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Are you trying to decide between oil and natural gas to heat your home? Each fuel has certain strengths and weaknesses to consider. Your home, your family’s needs, and even the community you live in will influence your decision. Read on for a clear discussion of the factors you’ll need to weigh.
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Oil furnaces are usually less expensive than those that burn natural gas, but the fuel prices are an important factor to consider. At peak oil prices, heating your home with oil could easily cost twice as much as using natural gas. Even now that oil prices have dropped natural gas is less costly. Although both fuels are commodities with fluctuating price points, natural gas prices have historically been more stable, while oil prices shift wildly based on everything from the weather to world events.
Conversion Costs According to Scientific American, only about 8 percent of homes in the United States use oil for heat. Those are mostly older homes in the Northeast that were built when oil prices were lower. If you live in one of those homes, you’ll need to take into account the cost of converting to natural gas. Bringing pipes into your home could cost $1,000 or more, plus you’ll need to buy a new furnace, have your oil tank removed, and put in a chimney or vent. Divide those costs by your expected annual fuel savings to figure out how many years you’ll need to live in your home to recoup your initial costs.
Oil is flammable at high temperatures, but natural gas can be explosive or develop deadly leaks. If you opt for gas, make sure you install carbon monoxide detectors around your house and turn off your gas at the meter when you leave your home for extended vacations.
Natural gas streams into your house via an always-on pipe connection, so it’s available to you when you need it. Oil must be delivered and stored, so if the roads become impassable due to weather or natural disaster, you may run out of fuel. Both types of furnaces need regular cleaning and maintenance, but since oil leaves a thick residue when it burns, oil heaters require more upkeep than natural gas furnaces.
Oil and natural gas are both fossil fuels that cannot be replenished as quickly as we use them up. Oil has a higher carbon emission rate than natural gas, which has widely been regarded as a much cleaner fuel, but questionable practices like fracking are making natural gas seem like a less green choice these days. If your family is serious about protecting the environment, consider a geothermal heat pump or solar heating instead.
If you currently have an oil heater and don’t plan to be in your home long enough to recoup the cost of converting, you are better off continuing to use oil to heat your home. But for most people, natural gas is a less expensive and cleaner fuel.