Home Heating Costs Expected To Remain High This Winter, Attorney General Schneider Offers Advice To Consumers
October 27, 2011
AUGUSTA – With federal officials expecting record breaking oil prices this year, Attorney General William J. Schneider urges consumers to educate and protect themselves.
Starting every October, the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) provides pricing information through the State Heating Oil and Propane Program, a weekly joint data collection effort between EIA and states in the Northeast and Midwest for the winter season.
EIA projects average household heating expenditures for natural gas, propane and heating oil will increase by 3 percent, 7 percent and 8 percent, respectively, this winter compared with last winter. According to EIA, northeast region monthly oil bills could rise by about $200, with average households paying nearly $2,500 through March.
“Fuel costs for individual households are highly dependent on weather conditions, market size, the size and energy efficiency of homes and their heating equipment, and thermostat settings,” said Schneider. “There are steps that Maine consumers can take to manage the cost of keeping warm this winter.”
Attorney General Schneider offers the following advice to consumers:
FIND THE BEST PRICE
- Contact several fuel oil suppliers in your area to compare options.
- Ask about any surcharges that may be added to a weekend delivery, emergency delivery or inclement weather delivery.
- Do your homework on fuel oil suppliers before making any agreement. Dealers are required to maintain security to ensure delivery of fuel sold to consumers under prepaid contracts. The dealers are also required to let consumers know the method by which they secure the delivery of prepaid fuel.
- If your dealer has had trouble making timely deliveries in prior heating seasons or has been unable to keep up with automatic fill requirements, you should be wary of paying in advance of deliveries.
- There are typically two types of contracts available to home heating oil consumers: a “fixed price contract” and a “capped price contract.”
- With a fixed price, the consumer locks into a set price, agreeing to pay a certain price per gallon for the entire season, even if the cost goes up or down. This may include pre-purchase programs to pay for heating oil up front.
- With a capped price contract, the oil company puts a maximum price or “cap” on the cost of oil during the season. If the cost goes down, consumers may pay less.
- Read all contracts closely. If you are shopping for a contract, consider which type of contract is best for you. Contracts may include added fees.
- Compare oil suppliers, costs and contracts before committing to a contract.
- Learn your rights and obligations under your oil agreement.
- Maintain your heating system. Have it checked by a professional at least once a year and change the filters regularly.
- Set the thermostat to 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees during sleeping hours or when the house is unoccupied.
- Replace old thermostats with programmable thermostats.
- Do not block registers and hot water radiators.
- Install storm doors and windows.
- Have adequate insulation throughout the house, especially in the attic and around your water heater. Seal cracks around windows and doors.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
- From October 15 through April 30, an oil dealer cannot refuse to deliver to a consumer even if the consumer owes the dealer money as long as the consumer has cash or government guaranteed payment for the oil being requested; the dealer regularly serves the consumer’s area; and the consumer requests at least 20 gallons.
- If you have trouble paying for heating fuel, call 211 for a list of resources in your area.
For more home heating information, go to http://www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/attach.php?id=27939&an=1
To report unfair and deceptive conduct by a home heating company, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (207) 626-8849.