Many people in New England have considered changing how they heat their homes in recent years, largely to increase energy efficiency and to lower costs. For many years, oil was considered a more expensive home heating fuel, encouraging some homeowners to switch to propane. If you’re thinking about making the switch from oil to propane, you need to consider more than just fuel price. The cost of converting the unit, fuel efficiency and the type of furnace or boiler you have can increase the overall cost of heating with propane, even if you are paying a little less per gallon.
Here are some points to consider before you call your home heating specialist for an estimate:
Oil produces more heat than Propane (BTU's)
Different fuels produce different amounts of heat. For example, a stove full of coal will burn hotter than if using the same amount of fire wood. The measure of this heat production is called a BTU, or a British Thermal Unit. This is the measure of the amount of energy generated when burning a certain amount of the fuel.
Heating oil produces roughly 138,500 BTUs per gallon of fuel, while propane produces about 91,500 BTUs per gallon. Because oil has a higher BTU per gallon rate, a home’s furnace will produce more heat burning oil than it will with the same amount of propane.
Efficiency of your home heating unit is based on how much energy is used toward heating your home. This depends greatly on the make and model of your home heating unit, as well as the age of the unit. The average home heating oil system is between 80-90 percent efficient, while an average propane system is between 90-95 percent efficient.
If you have a very old oil system, it is likely less efficient. However, if you have a newer oil system, the efficiency could be as high as 99 percent.
The cost to switch
Converting an existing oil heating system to a propane system may end up costing you more in the long run. Conversions must be done by a professional, and depending on the system make and model, the size of the house and the age of the system, this can be costly.
Converting a system also means a loss in efficiency and potential maintenance problems down the line. Because you are altering an existing system to perform with a fuel different from the one it was designed to use, the propane conversion may not run as well as it would if you left it as is. If you have an oil burner, you may have to install a chimney liner, replace the flue and other parts to convert to propane, including:
Making a conversion is a major decision and should be done after careful thought. Calculating the actual costs, including installation, maintenance, fuel costs and efficiency can be complicated. One way to determine the cost of oil heat versus propane is with a comparison calculator. These calculations (one can be found here) use formulas to determine the real fuel costs of oil and propane based not just on price per gallon, but including efficiency and BTUs as well.
According to the calculator linked above, an 82 percent efficient heating system produces heat at a lower overall cost than a propane system that is 92 percent efficient. That’s even using a cost of heating oil at $4.10 per gallon and the cost of propane at $3.20.
With lower oil prices this winter than in recent years, heating with oil has become more affordable, and as you can see is actually quite efficient. Before making the switch to another fuel system, make sure to consider all the costs.
M.L. Halle is a family owned business providing oil delivery, equipment service, new boilers furnaces and hot water tanks and equipment to families and businesses. With a fleet of 11 delivery trucks and five service vans to serve Central, NH and the Greater Manchester area. We have the staff and ability to provide you the best service and lowest oil prices possible. Call us at (603) 627-7869