smart heating choices, converting to gas
A True Story About Switching from Oil Heat

"Now I know I made a big mistake.”
– Arnold Katz, former oil customer who converted to gas

Arnold Katz says he regrets making the switch from oil heat to gas. Here’s why.

“I had an old oil system that needed replacing, and the gas company persuaded my wife and me that we would have a lot less to worry about once we put in a new gas system,” says Mr. Katz.
"I feel like I was misled. I thought I was getting a bargain, but by the time the gas system was in, I felt like I had been grossly overcharged.”

What Mr. Katz wasn’t told

When a gas company encourages an oil heat user to convert, the sales pitch often starts with what amounts to a bait-and-switch tactic. The “free” gas equipment offer doesn’t always make it clear that

  • labor is not included.
  • the offer is for low-end inefficient equipment (but the gas company will upgrade you to a more efficient model for a substantial fee).
  • you are likely to face hefty conversion costs.

The offer also doesn’t tell you that by switching to gas, you’ll lose the personal service you’ve depended on – for impersonal service from a faceless corporate entity.

Mr. Katz describes what happened after his conversion to gas.

“When I lost my heat, I expected someone at my house the same day, like my oil dealer used to do. The gas company said they would come right out only if I smelled gas. I didn’t, so they told me to call a plumber.”
Once a customer researches switching, they decide it’s not a very good idea.

That’s been the experience of Dan Poe, a sales representative with Burch Oil. “A couple of my customers have considered it [switching to gas], but once they research it more and I talk to them a bit, they decide it’s not a very good idea", he says.

“The biggest thing right now is the price of oil,” Dan says, “which is driving everyone crazy. Some people will look at the particular efficiency claims of a gas burner, maybe 90%, vs their oil burner, say 84%. I’ll say, well, you’ve got to realize the other costs involved. Maybe the cost of a new gas furnace is about the same as it is for an oil furnace. But you already have an oil furnace.” And for a high-efficiency gas furnace, you’ll need a chimney liner, Dan explains. That alone could cost $800 for the installation.

“And while the efficiency rating [of a new gas system] sounds good, you’ve got to consider that you get more Btus out of oil than you do out of gas. You’ll get a lot more heat and a lot more bang for your buck with oil than you will from the gas."
What about the price of natural gas vs oil?

Here’s what Dan says: “You know, there’s not that much difference really between the cost of natural gas and fuel oil when it’s all said and done over time. And even if they’re thinking of an electric heat pump, you know electricity’s about ready to take a high jump in price too since it’s created from coal and from oil itself. And when it’s 25 degrees outside, you’ll never be happy with the heat of a heat pump as you were with oil heat.”

“I think we’ve had one person switch to natural gas, and that was probably back in 2005 or 2006. I ran into him about six months ago, and he’s sorry he did. I gave him my card in case he decides to switch back, but he’s put so much money into it already, I don’t think he’ll do it. He’ll just bite the bullet and keep on regretting it.”

“When you’re tied to that gas line, you’re tied to a monopoly. They have you, and they know it.”

- Ralph Adams, service manager, Parker Fuel

"Any time anyone’s talking to me about converting, I’m quick to remind them right up front that with gas they’ll be dealing with a monopoly in BG&E. They have you, and they know it, more or less. There’s no real competition. With an oil distributor, if one doesn’t make you happy, there’s one down the street that will be more than happy to welcome your business. But with gas, once you’re tied to that gas line, you’re tied to that gas line’s company.”

Try calling BG&E at midnight and tell them you’ve got no heat.

What the gas company will probably do is tell you they don’t work on furnaces and you should call a contractor, Ralph says. But if you call your local oil company with a no-heat problem, I guarantee somebody from the company will be out to help you. At Parker Fuel, he says, we see you every month or so [for deliveries and regular maintenance] and you get that close community relationship, which you won’t get with natural gas.

Here’s a real life conversion story that almost happened—but didn’t.

“I had a large church that was looking to convert from oil heat to natural gas,” Ralph recalls. “They had an old antiquated system from the ‘50s that burned a lot of oil. But it’s like talking about a car from the ‘50s—it’s not going to be running so well as what’s available today. We gave them a quote on upgrading their oil system, and they went out and got a quote on natural gas. By the time they factored in running the gas line into the building and the cost of the new gas boiler, converting ended up costing $10,000 more than installing a new oil boiler".

“And I know that the oil system will easily cut their consumption by 30%-40%. So when you take all that into account, why would they convert to gas?”

Switching conversations turn into upgrading conversations

“Heck, I’ve had customers who were using converted coal systems from the 1930s! I have one gentleman and I replaced his system. It was big as a van and we had to cut it into two pieces to get it out. We put two small boilers in…and that $10,000 investment paid for itself in two-and-a-half years.

“My switching conversations always turn into to upgrade conversations…. They come to me with numbers about the cost of oil or natural gas in general, and we wind up talking about a whole bunch of other numbers that lead them to understand that upgrading is what they really need to be doing. It’s not unusual to get a 100% payback on the investment within two, three or four years.

“Look, if you’re a $1,000-a-year customer and I save you 30% in usage with an upgrade, that’s 300 gallons. At $4 bucks a gallon, that’s $1,200 saved in a year. You can pay off a new system pretty darn quick once you look at the math.”
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