The Fossil Fuels in the Basement

Since we insulated the walls and attic spaces in 2009, we don’t buy fuel oil as often. –That’s right, I said fuel oil.

There is a big ol’ tank of oil in our basement!

So while it’s a good thing we don’t have to buy as much oil, the fact remains that oil furnaces are about the least efficient space heaters around. Oh, and they pollute and release a lot of CO2 etc. into the atmosphere.

It lurks in the corner like a time-bomb of atmospheric carbon.
It lurks in the corner like a time-bomb of atmospheric carbon.

Every spring we look forward to the day when we can turn off the ‘heat’ function on the thermostat for the summer. This year, as I watched the fuel gauge fall toward ’empty’ I was really hoping we would never have to fill it again.

Sinking toward empty.
Sinking toward empty.

Sadly, it looks like the renovation and retrofit will not happen before the weather gets colder again and the furnace kicks on again and we smell that familiar smell of burnt dust–the dust that builds up over the summer and burns off on that first day of heating.
Deep sigh.

Buying fuel oil for people like us who are fully awake to the realities of climate change is like a vegan buying a fast food burger.

We’ve done some research and we have some ideas which I will share soon, but we  haven’t decided what system to replace the oil furnace with. There are many choices which can be lumped into two categories: 1. pay a lot now, pollute less and save money later or 2. pay less now but pollute more and get stuck with high fuel bills.

What do you think we should do?

One interesting question is whether we should switch to natural gas or go 100% electric. Examples of pure electric options are air-source heat pumps or ground source heat pumps. Natural gas is pretty cheap right now and more efficient than oil but it is still a fossil fuel.

My dilemma is that I want Hammond Forever House to lead the charge on sustainable retrofits so I am loathe to simply switch to another fossil fuel. If we were rich, it would be easy (ground-source heat pumps for EVERYBODY!)

In a nutshell, this is the challenge I am blogging about. How many other people are in the same position?


Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

10 thoughts on “The Fossil Fuels in the Basement”

  1. One of James’ students wrote the following response:

    You have a big oil tank in your basement and it is a good thing because you don’t have to buy as much oil but oil furnaces pollute and release a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere.
    I think you should change your oil furnace to natural gas furnace. Natural gas furnace is cheaper than electric and more efficient, too. I have Natural gas furnace and my house gets warm very quickly and by bills in winter are less expensive than my sister-in-law’s bills that has 100% electric heat.

  2. Another one of James’ students wrote this:

    About the tank of oil in your basement I really don’t know so much. As you said it is quite expensive and you have to fill oil every year and it’s not so easy and also it cost. I think you should replace the oil furnace with a natural gas furnace. It’s not so expensive and it’s much easier and you would not have to fill every year. Natural gas is pretty cheap right now and more efficient than oil as you said.
    The furnace of my house is also with natural gas and I am ok with that right now.

  3. Yet another of James’ students wrote this in her journal:

    Dear James, I like your sentence where you explain your feelings about using fuel oil. “Buying fuel oil…is like a vegan buying a fast food burger.” I know exactly what you mean.
    I live in a townhouse, and we have electric heating. We turn on the heat when start a first frost, and we turn it off when is stop freeze outside. We have 16 degrees C in our house. Only in the living room we have 19 degrees C. We also have a fireplace. So, when is a cold we use it, too.
    I don’t know too much about heating. So, I can’t give it to you some good ideas how to heat your house and what to do. I just wish you all the best to find the greatest way for heating of your house, and stay away from “fast food burger”. 🙂 Good luck.

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