Gas or Oil Heat: Which is Better to Heat Your Home?

gas or oil heat natural gas meter

Choosing a home heating fuel type is a major decision if you live in the northeast. While smaller homes or condominiums may offer electric heat, most larger homes do not, as it becomes too expensive to heat large spaces. Instead, more cost-effective heating fuels exist, and we will break down which is best in this post below.

Heating Oil, Propane, and Natural Gas

The three main heating fuel types are heating oil, natural gas, and propane. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s important to choose one based on what you are hoping to get from your house. For instance, if you must have a gas stove at the house, you will want to have natural gas or propane available – even if it is for cooking only.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is a popular choice in the northeast, but tends to only be available in cities and the densely populated surrounding towns. It is piped through underground lines beneath the street. You can often tell where there is natural gas available because the roads are constantly being cut open and patched to access and maintain the lines. You can also look at the homes along the street and see if they are fitted with meters like the one pictured below. These meters regulate and track the flow of natural gas into the home. The homeowner is then billed by the natural gas company just like they are billed for electricity usage. Outside of the cities and in the suburbs, you will find that houses are more spread out, roads have more hills and rocks, and natural gas is much less common. For this reason, houses in the suburbs are often equipped with storage tanks at the house for either heating oil or propane.

Look for a natural gas meter like this to determine if a home is connected to a natural gas supply line.

Propane

Propane is very similar to natural gas, but it is stored in holding tanks on the property instead of being plumbed in from a pipeline. The gas is pressurized in the tank and actually stored as a liquid – hence the common abbreviation L.P. for liquid propane. The tanks are most often stored above-ground, and are rather unsightly. For approximately 95% of the tanks in the northeast, the propane provider actually owns the tanks as well. This is problematic, as it prevents you as the homeowner from ordering propane from anyone else. This leads to a very high price per gallon for propane – sometimes as high as 2X the price per gallon of heating oil. If you are considering choosing propane for your home heating fuel needs, make sure you read this post here.

Propane is stored in outdoor tanks such as this one shown here. Occasionally they are buried beneath the ground. In most cases with above ground tanks, the propane tank itself is owned by the propane delivery company, making it extremely difficult to compare prices and shop around for propane.

Heating Oil

Heating oil is a favorite for home heating because it puts out a tremendous amount of heat – approximately 35% more effective BTUs per gallon than propane – at a much lower cost than propane. While heating oil and natural gas tend to be comparable lately in terms of cost, there were times when the price of heating oil rose and made natural gas a much more attractive option. Oil prices have declined significantly in recent years, however, and remain low today. Another benefit of heating oil is that it can be bought off-season and stored, allowing the homeowner to benefit from lower prices in the summer. There are also dozens of heating oil providers in nearly every town in the northeast, meaning there is always competition to choose from. This competition ensures that prices stay reasonable, and you will not be stuck with a monopolistic utility provider as you will with natural gas.

Heating oil is stored in fuel oil tanks like this one shown here, typically in a basement, garage, or just outside the home. Heating oil can be purchased off-season, or only as-needed, allowing the homeowner to get the best price available at any given time.

Choosing Between Heating Oil, Natural Gas, and Propane

If given the choice between all three options, it’s important to consider the trade-offs. In terms of cost, heating oil and natural gas are the clear winners. Propane is often twice as expensive when used to heat a house. Since natural gas is provided by a monopoly utility provider, you may prefer heating oil so you can choose from multiple suppliers. If you do not want to worry about your fuel supply, you can sign up for ‘automatic delivery’ of heating oil or propane, in which case the truck will come automatically on a schedule, and the experience will be much like that of having a natural gas line plumbed right into your house. The one limitation of heating oil, however, is that while you can use it to heat your home and hot water, you cannot use it for a gas stove, gas fireplace, or generator. For these, you will need a propane tank outside the house, or natural gas.

Conclusion: Heating Oil and Propane OR Natural Gas

If you find a house that has natural gas coming in from the outside, then you will be able to cost-effectively heat your home, and run auxiliary systems such as fireplaces, stoves, etc.

If natural gas is not available, however, we recommend heating oil to heat your home. Heating oil is significantly more cost-effective than propane, and affords you the ability to shop around from multiple suppliers to get the best price. Since propane suppliers almost always own the tank, there is very little you can do to negotiate a good price. With heating oil, however, you can use a site like FuelSnap to check heating oil prices from local, reputable heating oil dealers in your area and order heating oil online in seconds.

If natural gas is not available and you would like the best of both worlds, then we highly recommend heating oil and propane. Using heating oil to heat your home and hot water is the most cost-effective solution available. And having a single propane tank for stove-top cooking, gas fireplaces, and maybe even a standby generator is a great option as well.

