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 The Cost Of Heating Oil - Six Things to Know 

 What consumers must know about the heating oil marketplace.


  A better understanding of the heating oil industry will allow consumers to make adjustments in their current heating programs to accommodate fluctuations in market pricing throughout the heating season.

 1. What exactly is heating oil?

 Heating oil is a petroleum distillate product manufactured as a byproduct of crude oil. Refineries produce heating oil as a part of the distillate fuel oil family of products; including heating oils and diesel fuel.



2. Where does heating oil come from?

 The two sources of heating oil used by the United States are from domestic refineries and imports from foreign countries such as Canada, the Virgin Islands, and Venezuela.

Refiners and other suppliers bring heating oil to oil storage terminals. Heating oil may be delivered to a central distribution area where it is then redistributed throughout the United States by pipelines, barges, tankers, trucks and rail cars. Once heating oil has reached the general area where it will be consumed, it is redistributed by truck to smaller storage tanks near the retail dealers customers, or directly to residential customers.

 3. Who uses heating oil?

 Like any other market commodity, prices for home heating oil are subject to the effects of supply and demand. An estimated 8.1 million American households, mostly in the Northeastern states,  rely on heating oil to keep warm in winter. Although there are limited industrial and commercial uses for heating oil, the primary use is in  residential space heating, making the demand highly seasonal. Most of the heating oil use occurs during October through March.

 4. How much does a gallon of heating oil cost?

 Heating oil prices are determined by three contributing factors: the cost of crude oil, the cost of refining, the cost to market and distribute the product. This determines the cost to the local dealer who then tacks a marginal profit onto it to remain competitive.

 The following table breaks the cost down into components and percentages. Distribution, marketing and processing comprises the relatively fixed liabilities with the cost of crude oil being the largest single variable cost.

 Component of Cost

 Percentage of Cost

 Distribution and Marketing


 Crude Oil


 Refinery Processing



 Total Cost per Gallon


 5. What causes the continuous fluctuations in the market price of heating oil?

 The price of crude oil coupled with available supply and consumer demand is the largest factor effecting the cost of heating oil.

 The conversion of crude oil into gasoline, diesel or heating oil is not a 1:1 transition. Simply put, one barrel of oil does not make one barrel of gasoline, one barrel of diesel or one barrel of anything. Each product is a byproduct in a refining process that is not 100% efficient in producing a singular product.

As a result, when the marketable demand for gasoline or diesel is down, fuel oil production is subsequently reduced too. If this reduction occurs at a time of low inventories and high demand, the price for heating oil rises. Learn more about this at Heating Oil Things You Should Know

 6. What can consumers do to position themselves to get the most out of their dollar when purchasing heating oil?

 Heating Oil Prices Follow Crude Oil.  This figure shows monthly prices from January 1987 to  the present at cents per gallon. Fill your heating oil tank in late summer or early fall when prices are generally lower.

  • Ask your heating oil dealer about budget plans to help stabilize your monthly bill.
  •  Ask your heating oil dealer about capped or fixed price protection programs
  •  Ask around the community about buying groups that purchase discount heating oil. Federal and State energy assistance programs are available to heating oil customers who have a limited budget.

 Arm yourself with as much knowledge on the local heating oil industry as you can. Do your research and save yourself some money.

More information on maximizing your heating program is available at the Heating Oil Things You Should Know page. STAY WARM!

Home Heating Articles



Lower the settings on thermostats-consider using programmable thermostats that automatically
vary heat settings throughout a 24-hour period

Use ceiling fans can keep the air circulating and spread the heat in each room. Structural considerations:

  • Check the heating ductwork. Insure sections are tightly fitted, free of holes and sealed with tape.
    Aluminum tape is a little more expensive, but holds up better under moisture from condensation
  • Winterizing ductwork by wrapping it in insulation is another option. Cold floors result in air inside
    the home cooling off and requiring re-heating. While some ventilation is required to reduce
    moisture, check the crawl space for excessive drafts. Seal these with plastic, plywood or Styrofoam.
  • A vapor barrier may reduce excessive dampness as a means of further winterizing the crawl space.
  • An annual inspection of exterior caulking around all window and door casings is recommended.
  • Check window glazing in older windows as another source of heat loss. Consider winterizing
    water lines with foam sleeves. It prevents freezing and keeps water as warm as possible.
  • Check for drafts around external openings in the house: windows, doors and chimneys.
    This can be done with a cigarette or incense. Follow the smoke to the source of the draft.
    Your local home supply store will carry winterization tape, insulating foam, or caulk that will
    seal these leaks; keeping heat in and cold out.
  • Older single-pane windows often allow heat loss through the framing of the window itself.
    Covering these windows with clear plastic will help remedy this winterization deficiency.
    Note: Care must be taken not to exclude the entrance of all fresh air.
  • Insure you have 6-8 inches of insulation in your attic or loft area. Heat is lost through the roof
    if improperly insulated. Materials for this are available at your local home improvement store.

This is not a total list of all that can be done, but it should get you started on your individual
winterization program. Look around your home and think it through.
Each situation is unique and will offer you opportunities to save money if you winterize properly.


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