Fuel Oil Furnace
Convenient, durable, more efficient than ever
Fuel oil has traditionally been a very popular heating source in rural areas or areas without ready access to natural gas. Home Heating Oil (#2 fuel oil, very similar to diesel fuel or kerosene) is a convenient and easily-stored fuel; it is also less environmentally friendly than natural gas or propane, which is the major alternative to oil heat in non-urban areas.
The fuel oil itself is relatively inexpensive, but fuel oil furnaces have been traditionally less efficient than natural gas furnaces. From an economic standpoint, fuel oil furnaces are not as bad as they used to be - many models come with a full 10 year warranty. If you keep your fuel oil furnace properly maintained, they can be expected to last 15-25 years and longer, making them among the most durable of household appliances. If you are in a rural area or otherwise don't have easy access to natural gas, an oil furnace may be a great choice.
Depending on the local prices of natural gas, propane, and electricity, an oil furnace may be a very good option even if you are able to use all of the other fuels. From an environmental standpoint, bio-diesel or bio-oil is becoming more and more readily available in the United States and Canada, either in blends or 100% pure mixtures.
Bio-diesel or Bio-oil are diesel or home heating fuels similar to #1 and #2 fuel oils which are derived from plants such as soybeans, sunflowers, or canola. These are domestically grown fuel alternatives which are considerably more environmentally friendly than any fossil fuel choice, including natural gas. In addition, 100% bio-diesel or bio-oil is non-toxic and biodegradable - so if you do have a spill, it is easy to clean up and won't harm you or your pets.
In the case of most new furnaces, these fuels can be used as a direct replacement for #2 fuel oil. Depending on your furnace model however, these fuels may require a separate jet or valve - talk to your manufacturer or heating contractor if you are interested in making use of such fuel options. At the moment, these domestically grown renewable fuels tend to be 10-50% more expensive than their fossil fuel counterparts by volume, but if environmental concerns are high on your list of priorities, it's certainly worth a look.
The biggest complaint that most people tend to have about oil furnaces is that the fuel itself is very dirty. An annual maintenance and service visit will almost definitely be required unless you have access to 100% bio-diesel/bio-oil or Ultra Low-Sulphur Diesel / Home Heating Oil. There tends to be a significant amount of soot and sulphur build-up in the furnace's heat exchanger when using traditionally coarse and dirty #2 Fuel Oil. This can foul the oil nozzle or otherwise impede the functionality of the furnace. Depending on your service company's rates, you can likely expect a $100 - $200 maintenance bill per year in order to keep your oil furnace in good working condition.