The reality behind the myth
February 23, 2017
Most new homeowners barely give it a second thought. One of the first things on their list of things to do, is switch out their oil heat furnace to natural gas equipment. It has been the common ideology for decades, that gas is good, and oil is bad. However, there is a new kid on the block in the oil family. Bioheat (a blend of biodiesel and ultra low sulfur heating oil) is making itself known as the evolution of oil heat. Bioheat is heating oil and can be used in your oil tank without any modifications to your tank or furnace. Here we will look at natural gas vs. heating oil (bioheat) in terms of environmental impact, efficiency, and cost.
The biggest differentiator between bioheat and natural gas is the environmental impact. As a result of the Paris Climate Change Convention in 2016, over 200 nations agreed to limit carbon gasses by emphasizing renewable energy sources and low carbon options. Natural gas, standard petroleum oil, and coal are all in the same category of fossil fuels and thus nonrenewable energy. On the opposite end, bioheat, wind and solar energy, all fall under the umbrella of renewable energy. Bioheat is a combination of biodiesel and standard heating oil. What makes it renewable is that biodiesel is produced from a variety of feedstocks such used restaurant cooking grease. Once processed and combined with standard heating oil, it becomes Bioheat, which can be used in place of standard heating oil without any modifications.
In addition to the fact that Bioheat is a renewable fuel, it also beats natural gas in carbon emissions. More research is currently be being conducted on what % of biodiesel blend beats natural gas in carbon emissions. But, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, even the B12 blend (12% biodiesel and 88% standard petroleum oil), Bioheat emits less carbon than natural gas.
This chart shows the level of carbon output comparing natural gas to bioheat. The blue line indicates the carbon out put in pounds of natural gas, while the green bars show how the different blends of bioheat reduce the carbon output depending on the blend. Standard heating oil is the 0% blend, and as you can see it is higher in carbon output than natural gas. The B99 blend would be at the other end of the graph, which shows a reduction in carbon output over natural gas by more than half.
Often when people are buying an older, oil heated home, they find an old furnace and inefficient heat. The cause of the inefficiency is commonly targeted at the fuel source, rather than the actual aging furnace or insufficient insulation. This scenario has been fueling the myth that gas is good, and oil is bad, for decades. When upgrading a furnace, people tend to think switching to a gas furnace will give them optimal efficiency. Part of that is true. Simply upgrading the furnace will increase their efficiency. Both new gas and new oil furnaces have high efficiencies. However, heating oil burns hotter than natural gas. This means it will not only heat the space in half the time but it will burn less fuel while doing so. In addition to that, because oil furnaces burn hotter, there will be less condensation created which leads to a longer furnace life. Oil furnaces last 30+ years while gas furnaces last about 12-15.
Natural gas is cheaper, this is true. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average consumer pays more in a year for oil than gas. However, many people consider switching out a fully functioning oil furnace to gas, just to save money on their yearly heating costs. When looking at the math, the reality is, it will take longer to make up the extra cost in order to start saving money, than most people live in their house. In Seattle, the average number of years people live in one house is 12 years. Let’s look at the math more closely.
For an average home in an average year in Seattle, people who use oil heat spend about $600 per year more on heating bills than people who heat with natual gas. The cost of a new natural gas furnace is about $7,000. In addition to the furnace, often people have to pay the gas company for the gas line outside the house, which can be $10,000 or more. With these expenses, in order to start saving $600 per year, it will take about 12 – 28 years. In addition to that, gas furnaces have a life span of about 12 – 15 years, once you get close to saving money on yearly heat bills, you’ll need to buy a new gas furnace. As you can see, it is not always the best economic choice to switch from a heating oil furnace to a natural gas natural gas furnace.
Natural gas vs. heating oil. The common idea that gas is good, and oil is bad, is a myth. The reality is, that when it comes to environmental impact, Bioheat is good. Bioheat is renewable, and it will reduce carbon emissions. As far as efficency, both will keep you warm, as long as your equipment is good. And when it comes to cost, it’s just a matter of taking into account all the costs involved and doing the math.