Money Minute: Home Heating Costs Climb; Solar Panel Sales Rise


As temperatures go down, heating bills are set to soar.

Man adjusting thermostat
Getty Images
Temperatures are unseasonably cold in many areas of the country, and the cost of heating your home this winter could rise sharply from last year -- especially if you use natural gas. The Energy Department estimates it will cost 17 percent more if you live in the Northeast. For residents in the South, the cost goes up more than 12 percent, and by nearly that much in the Midwest. The increase in the West is expected to be about 7 percent higher. Electricity costs are likely to rise by 2 to 5 percent across the country.

That may have you thinking about alternatives. You could join the move to solar panels. Installations rose by about 20 percent this year and an industry trade group expects even faster expansion in 2014. Solar stocks have done even better. SolarCity (SCTY) and SunPower (SPWR) both up more than 300 percent this year.

Here on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 129 points Wednesday, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) lost 20 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 57 points.

Standard & Poor's has friended Facebook (FB). It was only a matter of time until the social media giant joined the closely watched S&P 500 index. That takes effect at the close of trading next Friday. Facebook's market value now tops $120 billion.

The world's largest hotel chain goes public this morning. Hilton Worldwide raised $2.3 billion with its IPO, pricing its stock at $20 a share. That values the company at nearly $20 billion. Eventually, some of the money could be used to spruce up rooms and facilities. Private-equity firm Blackstone Group (BX) bought Hilton in 2007. It will trade under the same ticker symbol it had back then -- HLT.

And Vera Bradley (VRA), the maker of women's accessories, is out of style with today's investors. It posted solid earnings, but issued a disappointing outlook for the current quarter and next year.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

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Rob Comey

The best renovation is one that will bring you a real return. we have put solar panels on our roof and that was a good choice. To find the a qualified local installer near you, use its free and they will send you quotes for your project.

March 13 2014 at 6:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I fail to understand why, when there is a glut of natural gas, that prices are going anywhere but down.

December 12 2013 at 3:13 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

As usual when there is a disaster or other reason that people will need something to survive, there are people or companies who will take advantage of the situation to line their pockets not caring that some people can not afford the prices.

December 12 2013 at 2:47 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Actually there are a lot of much less expensive things you can do besides add solar.
One of them is using an electric throw. When it's cold out everyone is going to be inside and not moving around which means sitting on the couch, love seat, etc.
The new Sunbeam electric throws cost $24.88 each and only use max 180 watts ( similar to a light bulb) on the highest setting, but low or medium is usually plenty.
You simply throw it onto your couch, plug it in, set it to medium, then sit on it.
Then you can set your heater a lot lower so it only comes on half the time, if that.
Combined with a dress for success strategy you can actually start sweating.
Online it's Imperial Plush Heated Throw, Sunbeam 180 Watts.

December 12 2013 at 2:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Please tell me where there solar homes are located......I have just made a trip to New York,,,,,,,and made another trip to Yellow Stone......I seen very little solor panels..


December 12 2013 at 2:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Solar costs versus my electric usage needs 14 years to break even not factoring in the cost of money. If you want to go solar, fine, but don't expect this to be money maker for some time to come.

December 12 2013 at 12:06 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jhrooney's comment

On top of that, the current effective life of these solar systems is still only 15 years, so basically you will never see the payback.

December 12 2013 at 12:46 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The fact is pure capitalism. If you start producing alternative energies, whether or not they are completely fine tuned, it will create competition with oil.

Education tells you that if you have competition, you have "price wars" and stabilization of prices over the long run.

Once alternative energies are developed adequately it will force oil companies to either quit drilling or to be competitive with prices.

Won't that make everyone happier.

Just like Obamacare, competition among insurance companies makes prices go down.

Just a fact of life.

December 12 2013 at 2:20 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Be aware that ALEC, the "paid to play" group behind the "stand your ground" legislation is now pushing to have laws passed that will charge homeowners fees for having solar panels on their homes due to their recent popularity.

December 12 2013 at 11:21 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to aamyldart's comment

Sounds like Virginia's plan to charge hybrid car owners fees because they're not using enough gasoline and thus not paying a lot of fuel tax. Bill Moyers has done some good shows on ALEC, and how intertwined they are with congress.

December 12 2013 at 4:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

And here I thought there was a glut of natural gas. One question: just what percentage of US homes/residences are actually on gas lines? I realize it is far more common for businesses to be piped. I know for a fact that a full slate of natural gas appliances is cheaper to operate than the electric equivalents, even considering the higher repair and maintenance costs involved.

December 12 2013 at 10:35 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to bdgrizcp's comment

What higher repair and maintenance costs???
I live in an all gas house that my Grandfather had built in 1937... I finally replaced the original gas furnace just 12 years ago and that was for a more efficent and smaller footprint... My wife loves her antique gas stove from 1907 and my gas hot water heater is 19 years old...
In the area That i live in, gas lines are available to everybody but most rural folks and that goes for every other place I have lived...

December 12 2013 at 1:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I suppose where you live. I know most of CA homes are piped for natural gas for heating.

Some areas, like sparsely populated ones, are not piped and rely on gas tanks.

December 12 2013 at 2:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I hope they have improved the solar panels , there has been lots of reports of them burning down the houses .

December 12 2013 at 10:31 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to MIKE's comment

I live in an alternative energy home, I never heard anything like that!

December 12 2013 at 11:23 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

you must have those new ones that are on MARS!!

December 12 2013 at 5:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

"could rise sharply from last year -- especially if you use natural gas." What is this author smoking? I use natural gas and live in a larger home than before and have never paid less. As a matter of fact in the last month they had lowered the rate again. Is this an oil company advertisement? And yes I live in Pennsylvania and it is a little chilly outside but it is December.

December 12 2013 at 9:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tom's comment

I live in CA and paid $1.07 a therm of natural gas once all cost were included. Also stayed under the base line which if you go over you pay about a 10% additional premium.

What was the cost of gas in PA last month, just out of curiosity?

December 12 2013 at 2:25 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply