Fall is upon us and the heating season is around the corner. Today, Art Nash, Cooperative Extension’s energy specialist, offers his perspective on efficiency of heating for the fall season.
As we evaluate different heating options this fall, we face an unusual situation — the cost of heating with wood and oil per Btu is pretty much equal if you buy them from vendors.
On Aug. 23, oil dipped to $38 a barrel and the expectation is that the price will most likely not increase anytime soon. Many believe that the Saudis intentionally created a production glut last fall, which will take time to “soak up.” Other experts believe that since global demand for Chinese exports have declined, it is highly likely that the drop in oil prices is due to oversupply in the wake of a downturn in oil demand in the Chinese economy.
In any case, the current price of home heating oil (No. 2 diesel) is running $2.75 per gallon, delivered. At approximately 138,500 Btus per gallon, it takes about 130 gallons of No. 2 oil to equal the Btus in a cord of white or Sitka spruce. This is based on the fact that wood contains 18.1 million Btus per cord if it has a 20 percent moisture content. At today’s price, heating with No. 2 oil (disregarding the different efficiency ratings of oil furnaces and wood stoves), you would have spent $360 on that oil for the same amount of Btus in a cord of white spruce.
You could consider other factors — birch gives around 25 percent more Btus than white spruce; the cost of split/delivered wood; cost to deliver the fuel oil to your house; and using kerosene instead of No. 2 diesel for better fluidity in cold weather. If you look at the wood free market pricing as it is reflected on Craigslist and the major wood vendors in the Tanana Valley, you can spend right around $350 a cord for split, dried and delivered spruce or you can spend around $360 for oil at the present.
So, which will you choose for this winter? Some people may add into these calculations their interest in air quality during our cold weather inversions, possibly carbon emissions or the ambience and smell of their favorite fuel. The question for many who may want to transition may naturally be, How much will it cost to convert my current system if I want to try a new fuel? But that is a discussion for a different article.
For now, keep an eye on those prices. Rather than keeping an eye on the fluctuations of oil commodities in the trade exchanges, call your local heating oil distributors. The vendors gauge their prices more on local demand, which fluctuates with local economic activity, than spot crude prices.
If you have any other questions about this winter’s home heating considerations, you can contact Cooperative Extension Energy Specialist Art Nash at 474-6366 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at email@example.com or by calling 907-474-7201.