New to Oil Heat

As of January 2016, about 6 million households in the country use heating oil as their main space heating fuel, and most of the consumption is concentrated in the Northeast area. In 2014, about 88% of total U.S. residential fuel oil was sold to consumers in the Northeast. (EIA)

Since the demand of home heating energy is larger than other regions, it’s important that homeowners can fully understand heating oil and the differences between other types of heating systems, such as natural gas. As technologies evolve, heating oil may be very different from what you may think.

Fact 1: Heating oil is non-explosive

Did you know if you drop a match into heating oil it will be extinguished as if dropped into water? Mind-blowing, right? Many people confuse oil and heating oil and think heating oil is extremely dangerous, which is a myth. Heating oil is a low viscosity, liquid petroleum product that must be vaporized before it will ignite or burn. It doesn’t burn in a liquid state. Even if a heating oil leak does happen, it wouldn’t be an explosive hazard.

Fact 2: Pink is the new black

Do you imagine heating oil is black, sticky like this? Bzzzzzt, wrong answer. Government regulations in most countries require that no. 2 heating oil be dyed pink so that inspectors, vendors, and purchasers can distinguish it from various oil products, like off-road diesel.

Fact 3: Heating oil is clean and continually getting cleaner

Since 2012, Northeastern states are working on cutting the sulfur content of heating oil with official law regulation. By 2018, sulfur content in oilheat will be lower than 15 ppm.

Federal Mandates for Ultra-low Sulfur Diesel

(Chart courtesy of EIA)

Fact 4: Heating oil is cheaper than you think

If you are reading this article, most likely you’ve heard that switching to natural gas could save you more. Well, if you calculate all the elements that go into a conversion, such as: the cost of construction, a new furnace, hiring a contractor to install it, removal of your old heating source and so on, you wouldn’t recuperate your costs for many years.

Studies have shown that for the past 30 years, natural gas and oil were comparably priced, and heating oil had the advantage most of the time. (American Energy Coalition) Oil prices have reached 10-year lows this year, with analysts predicting prices will stay low for the foreseeable future.

Fact 5: Heating oil is your best option until renewable energy is more readily available

Renewable energy sources are expected to be affordable and accessible in the near future. Meanwhile, the investments required to construct natural gas pipelines across the state are staggering -- even when amortized over 20+ years. Who will be on the hook to pay for those pipelines long after more affordable, renewable energy sources are introduced over the next decade?

Heating oil is the most cost-efficient and environment-friendly option for now that can be a bridge to a renewable energy choice down the road. By contrast, other types of heating systems hinder efforts to move towards renewable energy solutions.

Fact 6: Heating oil generates fewer emissions

Since 1970, the heating oil industry has cut its total greenhouse gas emissions by about 1/3. Home oil burners generate less than 1/3 of 1% of total U.S. particulate emissions.

When it comes to Bioheat, the National Oilheat Research Alliance’s study in 2015 shows that its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are less than natural gas GHG emissions at a blend level of 2% biodiesel.

Fact 7: Heating oil burns hotter than any home heating fuel

Heating oil burns 400 degrees hotter than natural gas, warming your home with less fuel and money. Efficiency of heating oil equipment is usually evaluated between 83% and 94%. The number breaks down to how many cents of every dollar spent for heat are actually used to heat up your home.

Fact 8: Using heating oil in Maine supports the local economy

Most heating oil providers are family-owned and operated in the neighborhood for years and provide a wide range of service and expertise. By using heating oil, you are actually supporting the local economy and providing more job opportunities. Heating oil providers care about and are involved in the local community.

Fact 9: Using heating oil means having more choices

There are over 100 heating oil suppliers who deliver to customers across Maine. As a homeowner, you're free to choose whichever supplier you'd like. With more suppliers come more options -- like competitive pricing and a wide range of service plans. If you use natural gas, you're likely stuck with one supplier (think cable company).

Heating Oil Greater Efficiency and a Greener, Brighter Future

Now, more than ever before, there is an ongoing and vigorous debate over the use of various energy resources and their potential impact on the environment. As part of this debate, much is being written about the United States reliance on foreign oil, the impact of fossil fuels on the environment, and the need to continually improve energy efficiency.

