Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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HOME HEATING OIL TIPS

Winter is quickly approaching and with high oil prices a concern, many consumers may find themselves going over budget trying to heat their homes. Here are some tips to help keep costs down this season:

BARGAINING

  • Contact at least three fuel oil suppliers in your area for the best price.
  • Ask about any extra delivery charges that may apply such as out-of-the-area delivery, weekend delivery, emergency delivery, inclement weather delivery and fuel surcharge.
  • Do your homework on fuel oil suppliers before making any agreement. Ask to see their references and check with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Avoid making agreements for the servicing of the oil furnace that require the purchase of oil from the same company. It is difficult to shop for the best fuel prices if you agree to use the same company for service and oil supply.
  • Consider budget plans that allow for payments over an extended period of time based on estimated consumption, projected fuel prices and past usage history. Basic budget plans do not offer protection against unexpected price increases.
  • Consider price-cap programs that offer protection against unexpected price increases. The price-cap is generally higher than the current retail price at the time the price-cap agreement is made. A price-cap program may be set up like a budget plan to be paid over an extended period of time. Make sure that the price-cap plan being considered charges the cheaper of the current retail price or the price-cap at the time of delivery.
  • Consider prepurchase programs that offer protection against unexpected price increases. The prepurchased price is generally cheaper than a price-cap, where offered. The fuel oil dealer may require a minimum prepurchase of a specific amount of fuel. Make sure that the prepurchase plan being considered charges the cheaper of the current retail price or the prepurchased price at the time of delivery. Make sure that the prepurchased plan being considered provides a refund for prepurchased heating oil not delivered at the end of the agreement period.
  • Remember that the three-business-day right to cancel under Pennsylvania law is available for any agreement for oil supply or service made at your residence, either in person or by telephone.


MAINTENANCE & CONSERVATION

  • Maintain your heating system. Have it checked by a professional at least once a year and change the filters regularly.
  • Adjust thermostats; keep it 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees during sleeping hours or when the house is unoccupied.
  • Replace old thermostats with programmable thermostats.
  • Open drapes and blinds on the south side of your home during sunny days, close them at night and on cloudy days.
  • Do not block registers and hot water radiators.
  • Place foil-covered cardboard between cast iron hot water radiators and the wall to reflect the heat into the room and away from the wall.
  • Install storm doors and windows. The space they create makes an excellent insulator.
  • Have adequate insulation throughout the house and around your water heater. Seal cracks and holes around windows and doors.

CONSUMER PROTECTION

Additionally, be sure to read and understand any heating supply agreements, especially the fine print. The contract should contain the date and the name and address of the business. Make sure verbal promises are incorporated into the written contract. Contracts should contain specifics concerning payment and delivery dates plus a "Notice of Cancellation," which gives consumers three business days to cancel a contract when it involves services within the consumer's home. Finally, remember to keep a copy of the agreement for your own records.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE

If you or someone you know needs help paying heating bills, the Pennsylvania Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, can help for both home owners and renters. Additionally, Pennsylvania 's Department of Community and Economic Development Unit can provide free weatherization services if you qualify.

Consumers with questions or complaints can contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection's toll-free hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or log on to the Attorney General's website at www.attorneygeneral.gov.