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Heating oil explained Use of heating oil

Who uses heating oil?

In 2018, about 5.5 million households in the United States used heating oil (distillate fuel oil) as their main space heating fuel, and about 82% of those households were in the U.S. Northeast.1 Some households also use heating oil to heat water but in much smaller amounts than what they use for space heating.

Some commercial and institutional buildings use heating oil directly in space and water heating equipment and in combined heat and power plants. In 2018, about 35% of total commercial sector distillate fuel oil consumption was in the Northeast.

Because space heating is the primary use for heating oil, demand is highly seasonal, and it is affected by the weather. Most heating oil use occurs during the heating season—October through March.

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Most residential heating oil consumers are in the Northeast

In 2018, about 20% of households in the Northeast Census region used heating oil as their main space heating fuel, and they accounted for about 82% of the U.S. households that used heating oil for space heating.1 In 2018, about 3 billion gallons of heating oil were sold to residential consumers in the Northeast, equal to about 85% of total U.S. residential heating oil sales.

The number of houses with heating systems that use heating oil is declining because homeowners are increasingly converting to other types of heating systems. Most new homes use natural gas or electricity for heating.

1 U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, Table WFO1, February 2020.

Last updated: February 26, 2020