Gas Heat vs. Oil Heat – Which Is Better?

gas heat vs oil heatBatman vs. Superman. Baseball vs. football. Some debates will never end. The debate over which kind of heating system is better for your home is one of these. Although the argument over which is better won’t reach a fever pitch in the way of debates over sports or pop culture, there are strong proponents for both sides, complete with justifiable arguments. Let’s take a look at both sides and see who the winner really is.

Gas Heat – A Quick Primer

When discussing gas heat, people are referring to natural gas. But what exactly is natural gas, and where does it come from? Natural gas is composed primarily of methane but includes other natural compounds, including ethane, propane, and butane. Natural gas is obtained by drilling, usually when searching for oil deposits. Because it is lighter than the oil itself, the gas is typically found floating on top of the oil or mixed within the upper layers of the oil deposit.

Gas Heat – The Pros

There are many advantages when using natural gas to heat your home.

  1. Environmentally-friendly
  2. Natural gas is considered environmentally friendly because it burns cleaner than any other fossil fuels. But this point can be sharply contested (more on that later.)

  3. Steady prices
  4. As most consumers know, oil prices can fluctuate drastically and be affected by factors that have nothing to do with actual oil supplies. Homeowners who have natural gas see more consistent costs associated with home heating. As heating and cooling costs can absorb up to half of a home’s annual energy usage, this savings can go a long way.

  5. Outages
  6. During storms, in both summer and winter, electrical power can frequently be lost. Underground gas lines are buried deeper than other utilities, so gas service continues even during blizzards and hurricanes.

  7. Multipurpose
  8. Natural gas can be used in several different ways in your home. Aside from heating your home via a gas furnace, it can provide the energy for a water boiler. It can be used to power appliances, including your washer and dryer, in addition to cooking. You can even use natural gas to power your fireplace. 

  9. Readily available
  10. Natural gas is produced right here in the U.S., which helps create jobs while reducing the country’s dependence on foreign-sourced fuel.

Gas Heat – The Cons

There are certainly many clear advantages to using natural gas to heat your home, but what are some of the disadvantages? Let’s take a look.

  1. Even though its proponents claim that natural gas is environmentally friendly, drilling still needs to be done to obtain it. The controversial drilling process known as fracking is frequently used in conjunction with natural gas drilling. Fracking can have a negative effect on the water supply and the fracking zone.
  2. Natural gas releases high quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.
  3. Leakages. If there is a natural gas leak in your home, consequences could be quite severe. Since it is highly combustible, explosions are possible.
  4. Natural gas itself is toxic. Without the additives that provide an odor, leaks can be fatal.

Natural gas presents a considerable number of advantages. So why then, according to U.S. Energy Department, did 82% of the 5.5 million households in Northeastern American families use oil for their heating needs in 2018? Interestingly, the type of heating that a home uses can be deeply influenced by the region of the country where you live. Let’s look at oil, its pros and cons, and finally, compare gas vs. oil heat.

Oil Heat – A Quick Primer

There are many kinds of oil used for energy needs. So what exactly is home heating oil? At its most basic, home heating oil is composed from refined crude oil. Crude oil itself is formed from hydrocarbons – the remains of tiny sea animals and plants which have been subjected to millenia of heat and pressure, thus its classification as a “fossil fuel.” Crude oil is refined into gasoline, jet fuel, and distillates including diesel fuel, heating oil, lubricating oils, and asphalt. This is an important fact to keep in mind when discussing the pros and cons of oil heat.

barrel of oil
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Oil Heat – The Pros

Millions of U.S. homes use oil for their home heating needs. Oil offers many clear benefits.

  1. Availability and delivery
  2. Oil is readily available and is in plentiful quantity. The infrastructure for its delivery and use exists in nearly every part of the globe. Even electricity doesn’t have a fully global distribution network.

  3. Heat production efficiency
  4. Oil provides much more heat per unit than natural gas. Biodiesel, a component of the Biofuel that Tragar Express delivers to its customers, produces considerably more heat per unit (127,960 BTU) than natural gas (22,453 BTU).

  5. Improved equipment efficiency
  6. Thanks to technological advances, today’s oil heat production is much higher in new oil heat furnaces than in older units.

  7. Longer lasting oil-burning equipment
  8. An oil burner has an expected life span of about 25 years, while gas burners have a life expectancy half that, about 12 years.

  9. Cost of oil furnaces
  10. Although natural gas furnaces have higher efficiency, gas units are priced anywhere from 10% to 25% higher than similarly sized oil furnaces.

  11. Safety
  12. Natural gas leaks have been known to cause deaths due to carbon monoxide leaks and explosions. Though rare, these accidents are important to consider and serve as a deciding factor for many homeowners. Home heating oil won’t explode, even if directly exposed to open flame.

Oil Heat – The Cons

  1. Environmental impact, part 1
  2. We’ve all heard of multiple oil spills resulting from drilling efforts and product transport. From the Exxon Valdez oil spill to the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico. The irreparable damage to the environment and loss of human life were incalculable.

  3. Environmental impact, part 2
  4. Fracking, which is how natural gas is found, is also how crude oil is located. The negative impact on the fracking area and groundwater have been catastrophic, and occasionally the fracking results in no oil.

  5. Environmental impact, part 3
  6. Oil burning is a considerable source of air pollution and increasing levels of greenhouse gasses, which contribute to global warming.

  7. Equipment maintenance
  8. Oil burning equipment produces more soot and dust, so it needs more maintenance, cleaning, and general attention.

  9. Not renewable
  10. There are only finite quantities of fossil fuels remaining. Once this source of energy is used up, there is no replacing it.

  11. Unstable prices
  12. There are many factors that impact oil prices, many of which have nothing to do with actual oil production. Political instability and the value of the American dollar to which oil prices are directly linked are just two of them.

  13. Unstable sources
  14. American dependency on foreign oil has long been a detraction of using oil as an energy source. Due to continuously shifting political alliances and inherent regional instabilities of the Middle East, oil prices and supplies can fluctuate severely.

So What’s Better – Gas or Oil?

So which should you choose, gas or oil heat? This isn’t an easy question to answer. In some cases, it may come down to personal preference. In some areas, natural gas isn’t even available so you should check before spending time comparing sources. Here are some important points to consider.

  1. Oil burning equipment may not be as efficient, it requires more maintenance, but it does last twice as long as gas burners.
  2. The cost to convert from oil to gas can cost upwards of $10,000, but if you were going to replace your old oil burner anyway, making the switch then might make more sense. Switching from oil to gas might also get you some money back in terms of tax credits.
  3. Natural gas costs considerably less than oil, and since it runs continuously, you’ll never have to worry about running out and needing an expensive emergency delivery. Oil prices have dramatically dropped recently, but there’s no guarantee that these prices will remain low.
  4. Natural gas can be used for other purposes than home heating, but it does carry with it a risk due to leaks and carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you do have the option to choose between them, it might be best to talk with friends who have gas and those who have oil and compare utility costs. Since this decision may mean upfront spending cost differences of several hundred to a few thousand dollars, this is a serious consideration. We hope that this helps, and if you have any questions about oil vs. gas, you can always give our energy experts a call at (516) 221-2559 to discuss.