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Natural Gas Vs. Oil Furnace: Compare And Contrast

There are plenty of heating options available in the Canadian market, which makes choosing the right one a seemingly herculean task. Natural gas and heating oil are two popular ways of heating homes throughout cold periods of the year. These two choices are usually the most common for buyers north of the lower 48, since each one has its own compelling set of advantages. The following goes into detail about some of the advantages and caveats of installing and operating both systems.

Heating Performance and Efficiency

Oil furnaces carry a slight edge when it comes to producing efficient and effective heat. Burning a gallon of #2 heating oil in a typical oil furnace produces approximately 140,000 BTUs of heat, making these furnaces exceptionally efficient from a heat-generating stand point. The average oil furnace also offers an annualized fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) of 78 percent for weatherized furnaces and 80 percent for non-weatherized furnaces. However, high-efficiency models often boast AFUE ratings over 95 percent.

A comparable furnace operating on natural gas produces roughly 100,000 BTUs of heat from a single therm. However, natural gas is also a cleaner-burning fuel with fewer emissions than heating oil and other residual fuels. A typical gas furnace features an AFUE of 90 percent, meaning that it's capable of burning over 90 percent of the fuel it receives. Many furnaces offer up to 97 percent AFUE.


Surprisingly, most oil furnaces are built for the long haul. According to SF Gate, the average lifespan of a typical oil furnace ranges from 15 to 20 years, with some models designed to offer upwards to 25 years of reliable and energy-efficient service.

In contrast, natural gas furnaces have a slightly shorter life expectancy. You can count on a typical gas furnace lasting for 15 years. Some furnaces can even match the longevity of their oil-fired counterparts, but the cost of constant upkeep and repairs usually make stretching a gas furnace's lifespan an expensive and sometimes even unsafe proposition.

Cost of Installation and Operation

Oil furnaces are relatively cheap to purchase and install, with most models ranging from $2,000 to $8,000, according to Angie's List. In comparison, the average gas furnace costs anywhere from $2,500 to $14,000. Most units make up for their initially high purchase and furnace installation costs by providing relatively low maintenance costs, since clean-burning natural gas requires less cleanup than oil.

Not only does the overall cost of upkeep put oil furnaces at a disadvantage, so does the cost of maintaining a steady supply of fuel. In recent history, oil prices have always higher and more prone to sudden and sharp fluctuations than natural gas. In the U.S., a season's use of natural gas costs $690 per household, whereas the same amount of heating oil costs $2,558 per household.

It's important to include variations in local pricing in the decision-making process, especially if you plan on switching from one fuel to another. There's also the cost of storing the fuel in a separate, remote tank, as is the case for oil furnaces. Most homes are served by natural gas lines, which may not be available in some remote areas.

Which Should You Choose?

The type of furnace you eventually choose to withstand the typical Canadian winter depends on a variety of factors, including the type of fuel that's available in your area and its cost, the amount of heat capacity your home needs and your budget for furnace replacements and other home improvement tasks.

Nevertheless, each option is compelling in its own right. Gas furnaces are clean, produce fewer emissions and are cheaper to operate over the long run. However, oil furnaces offer greater heating performance based on BTUs and it can be easily installed in areas where gas infrastructure is either unavailable or ruinously expensive to install in a home.