Which is better: gas heater vs oil heater?

This age-old question seems to come up more and more as the colder season hits.

And it’s no wonder: we all want our homes to be warm and comfortable without paying high costs to achieve it.

But choosing a new furnace or space heater is not an easy task.

Some homeowners swear by natural gas while others are sold on the efficacy of oil heat.

So which type is better: gas or oil heaters? 

If you’ve been asking yourself this question, then you’re in the right place.

We’ll take a look at the pros and cons of gas and oil heaters and everything else there is to know about these heating systems.

By the end of this article, you’ll know which heater is the best choice for your home needs.

Gas Heater vs Oil Heater

Gas heater vs oil heater

When it comes to gas heaters vs oil heaters, there are numerous factors to consider. 

Besides the cost of the appliance, the fuel cost and overall efficiency are the most important when making a decision.

Regarding oil vs gas heat, both can be functional when buying a new appliance. 

Oil heating furnaces cost less than gas furnaces, but the fuel costs are higher and efficiency is lower than gas systems.

In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average yearly bill for oil is about four times higher than natural gas: $2,535 for oil heating vs $732 for gas heating.

So if you’re only looking to heat a whole house or even just a small space and save on the total costs, then a gas heater might just be what you’re looking for.

There are, of course, many other factors to think about when choosing between a gas or oil heater such as desired house temperatur, and environmental impact to name a few.

To gain a better understanding of the comparisons, let’s take a look at the types of gas heaters next.

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Types of Gas Heaters

Wall Furnace

Wall furnaces are a subset of vented heaters (described next). 

These gas heaters are installed between the drywall and the studs of the wall, hence the name, “wall furnace”.

Wall furnaces draw cold air from the bottom, heats it up, and blows the hot air out from the top of the system.

One of the top advantages as a gas heater is that it’s very fast and highly efficient. A wall furnace can warm up a room or a smaller apartment in an instant.

However, these gas heaters are mostly recommended for home additions and smaller houses in general.

Vented

Vented heaters are versatile and widespread heating systems that rely solely on liquid propane or natural gas.

One of its biggest advantages of vented gas heating systems is that they’re easy to install and come as portable units. 

They’re also low maintenance and highly durable.

Therefore, buying a vented heater is an investment that’ll usually last a lifetime. That’s why we recommend them as one of the best propane heaters to buy.

Vented heaters are recommended for homes between 300 and 3,000 square feet. Anything smaller or bigger than that has more adequate heating solutions.

However, vented gas heaters require ventilation for safe use. You must crack a window or door to allow fresh air to flow around. Otherwise, an unsafe level of carbon monoxide can build up indoors.

Ventless

Ventless or vent-free heaters can be an optimal additional heating source for any house. Especially if you have a home office or home gym that requires a few extra degrees to stay warm.

These gas heaters are available with liquid propane, natural gas, or hybrid fuel setups.

Ventless heaters are more energy-efficient than vented heaters because all of the heat is expelled into the room. 

These units are not usually powerful enough to heat an entire home, but they can be a great addition for any room without a fireplace.

Ventless gas heaters are best suited for spaces between 200 and 1,200 square feet, making them a good heater for large rooms.

Blue Flame

Blue flame heaters are another type of gas heater that works well for warming the air in the room. 

And it’s one of your top go-to heaters for well-insulated spaces.

And while blue flame gas heaters take longer to heat up a room, the do represent the most energy-efficient appliances by far. Many systems even come with a top blower to help spear the warm air more evenly.

If your insulation is on point and you’re looking for the most economic gas heater, then this is your best option to consider.

Infrared

As opposed to blue flame appliances, infrared heaters directly heat the objects in your home and not the air.

These heating systems are based on powerful electromagnetic radiation.

As a result, infrared gas heaters warm up your room almost instantly. And that makes them on the energy-efficient side of heating appliances.

However, caution must be exercised when installing your infrared heater. Safety hazards can result from having it close flammable objects such as furniture, curtains, clothing, and pets.

