How Maine and the rest of the nation heat their homes

It’s well-known and often stated how reliant Maine homes are on heating oil for their homes… but before I go further, just flip through this time series and see for yourself (it shows the percentage of homes using heating oil by state from 1940 to 2010):

The chart came out of background research for a story up today about Maine’s emerging wood pellet industry, specifically wood pellet boilers. With new technologies from Europe, pellet boiler companies have been operating in Maine for years but are this year hoping to carve out their own niche in the state rules that govern heating systems.

While heating oil still keeps most Maine homes warm, that number is declining. The time series above shows only up to 2010, but 2012 estimates from the American Community Survey show the percentage of homes using oil heat is continuing to drop to around 70 percent.

For a perspective on the total makeup of the systems heating Maine homes, look at this chart, noting where oil overtook wood heat in the mid-1940s and where in 2000 oil systems first began to decline:

As mentioned in my story, the number of wood-fired systems has been on the rise in Maine in recent years. A part of that is wood pellet stoves and boiler systems. Generally, those systems are looking at competition from natural gas heat, which has been growing rapidly — along with electric heat — since the start of the survey.

Looking at national figures, you can see how the number of housing units using utility gas — defined as gas coming through underground pipes from a central system — overtook wood heat in the early 1940s and continues to grow:

And, just for fun, here’s a look at the percentage of households using utility gas heat in a time series from 1940, similar to the first look at heating oil use in Maine:

If you’re wondering what the different types of system categories mean, more specifically, here’s some guidance from the U.S. Census Bureau:

Assuming the number of oil-fired heating systems will continue to decline in Maine, what type of heat do you think will make up the difference?

Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.