Dear PoP – How do you Heat your House?

Photo by PoPville flickr user dullshick

“Dear PoP,

I was wondering if you could ask people’s experiences with having an oil heating system in their house? I’m taking the first steps to becoming a homeowner and a few houses have oil heat and I’m a bit weary of the costs of operation.”

We’ve had an interesting discussion on the merits of radiators vs forced air but does anyone have an opinion on oil heating vs natural gas? Are there other options?

12 Comment

  • ah

    Forget electric and propane. For background, we bought a house with oil heat and during renovations evaluated whether to switch to gas or stay with oil. We opted to switch.

    Oil and gas are similar in price for heat. Oil tends to fluctuate more with crude oil prices, for better or worse. In making this decision, I came across some articles that suggested oil was cheaper, but they were a bit dated and found that if you ran the numbers with current prices they are a lot closer. Of course, that makes sense given that big utilities can switch between the two, which tends to force prices towards each other. With natural gas you have a “safety valve” of regulation on prices; with oil there’s a political safety valve every time there is a cold winter.

    As for functionality, the big difference is that you have to have an oil tank and delivery whereas gas is piped straight in. That’s a plus for gas, but really oil delivery is not a huge hassle–they companies figure out your consumption pattern and will return whenever they figure you’re getting low. You can always call too. The only other problem is that you may have $1000 of oil sitting in your tank all summer.

    In terms of boilers, both give basically the same results so function isn’t an issue there. Repairs on oil boilers may be a bit lower, but it’s not a significant difference so far as I could tell.

    Bottom line is don’t worry about oil heat. It wasn’t our first choice and because switching was costless (needed new boiler, gas line already there), and we needed gas for stove and hot water, we switched. But I wouldn’t bother switching just for the sake of having gas heat.

  • There is, of course another argument. If you have an oil burner, you will have ALOT more pollution(VOC, SO2, PM10, PM2.5, and maybe NOx) emitted than using natural gas. Its rather significant, also, there is a noticable odor with an oil tank and boiler, so thats an issue if you have it near a finished basement.

    If you do switch, just make sure to remove the oil pipe on the outside of the house.


    long term, natural gas is probably a better bet in terms of cost. plus it gives you lower pollution and it generally comes from friendlier places than does oil (though many folks obviously don’t like how either gets pulled out of the earth).

  • leery or wary, not weary.

    • wea·ry   /ˈwɪəri/ Show Spelled [weer-ee] Show IPA adjective, -ri·er, -ri·est, verb, -ried, -ry·ing.
      1. physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired: weary eyes; a weary brain.
      2. characterized by or causing fatigue: a weary journey.
      3. impatient or dissatisfied with something (often fol. by of ): weary of excuses.
      4. characterized by or causing impatience or dissatisfaction; tedious; irksome: a weary wait.

  • I grew up through 2 oil embargos which skyrocketed the price of oil so my family switched to natural gas. If you switch to gas remember that digging an old oil tank out of the ground to prevent leaks may cost you $1,000+. Your insurance policy may have a “pollution exclusion” clause which means that you have to pay the cost of the removal but check on that because these days they may give you an energy credit to switch to gas. Other than having to get the oil tank filled and the pressure from world energy forces, we had no problems with oil.

  • I’ll admit some ignorance here but in my last house in Northern California we heated with oil and it ended up being super cheap, much much cheaper than gas. Of course it doesn’t get as cold there as it does here, but it was great for us. But I have no clue about the environmental impact.

  • How about a solar water heater? My parents have these in combination with gas and extra insulated water tank… works very well with their radiators and radiant heating.

  • There are other issues you should be concerned about as well. There are restriction on different fuel sources venting into the same flue. What other appliances vent into this flue and what are their fuel sources? Fuel oil boilers, on average, are not as efficient. There have been multiple advances in gas boiler technologies over the pas few years and there are more gas boilers that are eligible for tax credits. Gas prices are more stable and the exhaust is less dangerous as well. Oil boilers are notorious for problems. Keep in mind that this boiler will probably be in place for 30 yrs or more and I’ll bet that in 15 years, oil is significantly higher than gas. Gas boilers also have a smaller footprint. If you get a condensing modulating boiler you can zone a new heating system.

  • We ran out of oil when I was living in Boston and couldn’t get resupplied until Monday AM. We spend 3 freezing cold nights in the middle of winter where we could see our breath. We were lucky the pipes didn’t freeze. That was an extreme case -most of the time you get filled up for the winter and that’s it, but it’s 1 more thing to have to manage. Gas is just always there.

    Also, oil tanks are always messy and nasty.

    Solar water heaters are all fun and games, but I wouldn’t want to have to get on the roof to clear the snow off the solar panels just to have hot water.

Comments are closed.