Natural Gas Vs. Heating Oil: Which Suits Your Home Better?

Weighing heating options for their efficiency, cost and environmental impact is important to many homeowners. We all want to ensure our warmth and comfort, but in a way that maximizes our dollars and spares the earth.

As such, one of the most common debates is whether Northeasterns should convert their heating oil systems to natural gas. 

The first question to ask is will it save you money in the long run?

The federal government’s 30% tax credit for upgrading to a high-efficiency furnace ended nearly a decade ago, and homeowners that didn’t jump on the credit may be left asking themselves if it’s still worth the effort. 

Let’s cover the differences in each heating source, from the BTU output, conversion costs and environmental impact to discover which fuel suits your home best.

BTU Output of Natural Gas Vs. Heating Oil

British thermal unit (BTU) is the most common way to measure a unit of heat in the United States. Specifically, BTUs measure the amount of energy needed to raise one pound of water 1°F at sea level. This measurement is a gauge for energy use, energy effectiveness, and heating system sizing. 

Simply put, the higher the BTU rating the more powerful, and higher heat output it has.

When comparing natural gas and heating oil, consider the following breakdown: 

  • Heating Oil has 138,690 BTUs per gallon.
  • Natural Gas has 1,030 BTUs per cubic foot (135 Cubic feet equals the heat content of one gallon of oil). 

Mathematically, heating oil contains more heat per BTUs than natural gas (and than most other fuels available on the market). Therefore, heating oil outputs more heat, making it the more efficient option of the two.

Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas Vs. Heating Oil

Heating oil is at its most efficient and environmentally-friendly state when used as bioheat. 

Bioheat is a blend of biodiesel and ultra-low sulfur heating oil. The advancement in fuel properties from heating oil is great news for Northeasterns, as the fuel can be used in your oil tank without any modifications to your tank or furnace. 

From an environmental standpoint, bioheat is notable because unlike natural gas, it’s a renewable fuel, and touts lower carbon emissions.

During the Paris Climate Change Convention in 2016, more than 200 nations agreed to limit carbon gasses that pollute the earth by promoting the use of renewable energy sources and low carbon options. Bioheat falls under the same category as wind and solar energy, which are all acknowledged as sources of renewable energy. 

Natural gas, on the other hand, falls into the same bracket as petroleum and coal, which are nonrenewable sources of energy, also known as fossil fuels. 

Methane losses from natural gas systems pose a significant problem for global warming as well. Methane is a greenhouse gas 21 times more dangerous than poisonous carbon dioxide. And, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, methane ranks amongst the worst of the greenhouse gases.

When considering the environmental impact between natural gas and biofuel, the heating oil option wins by a landslide.  

How much does it cost to convert to a natural gas system?

Homeowners considering the conversion from heating oil to natural gas need to estimate the cost to make the switch. The grand total will vary based on many factors, including:

  • If you need a gas line installed
  • How old your current system is
  • If there are rebates you can utilize

However, according to CBS Boston, the switch can cost anywhere from $4,500 to  $7,000. New England Cable News increases the prices even more, stating conversions can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000

Though there may be long-term savings with a natural gas conversion, the upfront cost, coupled with the environmental impact cause many homeowners pause. 

Should you switch to natural gas?

According to the Consumer Energy Council of America, this fuel conversion could be an “expensive gamble”.

Experts zero in on some of the dangers of natural gas as a caution to homeowners considering the switch:

  • Natural gas is explosive, and leaks can be hazardous
  • Natural gas heating systems are a leading cause of non-fire-related carbon monoxide deaths 
  • Gas utilities don’t give preventive maintenance information or offer emergency services
  • Natural gas customers often waste fuel by using inefficient equipment

Though every homeowner will need to weigh the pros and cons of natural gas and heating oil for themselves, it’s important to inform yourself on all aspects of the conversion.

Want to learn more about the difference between heating oil and natural gas? Check out the following resources:

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