The Ultimate Consumer's Guide To Heating Oil: Everything You Need to Know!

If you’re looking for everything you need to know about heating oil—from safety and troubleshooting tips to how severe weather affects heating oil prices to the benefits of heating oil—well, you’ve come to the right place.

Welcome to Heatable’s Ultimate Consumer’s Guide to Heating Oil.

What are the benefits of heating oil?

The great news about heating oil is that it’s a safe, efficient, durable heating source. If you want benefits, we’ve got benefits.

Benefit #1: Home heating oil is safe. Home heating oil won’t burn in a liquid state, so it won’t ever spontaneously combust. If a leak should happen, it’s not an explosive hazard. Additionally, the advent of Ultra Low Sulfur (ULS) heating oil has made heating your home with oil better for the environment and public health. How? Traditional oil has a sulfur content of 4,000 ppm; ultra-low sulfur heating oil only has a sulfur content of 15 ppm.

Benefit #2: Home heating oil is efficient. A gallon of heating oil produces 35% more heat than a gallon of natural gas. That means you can use less fuel to make the same amount of heat. In addition, heating oil produces the hottest flame of any home heating fuel, allowing it to warm your house faster. But wait—there’s more! ULS reduces the amount of sulfur buildup and allows your system to run at a more efficient level. It’s an efficiency trifecta.

Benefit #3: Heating oil systems are durable. A new heating oil system should last for 15 to 25 years  or more , if you do a good job of taking care of it. And using ULS heating oil will help your furnace running smoothly and efficiently thereby lengthening the life of your system.

Safe, efficient, durable. It’s easy to see why so many New Englanders count on heating oil to heat our homes through those long and snowy winters.

Looking for more on the benefits of heating oil? Check out the Benefits of Heating Oil page.

What’s the difference between types of heating fuels?

Heating oil is so prevalent in the Northeast that many people who grew up here don’t even realize that people living in other parts of the country use other types of fuel. While about 5.7 million households in the United States use heating oil as their main space-heating fuel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, types of household heating fuels vary tremendously across the country. Curious, but true.

Natural gas. Nationwide, 50% of homes heat with natural gas. Like crude oil, natural gas was formed over millions of years and must be processed in order to be useful. Natural gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. As a safety measure, a substance known as mercaptan is added to natural gas to give it an odor similar to rotten eggs. Gross, we know. But it’s done as a safety precaution, so that in the event of a natural gas leak, the odor would be detectable.

Propane. Also called LPG or Liquified Petroleum Gas, propane is produced through natural gas processing and petroleum refining during which it is extracted, liquified under pressure, and stored in pressurized containers (just like the tanks you get at the hardware store to run your gas grill). Like natural gas, propane is odorless, so an odorant is added to make it detectable in the case of leak.

Electricity. Though expensive, electricity is another heating source used in the U.S. Today, electricity is generated through a variety of different types of generators. An electric furnace is kind of like a big hair dryer. It takes in cold air through a cold-air return, heats the cold air by running it through electric heating elements, and blows the now-heated air out to the house through heating ducts.

Looking for more? Check out the Difference in Heating Fuels page.

How is heating oil made?

Heating oil begins as crude oil, the gushing liquid that is extracted from the earth. Because crude oil has a number of impurities and won’t work in an oil-burning furnace or boiler, it needs to go through a process called refining where the oil is distilled—yes, just like moonshine and all your other favorite alcoholic bevvies.

In fractional distillation, crude oil is heated with high pressure steam to a super high temperature – and when we say ‘high’, we’re not talking 100 degrees Fahrenheit, we’re talking like… 1112 degrees Fahrenheit—and that’s not a typo. Through this process of fractional distillation, hydrocarbons are removed from crude oil and become their own pure substances. Those substances are then purified and blended into a bunch of products, including heating oil.

Looking for more? Check out the full story on How Heating Oil Is Made.

What is residential heating oil?

Essentially, residential heating oil is the oil delivered via truck to your home to heat it. There is no difference between heating oil that is used to heat a home or a business. All residential heating oil delivered in New England since July 2018 is Ultra Low Sulfur Heating Oil.

Looking for more? Check out the What is Residential Heating Oil?

