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Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA?

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Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA?

Unread postby Denny » Sat 15 Dec 2007, 16:06:08

I notice that fuel oil is the fuel of choice for heating in th Northeast U.S., but do not understand why that is.

It seems from every perspective, natural gas is superior - cost, environment, and even maintenance.

The only other thing I can think of is infrastructure, the extension of gas mains there. But, this does not make sense to me as a rationale, as I know in Canada, natural gas mains flow east as far as Quebec, and that is just due north from the New England states. At a minimum it would only require extending this southward. And, New England is so much more populous, so the cost/benefit equation would make it feasible.

Here in Ontario, where I live, natural gas mains have been extended even though parts of our "cottage country" just south of the Canadian shield, in which a lot of just seasonal use seems to pay the capital cost.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby killJOY » Sat 15 Dec 2007, 16:29:59

Oil can be pumped on board trucks and driven down bumpy dirt roads.

Natural gas cain't.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Tanada » Sat 15 Dec 2007, 16:52:47

Denny wrote:I notice that fuel oil is the fuel of choice for heating in th Northeast U.S., but do not understand why that is.

It seems from every perspective, natural gas is superior - cost, environment, and even maintenance.

The only other thing I can think of is infrastructure, the extension of gas mains there. But, this does not make sense to me as a rationale, as I know in Canada, natural gas mains flow east as far as Quebec, and that is just due north from the New England states. At a minimum it would only require extending this southward. And, New England is so much more populous, so the cost/benefit equation would make it feasible.

Here in Ontario, where I live, natural gas mains have been extended even though parts of our "cottage country" just south of the Canadian shield, in which a lot of just seasonal use seems to pay the capital cost.


You have to keep something in mind when talking about housing in the North East USA, much of it was built before or shortly after World War II when Natural Gas was something you could only get in the city. The whole infrastructure was built on the cheap fuel oil assumption, everyone had a tank in or next to their house. Even now as Natural Gas has spread far and wide it is a considerable expense to rip out an oil burning system and install a natural gas system in its place. Sure if you are installing central air or something similer where you are already pulling the old system out then it makes sense, provided your house already has a natural gas line for other appliances. Otherwise you have to get a line trenched to your house from the main, have gas pipes installed, have a new furnace installed.....all that costs a lot of money. On the other hand if you have an oil furnace with its in house infra structure, no in house gas appliances and your oil furnace goes out of comission it is a lot cheaper to just put a new oil furnace in its place. That's what my dad did 15 years ago in Michigan, extending a gas line to the house would have costs over $8,000.00 back then and would certainly be more now.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby frankthetank » Sat 15 Dec 2007, 22:09:33

Lack of pipes.

Aren't natural gas furnaces more efficient? Mine is an older Trane and uses PVC for the exhaust, so not much heat is leaving the house.

The problem with natural gas is the Canadians want to use it to heat up their oil sands so they can send the oil back to us Americans so we can drive to our mailboxes :)

Silly Canadians.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby JoeW » Sat 15 Dec 2007, 23:45:50

good idea. we have an infinite supply of natural gas, right?
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Revi » Sat 15 Dec 2007, 23:57:29

I think a lot of people in the Northeast went from coal to oil heat. There are still enormous old cast iron heaters that were converted to burn oil in a lot of basements. They are terrible energy pigs, but they keep working. There is an emergency heating oil supply in Rhode Island I think.

It is really hurting people financially around here. To fill a 275 gallon tank now costs around $1000. Most people are buying oil at $3.24 a gallon now. The Liheap funds are down, so there will be a lot of people running out of oil soon. I watched people in my neighborhood buying a five gallon container of off road diesel to put it into their oil tanks last winter. That lasts less than a day with a typical burner that uses about .8 of a gallon per hour.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby TheDude » Sun 16 Dec 2007, 00:45:31

Revi wrote:It is really hurting people financially around here. To fill a 275 gallon tank now costs around $1000. Most people are buying oil at $3.24 a gallon now. The Liheap funds are down, so there will be a lot of people running out of oil soon. I watched people in my neighborhood buying a five gallon container of off road diesel to put it into their oil tanks last winter. That lasts less than a day with a typical burner that uses about .8 of a gallon per hour.


Burning diesel, you mean? Or the heating oil - how long's that $1K fillup good for?
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby FoolYap » Sun 16 Dec 2007, 10:40:09

killJOY wrote:Oil can be pumped on board trucks and driven down bumpy dirt roads.


