LISTEN LIVE KPR - On Air: Listen Live to classical, jazz and NPR news Schedule LATEST
NEWSCAST
KPR 2 - On Air: Listen live to KPR's all talk-radio service, KPR2 Recordings

Share this page              

Homeowners Who Played The Odds On Oil Heating Costs Lose Out

Listen to the Story

Rob Oberg delivers oil to a home in south central Vermont. He works for Keyser Energy in Proctor, Vt., which provides heating fuel to about 5,000 customers.

Most Americans heat their homes with natural gas — except in the Northeast, where residents are much more likely to use oil.

Many homeowners are smiling this winter, because fuel prices are down 50 percent from two years ago.

But not everyone is happy. Buying heating oil is a little like playing poker: Bet on the wrong price and it'll cost you.

Barb Corliss handles customer service at Keyser Energy in Proctor, Vt. The company provides heating fuel to about 5,000 customers, and Corliss says it's been a crazy ride.

"Four-dollar-a-gallon oil down to $1.799 today," Corliss says. "It's been a ride for not only the staff, the drivers, but the customers as well."

While many customers pay as they go, others prefer to lock in a price for the entire year. Still others pay a bit more per gallon for a sliding scale that caps how high prices go while allowing for price drops.

"It's speculation," says Corliss. "People are innate gamblers by nature."

But after watching all the news about volatile oil prices, many of those gamblers are tired of the pricing game.

On a recent subzero morning, a Keyser fuel truck backs into Jackie Fetterolf's driveway.

Fetterolf is one of many who bet wrong on heating oil and locked in a price last June when it was 23 percent more.

"It's very frustrating because you plan it, and years past it's always gone up, and now it doesn't, and now you go, 'Is this really worth doing?' " Fetterolf says.

The Pluses And Minuses Of Locking In

While fixed contracts can be great when oil prices are climbing, Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association says unless you bought sliding scale insurance, there are no rebates when fuel drops.

Whenever a customer buys a fixed-price or pre-buy contract from a heating oil dealer, the dealer has seven days to buy that fuel from its wholesale supplier, Cota explains.

So if a customer buys a fuel contract for $700 in July, the dealer has one week to buy $700 worth of fuel.

With oil prices at 10-year lows, the popularity of fixed-price contracts has declined.

At Keyser Energy, nearly half of customers had been using them; now, it's about one-quarter.

Rob Oberg, a driver and deliveryman for Keyser, says he's not hearing many complaints from customers — even those with fixed contracts — because prices are so low.

"Most of the people I run into are actually rather happy," he says.

A few blocks away, Rhoda Grace says even though she locked in a price last summer, she's taking it in stride.

"I feel safe anyways. If the price happens to skyrocket, I'm covered," Grace says.

Experts don't expect fuel prices to climb this winter. But come summer, all bets are off, and fuel buyers will have to decide if they feel lucky when it's time to heat their homes.

Copyright 2016 Vermont Public Radio. To see more, visit Vermont Public Radio.

Tower Frequencies

91.5 FM KANU Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City
89.7 FM KANH Emporia
99.5 FM K258BT Manhattan
97.9 FM K250AY Manhattan (KPR2)
91.3 FM  KANV Junction City, Olsburg
89.9 FM K210CR Atchison
90.3 FM KANQ Chanute
96.1 FM K241AR Lawrence (KPR2)

See the Coverage Map for more details

Contact Us

Kansas Public Radio
1120 West 11th Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Download Map
785-864-4530 (Main Line)
888-577-5268 (Toll Free)
contact@kansaspublicradio.org