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Oil Heating – Pros and Cons

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I grew up on a farm, where oil was king! It powered your diesel tractors and heated your home. Reliably and efficiently, year after year!

But times have changed! I no longer live on the farm, and while diesel tractors are still king of the hill, the home heating scene has changed dramatically! Oil heating still has one strong point, that being the reliability of the oil furnace; the technology is old, and it keeps chugging along. But the disadvantages of oil are overwhelming and it is very, very rare to find a situation where I can recommend installing a new oil furnace.

Natural gas furnaces (or propane if you are located away from the gas pipeline network) are much more efficient at converting the fuel energy into heat for your home. And the natural gas supply has increased exponentially over the past two decades, reducing the cost of gas, especially when compared to oil. Gas or propane are now much more cost effective heating sources.

And your insurance company HATES oil heating! They may not tell you directly, but they tell you through the higher premiums that they charge for oil heating and the replacement timelines that they demand for the oil system components (like your oil storage tank). They don’t like oil heating because of the huge liability that it poses for them. When I was on the farm, a spill of oil was a common occurrence. (I’m thinking the kids filling up the tractor with fuel, and often it overflowed. And we’ll leave aside the child safety discussion for another time!) The fuel that was spilled would kill the vegetation in the immediate area, but within a few years some weeds would grow back, and eventually grass. In that case nature was able to heal itself. Our current regulatory framework has no tolerance for an oil spill of any kind, and this leads to huge clean-up costs for insurance companies. It is not uncommon for the release of oil to lead to the demolition of a home, if the oil manages to escape the basement. $500 of oil can lead to a $500,000 (or greater) clean-up bill. So yes, insurance companies hate your oil furnace!

And there is a shortage of skilled oil technicians. As the oil industry declines, fewer and fewer individuals want to become an oil technician. And fewer companies want to invest in oil skills training. The oil service business is declining and the business insurance rates are skyrocketing for those companies that want to stay in the business. It’s a downward spiral.

A few years ago I finally traded in my own 20+ year old oil furnace for a new Lennox heat pump and air handler. I have been extremely happy with the cost savings, and you will be too! It really is the smart thing to do, and I encourage you to give Bob Barkley or Josh Leakey a call to size a new energy efficient gas/propane system for your home. Hugh George, Toshack co-owner.

Hugh George

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