Why I Am Freezing to Death


I may soon have to heat water on the stove for a hot shower. Over the weekend, my father lowered the temperature of all the house’s thermostats. He was afraid the heating oil tank in our basement did not contain enough oil to adequately heat our house through the new year’s first weekend.

heating oil bargain
What a bargain

My father had recently decided to switch to another heating oil company for their lower price of $2.299/gallon compared to our previous oil supplier’s price of $2.799/gallon. Our oil container holds 275 gallons. At a difference of $0.50/gal, that’s a total savings of $137.50. Since the new oil company offered their first delivery at $1.999/gal, my father was determined to run the tank dry to maximize savings of $0.80 x 275 = $220. The only hitch was that we were burning through our oil faster than he thought.

Seven years ago, my parents converted our one-story, New England ranch house into a two-story colonial. What they lost in increased property taxes they tried to gain back in decreased heating costs. But wait…wouldn’t it cost more to heat a bigger house? Especially one in New England during the winter? Well, yes, if your goal is to keep the house at the same temperature. But my parents simply lowered the thermostats to a maximum of 65°F. Bedrooms on the second floor bedrooms are set at 52°F during the day, 60°F in the afternoon, and a toasty 61°F at night. Uncommonly used parts of the house are kept at 50°F. The living room is tropical by comparison. Its thermostat is often calibrated to 65°F.

"my house's thermostat"

The oil truck was scheduled to make a delivery today. When I got home, I ran downstairs to check the tank’s meter.

empty heating oil tank
Time to chop some firewood.

“I told you to ask the oil company to make a delivery last week,” my mother said as she blew her nose and put on another sweater. “Who cares about saving that $10.”

Heating oil companies must have a thin margin. There’s no brand loyalty because the oil is exactly the same. It’s just a question of distribution. Overhead is most likely limited to a truck and a warehouse or storage facility. That must explain why my father switches companies every year. Unfortunately, I can’t see the financial statements of the two companies from which my father bought oil since they’re private firms.