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November 12, 2021
By Brian Gray
Figuring out which type of heating fuel is the least expensive option for your home by comparing the cost per gallon of each fuel is tricky. Ultimately, the cost per gallon is only one factor of many in determining the overall cost of a fuel. It's important to know that chasing the cheapest price doesn't necessarily get you the best value for your dollar.
A true apples-to-apples comparison of the different types of fuels (electric, natural gas, heating oil, propane, wood pellets, cord wood) must include the use of a common denominator, which in the U.S. is a British Thermal Unit (Btu). Wikipedia describes a Btu as: "The amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit."
When all the different energy forms are analyzed by using Btus, fair comparisons can be made of energy quantities and prices.
Don't forget that the efficiency of your heating system makes a very big difference in the actual amount of energy used. For example, electric resistance heating is efficient, compared to an old natural gas heater (maybe 70 percent better) – however, the cost of electricity is usually much more per Btu. Heat Pumps are ultra-efficient coming in at 240% efficiency which makes the cost of the electricity go a long way in reducing the cost per MMBtu*.
* MMBtu is equal to 1 million BTU (British Thermal Unit).
The chart below shows the different types of fuels and what the cost of each is per MMBTU.
When all the calculations are completed at current prices (as of 10-26-21) this chart shows Natural Gas and Electric Heat Pumps at the low end of the pricing scale and Propane and Electrical Resistance at the top end.
There are many reasons to consider switching to a different type of heating system or heating fuel. Price is certainly one of them, but your personal desire to transition your household to using more renewable energy sources is another.
So, before you make that decision to switch to a different fuel source for your heating, weigh your options. Consider what you can afford and how your choice effects your carbon footprint. As you can see, it's not as easy as just knowing the price per gallon!