Are some types of heating oil better than others?

If you are new to the world of heating oil, you may wonder if there are different types of heating oil? How do they differ and is one type better than another?

Luckily, the industry switch to "ULSHO" (Ultra-Low Sulfur Heating Oil) has simplified these questions! All the states across New England officially transitioned to ULSHO in July 2018. This means that all heating delivery companies throughout New England are now essentially delivering the same (improved) product to homes and businesses throughout this region.

ULSHO (the type of #2 Oil Heatable delivers) is a cleaner type of heating oil with lower sulfur content than traditional heating oil. An illustrative comparison: Traditional heating oil has anywhere from 500-4000 PPM (parts per million) whereas the new ULSHO is 15 PPM.

Want to learn a bit more? Check out Are Some Types of Heating Oil Better Than Others?

You wouldn’t happen to have a list of terms and definitions related to heating oil, would you?

Sure do! Sometimes just being able to define words or acronyms like BTUs, ULSHO, PPM, Vent Whistle, #2, boiler, HVAC…yada yada…can help you get a better grip on your heating system. Check out our Heatable Heating Oil Glossary section to learn more about some of the heating industry lingo you may come across, especially if you heat your residence with heating oil.

What Affects Home Heating Oil Prices?

Many customers contact us and ask “Hey, what’s up with heating oil prices? What’s behind these price changes?

The price of heating oil is affected by both global and local forces - forecasts for the global economy can affect the local price of heating oil as much as a really cold New England winter. If you’d like to dig a little deeper into what those forces are, read on!

Crude oil accounts for the majority (58%) of the cost of heating oil and therefore has a large impact on the price. Because crude oil is a commodity (a raw material that can be bought or sold), its own price is driven by the law of supply and demand. That means the global economy and any issues that affect the supply of crude oil will affect how much you pay to heat your home in the winter. Read What Really Affects Home Heating Oil Prices for more info.

How does severe winter weather affect heating oil prices?

Ready for a little economics refresher? Because we need to talk economics to talk about why weather affects the price of home heating oil. OK, here goes.

The price of crude oil drives the price of heating oil, and because crude oil is a commodity (simply a raw material that can be bought or sold), its own price is driven by the law of supply and demand…and weather plays a role in the supply and demand equation – no matter if that weather is harsh or mild.

Think about it: what do you do when a winter storm rages outside your home? Like most people, you probably turn up the heat a notch. When you do that, you’ve increased demand. And by increasing demand, by using more oil, you’ve reduced the supply. When there is high demand and lower supply, prices increase.

In addition, wintery conditions can also affect oil production (supply) by interfering with refining and delivering

Looking for more? Check out the full story of How Severe Weather Affects Heating Oil Prices

When should I order more heating oil?

The easiest way to never run out of oil is to remember to “order at a quarter.” We recommend this strategy mostly because it rhymes and it’s fun to say, but also because it helps prevent running out of oil. And nobody wants to run out of oil.

Also, it’s always a good idea to place an order before you’re right about to run out. It’s like bread and milk at the grocery store—as soon as a storm rolls in people run to the store and buy bread like it’s going out of style. Same thing happens with heating oil – when it gets cold, everyone orders, and with a first come first served system, you want to make sure your order is in the queue before the mad rush. Want to read more

How much heating will I use in a day?

So, as you’ve no doubt figured out, as nice as it would be to have a consistent number of gallons of heating oil to order each month, it ain’t gonna happen because there are too many factors. But don’t worry! We’ve pulled together a chart that should help you estimate how quickly you’re going through oil. And we want to emphasize that “estimate” part. This chart is based on a 2,000 square foot house your house may be larger or smaller, more or less efficient. Use the chart to get an idea of how the temperature outside affects your burn rate inside.

Average Outside Temperature (°F) Approximate Gallons Used in 1 Day Approximate Days 1/4 of Tank Will Last (1/4 tank = 60 gals)
15 10 6
20 9 7
25 8 8
30 7 9
35 6 10
40 5 12
45 4 15
50 3 20

Looking for more? Check out How Often Do I Need to Order Heating Oil?, How Much Heating Oil Will I Use in a Day? Or, How Long Will a Tank of Heating Oil Last?

