Heating Oil Prices: Check Heating Oil Prices As Carefully As Gasoline Prices

January 30, 2010
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We are all very conscious of gasoline prices and most of us know within a few cents what a gallon of gas costs us on any given day. We also have a good sense as to which stations have higher and lower prices. Some of us may even drive out of our way to save a few cents a gallon.

Unfortunately, in my experience as a consumer columnist, most heating oil customers rarely think about comparison shopping when it comes to their oil purchases. Too many just simply stick with their oil dealer in the mistaken belief that there is not a big difference in what companies charge, or worry that switching dealers could leave them in the cold.

The reality is that it’s more important to know what the price of heating oil is than gasoline because the average family uses more oil than gasoline. And there is a wide spread between the highest and lowest priced oil retailers, frequently more than a $1 a gallon difference.

While it takes a little more work to learn what the fair price of heating oil is in any particular week, if you have a computer, it’s a snap.

The first place one should go to is the State of Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management website www.ct.gov/opm and go to the Energy Management segment, where you will find all the up-to-date data for retail and wholesale oil prices as well as average propane prices in Connecticut.

When I checked on Thursday for Hartford County, the spread between the lowest and highest price was from $2.05 and $3.49, with the average price being $2.39. So you know if you are paying $3.49 a gallon, you are being hosed. In fact, $3.49 a gallon is the most charged anywhere in Connecticut and $2.05 was the lowest.

There are two heating oil buyers’ clubs that you might want to check out, both with full-service oil companies: Pinergy, at www.pinergy.org, and Citizen’s Oil Co-op, at www.oilco-op.com. Pinergy’s phone number is 860-833-4832 and Citizen’s is 860-561-6011. I have yet to receive a complaint against either one in the four years I have been a consumer watchdog.

According to Pinergy’s website on Thursday, it was charging $2.469 a gallon. Citizen’s charges between $2.40 and $2.45 this week.

Something to keep in mind as the winter winds down (can’t happen soon enough), don’t let your supplier fill up your tank at the end of the season.

Why? Because oil prices will probably be the highest at that point. You are probably much better off waiting until the middle of summer to fill your tank.

While we are on the subject of heating oil, make regular checks of your oil tank to make sure it isn’t leaking. If you have an old oil tank, you might consider either getting insurance to cover the cost of a leak – which could cost thousands of dollars – or consider having your tank replaced. I will be writing a separate column on this issue later.

Social Security Secrets Series

Those of us who are getting close to 62 – or like me just got there – have a major decision to make: when to start collecting Social Security.

Until last summer when I got fired by The Courant for refusing to be nice to key advertisers, I hadn’t done much research on this issue.

Now, the more I learn, the more I realize that it’s very complex, especially if you are married. If you are earning at the maximum level, the decision on whether to start collecting your Social Security benefits at 62 or at 70 could make a $400,000 difference over your life.

To give you some idea of the factors, I have started a video series on my website – CtWatchdog.com – called Social Security Secrets. Check it out. It’s a topic we will examine in more detail, along with whether you should convert your IRA to a Roth IRA – both crucial issues.

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18 Responses to Heating Oil Prices: Check Heating Oil Prices As Carefully As Gasoline Prices

  1. seth winkleman on January 30, 2010 at 9:40 am

    I ALWAYS shop around and I tell my tenants to do the same but I don’t think they do. I purchased from American Oil and Heating out of Farmington the last two times and they have had the best rate I could find. It was 2.429!! They are fast too…I called, and it was delivered the same day. Their numbers are 860-678-9992 and 860-517-8535.

  2. uberVU - social comments on January 31, 2010 at 9:08 am

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  3. RWT on January 31, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Is there any difference in quality of heating oils? Some companies advertise additives and whatnot that claim to keep your furnace running cleaner. Is this bogus advertising or truth?

    • LORI on February 1, 2010 at 8:28 am

      Yes there is a difference, many quality suppliers do put an adative in their oil, it goes by many names, but it does provide the following :

      It contains a combustion catalyst for cleaner burning of the oil and more efficient operation. You use less fuel and have fewer service problems.

      Fuel stabilizers to prevent sediment in your oil tank and heating system.

      Rust inhibitor to reduce corrosion of your oil tank, extending its lifetime

      Bacteria and algae inhibitors to keep your filters and systems cleaner.

