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oil vs gas for steam boiler heat

drjsrosenberg's picture

I am replacing my 50 year old steam boiler/burner in a 1920's house in northern New Jersey. My question is related to replacing the present oil boiler/burner with another for oil; or converting to gas as power for the steam. Which one is more effecient and cheaper to operate over time? The price of oil will be out of hand this winter (and natural gas will be higher than usual as well), but this is more of a long term issue. If you ask the oil folks, they think they burn cleaner, more effecient, and cheaper. PG&E says the same about gas. We have steam radiators throughout the house, and the oil tank was replaced last year (above ground under the back porch). Anyone have any advice on this topic? Jeff

(post #111226, reply #1 of 2)

Hi Jeff:

Natural gas burns cleaner and produces less greenhouse gas per BTU, but its price is going nowhere but up.  You can only transport it economically a certain distance, and discoveries of new natural gas in North America are dropping off.  Industrial demand in North America is ever increasing as people shift away from coal and aren't building new nuclear plants for electric power.  So the long-term forecast for natural gas price isn't promising.

Dunno whether oil's cheaper than gas now in your area, or even if it's going to be cheaper in future, but the calculation would be pretty easy to do if you know your TOTAL cost per gallon of fuel oil and per cubic foot of gas.  It used to be a no-brainer- gas was FAR cheaper if you had a connection in place.  You'd think that the local fuel oil company and gas utility would be able to give you those numbers over the phone.   You can ship oil further for less money so it's not dominated by "local" supply.  But the price isn't really controlled by the supply in the ground, it's controlled artificially by countries who limit production to keep prices up.  But demand for this resource is going through the roof because of huge growth and development in India and China. 


(post #111226, reply #2 of 2)


The relative cost is something that you will have to check locally. The problem is that different fuels are priced in different units. Boilers burning either fuels regularly acheive AFUE (annualized fuel utilization efficiency) ratings in in the mid 80% range for reasonable costs. Higher efficiency units in both are avilable, as well. Check EnergyStar online for specific comparisons by brand. Both fuels are derived from crude oil and should trend up and/or down similarly.

1,000,000 BTU = 10 therms = 1000 cu ft of natural gas, typically priced by the therm.

1,000,000 BTU = 7.14 gal No. 2 fuel oil, priced by the gal.

Based on these numbers and present prices you can determine a BTH/$ and compare apples to apples. Also may want to consider is NG available at your house or do you have to pay for connection. There may be different venting requirements as well.

Find two similar replacement boilers and compare the costs. In the line I sell, oil burners run 15-25% higher, depending on the burner option.

Oil, BTW, does not "burn more efficiently" than any other fuel. Efficiency is determined by the design of the equipment, not the fuel.