How much heating oil is used for hot water?

So, assuming you have a heating oil/hot water tank system, and you have an average sized home that you share with 3 average hot-water-using people - how much oil can you expect to go through in an average summer or winter?

Summer: The heating oil used for hot water will typically be about 25 gallons a month in the non-heating season months. If those lessons from math class are a distant and foggy memory, that’s a little less than a gallon a day to heat your water. Again – this is assuming you don’t take 40-minute showers every morning.

Winter: Now, you might expect that that number would go up in winter. But the opposite is actually true. Since you’re often running your furnace anyway in the winter to stay warm, it essentially heats up your water at the same time for free! Pretty sweet, huh? So you won’t need a substantial amount of additional heating oil when your furnace is already going full-steam! (Of course you’ll use more oil overall in the colder months to heat your home, but we had to lead with the positive!)

Want to learn more? Read How much heating oil is used for hot water?

How often do I need to order heating oil?

One of the questions we hear a lot from our customers is “How often do I need to order more heating oil?” Either they’ve just moved to New England (if that’s you, welcome, it’s totally awesome here), or they’ve just bought a house, but either way, they’ve never had an oil burning furnace or boiler before.

Factors that affect how frequently you order heating oil

In the same way that certain factors affect how much gas you burn in your car, certain factors affect how much heating oil you’ll burn at home.

Factors like:

  • Is it summer or winter?

  • Do you get your system tuned annually?

  • How warm do you keep your house?

  • Is your house drafty?

  • How big or small is your house?

Looking for more? Check out How Often Do I Need to Order Heating Oil?

What should I do if am out of Heating Oil?

If it’s during normal delivery days (Heatable is fired up seven days a week in the winter because we know how mother nature rolls). If you are an existing customer simply log in to your account on the web or the app and get the order in as soon as possible.

If you don’t have an account already, enter in your zip into our price checker (you can see that on this page) and you’ll get a price and a deliver by date. It will take you a couple minutes to get an account set up and an order in. If you can’t make it to the super-quick delivery date (and we are known for our lightening-speed), contact us and let’s see what we can do. And remember: the sooner you get in an order, the better.

If it’s at night: There’s no sugar coating it: You are in a bit of a pickle, but it’s not the end of the world, and this can be fixed!

If you are very low on oil but your system is still running here’s what to do:

  • Get an order in as soon as possible

  • Send us an email and let us know your situation

  • Head to your local gas station with a 5-gallon gas can and purchase a few gallons of diesel fuel (DIESEL – NOT GASOLINE – this is critical!) and put the diesel fuel in your fill pipe. Diesel fuel at the pump is essentially the same as the heating oil we deliver. A couple gallons will keep you going until we get there, so sit tight and we’ll be there soon.

What are the advantages of ordering heating oil with an app?

The Heatable app and website make it easy to order home heating oil. You can see our super low heating oil price and place an order from your computer or smartphone wherever you are, whenever you want.

And because we’ve automated just about everything and focus on simply delivering heating oil, we’re able to keep our costs down—and then pass on those savings to you in the form of a super low price for heating oil.

Learn more by checking out What Are the Advantages of Ordering Heating Oil with an App?

Can I troubleshoot my heating oil system?

Absolutely! There are four fairly common reasons why your heating system won’t work. So, if you wake up to a cold house one morning, be sure to check these out before calling for help:

Cause #1: Your thermostat got turned down. Check to make sure your batteries are good, and your thermostat is set to a warm setting.

Cause #2: Your electricity is off. Your furnace or boiler needs electricity to get things rolling, so if there’s a blackout in your neighborhood or a circuit is blown, your furnace or boiler probably won’t work.

Cause #3: The emergency shut off switch has been flipped. It happens. The emergency shut off switch looks just like a regular light switch, except bright red. Make sure the switch is set to ‘on’. If you have more than one switch (most people do!), then be sure to check them both.

Cause #4: You’ve run out of heating oil. Check the fuel gauge on your tank. If the indicator is below 1/8 or isn’t visible at all, the tank may be out of oil and in need of a refill.

For more detail, be sure to read our guide to Troubleshooting 101.

