Chapter 4: Oil Heating Versus Electric Heating

When you look at oil heating versus electric heating, it’s important to understand how electric power works.

The Basics of Electric Heating

Efficiency is a two-sided issue. Within a household electric system, all incoming electric energy changes to heat energy. At this level, it’s 100 percent efficient.

However, electricity usually originates from power plants with coal, gas or oil generators. Only about 30 percent of the fossil fuels used are actually converted into electricity. Less common sources of electricity are nuclear plants, wind farms and hydropower plants — which use water.

Only about 30% of the fossil fuels used are actually converted into electricity.

Electric Resistance Heating

An electric heat versus oil heat comparison must examine respective heating methods. Electrical systems incorporate either resistance heating or heat pumps. Resistance heating comes in two forms: forced air furnaces and zonal heaters.

Electric furnaces have blowers that send cool air over several heating elements. Warmed air travels through supply ducts to the house, and the air loses heat during this journey. Cooled air comes back to the furnace in return ducts. These ducts are sometimes part of a home’s central cooling system. One thermostat typically controls the heat for the entire house, so heating is often uneven.

Zonal heaters are more efficient than forced air furnaces because each room has an independent thermostat. Since zonal heaters don’t use ductwork, heat also doesn’t escape along the way.

Electric baseboard heaters are an example of a zonal heater. Each has a heating element within its housing. Another zonal format is the wall heater, which typically sits within interior walls. A fan moves air through the heater, while a reflector sends heat back into the room.

Though is it not common, some resistance heaters permit thermal storage. These make use of electric companies’ differences in rates between day and night — electricity is more expensive during peak daytime hours.

Electric thermal storage heaters collect electricity at night, when rates are lower, and store it for later use. Heating elements usually rest within heat-storing ceramic components.

Electric Heat Pumps

Air-sourced heat pumps move warm air from one area to another. In cooler weather, a pump brings warmth from the outdoors to inside the home since even cold air contains heat energy.

The process reverses itself for cooling — the pump sends warm air from inside a house to the outside.

People who live in mild climates have more success with traditional heat pumps because efficiency drops significantly in regions where temperatures go very low. However, some modern heat pumps work well even when temperatures are below freezing. While standard heat pumps are either off or on, newer models have variable speeds.

When a house reaches a satisfactory temperature, contemporary motors have the option of continuing to run slowly. This helps to maintain continual warmth in very cold weather.

Though many air-sourced heat pumps use ductwork, mini-split heat pumps don’t need those conduits. Another air-sourced variation, a reverse-cycle chiller, heats and cools water. These systems often work in tandem with radiant floor heating.

Geothermal heat pumps work by moving heat between a ground or water source and a house. Installation costs are higher, but they are more efficient and less expensive to run.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Electric Heat

There are numerous benefits to using electric heat. For example, electric heaters are available for either whole houses or individual rooms. This makes them useful for heating additions or seldom-used rooms.

For winter 2014 to 2015, the average cost of using electric heat was $960. For the same period, heating oil costs averaged $1,851.

Electric furnaces are also very safe, as they don’t produce dangerous gases as by-products. There is no combustion in electric heaters, so the chance of a home fire is remote as well.

In the oil versus electric heat debate, however, oil sometimes gets the upper hand. Electric heaters are significantly less efficient than their oil-burning counterparts are, and the air that’s delivered is also cooler than in oil systems.

Pros and Cons of Heating Oil

There are many reasons that people prefer oil heating. The primary advantage is that oil is an exceptionally efficient fuel source. Because oil burns very hot, it heats your home faster for longer with less fuel. Oil's efficient performance can help you save money, especially when you work with a reliable supplier like Smart Touch Energy. 

Oil is also safe for you and the environment, as it is non-explosive and non-toxic with a clean burn that won't pollute the air. 

Oil can be delivered anywhere, including rural areas and remote locations. You must schedule deliveries from a reliable oil company in order to keep a constant supply of oil in your home. You also need a large oil tank on your property to store the oil you receive. These oil tanks require periodic maintenance to prevent blockages, corrosion and contamination, which can develop over time.

Cost of Electric Heat vs. Oil

Which is cheaper — electric or oil heat? In this price contest, electricity and oil are neck and neck. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts the average electric heat cost during winter 2020 to be $1,209. For the same period, they estimate heating oil costs at $1,221. Compared to last winter, electric heat costs rose by 7% due to colder than average temperatures, while heating oil costs fell by 10% due to lower crude oil prices. 

Your habits and the condition of your home also play a significant role in how much you pay for heat, whether it's electric or oil. You can save money with simple adjustments like turning down the thermostat when no one is home and wearing weather-appropriate clothing indoors so you don't have to overcompensate for warmth by using more of your heating supply.

Heat can also escape through cracks and crevices in your home, especially around windows and doors. Making sure those entry points are tightly sealed can help you keep more heat inside so that less oil or electricity is required to warm your home.

If you are looking to make the switch from electric heat to oil, we're happy to help! We proudly serve customers in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Contact us today!

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