Happy heating,

Steve

Why Do Households Use Oil For Heating?

cold snowy house with oil heat

Heating oil is a popular choice for home heating – especially in the Northeast. But what makes heating oil so popular here? It turns out that home heating oil is not only extremely efficient, but also very safe and easy to come by in the Northeast. In today’s post we’ll break down the origins of home heating oil and why it remains such a popular fuel for home heating.

Home Heating Oil and Forced Hot Air

The Northeast US has some of the oldest homes in the country – with many dating back to the 1800s or earlier. In the early 1900s, many homes were heated with coal-fired furnaces in the basement. Coal was delivered by truck and shoveled into a hot furnace to keep the home warm. In the 1930s, oil-fired furnaces were introduced, and slowly began to replace coal or wood-fired systems of the past. Oil was much more convenient than coal or wood. Not only did it produce more heat, but it was much easier to operate, as the oil could simply be stored in and drawn from a heating oil tank directly to the burner. This eliminated the need to manually add coal or wood to a burner in the basement.

The Transition to Home Heating Oil From Coal

The ease of heating with oil, coupled with the low cost and high heat output made home heating oil increasingly popular in the mid-1900s. Many coal delivery companies began to evolve into coal and home heating oil companies, and eventually began selling only heating oil.

The Benefits of Home Heating Oil

Home heating oil has many benefits when compared to other fuels such as natural gas, propane, electricity, or kerosene. For example, consider the difference between home heating oil and kerosene. Below are the main benefits of using home heating oil:

  • It’s Safe: At room temperature, home heating oil cannot be ignited. In fact, heating oil must be heated to 140° F and atomized before it can be ignited in a burner.
  • It’s Efficient: Heating oil produces over 138,000 BTUs per gallon. Home heating oil is significantly more efficient than propane, which produces approximately 91,500 BTUs per gallon. While oil furnaces are not able to deliver 100% of that heat to the home, they are able to deliver about 85% of it to the home, for about 117,725 effective BTUs per gallon. This compares to propane furnaces, which are about 95% efficient, and therefore produce approximately 86,925 effective BTUs per gallon.
  • It’s Cost-Effective: Oil prices in today’s market have dropped significantly from their peak. Oil is currently in the mid $1.50 range in the Northeast. This compares to propane which is well north of $2.00 per gallon. And considering a home needs 1.35 gallons of propane to produce the same amount of heat as one gallon of heating oil, the price for propane is nearly twice that of heating oil!
  • The Homeowner Is Free to Shop Around: Heating oil tanks always belong to the homeowner. Unlike with propane, you are free to buy from any supplier you’d like. This gives you maximum flexibility and saves you hundreds of dollars per year.
  • You Can Add Diesel If You Run Out: Since heating oil is virtually the same fuel as diesel, you will not be left in the cold if you accidentally run out. You can simply go to the gas station, grab five gallons of diesel fuel, and add it to your oil tank. Five gallons is usually enough to last the night until you can have the heating oil tank filled. Be sure to follow our guide if you ever run out of heating oil.

Home Heating Oil Is Extremely Easy to Monitor

Historically, folks with oil-heated homes have had to either sign up for ‘automatic delivery’ or remember to check their oil tank periodically. This would ensure they do not run out of home heating oil on a cold night.

Today, however, tools like the Smart Oil Gauge exist to alert you when your oil tank is low. You can track your usage per day, week, month, or year to know how much home heating oil you are using. You can adjust the thermostat to save heating oil as well. And finally, when you’re low, you can use a site like FuelSnap to easily shop for heating oil.

Home Heating Oil is a Great Source for Heat

If you’re shopping for a new home in the Northeast, you should feel comfortable if it is heated with oil. Home heating oil provides great value in that it is relatively inexpensive and produces significant BTUs per gallon.

Having a heating oil tank inside the house means you can buy heating oil on a site like FuelSnap from whichever heating oil dealer you’d like. Check local New England oil prices, and pay with a credit card to have heating oil delivered in no time. Do not worry about getting stuck with one single supplier as is often the case with propane or natural gas.

Happy heating,

Steve

What is the Best Heating System for a New Home?

radiant floor heat

Choosing a heating system for a new home requires understanding different ways homes are heated and how home heating works. From oil to propane, natural gas to electric, there are a variety of fuel types to choose from. And from radiant floor heat, to forced hot air that comes through vents in the floors, there are also many ways to heat the space inside the home. In this post, we’ll break down our favorites and reasoning for our choices…read on below!

How to Choose a Heating Fuel Type

Depending on where your new home is being built, your options for fuel type may be limited. If you are in the Midwest or Northwest US, natural gas may be your only choice. In the northeast however, you may be choosing between heating oil, propane, or natural gas. Electric heat is also an option, but we do not recommend it if you live in a cold climate, as it can be very expensive in the wintertime.

