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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Frequently asked questions about home heating fuels

  Here are some questions and answers about heating fuel topics, including conversion costs, conservation alternatives and environmental impacts.

 
Q: How do I know which fuel source is best for my home heating needs?

Q: Isn’t natural gas more reliable than oil heat?

Q: Isn’t a tank full of heating oil dangerous to have in my home?

Q: Isn’t heating oil dirty? Doesn’t it smell?

Q: Why shouldn’t I take advantage of a great offer to convert from oil heat to natural gas?

Q: How does an electric heat pump compare with an oil furnace?

Q: Which fuel is better for my home’s resale value?

Q: Shouldn’t I just choose the heating fuel that costs least?

Q: Is any fuel source leading the way in advanced, earth-friendly technologies?

Q: How can I determine the age of my heating system? 

Q: Can I use oil to heat my water?

Q: What is that whistling noise I hear when my tank is being filled?/

Q: Does it cost me more to pay my bills monthly instead of paying for each delivery?

Q: Can I get government help to pay my heating oil bills?

Q: Do you have a question you don’t see here?
   
Q: How do I know which fuel source is best for my home heating needs?
A: Review this website thoroughly and other sites you trust, and then come to your own conclusion. We like oil heat because it’s been more affordable than natural gas for most of the past 20 years. It’s also much less combustible and, in some cases, kinder to the environment. Also, heating oil is delivered by a local dealer who comes right to your home. Natural gas is piped in by a faceless corporation, which, for the most part, only visits your home in the form of complex bills with multiple and mysterious add-on charges.
According to a survey that found 95% of oil heat consumers were satisfied with their fuel source, personal service from their dealer was the most valuable benefit, along with safety and comfort.
Source: National Oilheat Research Alliance, 2002.
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Q: Isn’t natural gas more reliable than oil heat?
A: Quite the opposite. Natural gas can ignite and explode readily; heating oil does not. Heating oil is stored in a tank and used over time, making it as available to you as food in your pantry. These are just two examples of oil heat’s reliability.
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Q: Isn’t a tank full of heating oil dangerous to have in my home?
A: No. Leaks are so rare that residential storage tanks are not regulated by the U.S. government. In the rare instance of a leak, heating oil will not ignite, explode or release hazardous fumes—like natural gas can. Heating oil must be hotter than 140˚F and vaporized before it will ignite. A match dropped directly into it would have no effect, and the match would go out. (However, we are NOT recommending that you try this!)
Compared with a safe, stable storage tank full of heating oil, natural gas is much more dangerous. You have read, no doubt, about explosions from gas main leaks that have leveled entire buildings. And natural gas heating systems are the leading cause of carbon monoxide fatalities in the United States.
For additional information on oil tank issues we suggest visiting the site NCoilheat.org.
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Q: Isn’t heating oil dirty? Doesn’t it smell?
A: Modern, well-maintained oil heat systems burn cleanly and efficiently, up to 95% cleaner than the best systems of the 1970s. Today’s systems are 99.9% clean, and emit no indoor air pollution. A properly functioning system will not emit an order. If you smell anything, that means the system may be out of adjustment. If the system is burning properly, you will not smell a thing.
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Q: Why shouldn’t I take advantage of a great offer to convert from oil heat to natural gas?
A: Because that “great offer” really isn’t so great. That discounted heating system you’ll get may not be as energy efficient as you assume. The high-efficiency system you really want might cost much more. You’ll also have to remove your oil tank and absorb the cost of any remaining oil. You may need to install a chimney liner; buy a new water heater; spend money on plumbing and electrical work, and pay license fees (if required). And you’ll still need to pay for your new heating system’s installation. A “great offer” could end up costing you as much as $9,000!
The Consumer Energy Council of America (CECA) calls switching fuels “an expensive gamble” and recommends against it.
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Q: How does an electric heat pump compare with an oil furnace?
A: The average output temperature of an electric heat pump is only 95˚. Your body temperature is higher than that. The average heat output of an oil furnace, however, is 120˚ or higher. Because its heat output is at least 25% warmer than an electric heat pump, an oil furnace will keep your homer warmer and more comfortable even in the dead of winter. And, in the summer, oil furnaces are fully compatible with electric central air conditioning systems.
You’ll also save money when you heat with oil instead of electricity. In Maryland, oil furnaces can save you a substantial amount of money compared with an electric heat pump used as a primary heat source. Click here to find out more.
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Q: Which fuel is better for my home’s resale value?
A: The fuel your heating system uses has a minimal effect on the value of your home compared with the system’s age and efficiency. In fact, you can increase your home’s resale value by upgrading to the best, high-efficiency oil heating system available. Ask your heating oil company for more information and recommendations.
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Q: Shouldn’t I just choose the heating fuel that costs least?
A: Heating oil and natural gas generally follow similar pricing patterns. And while the price of oil may be higher today, its price has been lower than national gas for most of the past 20 years. It’s important to realize that price data from natural gas companies and government sources are often based only on the “supply cost.” The amount the natural gas utility charges you, however, includes add-on fees, such as “delivery charges,” “seasonal adjustments,” “system benefits charges” and “weather normalization adjustments.” These charges can make up 50% of a natural gas bill. With heating oil, you get one simple easy-to-understand price.
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Q: Is any fuel source leading the way in advanced, earth-friendly technologies?
A: A: Oil heat has been “going green” with advances in both equipment and fuel. Fuel developments include making heating oil more renewable by combining it with biofuels from plant-based oils such as soybean oil and others. Oil heating systems can use many of these fuels with no equipment modifications. Advances like these can make heating oil a partially renewable fuel source, with potential for even greater gains in the future.
Production of natural gas remains 100% dependent on fossil fuels.
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Q: How can I determine the age of my heating system?
A: Check for a serial number; sometimes the date is in it. Also look for an installation tag or label, which may have been attached on the date of installation. Or ask your oil heat dealer.
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Q: Can I use oil to heat my water?
A: Yes. Oil-fired water heaters offer a low-cost means to abundant amounts of hot water. That’s one of the most attractive benefits of using oil for heating water. Another is that oil-fired water heaters can heat water five times faster than electric units, and cut your water heating costs by hundreds of dollars
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Q: What is that whistling noise I hear when my tank is being filled?
A: That’s the vent pipe releasing air from the tank as it is filled. Basement tanks are required to have a vent alarm to indicate when the tank is full.
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Q: Does it cost me more to pay my bills monthly instead of paying for each delivery?
A: No. Most oil dealers let you spread out your payments over the year, so you are not hit with larger seasonal bills. You only pay for the fuel you actually receive, and there are no finance charges. You don’t use more oil and you don’t pay more per gallon. Your dealer estimates your annual fuel bill by multiplying your normal fuel usage by a given year’s projected fuel prices. This number is then divided into lower monthly payments. If the original estimate proves too high or too low, your account is adjusted.
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Q: Can I get government help to pay my heating oil bills?
A: Possibly, depending on factors such as income, age and other eligibility requirements. You may qualify for help from the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that is administered through state agencies. Learn more at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap/
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