Types of Oil Heaters

Oil-Fired Furnace Heaters

Oil furnace heaters are central units that heat your entire home. 

The main unit mixes oil with and delivers that mixture to a burner header. As the heat exchanger gets hot, it spreads warmth through the ductwork.

These types of heaters burn through the oil tank slowly to save on fuel usage; however the disadvantage of oil furnaces is that they’re slower to heat up.

Another issue is that the oil tank on an oil-fired furnace and the ductwork require regular maintenance.

Portable Oil Filled Heaters

Portable oil filled heaters are reliable and popular heating units. 

They’re made with coils or columns where oil is heated inside and warms up the air by convection (i.e. the columns heat up and radiate warmth into the room).

The upside of the best oil filled radiators is that they don’t dry out the air like other types of space heaters and are good for warming up cooler spots in the home. 

Oil filled heaters are also very energy-efficient and come at a low cost.

The downside of these heating units is that they take about 15 minutes to heat up due to the power saving properties.

Another issue is that they’re relatively heavy heating units and are not easy to carry up or down the stairs. Fortunately, many models do have wheels for easy transport from room to room on the same level of the house.

Oil Heat Pros and Cons

Now that we’ve reviewed the most popular types of oil heaters, let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

Pros of Oil Heat

  • Maximum heat: Oil burns hotter than natural gas and offers more heat per BTU than any other heating source.
  • The safest fossil fuel: Oil is safer to store than other fossil fuels. It’s not explosive and doesn’t produce carbon monoxide.
  • Small upfront cost: Oil furnaces are 10 to 25% less expensive than natural gas furnaces.

Cons of Oil Heat

  • Expensive fuel cost: Heating oil is more expensive than natural gas.
  • Regular maintenance: Oil furnaces are high maintenance. Oil filters need to be changed regularly and the soot from the chimney must be cleaned.
  • Requires additives: Antifreeze additives are required so the heating oil doesn’t freeze in extreme winter temperatures.

Oil vs Natural Gas Prices

If we compare oil vs natural gas prices, the former will always be more expensive.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggests that the average gas heated household will pay around $732 this winter. In contrast, homes heated with oil will pay about four times higher at $2,535.

Natural gas remains the cheapest fuel source on the market.

Oil vs Gas Heating Calculator

A range of heating oil vs natural gas calculators are available online. 

You can use these calculators to quickly compare prices for furnaces of different fuel sources in your location.

This way you’ll be able to make the best decision for your budget.

Is Oil Heat Bad for Your Health?

Contrary to popular belief, oil heat is not bad for your health. Oil heat contains no cancer-causing agents or carcinogens that are harmful to your family.

In addition, new oil furnace systems are much more environmentally friendly than their old counterparts. Oil is one of the safest fossil fuels to burn, as it is non-explosive as well.

Why is Natural Gas Cheaper Than Oil?

Natural gas furnaces are cheaper than oil because they have higher heating efficiency and lower fuel costs. Gas furnaces also require less maintenance than oil; however, gas provides less heat per BTU than oil.

How Long Do Oil Furnaces Last?

The lifespan of an oil furnace is approximately 25 years. But this estimate depends on the quality of the heating system and the execution of preventive maintenance. Neglecting your oil furnace can drastically reduce its lifespan.

Summary of Gas Heater vs Oil Heater

Overall the gas heater vs oil heater issue is a complex comparison, but hopefully this information made things easy for you.

An oil heater might be the best choice for you if you’re looking for a portable heater for your home or you want the most heat per BTU output with a full fledged furnace. The latter is, of course, a good option if you don’t mind the extra maintenance of the systems and higher fuel cost.

On the other hand, gas heaters are the best choice if you’re looking for the cheapest solution. Furnaces based on natural gas are more efficient and easier to maintain, making them a better heating system to own over the long-term.

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About David Morrison

David is an Air Quality & Comfort Technician. He has expert knowledge on the technology and design of air purification, air conditioning, and heating systems. His main role is to write content that helps people get the most value out of their air purifiers, air conditioners, and heating units. (See Full Bio)