Not to mention, it's prohibitively hard & expensive to lay natural gas lines out here, what with all the ledge & boulders. In most of the Midwest, digging just means moving earth and maybe clay. Not so easy here.

The alternative to heating oil would be to have propane trucked in. 1) There are far more companies offering heating oil here than propane, and 2) I prefer having an oil tank in a corner of the basement to having a big propane tank in the yard.

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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby FoolYap » Sun 16 Dec 2007, 10:46:10

Tanada wrote:Even now as Natural Gas has spread far and wide it is a considerable expense to rip out an oil burning system and install a natural gas system in its place. Sure if you are installing central air or something similer where you are already pulling the old system out then it makes sense, provided your house already has a natural gas line for other appliances. Otherwise you have to get a line trenched to your house from the main, have gas pipes installed, have a new furnace installed.....all that costs a lot of money.


Much of New England doesn't have a gas main handy at the street to tap into. For example, the town I live in, in central Massachusetts, has only a few thousand residents, spread out over quite a distance. There's no way that services like sewer or gas will ever be offered to any portion of the town except perhaps for a very small downtown core.

Even if it were as easy to trench as in the Midwest, there wouldn't enough people to serve, to make it profitable.

Of course, if it were that easy to trench, perhaps it wouldn't be such a small town any more. Which is one of the things I like about living here, so I guess I'll take that trade-off. :)

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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Tanada » Sun 16 Dec 2007, 11:04:20

TheDude wrote:
Revi wrote:It is really hurting people financially around here. To fill a 275 gallon tank now costs around $1000. Most people are buying oil at $3.24 a gallon now. The Liheap funds are down, so there will be a lot of people running out of oil soon. I watched people in my neighborhood buying a five gallon container of off road diesel to put it into their oil tanks last winter. That lasts less than a day with a typical burner that uses about .8 of a gallon per hour.


Burning diesel, you mean? Or the heating oil - how long's that $1K fillup good for?


Can't speak for New England but my dad's oil furnace isn't picky, it will burn fuel oil, Deisel, or Kerosene. I have wondered about buying him some bio-diesel, with the subsidies it might be cheaper than Fuel Oil #2 and its garunteed to be lower in sulfur.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Denny » Sun 16 Dec 2007, 11:05:00

Did the government tax credit program in the early 1980's for oil to gas conversion include the U.S.A? That was when we converted and it ended up costing me just $900 out of my own pocket. That was for a brand new furnace too. Mind you I also had to pay income tax on about $1200, but I was in a low tax bracket back then.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Tanada » Sun 16 Dec 2007, 11:20:40

Denny wrote:Did the government tax credit program in the early 1980's for oil to gas conversion include the U.S.A? That was when we converted and it ended up costing me just $900 out of my own pocket. That was for a brand new furnace too. Mind you I also had to pay income tax on about $1200, but I was in a low tax bracket back then.


Never heard of it ;) NAFTA doesn't go THAT far....yet!
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Denny » Sun 16 Dec 2007, 11:34:57

Tanada wrote:
Denny wrote:Did the government tax credit program in the early 1980's for oil to gas conversion include the U.S.A? That was when we converted and it ended up costing me just $900 out of my own pocket. That was for a brand new furnace too. Mind you I also had to pay income tax on about $1200, but I was in a low tax bracket back then.


Never heard of it ;) NAFTA doesn't go THAT far....yet!


But, I would have thought that the U.S. would be even more gung ho for this type of thing, even back then, to reduce dependence on mid-east oil. It seems like every President since Nixon has stated that need.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Revi » Sun 16 Dec 2007, 23:42:58

TheDude wrote:
Revi wrote:It is really hurting people financially around here. To fill a 275 gallon tank now costs around $1000. Most people are buying oil at $3.24 a gallon now. The Liheap funds are down, so there will be a lot of people running out of oil soon. I watched people in my neighborhood buying a five gallon container of off road diesel to put it into their oil tanks last winter. That lasts less than a day with a typical burner that uses about .8 of a gallon per hour.


Burning diesel, you mean? Or the heating oil - how long's that $1K fillup good for?


A tank will last about 45 days at 6 gallons a day, but only about a month if it's really cold. It's been really cold lately. If you have an outside tank you have to use kerosene and that costs about 50 cents per gallon more. It's a cruel Dickensian world here in Maine. It costs the average household 20 bucks a day just to keep the heat on. The average Liheap benefit is around $579, so that only pays for a month's worth of heat. Real serious winter lasts for at least 3 months around here. We have 2 feet of snow on the ground right now and the temp is around 10 farenheit. It's going to be like this until March. Without heat you die.

