The grass was crunchy and silver-tipped with the first frost of the year last week or, at least, the first frost that lasted long enough for me to get out to the car. This means it’s time to start worrying about the heating costs for the winter. We’re heading into another winter of Russia being at war in Ukraine, which is probably going to cause the world’s oil prices to keep – well, I would say “rollercoaster-ing,” but that implies prices will go down at some point, and I have my doubts that oil companies will let that happen any time soon.

Fortunately, Congress has approved an extra $8 million in LIHEAP funding for Maine. Unfortunately, depending on how long and cold the winter is, among other economic and geopolitical factors, that’s not going to be enough to meet our state’s needs.

Also, there are income limits to the assistance programs. If you’re like me, and I suspect a lot of Mainers are, you make too much money to qualify for heating assistance but not enough money to turn the heat up to 75 degrees willy-nilly. For a household of two, the income limit is $40,356 per year. My boyfriend and I make more than that but not so much that I can order a tank full of kerosene without double checking the balance in my bank account. I’m not scared that I won’t be able to afford heat this winter, but I am worried about what would happen if an unexpected expense came up (car repair, dog repair). Fortunately – or not so fortunately – I’ve lived on that financial tightrope my whole life and grew up in a large, drafty farmhouse. In case this winter is your first year worrying about it, I want to share some tips for conserving expensive heat.

First of all, closed doors are your friend. Spend an evening or two with your doors closed before the weather gets too bad. Figure out where heat naturally pools and where it doesn’t. Your home will probably divvy itself into “warm rooms” and “cold rooms.” Plan to spend a lot of time this winter in the warm rooms.

Windows are your frenemy. You’ll want good curtains to help seal heat in. My boyfriend swears by blackout curtains. We’ve kitted out our house with cute ones from Target that cost $5.99 per panel. This is my first winter with them, so I’m not familiar with their efficiency yet (I will report back). You can also tack up quilts over windows. It’s not pretty but it works. If your windows are on the older, draftier side, and you don’t think you will need to open them for a few months, you can seal them with a layer of clear plastic. They sell special plastic window wrap at places like Home Depot, and Saran wrap and tape will also work pretty well. Keep the curtains (or quilt) open during the day so sunlight comes in and then close them tight as soon as the sun starts to go down.

Electricity is probably going to be cheaper than heating oil. Depending on where you live and your various sources of energy, your mileage on this may vary. My family’s approach is to keep the heat on just high enough to prevent the pipes from freezing (a pipe freezing and cracking is somehow even more expensive to fix than heating oil, and you won’t have water while you wait) and use space heaters to keep whatever room we are hanging out in warm. Remember, you have already identified your “warm” room.

Advertisement

Space heaters can be a fire risk. Always plug them into a wall outlet, never a power strip. Don’t leave them running after you’ve gone to bed. And ideally don’t put them on a carpet. Speaking of, carpeting is also your friend. If you have a wood floor downstairs and a couple of ugly area rugs up in the attic, bring those rugs down for some extra insulation underfoot. The teal wall-to-wall carpeting in my house isn’t exactly trendy, but it’s definitely cozy underfoot.

I’m also a fan of heating pads. They use very little electricity and also have the benefit of being nice for my back, which hurts pretty much all the time. The only problem is that if you have pets, they will do anything they can do steal it. I had to buy a second heating pad just for my dog. And if you have a dog who has never been allowed to sleep in the bed before, it might be a good time to reconsider that ban. Dogs can provide a lot of warmth. If you get them from a shelter, they’re definitely cheaper than a tank of oil. Cats are good for this, too, but generally generate less heat because of their smaller size. Your individual circumstances may vary. My cat Juno likes to sleep on top of my head in the winter, like a vibrating papakha.

Fortunately for all of us, Mainers are pretty good people and there is heating help available. In addition to the LIHEAP funds, there is the Morningstar Home Heating Relief Fund, run out of Morningstar Stone and Tile in Topsham. It focuses specifically on assisting senior citizens, many of whom are on fixed incomes, which makes dealing with sudden price increases even more difficult. Morningstar has partnered with Maine Community Action Partners to identify folks in need and get them heating assistance. The fund doesn’t involve red tape or complicated applications. If you’d like to donate, you can do that at morningstarmarble.com/charity. If you or someone you know could use some help with your heating bills this winter, you can contact Maine Community Action Partners at 207-831-9893.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.