Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Saving money by studying fuel economics

By David Burton
University Extension

With the arrival of winter weather and the end of some energy tax credits this past December, there are lots of people looking for alternative heat sources. How can a person compare the economics of the different fuels?

According to Bob Schultheis, natural resource engineering specialist with University of Missouri Extension, to compare one fuel to another, you need to know three things: the heat content of the fuels, their cost per selling unit and the efficiency of each heating system.

Q: There are several different variables so how can they be compared?

A: “Heat content is measured in British Thermal Units, commonly called BTUs. Since heat content, selling unit and efficiency all vary between fuels, the "Standard Heating Unit" (SHU) formula is used to convert these variables for side-by-side comparison. One SHU is equal to 100,000 BTUs,” said Schultheis.

Q: Where does a person get these numbers?

A: “Your utility company can tell you the heat content and cost per selling unit they provide. The
efficiency of the heating units can be obtained from the manufacturer. But be aware that the average efficiency of a fossil-fueled heating system in real life is usually 70 to 80 percent of the manufacturer's claimed efficiency. That's because regular maintenance is often neglected or recommended operating procedures are ignored,” said Schultheis.

Q: How do the different fuels compare in cost right now?

A: “Electricity, as it has been for several years, is actually cheaper to heat with than propane gas. Wood is also lower cost. But before you buy a different heating system, factor in not only the efficiency and cost of fuel, but also the heating system's purchase price including installation, its convenience of use and how long you plan to stay in your home to pay it off,” said Schultheis.

To compare fuel costs, an Excel worksheet is available as a free download online at http://extension.missouri.edu/webster/webster or contact Schultheis by telephone, (417) 859-2044, to obtain a copy of the worksheet

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