Heating Oil vs Propane - Which fuel is more cost effective?
Heating oil & Propane are often among the popular choices for home heating fuel. So one question that homeowners often ask is "Which fuel is more cost effective?".
As the figure shows, the per gallon cost of Propane has historically been lower than the per gallon cost of Heating Oil. But if you made your decision solely on this information, you would be basing it on partial facts.
To do an accurate comparison between the two fuels, one needs to consider the following :-
1) Efficiency of the Heating System
This is an important factor because system efficiency decides how much energy is indeed used toward heating your home. While the actual efficiency will largely depend and vary based on different makes/models and age of your individual system, the average heating oil system is about 80-85% efficient compared to the average propane system which is about 90-95% efficient.
2) BTUs per gallon
BTU (British Thermal Unit)/gallon is a measure of the amount of energy generated by combusting a gallon of fuel. Heating oil comes out ahead in this category because it produces roughly 138,500 BTUs/gallon vs Propane which only produces around 91,500 BTUs/gallon.
3) Cost per gallon
Finally the cost/gallon which is an important factor as well. The cost will largely depend on where you live, seasonal demand, crude oil supply etc.
For these sample calculations, we will be using March 2013 average prices from our home state of Massachusetts (source US EIA) $4.10 (heating oil) & $3.20 (propane). For system efficiency, we will use 92% for propane and 82% for heating oil.
Heating Oil → (138,500 BTU/gal * 0.82) / $4.10 = 27,700 BTU/gal per $
Propane → (91,500 BTU/gal * 0.92) / $3.20 = 26,306 BTU/gal per $
Another way to think about this is that the energy generated by 1 gallon of heating oil is roughly equivalent to 1.349 gallons of propane. This is computed as follows:-
(Heating Oil BTU/gallon * System efficiency) / (Propane BTU/gallon * System efficiency)
(138,500 BTU/gallon * 0.82) / (91,500 BTU/gallon * 0.92) = 1.349
Fuel Cost Calculator
Now that we understand how to compare the fuels, let compute the Total Cost incurred by choosing each fuel. This way you can get a feel for how much money you could save (over the entire heating season) by choosing the more effective one!
To use our calculator, simply enter your estimated Heating Oil usage (in gallons) and the current price of heating oil & propane in your neighborhood. The calculator will compute the equivalent Propane usage (in gallons) and calculate the Total Cost for each fuel.
You can also modify the System Efficiency values and see how the fuel cost effectiveness changes.
Enter your estimated Heating oil usage in gallons to calculate total cost
So Who Won?
Based on the data that we've used in our examples, it looks like for the 2013 heating season Massachusetts homeowners would've paid the roughly the same with either heating oil or propane!
However this may not be TRUE in your specific case because your system efficiency may be higher or lower than what we've used. Likewise the current price of Heating Oil vs Propane will most likely be different in your area, from the values used in our example.
Use our calculator and judge it yourself!