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As I started to write this column, the wind started howling — a sure sign of winter's coming colder weather.

That makes it a good time to think about where fuel oil prices are determined — because so many Carroll homes use it.

Locally, fuel oil and gas prices start at the bulk terminal. I recall in the trade this was always known as "the wagon price," presumably from the days when kerosene was marketed from horse drawn wagons.

Fuel oil is essentially the same as off-road diesel, but dyed red. Lower sulfur, on-road diesel, is blue/green. The difference? About 40 cents of on-road tax for the road use of diesel over furnace oil pricing.

If you know nothing else about fuel oil burners and servicing, go with a company that distributes and services.

My wife Pat just went through a "bargaining session" with a couple of companies. One company explained its comparatively higher cost by touting they service burners, "in the middle of the night."

Pat countered with the sad fact — for me, anyway — that her "first responder" happens to sleep in the same bedroom. She'd never make a 3 a.m. call to the company.

Safety experts know home fires increase during the winter months. The truth is that most can be prevented. Stupid things we do, such as bringing in kerosene cans to fill a stove instead of taking the stove outside, contribute to the problem. But a prime culprit is not inspecting all heating equipment prior to winter use. Clogged flues cause fires and carbon monoxide.

Many homes have wood burning stoves. Here again inspection is important. Check for stove pipe connections and a clear flue.

With wood stoves, be careful what wood you cut, if you cut your own. Don't burn pine because with a low fire it can put out creosote which can burn in the flue.

Make sure you purchase seasoned hardwoods like oak, chestnut, locust, etc. Here again is an opportunity to get taken. Buy only a "measured cord" not by a "truckload" or any other similar measure. If you want a true cord, it has to be stacked neatly to be measured.

One trick to lower heating season costs is to cut off rooms you really don't need to heat. When we had children living home we needed all the rooms we had; now we confine ourselves during cold weather to the kitchen, bath and bedroom.

The kitchen is heated by a wood stove and has a gas stove for cooking. This is where we have the TV and reading materials. In cold weather, when we're awake, we're in there.

If we need to entertain, the living room has a large working fireplace that will also heat the adjacent dining room and bath.

In Eldersburg, our living room fireplace has a damper controlled by a knob that is turned to open or shut.

I recall once when we had important company coming, and Pat was in the kitchen up to her elbows in cooking.

It was my job to light the fireplace.

Off it went with a roar. One problem. I turned the damper knob the wrong way.

The result? When Pat came in with the first hors d'oeuvres — and with our guests due momentarily — she was met with a smoke cloud down around her waist.

In our entire married life, I never knew she could string together so many descriptive declarations before ending with the defining, "... idiot!"


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