There are many choices available today for heating your home. Propane or oil furnaces are two of the options you may consider. Understanding the differences in these two types of heating systems can help you make your decision.
Both propane and oil heating require a tank to hold the gas or oil. Both can be installed above or below ground. Both require on site filling from a gas or oil supplier. Heating oil however, is a liquid and stays a liquid. It is delivered to the furnace by means of an oil pump. Propane is a gas when exposed to atmosphere and is pressurized to liquid in the storage tank. Propane is delivered to the furnace the same way natural gas is, by means of metal or copper piping.
Environmental considerations and venting:
Propane is considered to be a cleaner burning fuel than heating oil without as many contaminants. Heating oil will leave a soot as it burns. A leaking heating oil tank will contaminate the soil and require an environmental clean up. If the tank is located inside the home, in a basement, this can be prevented by a drip pan. A chimney is recommended for venting an oil furnace although direct venting kits are available. A propane furnace can be vented in the same way natural gas is vented, through a metal flue or PVC flue depending of the furnace efficiency.
While all systems should have filters replaced at regular intervals, oil furnaces must have a yearly maintenance performed. Yearly inspection of any furnace is recommended, but oil furnaces require more cleaning. Large amounts of soot can form in the heat exchanger and burner and some of the passage ways can be blocked by the soot. If too much soot builds up combustion gasses can be forced back into the home and the furnace can stop functioning. This soot also containers sulfur which can contribute to an unpleasant odor. The oil spray nozzle is also usually replaced and adjustments may need to be done for the air-fuel ratio.
Efficiency and costs:
In general heating oil is less expensive than propane. An oil furnace will heat up an area more quickly than a propane furnace. However propane can be more efficient. Oil furnaces will generate approximately 130,000 BTU’s of heat while propane gives about 95,000 BTU’s. The difference here is that most oil furnaces are only 85% efficient while propane furnaces can be up to 95% efficient.
While any gases can cause explosion or fire, propane furnaces can be dangerous. If there is a leak, propane gas collects at ground level near the pilot light. When enough gas collects, the propane will cause an explosion. Oil itself is not explosive but unvented residual fumes are. Spilled or leaking oil can cause a significant fire. No matter what type of gas or oil heating your household uses a carbon monoxide detector is recommended.