What Is The Best Way To Heat A Home In Maine?

Maine’s climate is characterized by cold, snowy winters with average temperatures ranging from 25°F in the southern part of the state to less than 15°F in the northern regions (https://statesummaries.ncics.org/chapter/me/). This extended period of frigid weather means heating homes efficiently is crucial for Mainers. The most common options for heating Maine homes through the winter include fuel oil, propane gas, natural gas, electricity, wood, and heat pumps. This article provides an overview of these heating systems, comparisons of operating costs, tips for weatherization and maintenance, and available incentives to help Maine homeowners determine the best heating solution for their home.

Fuel Types

The most common fuel types used for home heating in Maine are:


Fuel oil, kerosene and other oil-based fuels are the most popular residential heating fuels in Maine, accounting for over 70% of households according to Statista. Oil has traditionally been the heating fuel of choice in Maine due to its widespread availability and infrastructure across the state.

Natural Gas

Only about 4% of Maine households use natural gas as their primary heating fuel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Availability is limited outside of southern Maine and a few other pockets of the state.


Around 15% of Maine homes are heated primarily with electricity, either through electric baseboard units or electric heat pumps, according to EIA data. While electricity prices can fluctuate, heat pumps are becoming an increasingly popular option.


About 9% of Maine households rely on wood or wood pellets as their main heating source. Wood is a locally available, renewable resource in Maine that can provide an affordable heating option, but requires more physical labor and maintenance.


Only 2-3% of Maine households use propane as their primary heating fuel. It is more commonly used in supplemental heating systems and appliances according to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Heating Systems

There are several common heating systems used in Maine homes:

  • Forced Air Furnace – Forced air furnaces work by using a central furnace to heat air, which is then distributed throughout the home via ducts and vents. The hot air circulates and heats the home. According to 207 Plumbing & Heating, forced air furnaces are one of the most common heating systems in Maine.
  • Boiler and Radiators – Boiler systems use a central boiler to heat water, which is then pumped through pipes into radiators located in different rooms. As the hot water moves through the radiators, the heat radiates into the rooms. Boiler systems provide very even heating. However, they can be slower to initially heat up a space compared to forced air.
  • Electric Baseboard – Electric baseboard heating uses electric heating elements that mount along baseboards on walls. It provides zone heating so each room can be controlled separately. Baseboard heating is simple and inexpensive to install. But it can be more expensive to operate than central furnace systems.
  • Wood Stoves – Wood stoves burn wood, pellets, or biomass to create heat. They heat spaces via radiant heat and natural air convection. According to Maine Homes, wood stoves support the local Maine economy. But they require more maintenance and work than other heating systems.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are becoming an increasingly popular way to heat homes efficiently in Maine. There are two main types of heat pumps – air-source and ground-source. Air-source heat pumps work by transferring heat between the inside and outside air. They are generally more affordable to install than ground-source heat pumps, with costs ranging from $3,000-$7,000 according to Efficiency Maine. However, they may be less efficient in extremely cold weather. Ground-source heat pumps use pipes buried underground to transfer heat and can maintain efficiency even in cold weather. But installation costs are higher, from $15,000-$25,000 (Efficiency Maine).

When comparing efficiency between heat pump systems, an important metric is coefficients of performance (COP). The higher the COP, the more efficient the system. Air-source heat pumps have a COP around 2-4. This means for every 1 unit of electricity they use, they produce 2-4 units of heat. Ground-source heat pumps are generally more efficient, with a COP of 3-5 (Efficiency Maine). This makes both types much more efficient than electric resistance heating which has a 1:1 ratio of electricity to heat. Overall, heat pumps can lead to significant energy savings compared to fossil fuel systems in Maine.


Weatherization refers to various methods of making your home more energy efficient and reducing drafts by improving insulation, sealing leaks, and installing energy efficient windows (Efficiency Maine). Adding insulation in walls, attics, and basements helps prevent heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. The most common types of insulation are fiberglass batts/rolls, loose fill, rigid foam boards, and spray foam. The Recommended R-value for attics in Maine is R-49, for exterior walls R-20 to R-25, and for basement walls/crawlspaces R-10 to R-15 (Maine Government).

Caulking and weatherstripping areas with air leaks like windows, doors, electrical outlets, and attic hatches also helps improve efficiency. High performance ENERGY STAR rated windows with Low-E coatings, argon gas, and insulated frames provide better insulation than standard windows. Upgrading old, leaky windows to new energy efficient models can significantly reduce drafts and heating costs.

Programmable Thermostats

Using a programmable thermostat is one of the easiest ways to maximize energy efficiency for heating and cooling your home. Programmable thermostats allow you to set customized schedules for the times you are home and away so your system isn’t running unnecessarily when you don’t need it. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling costs by simply turning your thermostat back 7-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting [1].