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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby tecumseh » Sun 16 Dec 2007, 23:57:42

FoolYap wrote:
killJOY wrote:Oil can be pumped on board trucks and driven down bumpy dirt roads.


Not to mention, it's prohibitively hard & expensive to lay natural gas lines out here, what with all the ledge & boulders. In most of the Midwest, digging just means moving earth and maybe clay. Not so easy here.

The alternative to heating oil would be to have propane trucked in. 1) There are far more companies offering heating oil here than propane, and 2) I prefer having an oil tank in a corner of the basement to having a big propane tank in the yard.

--Steve


I drove through the NE this summer and thought about this as I walked and drove over boulders, rocks and ledges through mountainous terrain. It is totally impractical to lay gas pipe through terrain like this IMHO. Efficient wood burning to heat smaller areas within the home may be the way to go in this region in the future.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Revi » Mon 17 Dec 2007, 00:32:30

Woodstoves are the way to go around here. Unfortunately the price of a cord of dry wood has gone up to $275 around here. That's still half the cost of the oil you would need to heat that much, plus you are only heating one corner of the house so you save a bunch by keeping the rest of the house chilly.

Unfortunately not everyone has a woodstove or access to wood, even here in the most forested state in the nation.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Roy » Mon 17 Dec 2007, 07:59:18

Wood heating is a good option, as long as most of the people in NE aren't doing it.

How long would those forests last if the majority of the people in New England decided, for whatever reason, that heating with wood was a good idea? Or they were forced to go to it due to a lack of availability of heating oil or coal?

I'd say no more than 5 years before the area looked like it did before the advent of coal burning -- ie nearly treeless.

NE is too densely populated (northern Maine excepted) for them to use anything but coal or oil right now. There just aren't enough trees in this country for the majority of folks to heat with wood sustainably.

We've outgrown our carrying capacity for heating as well as food, thanks to hydrocarbons.

So to answer the OP's question, heating oil is used because of its high energy content, portability, relatively clean burn (compared to coal or wood), and low cost for most of the years that it has been used. Coal was too dirty and there isn't enough forest there to supply the millions of people with cordwood for heat. NG is too difficult to transport as other posters have noted.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby FoolYap » Mon 17 Dec 2007, 14:08:46

Roy wrote:Wood heating is a good option, as long as most of the people in NE aren't doing it.

How long would those forests last if the majority of the people in New England decided, for whatever reason, that heating with wood was a good idea?


"Fortunately", that's never going to happen. Even in New England, where fireplaces are a popular house feature (alas, as a conventional fireplace is horribly inefficient), many people don't have one. Most apartment dwellers won't be able to burn wood.

Interest in pellet stoves appears to have increased, though pellet prices have increased right along. To the extent that pellets use "waste" wood (sawdust), that's a good thing I think?

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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby Kingcoal » Mon 17 Dec 2007, 14:26:09

The Northeast, being the oldest part of the country, relied on coal heat for years. Sometime around WW2, home heating oil became cheaper than coal. A huge infrastructure already existed in the coal delivery business. It was a pretty simple switch for the coal guys to deliver oil instead of coal. It's a very similar business model. These former coal guys started installing oil furnaces all over the place. Oil was the cheapest way to go, even cheaper than NG. As recently as the late '90's, you could buy oil for 75 cents a gallon, making it cheaper than NG. Boy have times changed. 2 years ago, I had a NG line run to my house. UGI, the local gas company, installed it for $140 if I simultaneously put in a NG heater. I went wild and installed gas all over the house. My hot water, stove, clothes dryer are all NG now. I've saved a fortune and the switch has already paid for itself at least once. Right now, NG is the way to go. It's still cheap and plentiful, though that might change in the future. The problem with NG is the depletion curve of a typical well is very sharp.
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Re: Why is oil space heating so popular in the Northeast USA

Unread postby gnm » Mon 17 Dec 2007, 14:31:36

King Coal is running all NG?! 8O

Hehe sounds like you made a good call on that one.

Maybe that paradigm will go this way...

(The coal being too valuable liquefied into fuel)

coal delivery -> oil delivery -> wood/pellets delivery -> wood stripped from abandoned suburbs delivery -> no delivery (customer is dead)

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