Frequently Asked Questions

How do I compare the cost of heating fuels?

When choosing heating fuels or systems, consumers may want to compare the cost of different heating fuels or energy sources. Because heating fuels are measured and sold in different units, such as gallons of oil and propane, cubic feet or therms of natural gas, or kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity, comparing the price of fuels in dissimilar units is not meaningful.

A more useful comparison is the price or cost of fuels based on the heat content of the fuels, such as dollars per million British thermal units (Btu) of heat content. The formula for this calculation is:

[ (Fuel price per unit) divided by (fuel heat content per unit) ] multiplied by 1,000,000.

However, there are other factors and issues related to the selection of a heating fuel or system:

  • Efficiency of the appliances that convert fuels and electricity to useful heat
  • Costs of heating system installation, operation, and maintenance
  • Availability of fuels, especially during the heating season
  • Environmental issues associated with the production, transport, and consumption of fuels

The U.S. Department of Energy has educational information on heating systems to help consumers when selecting heating systems.

Learn more:
Heat contents of various fuels and electricity
(Note that there are 42 gallons in a barrel of heating oil and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)/propane, and there are 100,000 Btu in a therm.)
What is the outlook for home heating fuel prices this winter?
What are the greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions factors for fuels and electricity?
Energy Units and Calculators
Energy Saver 101 Infographic: Home Heating

Last reviewed: December 7, 2016


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