When a boiler or furnace is working it turns fuel into usable heat.
Because this occurs at varying efficiencies the price of usable heat can be very different than the price of fuel.
In this post we are going to compare the cost of oil heat, gas heat, electric heat and wood heat in the US and UK.
US Heating Cost Comparison
In the image at the top of this post we compared the typical cost of heat for different fuels based on average prices and typical conversion efficiency.
The units are $/million British Thermal Units (BTU), which as an Australian, living in the UK, looking across the pond, I find very strange.
What these heating costs show is that in the US both fuel oil furnaces and electricity furnaces are an expensive way to heat a home. To get cheaper heat using electricity you need a heat pump. The very cheap natural gas prices in the US mean gas heating is much cheaper, explaining its dominance for central heating.
A few things are worth noting. These figures are based on the average system efficiency shown in the brackets. If this increased the price would come down and if the efficiency was worse it would be more expensive(as for an old furnace). Secondly, these are only fuel costs. A full evaluation for a new system choice would include capital costs of the system. The low cost of electric heating systems may explain part of why they are more common in milder climates, as well as limitations on gas infrastructure.
UK Heating Cost Comparison
In the UK electric heating is the most expensive by some margin.
For this comparison we’ll use the default units of pence/kWh of usable heat.
Heating your home with standard electric heaters is almost three times as expensive as using heat from a natural gas boiler.
This reality is often overlooked when people try to economize by using electric space heaters. If you have gas central heating it can be more sensible to use radiator valves to limit heating to a small number of rooms.
As before these prices are for the fuel only and are affected by the actual efficiencies. For comparing a new install you would want to consider capital costs of the heating system too. For the carbon intensity of different heat sources see our Shrink Your Housing Footprint page.
Next up in this guide is the sources of home heat loss.