  4. Thomas Quigley on February 1, 2010 at 6:29 am

    Another reason people buy from one dealer is the promise of prompt emergency service when needed. You can eliminate that reason by having your service done by a good independent service person who is not in the busines of selling oil. You then have the ability to shop around for the best price, and you can get emergency service when needed.

    Also, you can often get a better price if you can pay at delivery by cash or check.

    • LORI on February 1, 2010 at 8:23 am

      You mentioned a very important point. Full-service home heating oil suppliers will always have the higher price because they support a service department. They provide security and in most cases service plans that will reduce surprise repair bills. You will be provided with 24/7 emergency service and response by trained bonded, insured and background-checked employees. They provide automatic delivery, you do not have to monitor your tank, spend time on the phone shopping and then have to wait for the delivery truck to pay at the door. Yes this latter option may save you a few cents per gallon, but it has risks. Yes you can try to find an independent hvac or service company, but you will pay more for the service call than if you have a relationship with a full-service dealer. Before you shop price you should shop the difference in oil companies. If you want quality and top notch service you will pay more per gallon. So my advice is do what works best for you, but most full-service companies have more payment options and extend credit. Think about it. A delivery today of 100 gallons at the average $2.809 (St of Ct Survey 1/25/10) will cost $280.90. Do you have that kind of cash available today to meet the truck, or are no cost credit terms (monthly payment) plans easier for you to handle? You will pay more for the latter option. I take offense to George’s comment that you are getting hosed if you are paying a higher price per gallon, when in fact you are getting more for your money with this option. Please note that the co-ops mentioned do charge a yearly fee for membership, and I have heard several stories from customers that the emergency service is lacking. Best advice, do your homework, check with BBB and DCP on the company and do what works for you, but do not bash the quality companies that invest and run clean, honest businesses. Many many do not know that they work on pennies per gallon just like the gasoline dealers. Why do you think they have to sell coffee and candy? Yes I do work for a full-service heating oil dealer and I am proud of our service as are our customers.

      • debi on February 1, 2010 at 10:33 am

        Lori,

        I couldn’t agree more. The general public is under the impression that oil dealers are raking in the money. It is so not true. Often compared to gasoline prices, Oil companies have to bring the oil to the customer this is a much more expensive delivery than someone driving their car to a pump. Insurance premiums for oil companies are very costly. There are few options for the insurance to begin with. Fully licensed and insured full service oil companies spend a lot of money and much compliance to deliver oil and pay wages and insurance premiums for their employees as well. A little more research would be awesome. Gasoline compared with oil deliveries is like apples and oranges as far as I am concerned.

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  6. Seth Shaw on February 1, 2010 at 8:20 am

    George: I think the heating oil prices you posted for last week were for last year. The ct.gov site (i.e., PDF) for prices is poorly designed — I made the same mistake. You might want to verify.

    • jan on March 15, 2011 at 8:36 am

      I agree (unless you wrote this article last year). I was looking at the “CT Reginal Heating oil prices for most of 2011″, and the lows have been about $3.40/gal, High’s about $3.99/gal. $2.47/gal was references for 2010. (http://www.ct.gov/opm/lib/opm/pdpd_energy/wer_web_17_february_2011.pdf)

      Thank you for printing the link and info. On 2/4/11, my oil company charged me $3/849/gal for my biggest fillup ever (215 gal, usually they refill at ~175 gal). I called them up the next tuesday and asked for “todays” price (=$3.69/gal). I told them that diesel was $3.69/gal at the gas station – so why was I paying so much…they did take 10 cents/gal off, but thanks to this article, I can keep tabs on them – and will continue to call them up when my price is at the “high” end. I pay over $350/year for a service contract, and although it is peace of mind & includes a furnace cleaning & automatic deliveries…there are other companies willing to give me a service contract free for my first year for switching…its getting hard to justify the extra annual expense.

  7. ICPA on February 1, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    George,

    The advice here… “Something to keep in mind as the winter winds down (can’t happen soon enough), don’t let your supplier fill up your tank at the end of the season.” How would anyone know when the end of the season is?

    The majority of heating oil consumers are on an automatic delivery program that is a computer calculation of consumption patterns in the home and weather. I get a delivery before my tank runs too low based on how oiur family lives and the relative weather. Would we know when its going to be warm and not need to heat any longer? Would you take responsibility for all the consumers running out of energy because someone declared the heating season over…but was wrong?