Energy consumers, business leaders, policy makers, and the news media do not need more rhetoric; they need s to ensure a balanced dialogue on the economic and environmental benefits of all fuels. As such, it's important to understand and separate commonly held myths about heating oil from the facts:

Myth Oilheat is expensive.
Facts Heating oil actually costs less than it did in 1980, when adjusted for inflation, and serves about 23 million Americans in 8.6 million households. Sources: Oilheat America

Myth Oilheat does not produce as much energy as other fuel sources.
Facts Each gallon of heating oil contains approximately 139,000 units of thermal energy (BTUs), making it an economically competitive energy source. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Myth Oilheat today is inefficient.
Facts Oilheating systems in use today use substantially less fuel than they did just 20 years ago. For example, an average home that used more than 1,200 gallons of heating oil in 1989 now uses only 900 gallons, or 25% less. This decrease in usage is attributable to advances in equipment efficiency and household conservation. New heating oil systems boast energy efficiency ratings from 83 to 94 percent. Source: National Oilheat Research Alliance, America Petroleum Institute

Myth Oilheat produces many harmful air emissions.
Facts Heating oil burns almost 95% cleaner than it did in 1970. Today, residential oil burners produce less than one-third of one percent of total U.S. particulate emissions. Sources: Oilheat America , American Petroleum Institute

To gain even greater efficiency and lower emissions, the industry in coordination with state environmental agencies is working to cut the sulfur content of heating oil from 1,500 parts per million to 15 parts per million by 2018. Source: National Oilheat Research Alliance

Myth Oilheat has not responded to concerns about global warming.
Facts Since 1970, the heating oil industry has cut its total greenhouse gas emissions by approximately one third. Source: National Oilheat Research Alliance

Myth Oilheat is not renewable.
Facts In addition to its sulfur reductions, the heating oil industry is moving toward zero emissions with new fuel blends, called Bioheat, which contain between 2 and 20 percent renewable fuel. When combined with Bioheat Oilheat has the potential to reduce emissions to the lowest level of any fossil fuel. Source: National Oilheat Research Alliance

In fact, if just 5 percent of Americans heated their homes with todays Bioheat, it would be equivalent to taking 700,000 cars and trucks off the road. Source: Oillheat America

Myth The heating oil industry does not contribute to the local economy.
Facts Each year, the heating oil industry accounts for $20 billion in sales and $1.9 billion in payroll for 49,000 Americans. The fact that half of the U.S. energy workforce is expected to retire in the next 10 years, when combined with the heating oil industry's commitment to renewable fuels, means that there will be thousands of good-paying jobs available for highly trained technicians, engineers, researchers, oil field workers, and others. Source: Center for Energy Workforce Development

Myth The heating oil industry is dependent on foreign energy from hostile suppliers.
Facts This myth is complete nonsense. The United States produces the vast majority of its heating oil and imports 10 to 15 percent from Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Canada and Mexico also provide the United States with a significant amount of its crude oil. Advances such as Bioheat mean more heating oil can be produced in the Midwest instead of the Middle East. And new exploration technologies such as horizontal drilling also mean the United States can responsibly produce more oil at home. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Myth Heating oil is not safe.
Facts It takes an advanced high-tech burner to ignite heating oil. If you drop a match into heating oil it will go out as if dropped into water. Heating oil must be vaporized before it will ignite or burn. Source: Oilheat America

When all of the economic and environmental factors are considered, heating oil has a great story in terms of its reliability, affordability, and sustainability; and with Bioheat, its future is even brighter.

This information was compiled by the Energy Communications Council (ECC). ECC represents the New England Fuel Institute, the Delaware Valley Fuel Dealers Association, the Maine Oil Dealers Association, the Massachusetts Oilheat Council, the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey, Oil Heat Comfort Corp. of Long Island, the New York Oil Heating Association, Inc., the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, and the Virginia Petroleum, Convenience, and Grocery Association, and is funded by the National Oilheat Research Alliance.