Heating up: St. John's homeowners switching to oil

Trends in St. John's suggest heating homes with oil is making a comeback.

Trends in home heating suggest oil is in favour again

Sean Parrell, owner of Avalon Plumbing and Heating Ltd., says more and more customers are making the move to oil heating in anticipation of Muskrat Falls. (CBC)

A major shift is taking place in the way many St. John's residents are choosing to heat their homes, according to one man who's been in the business for 30 years. 

Sean Parrell, owner of Avalon Plumbing and Heating Limited, says the once maligned oil is making a big comeback. And it's not just because of falling oil prices — though that is helping.

"The reason a lot of people are switching is because of Muskrat Falls," he said. 

Parrell said gloomy predictions suggest the cost of electricity will increase once the project starts delivering power to the island. 

He installs all kinds of home heating systems: electric systems, oil and geothermal. He said oil heating has been a downward spiral for years, but that's changing. 

"[There is] a lot of concern with electric furnaces and with Muskrat Falls — the cost of electricity going so high. Last year we were doing one or two electric furnaces a week, now I might do one every six months," Parrell said.

He said his biggest problem now is finding enough people to hire to handle the boom in home oil installations.

Numbers don't lie — home heating fuels on the rebound

This uptick in the "shift-to-oil" numbers is also being noticed in boardrooms of oil delivery businesses.
Sean Parrell says a lot of people are switching to oil heating because of Muskrat Falls. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

Chris Forward, general manager at Harvey's Oil, agrees that oil heating is on the rebound. 

"The trend that we saw [was through keeping] track of account cancellations. Over the past 15 years, the largest segment of account cancellations was people converting to electric heat.

Forward said there was a time when most homeowners switched to electric heating, due to high oil prices. 

He said customers were also concerned about oil tanks and the potential for leaks. But Forward said that`s changed thanks to new regulations and the fact that people can now buy friendly, non-corrosive, Fiberglas tanks that are guaranteed for 50 years.

Sticking with oil

Home owner Bruce Belbin said he almost made the move to electric heat, before deciding to stick with his current oil heat setup. A potential spike in the cost of electricity scares him. 
Homeowner Bruce Belbin once considered switching to electric heat, but now says he's not going to make the gamble. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

"I think it's the unknown," he said.

"I'm a little bit of a research person. I look at commodities. I look at the price and I look at the past track of prices and electricity rates. The anticipated forecast is going to go through the roof, and that's a concern."

And Belbin said there's another reason why he's sticking with oil: during DarkNL, he was able to plug in his furnace using a generator.

"Nice and warm, nice and toasty," he recalled.

"Lots of hot water for showers — and some lights to boot."