The Switch Is On: Promoting Oil-to-Propane Conversions

A fuel company is urging its customers to switch from fuel oil to propane—and is offering plenty of incentives to make the change.

On the heels of our recent story on the rise of oil-to-propane conversions (Propane Energy Update, special heating issue) comes this report of a New England fuel company that is promoting propane as the preferred energy source for home heating.

Dead River Co., a 101-year-old propane and fuel oil company with 36 locations in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, has been getting serious about persuading customers to make the switch from traditional Number 2 fuel oil to propane. For the second year in a row it's running a promotional campaign that offers customers who switch a number of incentives including up to 100 gallons of free propane and 0 percent in-house financing for up to 24 months on propane heating equipment.

Robert Moore, Dead River's president and CEO, told the Portland Press Herald: "The continued drumbeat, for better or worse, about our dependence on foreign oil is going to have some traction." He believes that recent discoveries of natural gas in North America and federal policies aimed at reducing dependence on oil from the Middle East will make propane less expensive and more available. He also thinks that the so-called BP effect—the impact of the Gulf of Mexico's historic oil spill—is harder to measure, but may be contributing to increased interest in propane.

"Last year we had about 1,000-plus new accounts," says Moore. "It's hard to tell whether every single new customer was because of the promotion. This year we're a little behind that number, which I think is due to the [poor] economy. Even with financing and all the incentives out there people just aren't stepping up as much this year."

But more customers, especially in Maine, are beginning to mention the environmental benefits of propane, says Moore. They also see propane "as a plentiful, domestic product that's increasingly affordable and that has enough energy density to provide heat when you need it, as opposed to wind power, for example."

For remodelers and contractors building with propane, the opportunity is clear. Switching from fuel oil to propane is a complicated process that requires thorough knowledge of propane's performance advantages, as well as installation logistics and local regulations. Building pros well versed in the area who work closely with local propane retailers have the opportunity to cultivate prospective customers interested in making the switch.

For a detailed comparison of the first costs, efficiency levels, energy rates, and carbon emissions of oil and propane heating systems, check out the Comparative Heating Study interactive map and white paper, available now.

For a training overview on how to replace a oil heater, take our new course on Retrofitting Homes from Heating Oil to Propane.

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