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The Complete Guide to Heating Oil or Heating Oil 101

Choosing the best way to heat your home is a big decision. Whether you’re starting fresh with new construction, moving into a new-to-you-home or considering making a change in your current home, there are many factors to consider such as:

  • The cost of installation and maintenance
  • The price of fuel
  • How well the heating system of choice will perform. Will it suit the comfort needs of your home and your family?

We’ve been helping homeowners stay warm throughout the winter using oil heat since 1935. Consider this your guide to deciding whether a heating oil system is the right choice for you.

Heating Oil

Why Choose Oil Heat?

Heating your home with an oil-powered system has many advantages.

It’s Safe

  • Oil heat is safe for you and the environment. Today’s heating oil burns 95% cleaner than the heating oil used in the 1970’s.
  • Heating oil is not flammable in its liquid form, which is its state while in your tank and system. So even if you have an oil leak, you don’t have to worry about an explosion.
  • The introduction of Ultra-Low Sulfur Heating Oil is good for the environment. It has only a 15 ppm sulfur content as opposed to 4,000 ppm of sulfur in regular heating oil, meaning less emissions of nitrogen oxide or sulfur oxide into the air.

It’s Efficient

  • When compared to natural gas heat, oil heat provides 35% more heat per gallon.
  • Heating oil burns hotter, so it heats your home faster.
  • Newer, energy efficient systems require less fuel than older systems.

It Lasts

  • Heating oil systems can last from 15 to 25 years with proper care and maintenance.
  • Help it last by using ULS heating oil, which burns cleaner than regular oil since it reduces sulfur build-up.
  • Cleaning the ducts every couple of years and changing the filter regularly will help prolong the life of the system.

guide to heating oil

How does a heating oil system compare to other popular options?

Most households in the United States heat their homes using one of these heating systems:

  • Forced-air Furnace – powered by heating oil or natural gas
  • Steam/Hot Water – powered by heating oil or natural gas
  • Electric Heat Pump – powered primarily by electricity

A forced-air heating system fueled by heating oil works in nearly the same way as a natural gas system. In each furnace, the air is heated by combustion. This warm air is then pushed throughout the home through a duct system.

With a steam or water-based heating system the fuel is used to power the boiler, which heats the water. If the home uses baseboard heat, the hot water is the agent creating warmth through the baseboards. With radiator heat, the hot water is converted to steam which is then released into the radiators throughout the home.

Natural gas is currently the most widely-used fuel for home heating but heating oil has the edge. Not only does heating oil cost less than natural gas or electric heat, that savings is expanded since it burns hotter than natural gas, heating a space more quickly.

compare heating oil to others

How is heating oil made?

The clean, efficient heating oil used to keep you cozy in your home starts deep in the earth as crude oil. Once it is extracted it is refined to remove impurities and prepare it for use. The refining process includes distilling the oil – the technical term is “fractional distillation” – using high pressure steam to heat the oil to a temperature of 1112 degrees Fahrenheit.

The fractional distillation process separates hydrocarbons from the crude oil, creating separate substances which are then made into different products like kerosene, diesel fuel, heating oil and more.

how is heating oil made

Crude Oil. One source, many uses

Oil is a diverse fuel. The products that result from the fractional distillation process are ingrained in our daily lives.

  • Bitumen: used in road repairs and roofing
  • Fuel Oil: used for fueling factories and ships
  • Heating Oil: used for home and commercial heating, water heaters
  • Lubricating Oil: used as lubricating oil and in waxes and polishes
  • Diesel Fuels: used to power diesel engines
  • Kerosene: used to power jets
  • Gasoline: to power vehicles
  • Propane Gas: used in heating, providing hot water and powering residential and commercial appliances and home barbecue gas grills

Drilling down – pun intended? – grades of fuel oil are identified as major grades intermediary grades. The higher the grade, the better the oil meaning it is cleaner, burns more efficiently and has the least negative impact on the environment.

Grades 1 and 2
These grades are the cleanest fuel oils and those most used in home and commercial oil-based heating systems. They are the top two most expensive grades, with Grade 1 slightly less expensive than Grade 2 and slightly less clean. The higher price pays off, with these fuels providing more efficient heating and low residue in the furnaces.

Grade 4
This grade is a combination of distillate fuel oil and less clean “residual” oil. It’s used mainly in industrial and commercial spaces and functions.

Intermediary Fuel Oil (IFO)
Similar to #4, IFO is a blend of gasoline and heavy fuel oil (#6). It is also used in industrial and commercial settings.

Grade 6
This is the final, or lowest, grade of fuel oil. It’s the least expensive but the price you pay is that it is also the dirtiest of the fuel oils. It is highest in sulfur so it’s not great for your home, your furnace or the environment.

biofuel oil

Better with Biofuels

The home heating oil industry has, for the most part, made the switch to using only Ultra-Low Sulfur Heating Oil. But they haven’t stopped there. Many heating oil companies – Moyer included – have started to offer blends of home heating oil that include biofuels.

Here at Moyer, we use Bioheating oil. Made from a blend of soybean oil and Ultra-Low Sulfur Heating Oil, it is the cleanest and most environmentally-friendly of the biofuels. It is a renewable fuel that burns cleaner than natural gas and has less impact on the environment and your heating system.

moving to oil heat

Making the Move to Oil Heat

So, you’ve made the decision. You’re going to use oil heat. Whether this is a new installation or a conversion, we recommend you consult with an HVAC professional to determine next steps.

What you’ll need to consider:

  • Your current heating system. What changes will need to be made? What equipment will you need to purchase?
  • Boiler or Furnace? If making the switch, are you moving from a forced-air system with ductwork or a boiler system with baseboard or radiator heat?
  • Size of the system. A good rule of thumb to follow is between 20-30 BTU per square foot of the area you will be heating. You’ll want to choose a system that can easily provide heat to the space.
  • Are there areas of your home that you use less often than others, to the point that those spaces might require less heat? Consider a zoned heating system.
  • Oil tank installation. If you’re new to oil heat, you’ll need an oil tank.
  • Do you want to add cooling? You might want to consider adding a central air unit to enjoy comfort in all seasons.
  • What’s the AFUE? Most new heating systems will be high efficiency but it’s always a good idea to make sure. AFUE is the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency of a system and is presented in percentages. The higher the percentage, the more efficient the system, which means savings for you.

learn about heating oil

Heating Oil System Maintenance and Lifespan

If you keep up with maintenance, annual cleaning and tune-up, and choose a heating oil company that provides quality fuel, you can expect your furnace to last 15-25 years. .

Take these steps to ensure the longevity of your furnace:

  • Annual maintenance: be diligent about keeping this yearly appointment, where your HVAC technician will clean your furnace and complete any needed repairs. Many companies offer service programs that include this feature.
  • Replace the oil tank filter every year. This will be taken care of during your annual maintenance visit.
  • Replace the furnace filters every three months. This is the filter that captures dust and allergens so they don’t make their way through your ducts and into your home. If you have allergies or asthma, smoke inside the home, or own pets that shed, you may consider replacing the furnace filters every two months.

Your oil tank is another important part of your oil heating system. Most oil tanks are outside the home and can last up to 30 years. It pays to inspect your oil tank from time to time to head off any issues. This tank inspection checklist will get you started.

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