Oil Heat Pros and Cons

If you just jumped in, I’m examining the pros and cons of different energy sources on Your Wild Home. I recently covered coal, and will be covering gas, solar, wind, and geothermal energy in upcoming posts.  Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!


If you found this post because you typed “oil heat” into your browser, then chances are high that you live in the Northeastern United States.

Why?

Because that’s the area of the U.S. that consumes nearly all the heating oil. In 2015, 84 percent of total residential oil sales were made in America’s Northeast region, according to the Energy Information Administration.

And for good reason. The winter weather is bitterly cold, and oil heat is one of the warmest ways to combat frigid temperatures. Oil heat burns 300 degrees hotter than natural gas, so it warms houses quicker and uses less fuel to do it.

But just because it’s one of the quickest and hottest heat sources doesn’t mean it’s the best for your home.

When you consider environmental factors, operation costs, fuel costs and convenience, the decision complicates.

So, if you need help making your decision, here’s what you need to know:

What Exactly Is Heating Oil?

Heating oil is one of the many derivatives of crude oil. Once you extract crude oil, you distill it. Then, you capture the evaporation and and divide it into categories according to weight. Lastly, you convert each of these categories into a final product. A few of these are gasoline, motor oil, diesel and heating oil.

In fact, diesel and heating oil are both called No. 2 Distillate fuel oil, and they are so much the same that the IRS requires manufacturers to dye heating oil red because heating oil isn’t taxed the same as automotive diesel. Truckers caught running red diesel in their engines receive a fine for tax evasion. But homeowners who use heating oil can rest easy knowing they aren’t paying a fuel tax to heat their home.

oil heat

Where Does Our Heating Oil Come From?

Most heating oil used in the U.S. is also from the U.S.’s supply, with some from Canada and Russia. The U.S imports oil during the winter months because the demand is higher; but no new heating oil is made unless refineries have demand for other petroleum products as well.

How Does Heating Oil Affect the Environment?

All energy sources negatively affect the environment in some way, but certain fuels are more notorious than others for their contributions. We associate oil with large oceanic spills resulting in damage to marine ecosystems. An example is the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident, which emptied 200,000 gallons of oil a day into Louisiana’s waters. But major oil spills aren’t the only ecological threat from products that have a petroleum base.

The process of transforming crude oil into heating oil and other petrochemicals is also a major air pollution contributor. In fact, ExxonMobil’s massive petrochemical factory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, discharged more than 2.6 million pounds of carcinogenic chemicals into the air in 2014 alone, according to USA Today.

When you add to those negative impacts the amount of carbon released into the air as heating oil burns, then you’re looking at a significant amount of environmental harm.

But there are some changes being made in order to lower the CO2 emitted while burning oil. Along with lowering the sulfur content of heating oil, companies are also creating biofuel or bioheat. This is a mixture of petroleum and vegetable oils or animal fats, which burn cleaner than heating oil by itself.

This is a great option for those already using oil heat, but it may not be enough reason to switch to oil from another heating source.

Pros and Cons of Oil Heat

Now that you know the background of heating oil, here are a few other pros and cons to consider:

PROS:

    • Maximum heat: Heating oil burns hotter than natural gas and delivers more heat per BTU than other heating sources.
    • Safer to store and use than other fossil fuels: Although oil is flammable, it won’t explode and it doesn’t produce carbon monoxide.
    • Less upfront cost than gas: Oil furnaces cost 10-25 percent less to buy than natural gas furnaces.
    • Works in out-of-the-way locations: If you live in a remote area without access to natural gas lines, heating oil is still an option.

CONS:

    • Higher fuel cost: For now, and in the foreseeable future, heating oil costs more to buy than natural gas.
    • Inconvenient: Heating oil has no pipeline infrastructure, so you must have a storage tank and be sure to keep it filled so you don’t run out when you need it most.
    • Needs additives to reduce freeze risk: Heating oil will gel in freezing temperatures, so additives are necessary to keep the oil flowing and the furnace functioning properly.
    • High maintenance: Extensive maintenance is required to clean dirt and soot from the chimney, and oil filters need to be changed often.

 

No energy source is perfect, but hopefully this article will help you decide which source is perfect for you.

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Oil Heat Pros and Cons
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Oil Heat Pros and Cons
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If you're living in the Northeast, chances are a home you're looking to buy or sell has oil heat. Here are the pros and cons of oil heat.
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Your Wild Home
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Megan

Editor at Your Wild Home
Hey! I'm Megan. I am a dog-lover and enjoy exploring the outdoors. Your Wild Home covers a lot of topics, including (but not limited to) home improvement, home decor, construction, real estate, and sustainability. I enjoy writing in third-person and I am addicted to chocolate, coffee, and terrible puns. Learn more on my About Me page!

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