Keeping Our Homes Warm - Changes in Residential Heating

Uploaded by EIAgov on 05.11.2012

Americans use a variety of heating fuels to warm their homes, with either natural
gas, electricity, or heating oil dominating the residential heating
market today.
Over the past seven decades, the choice of fuels that we use has changed
In 2010, the most-used fuels for space heating at the state level were
natural gas, electricity, and heating oil,
with very little space heating fuel used in Hawaii.
However, consumers also used other fuels. For example, propane is often used in
mobile homes for heating. But neither that fuel nor any other fuel was used enough
to exceed natural gas, electricity or heating oil as the main
heating fuel in any state.
The home heating picture in the country
was a lot different in 1950.
In that year, coal was widely used in about one third of the states and
six states burned wood for their primary heating fuel.
The number of states using heating oil as their primary heating source peaked
in 1960.
then gradually declined in the years that followed.
Natural gas (in blue)
takes hold across the country as the primary heating fuel,
and, beginning in 1980,
electricity (in red)
expands into the sunbelt and the Pacific Northwest,
and by 1990 the expansion of electricity continues in the South,
while heating oil is confined to the Northeast.
By 2000, more households in the South use electricity as their primary
heating source, and by 2010,
natural gas remains the most widely used space heating fuel.
Electricity use has increased Significantly, and
heating oil is commonly used only in the Northeast.
The choice of fuel for heating a home has been driven by a combination of the
availability of fuels, winter heating demand,
and fuel prices.
From 1981 - 2009
(the period covered by the U.S. Energy Information Administration
Residential Energy Consumption Survey),
Natural gas prices have been relatively stable.
Heating oil prices have been higher and more volatile than natural gas prices,
and electricity prices were significantly higher than the other two
I 2009, residential price of natural gas was just over $10 per million Btu
making gas, the least expensive of the major heating fuels.
We use the Btu or British thermal unit,
to compare the price of an equivalent amount of energy produced by each
heating fuel.
Heating oil costs about twice as much as gas,
and electricity was more than three times the price of natural gas.
So why are so many people using electricity for heat?
The price of fuel is only part of the story.
Just like power plants burning fossil fuels, furnaces burned gas or oil to
create heat in some of that heat is lost when the hot fuel or exhaust gases are
vented to the outside.
So getting your home's temperature to the level set at the thermostat takes extra
This loss drives up the actual cost to heat your home with gas or oil.
But in homes heated with an electric furnace, almost all of the electricity
consumed is converted to usable heat.
If we take into account the efficiency of the typical heating equipment in a
we can see the effective cost of each heating source.
With electricity, if you use a heat pump, which is more efficient than a
traditional electric furnace, the effective cost of electric heat becomes
This efficiency improvement can make an electric heat pump competitive with
natural gas.
Where a home is located plays a large role in it's winter heating demand.
Over time the Northeast and Midwest regions have been losing population shares
to the warmer West and South.
Between 1981-2009,
the United States added 30.5 million households,
an increase of 37 percent.
Fewer households were added in the Northeast and Midwest,
and more were added in the West and South, an increase of more than
50 percent for those two regions.
Both the westward and southward population shifts have resulted in a
greater number of homes located in milder climates which have a lower overall
heating demand.
The trends in fuels used for heating from 1981 -- 2009 vary period by region.
In the Northeast, heating oil use declined steadily over the period, while
the use of natural gas increased.
In the Midwest,
natural gas has been and continues to be the dominant fuel.
In the West, natural gas is the predominant fuel.
However, electricity use has increased, and in the south,
Natural gas use exceeded electricity at the beginning of the period,
but by 1993, electricity took over as the main heating fuel, and its
use has been growing ever since.
The strong growth of electricity in the South across the period is striking.
No other fuel in any region has increased use as significantly.
Within the current housing stock,
the heating fuel use varies by the age of homes.
In the U.S., in 2009,
newer homes are much more likely to use electricity for heat
than older homes.
Within the regions,
the heating fuels used and the ages of those homes vary.
In the Northeast,
where the majority of homes that use heating oil are located,
more homes constructed before 1970 use that fuel.
In the Northeast and the Midwest, there are more older homes than newer homes
using natural gas.
While a greater number of more recently constructed homes in the West and South
use natural gas.
In 2009,
just over half of all homes that use electricity for heating were located in
the South, and were constructed since 1970.
To sum up,
natural gas continues to be the main heating source in U.S. homes.
Electricity is increasingly important across the United States for heating, and
dominates in the South.
Heating oil once widely used, is declining as a main heating fuel but
remains important in the Northeast
For more information on the energy profile of your state,
please visit the U.S. Energy Information Administration's website at