How often should I service my heating oil system?

You probably see your heating system every time you walk by with your overflowing piles of laundry but don’t think twice about it. It always looks the same, so it must be totally fine, right?

The good news is an annual tune up will keep it working great – and keep it off your mind the other 364 days a year! This yearly tune up preserves the health of your system, making sure it can burn at its maximum efficiency to save you money on heating expenses all year long. Tune ups are also the best way to ensure your system is safe and your tank is not leaking oil – headaches you never need.

You have two options when it comes to doing an annual heating system tune up:

  • Call a qualified HVAC technician: Google is your friend here or contact your friends at Heatable and we will point you in the right direction. Find a qualified tech and get a date on the calendar. YOU are totally all done with your easy part. And, if you want to learn more about what an HVAC technician will do during a tune up, go to How Do I Service My Heating Oil System?

  • Do-It-Yourself: If you are familiar with your heating system and are comfortable with things like how to change heating oil filters and other necessary steps for cleaning, you totally can attempt it. You can check out some resources on how to do that on our How Do I Service My Heating Oil System?

Should I repair or replace my heating oil system?

You’ve been diligently maintaining your system, but it’s starting to have issues and it’s not running like it used to — what’s that loud clunking noise its making!

What should you do: Repair or Replace? Here are some general rules of thumb for either scenario:

Repair: If the heating oil system repair is a straight–forward fix (with accessible and cost-appropriate parts) at a reasonable cost.

Replace: You’ll likely be looking at replacing your heating oil system with these scenarios:

  • If the unit is 20 years old or older

  • If the efficiency is 20% lower than when it was purchased and declining each year (with the usage going up)

  • If it’s not heating the home the same

  • If there are signs of corrosion and increased noises

  • If the estimate for repair is >33% of heating oil system replacement cost

Whatever you do, you’ll want the opinion of 2-3 trained technicians to make the most informed decision.

Learn more here: Should I replace or repair my heating oil furnace or boiler?

What’s a heating oil tank safety check?

You might not think you need to do a heating tank safety check each year, but we guarantee that when you learn the cost to clean up an oil leak – you’ll be down into your basement ASAP making sure everything is in tip-toe shape. Trust us, it’s worth it. Be sure to follow this 9-point inspection to make sure your oil tank is good-to-go.

Point #1: Vent pipe. Located outside, make sure it’s not clogged with snow or other debris.

Point #2: Fill pipe. Make sure it’s clear and there are no signs of leakage.

Point #3: Tank surface. Look for rust, oil “weeps”, wet spots, or excessive dents.

Point #4: Tank legs. Legs should be stable and on an even foundation.

Point #5: Beneath the tank. Look for leaks or signs of leaks.

Point #6: Oil filter. Look for leaks or signs of leaks under or around the oil filter.

Point #7: Oil lines. Look for leaks or signs of leaks along the entire oil line.

Point #8: Tank gauge. Check the gauge is working.

Point #9: Age of tank. Confirm that your tank is less than 25 years old.

If you want more detail, read The Heating Oil Tank Safety Check.

How to can I use less heating oil and save money this winter?

These three steps will help you use less heating oil and save more money this winter!

Step #1: Address cracks, gaps, and insulation.

Before you spend hundreds of dollars on space heaters (and ugly sweaters), spend $20 on a good caulking gun and some expanding spray foam and start sealing. You may be surprised at how much less drafty other rooms in your house become.

Step #2: Use the right thermostat to save money and use less heating oil.

Keeping your home’s thermostat set to the same temperature (72°F) all winter actually causes you to lose heat. That’s because the hotter it is inside – and the colder it is outside – the larger the force behind the cold air pushing the hot air out. A way to combat this is to switch out your old manual thermostat for a programmable one. They’re simple to install and can be set to automatically turn on and off at specific times of the day or night to maximize heating efficiency.

Step #3: Add insulation to your basement to use less heating oil.

Don’t ignore your basement. Basements are the biggest entryway for cold air to enter your home—so looking into ways to add insulation directly to the walls and ceiling will reduce the amount of incoming air. Also make sure to seal around the sill plate (the long piece of wood that sits directly on top of the foundation wall) for extra insulation.

