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Introduction to Heating with Oil



Produced by Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency EnerGuide

Click here for PDF Version

Table of contents

The Four-Step Decision-Making Process for Home Heating
2. Basic Heating Equipment for Oil-Fired Systems
3. The New High-Efficiency Furnaces
4. Comparing Annual Heating Costs
5. The Mechanics of Buying, Installing or Upgrading a System
6. Maintenance
7. Domestic Water Heaters
8. Need More Information?


If your present home heating system is costing too much to operate, is in poor condition, or if you are planning to buy a new home, you are probably considering your heating options. About 60 percent of the energy required to run the average home is used for space heating. One of he most important projects you will undertake as a homeowner, along with insulating and air sealing, is choosing, changing or modifying your heating system. A wise decision about heating can significantly reduce the cost of running your home and make it more comfortable. Some impressive improvements have been made in heating sys-tems in recent years, and there is a wide range of good equipment on the market.

You will be using your new or improved heating system for a long time, so it ’s important to do your homework before you make a choice. It ’s worth taking the time now to ensure that you make the best choice for your situation. You should thoroughly investigate all your options first. These days, however, your options may be quite bewilder-ing because of he wide range of equipment and energy sources available. This booklet will help you in your decision-making process. It will be useful whether you are installing a system in a new home, replacing a system in an existing home or simply considering upgrading your present system.

How to Use this Booklet

To simplify he process of choosing a heating system, we have identified four interrelated steps for making your home-heating decisions:

Step 1: Draftproofing and insulating

Step 2: Selecting your energy source

Step 3: Selecting or improving your heat distribution system

Step 4: Selecting your heating equipment

These steps and various options are discussed briefly in Chapter 1. The remainder of this booklet focuses on the oil heating option. If you decide to use gas, electricity, wood or a heat pump to heat your home, refer to the companion booklets in this series entitled:

  • Heating with Gas
  • Heating with Electricity
  • A Guide to Residential Wood Heating
  • Heating and Cooling with a Heat Pump
  • All About Wood Fireplaces
  • All About Gas Fireplaces

These booklets are available from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) or from your local oil or gas dealer or electrical utility. Refer to page 58 for information on how to order them.

How you use this booklet is determined in part by where you are in your decision-making process:

  • If a new house is being built for you, you may have all the steps and options open to you (Steps 1 through 4).

  • If you already own your home but are considering replacing an existing heating system, many of the steps and options may be available if you have a variety of fuel/energy choices in your area (Steps 1 through 4).

  • If you already have a satisfactory heat distribution system, either forced-air or hydronic, and are interested only in upgrading it (Step 3) and reducing your heating bill, then your options are switching energy sources (Step 2), selecting higher efficiency equipment, or upgrading and adding equipment to your current furnace or boiler (Step 4). You may also decide to insulate and draftproof (caulk and weatherstrip) your house (Step 1).

  • Even if you are satisfied with your existing heat source, you should still look at Steps 1, 3 and 4.

Before proceeding any further, you should familiarize yourself with a number of basic concepts that will help you understand your options.

Heating Concepts

Energy efficiency
All fuel-burning systems (oil, natural gas, propane, wood) lose heat because of transient operation, cold start-up, incomplete combustion, heat carried away in combustion gases and warm house air drawn up the chimney. The extent of these losses determines the efficiency of the furnace or boiler, given as a percentage indicating the amount of original heat that actually warms the house.

Steady-state efficiency measures the maximum efficiency the furnace achieves after it has been running long enough to reach its peak-level operating temperature. This is an important standardized testing procedure that is used by a serviceperson to adjust the furnace, but the figure it gives is not the efficiency the furnace or boiler will achieve in actual use over the course of a heating season. This is much like the difference between the fuel consumption figures published for cars and the actual consumption of the car in day-to-day service.

Seasonal efficiency takes into consideration not only normal operating losses, but also the fact that most furnaces rarely run long enough to reach their steady-state efficiency temperature, particularly during milder weather at the beginning and end of the heating season. This figure, better known as the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE), is most useful to a homeowner because it provides a good indication of how much annual heating costs will be reduced by improving existing equipment or by replacing it with a higher efficiency unit (see “Typical Heating System Efficiencies and Energy Savings ”Table 1, page 39).

If you are heating with oil or are considering doing so, he more you understand the terminology associated with oil-heating systems, the better equipped you will be to make a wise heating system choice. The text box “Oil Heating Terms ”presents some of the basics.

Oil Heating Terms

Fuel oil
Several grades of fuel oil are produced by the petroleum industry, but only one is commonly used for most home heating. This is Number 2 fuel oil, and it must meet government and industry standards for density, viscosity, sulphur content and heat content.

Measuring up The heating (bonnet) capacity of oil-heating appliances is the steady-state heat output of the furnace, measured in British thermal units per hour (Btu/h). One Btu is equal to the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Most oil-fired central heating appliances being sold for home use today have heating capacities of between 56 000 and 150 000 Btu/h. One litre of Number 2 fuel oil contains about 38. 2 mega-joules (36 500 Btu) of potential heat energy. Heating capacity is also expressed in megajoules per hour (MJ/h).

The heating capacity of electric heating systems is usually expressed in kilowatts (kW). A kilowatt hour (kWh) is the amount of electrical energy supplied by 1 kW of power over a one-hour period.

Certification and standards All fuel-burning furnaces, boilers and other combustion equipment sold in Canada must meet strict manufacturing and installation standards established by such organizations as the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Underwriters ’Laboratories of Canada (ULC), the Canadian Gas Association (CGA) and the International Approval Services (IAS). These independent bodies set standards and test for safety and performance. Before purchasing your heating equipment, be sure it carries a CSA, ULC, CGA, IAS or Warnock Hersey certification label. Since January 1979, an oil furnace or boiler must record a steady-state efficiency of at least 80 percent to receive certification.

In some provinces/territories and federally, energy efficiency standards are now or will soon be in place. These require oil furnaces to achieve at least 78 percent AFUE and oil boilers at least 80 percent AFUE (see page 15 for further information on energy efficiency standards).

No matter how you are heating your home at the moment, you can probably improve the efficiency of your heating system. Some of the improvements are simple enough that you may be able o do them yourself; others require changes that can be performed only by licensed servicepersons, qualified heating contractors or electricians (in he case of electric systems). All improvements should be effective and pay for themselves in a reasonable time. When you are thinking about your heating system, remember to also consider your hot water situation.

Table of Contents  |  Next

The Heating and Cooling series is published by Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency.EnerGuide is the official Government of Canada mark associated with the labelling and rating of he energy consumption or energy efficiency of household appliances,heating and ventilation equipment, air conditioners, houses and vehicles.

EnerGuide also helps manufacturers and dealers promote energy-efficient equipment and provides consumers with the information they need to choose energy-efficient residential equipment.

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