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Oil vs. Gas Furnace: Which is Best for Washington Homes?

by Daniel Estevao on January 22, 2016

Oil vs. Gas Furnace - Which is Better?

Oil vs. Gas: The Best Type of Furnace for Your Washington Home

If you are in the process of renovating an old home, or perhaps building a new one, you might be in the market for a furnace. But what is the best type of furnace for your home – oil or gas?

It’s not an easy question to answer. There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration. Both designs have their pros and cons, some of which will vary depending on your location, the size of your home, and your heating needs.

Newer models have an expected lifespan of 20 to 30 years, so it’s important that both efficiency and maintenance are given equal consideration. We’ve compiled a few of the basic concerns that should help in the decision-making process.

AFUE Ratings

The Federal Trade Commission requires that every furnace must be designated with an efficiency rating. Their rating, called the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE), is extremely helpful when reviewing the various options on the market. When deciding on the best type of heater, this is where you should begin.

According to AFUE statistics, most new gas furnaces have a rating between 89% and 98%. Their oil counterparts rate a bit lower with an average between 80% and 90%.

Efficiency vs. Price

While gas furnaces are typically more efficient than oil models, they are also a bit more expensive. In general a gas furnace will run you anywhere from 10% to 25% more than an oil furnace of equivalent size. When considering fuel costs, however, gas is a much cheaper resource by a considerable margin. In fact, about 50% of homes in the U.S. are heated by gas compared with about 8% that are heated by oil.

According to Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average American homeowner will pay only $679 to heat their home with natural gas versus $2,046 for oil heating (October 1, 2013-March 31, 2014).

compare different heating fuel prices

Click here for more information on AFUE rating, furnaces, and boilers.

Fuel Sources

While your local utility company is responsible for storing and delivering your natural gas, if you opt for an oil furnace, you will have to store the oil on your property and keep track of its quantity. A local supplier will have to refill your oil tank when it is low.

The Checklist

After reviewing the AFUE ratings and fuel prices, add these factors to your checklist:

  • Upfront Cost (shop around; buying your own and having a contractor install could save a considerable amount)
  • Fuel Efficiency
  • Fuel Availability (in your location)
  • Fuel Cost
  • Heat Output
  • Annual Maintenance
  • Available Space (for the unit)
  • Geography (which dictates the length/severity of your winters)

The Review

Here is a condensed version of the pros and cons associated with each type of heater.

Natural Gas Furnaces:

  • Require little maintenance (especially compared to its oil counterpart)
  • Have a higher AFUE heating efficiency
  • Cost less to fuel
  • Are quieter and generally cleaner
  • Require a home where a gas supply is available
  • Provide less heat per BTU (the British thermal unit that identifies the heat value or energy content) than oil
  • Are more expensive than oil furnaces

Oil Furnaces:

  • Provide more heat per BTU
  • Cost less than gas furnaces
  • Must be serviced regularly
  • Are less efficient than gas furnaces
  • Are more expensive to fuel

Oil vs. Gas: Who Wins?

We’re going to have to give this one to natural gas. Although you will most likely spend more money upfront, natural gas is a less expensive fuel and requires less maintenance. There’s a reason why only 8% of Americans use oil to heat their homes.

But, there’s a catch!

Before you make the final decision on the type of heater you want, make sure to consult with several reputable HVAC contractors for estimates. You will want a professional to individually assess your home in order to get the best recommendation. A heating unit of any kind is going to be a major investment, so proceed with caution. Talk with your contractors about potential rebates – or financing incentives available to local homeowners.

Also, be sure to consult ENERGY STAR’s Heating & Air Conditioning Installation Bid Checklist to make sure you are hiring the right HVAC company for the job. Shockingly, more than 50% of all new HVAC installations don’t live up to their efficiency ratings due to improper installation.

Use this BTU (British Thermal Unit) energy calculator to determine how many BTUs are necessary to heat or cool your home.

Buying a New Furnace?

If you are considering replacing your current heating system, there are many other options to consider, including programmable thermostats, upgraded ductwork, and hybrid or zoned heating.

Learn how hybrid heating systems work.

Learn how natural gas furnace work.

For more information on heating systems:

Don’t forget to take advantage of local and federal rebates and tax incentives for high-efficiency units. You may be eligible for a federal tax incentives, local rebates, and financing.

If you are confused by all of this, simply give the professionals at Pacific Air Systems a call at 253.292.3995. We’re here for you 24/7!


One call does it all at Pacific Air Systems Heating & Cooling.

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