Programmable thermostats have preset options to set schedules for weekdays, weekends, or even custom days. The most basic programmable thermostats allow you to set 4 time periods per day, while more advanced models can have additional flexibility. When shopping for a programmable thermostat focus on ones with simple user interfaces that make scheduling easy. Models with smart features like wi-fi connectivity, phone apps, and learning capabilities can make programming seamless.

Smart thermostats like the Nest Learning Thermostat and the ecobee SmartThermostat use built-in sensors and algorithms to learn your schedule and automatically program themselves. They also allow remote access via smartphone so you can adjust the temperature anytime. Smart thermostats can help maximize savings by fine tuning schedules to match your exact usage patterns [2].


Regular maintenance keeps a heating system running safely and efficiently. The most important maintenance tasks include replacing air filters, annual inspections, and tune-ups.

Air filters should be checked monthly and replaced every 90 days during the heating season. Dirty filters restrict airflow, reducing the system’s efficiency. Replacing clogged filters improves airflow and allows the furnace or boiler to operate at peak performance.[1]

An annual inspection by a professional technician is highly recommended. The technician will clean key components, check for leaks or corrosion, test controls and safety devices, and ensure the system is operating properly. Preventative maintenance helps maximize efficiency and extend the equipment’s lifespan.[2]

A yearly tune-up optimizes combustion efficiency. The technician will adjust the air-fuel mixture, tighten electrical connections, lubricate moving parts, and calibrate thermostats and controls. Proper tuning reduces energy consumption and lowers heating bills.

With regular maintenance, heating equipment lasts longer and operates more efficiently. Taking care of filters, inspections, and tune-ups leads to energy savings and maximizes the heating system’s performance.

[1] https://www.aspinwallplumbing.com/blog/2019/december/7-benefits-of-heating-maintenance/
[2] https://www.harrellking.net/blog/benefits-of-heating-system-maintenance/

Cost Comparison

When deciding on the best heating system for a home in Maine, one of the most important factors is cost. This includes both the upfront costs of purchasing and installing the system, as well as the ongoing fuel costs. According to Efficiency Maine’s Residential Heating System Cost Calculator, heating oil is currently one of the most expensive heating fuels in Maine, with prices ranging from $3.34 – $5.30 per gallon as of January 2023 according to the Maine Governor’s Energy Office. In contrast, propane prices range from $3.36 – $3.59 per gallon, making it a more affordable fuel option. Electric heat pumps have moderate installation costs but very low operating costs, making them one of the most cost-effective systems over the full lifetime of the unit.

When calculating return on investment timeframes, heat pumps often come out ahead. According to Efficiency Maine’s heating cost comparison tool, the estimated payback period for an air source heat pump in Maine is around 3-7 years compared to oil heating depending on factors like home size, climate zone, and rebates. Ground source heat pumps have a longer payback period of 7-15 years, but provide superior efficiency and performance. Overall, the lower annual fuel costs of systems like heat pumps compared to oil lead to significant lifetime savings that offset their higher upfront costs over time.


There are several financial incentives available to Maine homeowners looking to improve the efficiency of their heating systems. Efficiency Maine offers rebates on heat pumps, insulation, air sealing, and other efficiency upgrades (efficiencymaine.com). Rebates are available for ductless heat pumps up to $2,000 and for upgrading electrical panels when installing heat pumps up to $600 (efficiencymaine.com). The state also offers property tax exemptions and income tax credits for installing renewable energy systems like heat pumps (maine.gov). Taking advantage of these incentives and rebates can help offset the upfront costs of upgrading home heating equipment and make cleaner heating systems more affordable for Maine residents.


In Maine, where temperatures get very cold in winter, it’s important to have a home heating system that is both efficient and budget friendly. The best combination for most Maine homes is a heat pump system paired with proper insulation and weatherization. Heat pumps provide efficient heating and cooling, while weatherization and insulation help retain heat in the home. Programmable thermostats add an extra element of efficiency by allowing the temperature to be lowered at night or when away. Regular maintenance will keep any system running well. While heat pumps tend to have a higher upfront cost than oil or propane furnaces, they offer long-term savings on energy bills that make them the most cost-effective option for heating a home in Maine. With rebates and incentives from Efficiency Maine, heat pumps are now within reach for many homeowners. By selecting the right system and combining it with insulation, weatherization, programmable thermostats, and regular maintenance, Maine homeowners can stay warm while saving energy and money.
an energy efficient heat pump can help save money and energy when heating a home in maine's cold winters.

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