  • Natural Gas: If your neighborhood has natural gas, we recommend tapping into it for your home’s heating system. You can also use natural gas for fireplaces, backup generators, and pool heaters. The downside to natural gas is you are dependent on one supplier, and therefore cannot price compare and switch between suppliers. If the price goes up, you are stuck.
  • Heating Oil: Heating oil generates more heat per gallon than any other fuel type, and as of this writing is about as cost-effective as natural gas. The nice thing about heating oil is that you can choose from many heating oil suppliers and store a large quantity of heating oil in an oil tank in your basement. This allows you to stock up in the off-season and avoid fluctuating local oil prices in the winter.
  • Propane: Propane is the most expensive option when it comes to heating your home, so we recommend avoiding it. Propane not only puts out less heat per gallon than heating oil, but actually costs more per gallon. Further, when you use propane, the propane supplier will provide you with a tank. This prevents you from ordering propane from any other supplier – even if the price is lower! The only benefit to propane is it can also be used for cooking and gas fireplaces. That said, you can always use both heating oil and propane if you would like the best of both worlds and natural gas is not available.

Choosing a Heating System

There are two basic heating types: air-based systems and water-based systems.

Air-Based Systems (Forced Hot Air)

Air-based systems rely on a furnace to heat incoming air. Once the air is hot, a blower circulates this air through ducts throughout the house.

Benefits of air-based heating systems:

  • Duct work is relatively inexpensive to install during new construction.
  • Vents can be closed off in rooms that do not need to be heated.
  • The space can be heated very quickly.
  • The same ducts can be used for a central A/C cooling system.
forced hot air incorporates ducts and vents throughout the house and allows for central a/c to be installed to cool the air in the summer
Forced hot-air heating systems are extremely popular and feature vents like this to channel the hot air throughout the house. The added benefit of this type of system is that the same ducts can be used in the summer to channel cold air from the home’s central A/C system.

Water-Based Systems (Boilers)

The second type of system, which was more common before central A/C was introduced, is a water-based system. This type of heating system features a boiler which heats water in the basement. This hot water is then pumped through radiators that are placed throughout the house. The radiators slowly heat the surrounding air and warm the house up.

Benefits of water-based systems

  • These systems retain heat better, as the water in the radiators stays warm.
  • They can be used with under-floor heating (also known as radiant floor heat) for extremely comfortable warm floors.
radiators like these are usually indicative of a boiler system that pumps hot water throughout the house, or electric heat which is less common in the northeast
Look for radiators like these to determine if a house uses a boiler for heat instead of forced hot-air.

Hydronic Heating Systems (Hybrid Systems for Water and Air)

Our favorite type of home heating system for new construction is a hydronic system. This type of system uses a water heater to heat water for the house. This water can be used in two ways:

  1. The hot water can be used in the floor to provide radiant heating. There is nothing like walking on warm floors on a cold winter day.
  2. The hot water can be sent to a heat exchanger to heat air as well. In this case, forced hot air remains a back-up option to quickly heat the air in the home.

Benefits of a Hydronic System with Radiant Floor Heat:

  • The coziness of warm floors provided by radiant floor heat is second to none.
  • The floors help retain heat throughout the day.
  • The backup forced hot air can help heat the house quickly, or provide a backup heat source on a really cold day.
radiant floor heat makes for an extremely cozy living space in the winter months
Radiant floor heat is extremely cozy and should be considered before construction begins on the home, as it must be installed under the flooring.
Rheem offers a comprehensive hydronic system that combines hot water with forced hot air for the best of both worlds
The components of a hydronic heating system. The hot water that is sent throughout the house can also be sent to the hydronic air handler. In the air handler, air passes through a heat exchanger where it is heated before being blown throughout the house. This hybrid system provides the benefits of radiant heating, with the quick response of forced hot-air.

Summary: Forced Hot Air is a Must

If you’re considering building a new house, you should, at the very least, install a forced hot air system. This will allow you to very easily install a central A/C system as well. You can install the A/C system while building the house up front, or always add it later – just be sure to specify a furnace that has enough clearance to add coils for cold air.

If your budget will allow, then you should consider a hybrid system that incorporates hot water and hot air. This will provide the duct work for quickly heating the house but will also accommodate radiant floor heat. Radiant floor heat provides maximum coziness in the winter and tends to maintain the heat nicely throughout the day.

Since you’ll already have the duct work, this will allow you to have central A/C installed as well. Planning for this during construction will eliminate the need for any renovations down the road. As for a fuel type, we recommend natural gas if it’s available, and heating oil if it is not. Propane is unnecessarily expensive and will make it very difficult to switch providers or price shop if need be.

If you choose home heating oil as your primary fuel type, FuelSnap has the best New England oil prices around. Compare oil prices from various heating oil suppliers, find your perfect fit and enjoy the home heating oil delivery! Yes, it really is that simple.

Happy heating,

Steve