October 15, 2021

How Does Oil Heat Work and What are the Benefits?

In New England, many homes are heated by oil using either a furnace or boiler system. Although we all know that furnaces and boilers burn oil to produce heat, most of us aren’t familiar with the details and in-depth workings of our heating systems.

For both furnaces and boilers, you keep extra oil in outdoor storage tanks. However, there are several key differences to the workings of a furnace vs a boiler.

Furnaces – For the sake of this blog, we are going to talk about more modern high-efficiency furnaces vs. their predecessor, the atmospheric furnace. Furnaces work by a fan pulling exhaust air through a heat exchanger. The fan creates a draft, and gases go up the chimney. When heating with oil, the most efficient furnaces are newer condensing models. Less heat escapes to the outside. Instead of immediately venting hot exhaust, these furnaces cool gases first. Therefore, water vapor condenses and exhaust travels outside through a plastic pipe in the sidewall.

Boilers – Boilers don’t heat air, instead they warm up the water. The liquid travels through the house, providing heat through equipment such as radiators or baseboards. The cooled water then cycles back to the boiler for reheating.

Oil Heat Mechanics

Both furnaces and boilers begin the heating process via a combustion chamber, where the oil ignites. Then a heat exchanger warms the gases or water flowing through the component. In a furnace, a fan, or blower motor, pulls in household air from cold air return ducts and sends it through the heat exchanger. The heated air then goes through warm air ducts and circulates throughout the house. Cooled air cycles back to the furnace. Boilers use pumps to propel heated water through pipes to radiators. Cooled water returns to the boiler for reuse.

Oil Heat Maintenance

Did you know you can learn a lot about your heating system from the smoke that comes out of the chimney? Black smoke can indicate wasted fuel and reduced system efficiency.

You can also clean your thermostat before the heating system starts to help better regulate temperatures. Both the blower and the stack control component, which monitor the burner, benefit from cleaning halfway through the season. Regular upkeep removes particles and deposits that impede function.

Annual maintenance is also key to extending the life and efficiency of your oil heat furnace or boiler. Even with regular yearly checkups, a homeowner could need a technician to handle a specific problem, such as cleaning a burner, unblocking the fuel line, or fixing a faulty ignition spark.

What are the benefits of using oil?

  • It is very safe: Oil is one of the safest heating fuels available as it will only ignite when it is in the combustion chamber of your furnace or boiler. It needs to reach a high temperature (over 500 degrees) and to be under high pressure before it ignites. You can drop a lit match into a bucket of heating oil, and all that will happen is the match will extinguish.
  • It is clean-burning: The heating oil used today is designed to be clean-burning. In most states, the only type of heating oil now in use is ultra-low sulfur heating oil, meaning it has a sulfur content below 15 parts per million.
  • It is budget-friendly: When you use heating oil in your home, you get a certain amount delivered all at once or choose to fill your tank. Most heating fuel suppliers offer budget programs or automatic delivery which make maintaining your heating level a breeze.
  • Heating systems that use oil have long lifespans: Another benefit of using oil to heat your home is that furnaces and boilers that use oil as their fuel source tend to have longer lifespans than other types of heating systems. Your oil-burning furnace may stay in good working condition for up to 15 to 20 years with preventative maintenance and regular tune-ups.
  • It is available in remote areas: Unlike fuels like natural gas where the supply is limited to the location of the gas lines, oil heat is available just about anywhere. Oil heat is an excellent option as long as you have room on your property for an oil tank and can provide access to a delivery driver to reach the tank to fill it up.

Have questions about a new furnace or boiler, annual maintenance, or ordering oil – give us a call!

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