Quick Tips

Will My Heating Oil Get Me Through the Winter?

Don't get stuck in the cold this winter. Make sure you're covered on all fronts for your heating system. Learn how much oil you should need to get through the winter.

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Heating your home with heating oil can seem like a gamble, especially if it’s your first winter using it to fuel your heating system. The quantity of oil you’ll need to make it through the winter will depend on the size of your home and your furnace’s efficiency. Outdoor temperatures also play a role; during a colder winter, you’ll need more oil to keep your home warm.

It’s vital to make sure you’ve budgeted an adequate amount of home heating oil because if you run short, you and your family could get stuck huddling over electric space heaters and walking around the house wrapped in blankets. Take advantage of American Home Shield®’s furnace tune up service to keep your furnace as efficient and reliable as possible this winter, and do your heating oil calculations carefully.

Factors That Affect Heating Oil Usage

In order to successfully calculate how much heating oil your household will use throughout the winter, it’s important to understand what factors affect your usage. The amount of fuel you’ll need will depend on:

  • The size and design of your home
  • The age and condition of your oil furnace
  • Local winter temperatures
  • How many hours a day someone is home
  • Your family’s tolerance of the cold

If you have a smaller home, you’ll naturally need less heating fuel to keep it warm. The same goes for a home that is well-insulated and designed without features that allow drafts, such as large picture windows. A well-maintained, efficient and newer oil heating system will burn less oil than an older one in poor shape. And, of course, you’ll burn less fuel during milder winters. You may even be able to get through the whole winter on a single tank of oil, if temperatures are mild, and you needn’t worry too much about leftover oil going bad — it lasts for 18 to 24 months in a clean tank.

Calculating Heating Oil Usage

You’re definitely better off buying too much heating oil than too little, but if you’re like most homeowners, you want to minimize heating costs by purchasing just the right amount. Winter temps can vary widely throughout the country, so it’s important to tailor any estimates to your specific situation.

You can calculate how much heating oil you’ll need to run your central heating all winter by figuring out how many gallons of oil per hour your furnace uses and then observing how much time your oil burner actually operates during the coldest and warmest hours of the day and night. You should be able to check the manufacturer’s data plate for information on how many gallons of fuel oil per hour the burner uses. Most oil heating systems use between 0.8 and 1.7 gallons per hour of operation.

But your furnace won’t be burning oil around the clock. Like a gas or electric furnace, it will kick on when the indoor temperature drops below the number on your thermostat.To find out how many hours a day your furnace actually burns oil, watch it for one hour during the middle of the day, when it’s warmest, and during the middle of the night, when it’s coldest. Measure how many minutes the burner operates during both the warmest and coldest hours of the same day. 

Add both numbers together and divide them by two to arrive at an average number of minutes per hour of operation. For example, if the burner runs for 20 minutes during the warmest hour and 40 minutes during the coldest hour, add them together to get 60, and divide by two to get 30 minutes of average burner operation per hour. Multiply 30 by 24 to get 720 minutes of burner operation per day. Divide that number by 60 to arrive at an average of 12 hours of burner operation per day, and multiply that by your furnace’s hourly oil usage to get the amount of oil your furnace uses per day. For example, if your furnace burns 0.8 gallons of oil per hour, and operates for an average of 12 hours a day, you’re burning about 9.6 gallons per day.

Making Your Heating Oil Last

If you can’t rely on relatively mild winter temperatures to help you stretch your heating oil budget, you can still make it last in other ways. For example, you can use a smart thermostat to keep your home cooler while you’re away or asleep, conserving fuel. Use warmer pajamas and thicker blankets to keep warm at night, instead of turning up the heat. Encourage your family to wear sweaters in the house. Make sure your home is well-insulated and perform a home energy audit to figure out where your home is losing the most heat, so you can address that heat loss.

You can save money on central heating oil by buying it early in the year, before prices go up. Stock up before the holidays if necessary, and order more fuel when your tank is still two-fifths full so you don’t have to worry about paying emergency refill prices on a weekend or holiday. Get a heating tune-up every year to make sure your furnace is running at maximum efficiency.

Heating your home in the winter can get pricey, so you need to know how much heating oil you can expect to use in advance, especially if you’re in a new home or temperatures are fluctuating. Once you know how much oil you’ll need, you’ll have a better handle on your budget. Make sure to schedule yearly furnace service appointments with American Home Shield to keep your system in working order and avoid heating systems emergencies in the dead of winter.

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