Had a delivery of home heating oil lately? Be prepared.
With many homeowners filling their tanks for the first time this season, they are facing sticker shock, paying hundreds more than they did last year and dreading the cold weather ahead.
“I was shocked by how much it cost,” said Linda Grossman, who had about 150 gallons of oil pumped into the tank in her home on Tuesday.
“It’s the most I’ve ever paid for an oil delivery in more than 30 years of living in this house,” she said. “It’s scary how expensive it is.”
The cost of Grossman’s fill-up was a staggering $803.95 — and she figures she’ll need another 450 gallons to get through the winter. Total cost for the upcoming heating season? She estimates about $3,200 — about 60 percent more than last winter, when she paid about $2,000 for oil.
And it could get worse. The international oil market is notoriously volatile, constantly buffeted by world events, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (and the West’s reaction to it) and the recently announced cutback in oil production by some of the world’s largest producers, including Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Many homeowners are starting to feel the acute pain of high oil prices as they check their oil tanks and get deliveries on the cusp of the months-long heating season in New England.
Grossman is a retiree who lives with her husband in Abington. Her home is just one of the more than 650,000 households in Massachusetts that depend on oil to stay warm in the winter. Massachusetts is one of the most oil-dependent states in the country, with about 25 percent of households heating with it.
More than half of households in Massachusetts use natural gas, while about 20 percent heat with electricity. Energy costs have increased steeply across the board. Grossman’s $803.95 bill for a single oil delivery brings into sharp focus the impact on households now girding for winter.
In its latest national outlook report, the US Energy Information Administration is forecasting the following cost increases compared with last winter: natural gas, 28 percent; winter heating oil, 27 percent; and electricity, 10 percent.
Grossman said she is grateful to be able to afford the high cost of oil, though she frets about oil prices “going even crazier in 2023.”
There’s a natural gas line in the street where she lives, which means there’s a cheaper alternative to oil. But she said it would cost “a small fortune” to lay a natural gas pipe underground from the street to her house, probably thousands of dollars.
To make up for the skyrocketing cost of oil, Grossman said she and her husband will do without other things.
“Something won’t be purchased — I just don’t know what yet,” she said. Grossman said she makes a point of making charitable contributions to help others with heating costs.
Ken Holmes of Plymouth has also accepted that he must cut some expenses to pay for higher heating costs.
“I’m frugal,” said Holmes, a retiree. “But I’m going to have to crimp this year when it comes to Christmas.”
In August, when heating oil prices were lower, Holmes decided to top off his tank with 80 gallons as a hedge against a potential spike in prices down the road.
It turned out to be a shrewd decision. He paid $345 for the 80 gallons delivered last summer at a cost of $4.32 a gallon. As of last week , the same amount of oil would have cost about $455, a 32 percent increase in barely two months.
Holmes figures he may pay about $3,700 for oil this winter, a 62 percent increase over last year.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s not easy to face these kinds of extremely high costs.”
Holmes said there’s no way for him to convert to natural gas because there’s no gas infrastructure to connect to in his neighborhood.
“Everyone on my street is on oil and everyone is complaining about the cost,” he said. “We’re all in the same unhappy boat.”
One West Plymouth neighbor, Nancy Chieregato, said she’s constantly worrying about running out of money this winter.
“It’s a very serious situation, with oil this high,” she said. “I’ve never seen things this bad.”
Chieregato, who is living on unemployment benefits after losing her job as a flight dispatcher, said she’s roughed out expected income and costs over the next six months, and it’s not a pretty picture.
“I don’t know how I’m going to get through it,” she said.
Chieregato, 63, said that for the first time in her life she doesn’t know how to make ends meet. Her recent delivery of oil cost about $200, but that was for less than 40 gallons to top off the tank. She’ll definitely need more.
“I just hope things get better,” she said. “But really I’m nervous.”
Jack Garbitt of Yarmouth said he recently got billed $745 for about 130 gallons. He said he’s grateful that his oil company is allowing him to string out payments before the next delivery.
“We just chip away at it, paying what we can until the next delivery,” he said. “Our oil company is pretty good to us.”
Some retail oil companies will allow you to go on a budget plan that averages out payments over 12 months, which would mean lower winter bills but higher ones for the rest of the year.
Financial assistance is also available for those who qualify, based on income. But some community advocates say they are very concerned that available federal funds will run out before spring. Advocates are lobbying Congress for more funding.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance program, commonly known as “fuel assistance,” is available to homeowners and renters, including renters who don’t get billed separately for heat.
A good source to check is the network of community action agencies arrayed across the state. Search online for the “2022 Cold Relief Brochure.” It includes a list of agencies in every city and town in the state.
You can also check the state website by looking online for “Massachusetts learn about fuel assistance.”
Another good resource can be found by searching online for “Masscap and fuel help.” It includes eligibility guidelines based on income and household size. For example, a household of four qualifies with an income up to about $81,500.
For those not eligible for assistance, the best way to save on heating costs is to use less energy by turning the thermostat down to 68 degrees or lower when you’re home and awake and to 60 degrees when nobody is home or you are asleep.
Another way to lower energy costs is to tighten up your house with door draft stoppers and weather stripping. Search online for a recent Boston Globe story on “five products to lower your energy bill.”
Ken Freeman of Concord says he cut his heating cost by about 15 percent a couple of years ago by adding insulation and by identifying and eliminating air leaks around windows and doors.
He said he has no option to convert to natural gas because there is no gas service at the end of the street where he lives. But the soaring cost of oil now has him seriously looking into installing heat pumps, which run on electricity.
He faces a huge upfront cost but hopes to save money in the long run.
“I’m trying to take whatever steps I can to lower my costs,” he said. “I hope it works.”
Got a problem? Send your consumer issue to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.