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Propane Gas vs. Oil Heating – Which One Is Right for Me?

Dog resting near radiator

Most Finger Lakes-area homeowners rely on either propane gas or heating oil-fired furnaces or boilers to heat their homes. Both fuels will do the job – and both are considerably better options than electricity for heating your home.

But if your old heating system is on its last legs – or if you are considering switching from an electric-powered heating system to either of these options – you will need to have at least some understanding of each fuel’s unique advantages and disadvantages.

Here is a quick guide to some of the more important ones.

Pros of heating with Propane

  • The price of propane gas is generally lower per gallon than heating oil.
  • Propane equipment typically runs more efficiently than heating oil equipment.
  • Propane produces almost no carbon dioxide when burned.
  • Propane heating equipment requires less maintenance and last longer than heating oil-based equipment, since propane leaves fewer deposits behind.
  • Propane is stored as gas and is nontoxic and nonpoisonous, so it can’t pool and contaminate groundwater or soil if it leaks; that means propane tanks can be safely installed underground.
  • Propane appliances can be vented using regular PVC pipe through the roof or a wall rather than through a chimney.
  • Propane can also be used to power other high efficiency appliances such as ranges, water heaters, and pool heaters – all from the same fuel tank.

Cons of heating with Propane

  • Propane produces fewer BTUs than oil heating
  • Propane-burning equipment is typically more expensive up front than oil burning equipment
  • Propane requires special safety precautions, since the gas is combustible and potentially explosive

Pros of heating with Fuel Oil

  • Heating oil has a higher BTU output per gallon and is used up more slowly than propane – which could mean you will pay less to heat your house with heating oil, even if the per gallon cost of propane is less.
  • Oil-burning equipment generally costs less to purchase than propane-burning equipment.
  • Heating is extremely safe – it doesn’t ignite until its temperature reaches 140 degrees, when it vaporizes. If you dropped a lit match into heating oil, it would go out exactly as if you had dropped it in water.

Cons of heating with Fuel Oil

  • Heating oil tanks – especially older steel-lined ones – can leak; an oil spill can be extremely costly to clean up, and it’s an expense that is often not covered by home owner’s insurance.
  • Heating oil prices are more volatile than propane, since most of the heating oil supply comes from off shore and is subject to global market forces; most propane is produced in the US
  • In an oil burning home, most other appliances – including water heaters, ranges, clothes dryers, etc.) are run by inefficient electricity rather than propane. This could be remedied by setting up your home to use both fuels (a “dual fuel” home – contact us to learn more)
  • Heating oil produces more carbon dioxide gas than propane when burned – although the gap between the two fuels has been significantly reduced with the advent of Bioheat.
  • Oil-burning appliances require more frequent cleaning and maintenance – again, a problem reduced significantly by Bioheat.

The bottom line

If your oil-fired system is on the way out and you’re thinking about making the switch to propane – or if you are considering both fuels coming from an electric-powered heating system – it’s going to take careful consideration to make the right call on which way to go.

If you want to explore whether a conversion makes sense in your Finger Lakes-area home, give us a call – we’ve had years of experience helping homeowners make the switch and can help you make the best decision possible.

Thinking about switching the heating fuel in your home? We can help you make the right choice! Contact Ehrhart today to learn more.