Hot Air Oil Furnaces and Alternative Fuels

Hot air oil furnaces typically run on the same petroleum-based diesel fuel that is used in the trucking industry. You purchase this fuel yourself at the diesel pump of any gas station if you have a diesel engine automobile. Many older homes in the Midwest and Northern East coast of the U.S. have hot air oil furnaces.

The diesel fuel you buy at the gas pump is more expensive than home heating oil and is tinted pink so that law enforcement officers can fine truckers who are caught running their vehicles on the lower priced fuel. The two fuels are identical, but one is taxed to maintain roads and the other is not.

As anyone who has ever owned a hot air oil furnace can attest, home heating oil is by no means inexpensive however. It may be a bit cheaper than diesel, but it’s no bargain. With the price of oil increasingly volatile, the availability and feasibility of using petroleum-based fuel to heat your home is becoming ever more problematic.

What’s more, hot air oil furnaces tend to be less efficient that high-performance natural gas or LP furnaces. Burning oil too efficiently creates chimney vapors that can result in moisture problems from overly cool exhaust. A typical efficiency rating on a good hot air oil furnace will be between 78% and 85%, much lower than high-efficiency natural gas furnaces. Another problem with hot air oil furnaces is that the oil must be delivered to your home and stored in a large tank that is usually located in the basement near the furnace. In the summer of 2008 many small home heating oil companies on the east coast went bankrupt due to problems obtaining the business credit they needed to buy oil. Customers who had paid thousands of dollars in advance for their deliveries simply lost their money and had to go looking for another source.

If you can’t get anyone to deliver home heating oil for your hot air oil furnace, you have no heat. It’s that simple. One emerging solution is biodiesel, a fuel that is made by refining waste oil from restaurants and also by processing vegetable oils that are not fit for human consumption. Biodiesel is not inexpensive and you still have to get it delivered to your home. You may have trouble finding a supplier. But if demand continues at the current pace, suppliers are bound to increase in number.

Biodiesel tends to burn hotter than petroleum-based home heating oil, so most experts recommend mixing the two fuels at first until you find the optimal ratio. On the other hand, some people report no issues with using pure biodiesel as a replacement for petroleum-based oil. Since the idea is so new, if you want to try this alternative fuel in your existing hot air oil furnace, you will probably have to find out for yourself what works for your specific situation.

Biodiesel fuel can also be produced at home, but it isn’t easy to make. You still have to find sources for waste cooking oil, and then you have to refine it to a purity that is appropriate for your furnace. While adapters that allow diesel engines to run on unprocessed waste oil are currently getting a lot of publicity, it is not recommended that you attempt to use unprocessed waste oil in a furnace.

When the East coast had their crisis with home heating oil in the summer of 2008, many people went out and purchased wood pellet stoves a very high-efficiency, easy-to-install heating source. If you have a hot air oil furnace, you may want to explore secondary sources of home heating in case oil becomes too difficult to obtain or the price becomes prohibitive.

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