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Choosing a Heating Fuel: Propane or Heating Oil

Choosing how to heat your home is a decision with long-lasting effects on your wallet and comfort. When considering heating fuels, take the time to compare the most common options. As heating oil and propane are easily accessible to most consumers, comparing these two is a great starting point when looking to choose a heating fuel. Important aspects to consider include versatility, the environment, efficiency and cost.


propane stoveWhen it comes to choosing a heating fuel, versatility can affect the choice as it can be simpler to use one fuel for all home appliances.

One of the primary benefits of propane is that, like electricity, it can be used in a number of applications throughout the home. Water heaters, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, stoves and ovens, grills, laundry dryers, power generators, outdoor lights and of course your heating units can all be powered by propane. Heating oil, on the other hand, has restricted use only applicable to heating spaces.


Though heating oil is much more environmentally friendly than electricity, propane is the top choice here. Burning propane emits less than half of the greenhouse gases as electricity and produces less CO2 than heating oil. It further differs from heating oil because, as a gas, propane is harmless to soil or water if a leak were to occur.


Comparing efficiency between propane and heating oil can be tough when you start to break it down. It is sometimes difficult to compare the two because heating oil is a liquid and propane, while transported as a liquid, is consumed as a gas. On the surface, propane heating systems boast around a 95% efficiency rating compared to the 85% efficiency of heating oil systems. On the other hand, burning one gallon of heating oil generates more heat (138,500 BTU) than one gallon of propane (91,333 BTU). So while a propane heating system will generally be more energy efficient, it’s possible that a heating oil system will consume less fuel than a propane system.

Both heating fuels provide more efficient heating than electricity but to help further compare the two, one should examine the costs associated with each.


gas stoveThere are several factors that go into calculating the true cost of heating a home, regardless of which fuel is chosen. These factors include the fuel’s heat output, the efficiency of the heating system, the price of the fuel itself and the cost of installing and maintaining the heating system.

Fuel Cost:

In most regions, propane costs less than heating oil, making it the more popular choice. However, heating oil produces more heat. For some, this can balance out the higher cost of heating oil; therefore, it is a good idea to calculate the amount of heat produced per dollar for each fuel rather than immediately choosing the fuel that is cheaper per gallon. To find which heating fuel will get you the most heat for your money, use the following calculation:

(Heat from fuel) x (Efficiency of heater) / (Price per gallon of fuel)

Historically, heating oil has been minimally more expensive in terms of heat per dollar spent on fuel. However, this will vary depending on a number of factors so it’s best to contact a local heating fuel supplier for a comparison.

It’s also important to consider all other costs associated with any heating system, including the cost of installing and maintaining it.

Installation and Maintenance Cost:

In most cases, the installation of an oil heating system will cost more than a propane heater due to the requirement for a more intricate burner and external venting. Since heating oil doesn’t burn as clean as propane, oil heaters will require more frequent maintenance as well, which increases the cost associated with an heating oil.

Propane heating systems tend to have a longer lifespan than those that run on heating oil or electricity, and propane heaters traditionally require less maintenance than other heating systems.

Keep in mind that pricing and availability of heating fuels and heating systems vary based on location and season. Contact a local propane supplier to inquire about costs and heating options in your area.

Cost Conclusion:

While it’s difficult to name one clear winner between propane and heating oil, many people find that propane is the more economical heating option. This is due to the lower fuel cost, higher efficiency rating and typically lower overall installation and maintenance costs. If both heating fuels are available in your area, consult with your local provider to discuss the pros and cons of each.

If you’re interested in heating your home with propane or heating oil, contact us with questions or for a free estimate.


Use our form to estimate the initial cost of renovation or installation.

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