Oil, electricty and natural gas

While price comparisons between the different fuel types are filled with caveats, natural gas is generally the cheapest.

Heating bills will mostly be lower this winter, but your final cost will vary based on the type of heat you use.

While price comparisons between the different fuel types are filled with caveats, natural gas is generally the cheapest.

Nelson Hoover, an energy procurement specialist and owner of Lancaster firm EnergyWise Consulting, says heating oil would have to sell for $1.86 a gallon to give the equivalent heating value of natural gas at today’s rates.

Heating oil prices in Lancaster County last week ranged from $1.99 to 2.49 a gallon, according to MidAtlanticOil.com.

Heating primarily with electric baseboards is around three times as expensive as using natural gas, Hoover said, although electric heat pumps can be nearly as efficient as natural gas.

While natural gas remains a cheaper heating type, the efficiency of the heating equipment also impacts the total cost, said Hoover, who works with commercial and institutional customers.

Some older furnaces are below 80 percent efficient, meaning that 20 percent of the heat goes up the chimney. Newer furnaces can be 90 percent efficient, Hoover said.

Consequently, a highly efficient oil furnace could outperform a less efficient gas furnace.

Other factors affecting heating costs include the efficiency of windows, the amount of insulation in a home and the thermostat setting.

While costs for all fuel types fluctuate, heating oil is subject to more and frequent swings.

UGI now adjusts rates twice a year while PPL typically changes its rate four or five times a year.

Heating oil, on the other hand, can make big swings throughout the winter heating season which lasts from October to March.

Last season, for example, the average price of heating oil in Pennsylvania ranged from a high of $3.25 in mid-October to a low of $2.47 in early February, according to the Energy Information Administration.