Comparing Oil Heater Running Costs

Can an oil heater really help you cut the costs?

In the autumn, heaters are a luxury that can turn a room into a toasty enclave. In the winter months, however, a good heater is an absolute necessity that can make the difference between a good morning and waking up an icicle. These days, radiators are becoming relatively uncommon methods of heating as central heating systems and high-efficiency space heaters gain popularity. Some older homes still employ such traditional methods of heating, however, and for owners of such homes, it’s useful to know a little something about how these heaters work, and the costs associated with them.

The more common, older variety of radiating heater was the water heater, which boiled water in a high-pressure compartment, from which the heat moved into the radiator’s metal casing, and from there, into the air. Oil heaters use a low-pressure compartment filled with oil instead, allowing people to save money on maintenance and enjoy a somewhat safer machine that didn’t require special high-pressure management. Here, we’ll go over the details as to how each of these types of radiators works, and from there, discuss how much you can expect to pay for operation and maintenance.

Water Radiators: The Basics

The basic idea behind a radiator is to heat a large piece of metal with a high surface area, place that piece of metal in a cold room, and let the heat from the metal radiate into the surrounding air – hence the name, radiator. OF course, there’s a problem here: How do we get the metal so hot?

Well, there are two popular ways to solve that. One is to put a high-pressure tank that holds water in the center of the radiator, heat the water until it becomes steam, and keep that steam under pressure to continue building and maintain heat. From here, the metal heats up by virtue of being in contact with the tank, and the air, likewise, by virtue of being in contact with the metal.

Option Two: Oil Radiators

The alternative is to use oil instead of water. Oil has a higher heat capacity than water, which means it heats up more before turning to gas. This allows you to pump more heat into the oil tank without having to deal with the problems posed by containing vapor under pressure. This is all at once safer and easier to take care of.

A Comparison of Costs

The cost of operation of both water and oil heaters doesn’t differ significantly, as they’re usually both just as efficient at transferring heat from the tank to the metal, and from the metal to the air, and both require you pump about the same amount of heat into the reservoir to heat a room – that’s a basic requirement of thermodynamics.

Water radiators, however, tend to cost a little bit more to maintain than oil heaters. This has a number of reasons: The first is the presence of a high-pressure tank. High pressure containers always require frequent maintenance to ensure they don’t leak or explode, and that maintenance must be performed by a qualified specialist. Unless you happen to be such a qualified specialist, you’ll probably end up spending a reasonable amount of money checking up on and caring for the tank. Oil tanks, on the other hand, are low-pressure, and require less stringent maintenance. This makes for lower maintenance costs, and the freedom to perform that maintenance yourself.

Another reason water heaters can cost a little more is through insurance. This is rather indirect, but insurance companies know the mildly higher risk of problems associated with water heaters, and so both water damage and fire insurance might cost more if you have a water heater rather than an oil heater in the home.

There is one place where water heaters tend to cost a little less than oil heaters, though – and that is in the cost of the filling fluid. Water, of course, costs much, much less than special oils for radiators. Of course, the amount you save here is probably counterbalanced by the amount you end up spending on maintenance fees, but it definitely is something to consider when calculating expenses due to your heaters.