    Statstically, by the way, absent unusual factors prices begin to decline as the winter months in the calendar wind down and spring comes as demand slackens as the days grow longer. The typical heating season lasts from November through March. The average consumer uses about 800 gallons, and these are in deliveries of around 180 gallons each.

    The smartest advice isn’t buy from just anyone because they all sell the same thing. The best advice is to buy from someone you know, someone you have confidence in. Someone who has a track record of taking good care of consumers. Someone who can help the consumer reduce consumption by improving energy efficiency of their HVAC system and their home. There are lots of choices in a very competitive market and each choice has its pluses and minuses depending on how the consumer wishes to buy and be served.

    One size doesn’t fit all.

    cheers

    Gene

    http://icpa.org/ConsumerInfo.htm

    • LORI on February 2, 2010 at 1:32 pm

      Thank you Gene, your organization is a true partner and supporter of its membership and a valuable and reliable source for the correct information on this issue.

  8. Jamie at the Guardian on February 2, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    RWT – Good Question! Lori’s answers are simple and to the point!

    I’m especially glad she mentions the cost of doing business The Right Way.
    That means we follow the regulations, and operate safely. Our “Joe Cheap” cousins hope you’re not thinking about safety when you call them.

    Also consider how and when that stabilizer is added to your oil (is it blended into every gallon as it goes into the truck at the terminal, so the truck’s tank is clean? Or is it added to your tank at time of delivery?) and how you pay for it (added to your bill, or included in your per gallon price).

    Full service dealers are always on the lookout for ways to make your oil heat experience better and more efficient (read: save you money). Our goal is Zero emissions! We’ve been delivering BioHeat to our customers for 4 seasons, with great results! Our efficiency technicians are amazed by the cleanliness of the burners (and that saves you money). We are professionals, and we’re proud of our work.

  9. Kurt on February 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    You should get your facts straight oil has not been cheaper in the summer for many years. January 09 oil was $32 when the summer of 08 over $140. I am not going to waste my time to give you all the facts that should be your job. It is the first and last time I will read writings.

  10. Matt on February 3, 2010 at 9:55 am

    George,
    I used to shop around for the lowest price of fuel, but then it happened! One Friday night last February, around 10 p.m., my furnace shut down. I picked up the phone book and was very happy to see so many companies who offer service listed. I called one and waited. I called another and waited. By 11:30 my wife and I split the phone book up and started calling every number in the book from the house phone and her cellphone simultaneously. By midnight our phone started to ring back. We received 8-10 return calls within the next 30 minutes. All but one return call was from a “full-service” oil company. Fortunately for people who do business with “full-service” companies they are equipped to provide service anytime. Unfortunately, for me, they do not do COD night calls. You need to have an account pre-established to get the 24-hour service. The only other guy, who called us back, was in Vermont on a ski trip! e said if we didn’t get it fixed by Monday to call him back.

    We called some friends to borrow electric heaters to get through the night. They also recommended we call their full-service oil company on Saturday morning. I called at 8 a.m. and with 15 minutes we received a call back from the owner. I explained our dilemma and who recommended us to call him. By noon we were up and running again.

    I’m now on an oil budget with service contract. I would never leave them for a lower price of oil. I came very close to having my house freeze which would have cost thousands to fix because of a dirty oil filter.

    Matt

  11. Bunny on February 11, 2010 at 6:44 am

    I joined CITIZENS OIL COOP thinking that they would offer me the lowest prices avail. , plus this COOP was recommended by the STATE OF CT.

    I STILL called around on my own & have found companies that are $0.30 – $0.50 cheaper than the COOP company they set me up with (of course, I use the cheaper company I found).

    COOPS aren’t saving me any money – just charging me the Yearly Fee.

    • George Gombossy on February 11, 2010 at 9:51 am

      Bunny, thanks for taking the time to write us. Oil pricing is complicated. Are you comparing the price of oil from a COD dealer who doesn’t have full service to a Coop that has a full service and not COD?

  12. Pam from Plainville on January 4, 2012 at 7:56 am

    I agree with Seth Winkleman. American Oil and Heating out of Farmington Their numbers are 860-678-9992 and 860-517-8535.Their prices are the lowest I have found and they have EXCELLENT service!!

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