Want more? Read How to Use Less Heating Oil and Save Money This Winter.

What’s the Most Energy-Efficient Way to Set Your Thermometer?

Some things never change. Every fall, people begin to ask us about the “right” way to use a thermostat to save money. They generally fall into two schools of thought. On one side, there’s the set-it-and-forget-it group and on the other, the never-seen-a-thermostat-that-didn’t-need-tweaking group.

The two schools of thermostat energy efficiency

School of Thought #1: Set it and forget it

We like to call this first group, the School of the Straight and Narrow. They choose a one-size-fits-all temperature, set the thermostat to it, and leave it there until summer.

Doesn’t matter if it’s nighttime or no one is at home. That temperature stays set.

The reasoning behind this school is that it will take more energy to heat up a cold house than it takes to maintain a consistent temperature.

School of Thought #2: The only constant is change

We refer to the second school as the School of the Rollercoaster Ride. Its adherents believe that the thermostat should be turned down when you’re sleeping or away from home.

The reasoning behind this school of thought is that leaving the thermostat set will cost more in the long-run because the energy saved from those off-times will more than make-up for the extra costs of heating a colder house.

Adjust your thermostat for greater energy savings

Ding, ding, ding! The second school of thought wins the prize for energy savings. The Department of Energy estimates you can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by changing your thermostat setting depending on time of day.

That percentage of savings is greater for buildings in milder climates, i.e. not New England. But still. If you turn down your thermostat at night and when you’re away from home, you’ll save energy. And saved energy equals saved $$.

Want to read more? Read the full story at What’s the Most Energy-Efficient Way to Set Your Thermostat?

Heating Oil Safety Questions

If you’re new to heating your home with oil, you may have some questions about safety. After all, heating systems work by warming air or water with a controlled fire – a controlled fire that’s being intentionally lit inside your home every day, several times a day. Gulp.

Is heating oil flammable?

What consumers actually want to know with this question is: will my heating oil tank spontaneously catch fire and burn down the house? Well, you can relax, because the answer is “no”. Home heating oil won’t burn in a liquid state, so your oil tank is not going to spontaneously combust.

Can my heating oil tank leak?

While not common, a leak can happen. Like all things, a heating oil storage tank can deteriorate over time. When it does, it will need to be replaced. And while buying a new oil tank is not inexpensive – an average tank will cost you about $1800 – the cost of sticking with your old tank and suffering a leak will run you $20,000 to $50,000. Not even kidding.

How do I know if I have a heating oil leak?

Take a page from your home inspector, who was on the lookout for leaks when he/she inspected your house. Here are some areas they check out:

  • Leaks or wet spots around the tank, filter, gauge, fuel-delivery line, valves, piping or fittings

  • Any signs that the tank has been patched

  • A cracked foundation or uneven tank legs

  • Oil fuel lines that don’t look so hot

  • Fuel lines that do not have a protective casing

  • Oil stains on the ground

  • A strong oil smell

  • Signs of a spill around the fill or vent pipes

  • Dying vegetation around an outside tank

(from International Association of Certified Home Inspectors)

Is carbon monoxide a thing?

Yes, it is. It’s a serious thing.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can kill you. It’s produced any time you burn fuel – in cars or trucks, engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, furnaces, even gas refrigerators.

In fact, it’s a good practice to install a carbon monoxide detector in every room to keep your household safe.

What about the environment and public health?

With the advent of Ultra Low Sulfur (ULS) heating oil, heating your home with oil has become better for the environment and public health. It’s a win–win!

Want to learn more? Read Heating Oil Safety Questions.

Why Heatable?

Heatable’s the smart way to order oil! Our website and quick order app put you in control of your heating oil purchases. You can order anywhere and at any time. Just enter your zip to see your super-low price and get started.

We provide lower prices for all! Heatable is committed to providing consistently low heating oil prices. Our technology and streamlined process allow us to offer the same low price to everyone – no negotiating necessary.

We’re heating oil superstars! Founded by industry veterans, we’ve been around the block (literally hundreds of thousands of times). We're based in South Portland, Maine, have our own bright orange trucks, and make our own deliveries.

Heating oil delivery at your fingertips. Try us today!

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