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Comparison of Gas and Oil Furnaces

If you're facing a furnace replacement soon, you might want to take a little time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of gas vs. oil furnaces. Both options are available to homeowners here in the Baltimore area.

You may want to stay with the type of system you're already familiar with, but you may find that the balance between upfront cost and long-term expenses tilts in favor of gas or oil, depending on your specific situation.

Upfront and Long-Term Costs

Homeowners with limited capital to invest in a new furnace might find oil furnaces more attractive than gas furnaces. The cost of a gas furnace can be up to 25 percent higher than that of an oil furnace, especially if the home already has the storage tank and other hardware for an oil furnace in place.

The upfront cost isn't the only consideration in choosing a new furnace. New natural gas furnaces are more energy-efficient than new oil furnaces. If you consider the difference in fuel cost due to the higher efficiency of gas furnaces, the higher initial cost might seem acceptable.

Whichever type of furnace you choose, your new system is likely to be far more efficient than your old one. Modern oil furnaces have annual fuel utilization efficiencies (AFUE) in the 80 to 90 percent range, while new gas furnaces have AFUE ratings from 89 percent all the way up to 98 percent. Furnaces over 10 years old might be more than 30 percent less efficient than new models.

Which Fuel Is Better: Natural Gas or Heating Oil?

In today's energy markets, natural gas has several advantages over heating oil. The cost per BTU of gas is currently lower than the cost per BTU of heating oil. The price of natural gas delivered by public utility companies is regulated and isn't subject to the same volatility that the oil markets have.

But, some homeowners enjoy a sense of security knowing that they have a full tank of heating oil in their backyard. Once the oil is delivered, its availability can't be disrupted by pipeline leaks or other system failures that might occasionally restrict the natural gas supply.

Maintenance of Gas vs. Oil Furnaces

Homeowners with oil furnaces will need a maintenance contract with their oil supplier. Oil doesn't burn as cleanly as natural gas, so oil-burning equipment needs to be inspected and cleaned on a regular basis.

The chimney flue or vent that exhausts combustion products from the house must be kept leak-free and clean for both types of furnaces in order to allow efficient combustion and to prevent hazardous fumes from back-drafting into the house. A typical oil furnace will require chimney or vent cleaning more frequently than a typical gas furnace will.

In addition to the burner, heat exchanger and air handling equipment that both gas and oil furnaces have, oil furnaces also have a pump for moving fuel from the tank to the furnace. Both types of furnaces need to have their air filters changed regularly; oil furnaces also have oil filters that need frequent changing.

Before You Buy a New Furnace…

However you settle the gas vs. oil furnaces question, buying a new furnace is a big investment. Before you choose a furnace, consider some ways you can reduce heat losses so that you can buyer a smaller furnace than you have now. A smaller furnace, whether you choose gas or oil, will save you money upfront, as well as provide future savings on utilities.

Here are a few energy-saving suggestions that won't cost much to implement:

  • Seal air leaks. Use caulk to fill small cracks around window and door frames and holes in exterior walls where plumbing or electrical wiring enter your home. Replace worn weatherstripping so that moving parts of doors and windows seal tightly when they're closed. Add weatherstripping around the attic access door.
  • Inspect and repair ductwork. Leaky ducts can let conditioned air escape before it reaches the rooms it is intended for. Use screws or clamps to repair loose duct connections and seal seams with mastic. Make sure ducts that run through unconditioned areas are well insulated to reduce energy losses.

For more on gas vs. oil furnaces, or for other home comfort concerns, contact Griffith Energy Services, Inc. We help Baltimore area homeowners keep their homes energy efficient and comfortable in every season.

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