standard electricity generation.

Advanced technologies are already available for use with ultra-low nitrogen oxide engines. These and other advancements will deliver major environmental and public health gains, particularly for transportation and stationary engines used in agriculture.

In the construction industry, renewable propane addresses the need to generate more of our energy from renewable sources. And for commercial applications, renewable propane provides substantial potential reductions in criteria pollutants and diesel particulate matter.

How Renewable Propane Can Benefit Maine

Renewable propane will allow propane providers in the state a greater opportunity to be involved in residential, commercial and government projects that require energy sources to be zero-carbon or as close as possible when it comes to emissions, meaning more opportunities and income for locally-owned businesses.

Ultimately, renewable propane can be a part of making the quality of life better in Maine with reduced emissions, a cleaner environment and forward-thinking applications that will make our state a destination for modern development.

You can read more about renewable propane gas here.