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Heating oil explained Use of heating oil

Heating oil is mainly used for space heating. Some homes and residential commercial buildings also use heating oil to heat water but in much smaller amounts than what they use for space heating. Because heating demand is affected by the weather, most heating oil use occurs during the heating season—October through March.

Annual residential heating oil (distillate fuel) consumption peaked in the 1970’s and declined nearly every year since. Most replacement heating systems in exisiting homes and heating systems in new homes use natural gas or electricity.

Who uses heating oil?

In the winter of 2019–2020, about 5.5 million households in the United States used heating oil (distillate fuel oil) as their main space heating fuel, and about 81% of those households were in the U.S. Northeast census region.1

In 2019, residential consumers in the Northeast used about 2.9 billion gallons of heating oil, equal to about 86% of total U.S. residential heating oil sales.2

Some commercial and institutional buildings use heating oil directly in space and water heating equipment and in combined heat and power plants. In 2019, the commercial sector consumed about 2.3 billion gallons of distillate fuel oil, and about 35% of total commercial sector distillate fuel oil consumption was in the Northeast. New York consumed more than any other state at about 15% of the U.S. total.2

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1 U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, Table WFO1, January 2021.

2 U.S. Energy Information Administration, Fuel Oil and Kerosene Sales, Adjusted Sales of Distillate Fuel Oil by End Use, January 2021.

Last updated: February 9, 2021