Oil heated homes are a fairly common occurrence throughout much of the Northwestern and Northeastern states in the US, especially in urban areas, although it is not unusual to encounter them in more rural communities.
These systems rely on a petroleum distillate commonly known as home heating oil, or HHO. Keeping your house livable and warm is not optional in these places, since their winters are bitterly cold and inimical to human life otherwise. For that reason homeowners must keep a close eye on the level of HHO in their storage tanks.
Running out of heating oil is disastrous in such cold climes, and that begs the question: how long will your heating oil last and under what conditions?
Generally speaking, a tank of oil should remain useable for between 1 1/2 and 2 years of use. The average 275 gallon home storage tank should provide between 1 and 3 months of heat accounting for typical temperature ranges and usage patterns. The lifespan of a tank of home heating oil is dependent upon several factors: the condition of the tank, the size of your home, the condition and features of the oil furnace itself, ambient weather conditions, occupancy or “up-time” in the home and even the design of the home itself all play a part.
Obviously there are many “ifs” and “thens” in this qualification, and to better help you gauge what kind of life you can expect from your next fill up we will be examining some of the variables in detail below.
Next, let’s talk about the main variables that affect the lifespan of your oil.
Ambient Weather Conditions
Ambient weather conditions are one of the chief factors that will affect how long your oil will last. Colder temperatures for longer periods mean more oil will be burned to heat the home. In temperatures averaging about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, an average home with an average furnace will burn about 2 gallons of fuel a day to heat the home to a comfortable level.
When the temperature dips even lower, say approximately in the 40 degree range, that oil usage will climb to nearly 4 gallons a day.
Estimating the lifespan of your oil supply against usage is easy assuming temperatures are stable for long periods of time, as one must only divide the gallons used per day against the amount of oil in the tank. That is how many days worth of oil you have on hand.
Of course, most places don’t have temperatures that are that consistent for that long that enable us to precisely estimate our usage. As temperatures climb during the day and dip at night, to say nothing of day to day swings, the amount of oil being consumed will vary.
Condition of the Tank
The condition of the oil tank plays a significant role in determining the useful life of the oil contained therein, and more insidiously can start to sap the efficiency of your heating system over time.
What tanks that aren’t leaking (and are just in need of replacement for a thorough cleaning) are problematic also, since they will introduce impurities like rust and other metal contaminants into the oil that result in uneven burning and dirtying of the oil furnace, further sapping efficiency.
If your tank is in bad shape or just in need of servicing, make sure you get it done post haste in order to extend the useful life and the burn time of your home heating oil.
Conditions and Features of Furnace
It is no surprise that an oil furnace in bad repair that is also dirty and in need of a tune-up is going to burn inefficiently, and that means you will go through more oil faster in order to obtain the same amount of heat.
It is imperative that you keep any oil furnace, new or old, in good repair, set up, functioning correctly and periodically maintained order to minimize your oil consumption.
Also keep in mind the effects of technology on the balance: Newer furnaces benefit from years of improvements and evolution in technology.
While no oil furnace can be said to truly be a technological marvel, the incremental improvements in conjunction with proper home design and insulation can see some significant reductions on the amount of oil consumed while heating your home to a comfortable temperature.
Your home only needs to be heated to a high temperature when it is occupied, and just like many people turn their thermostats up in the summertime when away (because they don’t need to cool the whole house) in order to save money, so too do residents in colder regions with their oil furnaces when the house is not going to be occupied.
Instead of keeping the house at a comfortable 71 degrees F like you do when the family is at home, you might decide to turn the heat down, and allow the temperatures to drop to around 50 degrees F or so while you are gone for work, school or anywhere else.
This will save a considerable amount of oil in the long run even if you were only talking a gallon’s difference per day.
If this is too difficult to remember or just tough to pull off with your varying schedule, you might consider hooking up a specialized controller that allows you to wirelessly access it from any internet-connected device when required.
Size of Home
The size of your home is another major factor dictating how much oil is needed to heat it. There are no two ways around this one: the more square footage your home has, the more oil you need. This factor is compounded by how tall your house is, specifically how many stories is.
A compact two-bedroom home with a low ceiling that’s only a single story will need far less heating oil than a six bedroom, four bathroom monster with vaulted ceilings that is 2 1/2 stories tall.
This is one of those things that you really cannot do much about except move, so if you are considering moving into an area where oil heating is prevalent make sure you factor in the layout and size of the home enter your budgeting decisions when trying to calculate how much heating oil you will need to make it through the cold months.
Design of Home
This is immediately relevant to the size of the home when determining how much warmth per gallon you will get out of your heating oil.
Homes that are drafty, poorly insulated and inefficiently designed for cold environments will go through significantly more oil to maintain the same temperature compared to home that is well-sealed, well-insulated and designed to be easy to heat.
But unlike the general size of your home, you have more influence over the outcome with this variable. It is possible to add insulation, to close leaks and generally configure or modify the interior of the home in such a way that it is easier to heat and stays warmer longer.
Predicting the longevity of your heating oil as well as the duration of the heat it can provide under specific conditions can be tricky and is determined by many variables.
But these variables are mostly easy to understand, and assuming you live in an average sized home in the Northwest or Northeast of the United States and have an average oil furnace in good condition, you can expect anywhere from 1 to 3 months of heat out of a standard tank.
And you also don’t need to worry about your oil going bad, since it will typically last anywhere from a year-and-a-half to two years before it becomes iffy, meaning any leftover oil you have from last winter will easily last through spring and summer of the following year.