Beyond natural gas and electricity; more than 10% of U.S. homes use heating oil or propane – Today in Energy

November 28, 2011

While almost 85% of households in the US heat with natural gas or electricity, more than 10% depend on heating oil or propane gas, according to the 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey. The proportions of heating oil and propane in the US heating mix for residential buildings are likely to remain low but significant. These fuels serve different populations – heating oil primarily serves households in the northeast, while propane serves households in rural areas across the country.

Over 80% of households that rely on heating oil for space heating are in the northeast. Also, heating oil is most commonly used in older homes, as about half of all homes that currently use heating oil were built before 1950. Houses built since 1980 are usually not heated with fuel oil, except in the northeast. The survey data shows that while fuel oil systems are older than average, they are serviced more frequently than other types of heating systems, which offers some potential efficiency benefits.

Propane space heating has a broader geographic distribution than heating oil and heat between 3% and 8% of households in each region. Across the country, propane use is most common in rural areas and RVs. Approximately 83% of households with propane heating are in rural areas, which are usually beyond the reach of natural gas distribution infrastructure. In the Midwest, the rural share is more than 90%. In addition, motorhomes are twice as likely to heat with propane as in other residential units. Propane is becoming increasingly common in the northeast; the apartments built in this region between 2000 and 2009 are heated with propane and heating oil in equal amounts.

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