When you’re choosing the best type of heating for your Eastern Massachusetts home, it’s wise to compare different fuels or energy sources. Oil, gas, and electricity are the three most common heating fuels used to keep homes comfortably warm during our extended heating seasons. Gas, electric, and oil heat each offer multiple choices for heating systems and equipment:
- Heating oil is most often used in boilers and forced-air furnaces.
- Natural gas can be used to fuel forced-air furnaces, traditional boilers, tankless combination boilers/water heaters, and hydronic heating systems.
- Electricity can power conventional split-system and ductless mini-split heat pumps, forced-air furnaces, baseboard electric heaters, wall heaters, and in-floor electric radiant heating.
Gas, Electricity, and Oil for Home Heating
The popularity of electricity, natural gas, and oil for home heating varies greatly. According to the Massachusetts government, over 50% of homes in the state are heated by natural gas. Oil heating is used in roughly 27% of residences, and 15% of homeowners rely on electric heat. While there are several options for heating a home with electricity, methods such as individual electrical heaters and electric furnaces are less effective and more expensive than using natural gas or heating oil.
To help you make an informed choice about whether oil, gas, or electric heating is best for your home, here’s an overview of each of these energy sources.
The heating oil used in residential furnaces and boilers is refined from crude oil taken from underground reserves. Once it’s refined, heating oil is transported by pipeline, tank trucks, or railroad tank cars to oil terminals and bulk storage facilities, then delivered to individual local heating oil marketers.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel that forms and collects in between and within rock formations, and within some crude oil and coal deposits. It’s found in various locations around the globe, and natural gas deposits are currently being accessed in 32 states across the U.S. Once the gas is brought to the surface, it’s sent to natural gas plants for processing and then distributed through a network of pipelines to suppliers nationwide.
The electricity used in Massachusetts homes is generated at power plants that rely on another energy source such as coal, refined crude oil, natural gas, wind, solar, or hydropower. Electricity then travels through high voltage transmission lines, substations, and neighborhood power lines to individual homes. Here, the electricity goes through a meter and gets distributed via the main breaker panel for various uses, including home heating.
A Comparison of Oil, Gas, and Electric Heating
The easiest way to judge the benefits and drawbacks of gas, oil, and electric heating is to look at how they compare side-by-side based on key factors like the following:
Initial Costs of Oil, Gas, and Electric Heating Equipment
Regardless of whether you choose oil, gas, or electricity as your energy source for home heating, the cost of new heating equipment depends on the size needed to heat your home, the type of heating system, and whether you opt for a model with a high-efficiency rating. Generally:
- Oil- or gas-fired boilers are more expensive than natural gas or oil furnaces
- Models that burn heating oil are less costly than those that run on natural gas
- Heat pumps typically have higher price tags than both gas or oil furnaces and boiler heating systems
- Dual-fuel heating systems that pair heat pumps with gas or oil furnaces are usually the costliest option
There are extra expenses involved in installing gas or oil heating. With oil, you’ll need to purchase a storage tank and have it installed outdoors on your property. With gas heating, you’ll need to have a service line run from the gas main and get a meter installed. When comparing the upfront costs of oil and gas vs. electric heating equipment, keep in mind that heat pumps work as heaters during the winter, then reverse function to provide central air conditioning during the summer.
Availability of Electric, Gas, and Oil for Heating
Most homes today are connected to the electrical grid, so the power source for an electric heat pump is already available. Underground gas mains are also in place in many towns and cities in Eastern Massachusetts, but if your home is more rural, or in a community without this essential infrastructure, gas heating may not be an option. Oil for home heating is delivered by the tankful and readily available from numerous heating oil suppliers across the North Shore area.
Energy Efficiency of Electric, Gas, and Oil Heating Systems
When it comes to electric home heating, heat pumps are the best option to compare with oil and gas because they’re 100% to 300% efficient. Some components of these heating systems run on electricity, but instead of consuming energy to create heat, they use refrigerant to capture the warmth from the air outdoors and transfer it inside a home where the heat is released.
Thanks to industry advancements, heat pumps are now available that can absorb heat outdoors at temperatures as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit. These cold-climate units can meet a large portion of your home heating needs, but you’ll still need a gas or oil furnace or boiler to stay comfortably warm during Massachusetts cold snaps.
Gas furnaces are available with efficiencies of up to 98%, while oil-fired heating equipment efficiencies range from 78% to 87%. Highly efficient heating units are usually ENERGY STAR-certified, and they convert a higher percentage of fuel into heat compared to standard models.
Operating Costs for Electric, Gas, and Oil Heat
The costs of natural gas, heating oil, and electricity are based on different units of measure, and the prices for gas and oil can fluctuate during a single heating season, and from year to year. Upkeep is another operating expense, and your potential costs depend on the type of equipment and whether it uses electricity or burns gas or oil.
- Fuel costs. gov provides guides on different types of home heating systems, the approximate quantity of each fuel it takes to heat a comparably sized home, and estimates of the total yearly cost of oil, gas, and electric heating. According to the site, oil heat costs the most, followed by natural gas. Running an electric air source heat pump is the least costly option and provides the most savings.
- Although all heating equipment should have annual professional maintenance, oil heaters usually need more in-depth services and extra filter changes compared to gas-burning equipment because they don’t burn as cleanly and produce soot during fuel combustion.
Get Home Heating Advice at 128 Plumbing
For expert help deciding if oil, gas, or electricity is better for your Greater Boston home, contact us today at 128 Plumbing to schedule a cost-free consultation.