How Oil Heat Stacks Up Against “Cleaner” Fuels. The answer might surprise you.
No. 2 heating oil, the industry name for the fuel used to heat your oil-burning furnace or boiler, is derived from crude oil, a fossil fuel that has gotten a bad rap for its contribution to air pollution and global warming. Some may think that natural gas, propane or wood may be a cleaner way to heat their home, but you might be surprised to learn that oil heat is on track to become the cleanest burning fuel for home heating.
New oil formulas cut emissions
In 2009, the heating oil industry made a commitment to seek higher fuel-quality standards from state governments in an effort to reduce air pollution. This included a transition toward ultra-low sulfur blends of heating oil, which today contain less than 1 percent of the sulfur content of traditional heating oil. The industry has also expanded biofuel blends, which cut emissions even further. Particulate matter has been reduced, as well. Today’s oil furnaces have become so efficient, they produce an average of only six ounces of soot per year.
Although considered a renewable energy source, burning wood sends greenhouse and toxic gasses into the air, along with particulate matter. In cities and towns where burning wood is common, it is considered a major contributor to air pollution. In some areas of the state, like Cheshire County, it is not uncommon for the region to experience poor air quality warnings in the winter because of wood burning stoves.
Drilling for natural gas reduces its advantages
Natural gas has become a popular choice for power plants generating electricity, as well as homes and businesses, in part because it emits fewer greenhouse gasses when burned. What scientists have recently discovered, however, is that the greenhouse gas emissions released into the environment during the drilling process known as “fracking” far outweigh the emissions of burning oil and even coal.
A recent Cornell University study found that “shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil,” when it comes to emissions.
When compared pound for pound, oil produces more heat than natural gas
Many people assume that switching from oil to natural gas will cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions, but depending on the system, that may not be the case. If you were to burn the same amounts of oil and natural gas, oil will produce more heat – or BTUs – than natural gas. That means natural gas furnaces have to run longer and burn more fuel to keep your home at a certain temperature than high-efficiency oil furnaces and boilers do. This shrinks the cost savings and reduction in emissions.
In New England, natural gas systems are less efficient
In older cities, like Boston, aging gas lines are susceptible to leaks. While the leaks that pose a danger are fixed, gas utilities often hold-off on repairing pipeline leaks that are not considered an immediate threat of fire or explosion. The methane from this leaked natural gas goes into the atmosphere, contributing further to global warming.
Efficiency lowers overall oil usage
Converting an old oil unit to a modern, high-efficiency furnace or boiler can save homeowners up to 30 percent on annual fuel costs. These newer models maximize the fuel burned and heat produced to reduce overall fuel consumption. On average, a newer oil unit uses less than 800 gallons of fuel oil per year.