The cost of furnace oil is growing — and so are homeowners' concerns, as temperatures drop

With furnace oil prices increasing, some homeowners are concerned about how they will afford to heat their houses as colder weather approaches. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)
With furnace oil prices increasing, some homeowners are concerned about how they will afford to heat their houses as colder weather approaches. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)
Wayne Vallevand/CBC
Wayne Vallevand/CBC

It's autumn, which means colder weather is quickly approaching. For people like Valerie Burry who rely on furnace oil to heat their homes, they say it's going to cost a lot more to stay warm than it did last year.

"I mean, [furnace oil] is ridiculously expensive," said Burry, who lives in St. John's.

"Especially when you're retired and on a fixed income, it can add up pretty quickly."

The price of furnace oil in the province went up by 6.6 cents per litre after the weekly price adjustment from the Public Utilities Board on Thursday. Furnace oil has been sitting at around $1.50 to slightly over $1.60 per litre, give or take, for the past few months, down from a high of slightly over $2 per litre earlier this year.

In early October 2021, furnace oil prices were about $1.05 per litre.

Submitted by Valerie Burry
Submitted by Valerie Burry

Like Burry, David Noseworthy is troubled by the price of furnace oil. As temperatures drop, he says his biggest concern is whether he will be able to afford oil to heat his St. John's home.

"It's getting to a point that's getting out of hand, for sure," said Noseworthy.

"We're not prepared for it. I'm on a fixed income, so it's not as if I can go along with the extra increases, 'cause my income doesn't increase."

Noseworthy says he is thinking of adding more insulation to his home and he is also looking into other types of heating, but he isn't sure which alternatives would work best for him.

Record high prices

Harvey's, a home heating provider on the Avalon Peninsula, says it's trying to help its customers deal with the rising cost of oil by extending all 10-month budget plans to 12-month plans, to make monthly payments more manageable.

"We're experiencing record high oil prices, and we have no control over that," said Harvey's general manager Chris Forward.

"There's a lot of people in this province that have to make some tough choices."

When it comes to switching to other home heating methods, Forward says his customers have mixed opinions.

Kevin Yarr/CBC
Kevin Yarr/CBC

Although some are considering moving away from oil toward a method like electricity, Forward says others prefer to stick with oil, fearing the loss of heat if the power goes out in a storm, as recently happened when post-tropical storm Fiona hit Newfoundland's southwest coast.

"There's a lot of global factors that are affecting oil prices," he said, including the war in Ukraine.

"Hopefully, when those [factors] settle down, we'll see oil prices recoil back to a more manageable level."

Alternatives to oil

Nash Sheppard of St. John's used to heat his house using furnace oil, with the addition of a few electric heaters.

But because of rising prices, he now relies on mini-split heating systems and uses oil only to provide hot water for his home.

"I'm really happy we went to the mini-splits.… It has saved us a lot of money," said Sheppard.

"I really have sympathy for people who have to make decisions between what you do. If I was paying the full price now, it'd be very difficult. We'd have to cut back on some other things."

For just over 50 years, Harold and Elizabeth Laite of St. John's have relied on their own observations to determine when it's time to order more oil.

They check their furnace once every couple of weeks to see how much oil they've used, and when the tank is half empty, they fill it up again. They haven't used much oil during the summer, so they say they may be surprised when they make their next payment.

"We filled up in June and we haven't filled up since, but I think we're in for a shock when we do," said Elizabeth.

"We're trying our best to face reality, not knowing what the price of oil is," added Harold. "But other than that, we continue as we are and hope for the best."

Although oil is expensive, Elizabeth and Harold say it would be too challenging at their age to switch to another home heating method. They say they'll invest in other options only if they have to.

"We're not going to get cold, put it that way," said Elizabeth. "We will still have heat, but we'll be a bit more careful."

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