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Home Heating Systems

Oil Central Heating

By Liz Ransome-Croker

Article 5 of 8

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Oil Central Heating

We explain what heating oil is, how it heats your home, the pros and cons of an oil heating system and how to get the best price for heating oil.

Homes that have oil central heating aren't connected to the main gas grid. If you live in one of the 4 million households in the UK that are not on the mains gas network, then you need to read on.

Here, we tell you what you need to know about oil central heating - including how much an oil-fired central heating system costs to run, and the pros of cons of having oil central heating. Plus find out about alternatives to heating oil.

Heating oil central heating systems

Heating oil is normally used in a ‘wet’ heating system, where an oil-fired boiler heats water, then provides central heating via radiators and hot water through the taps in your home.

The main difference between mains gas and heating oil is that it is delivered by road and stored in a tank, which you may have to buy or rent from your supplier. You can find out more in our full guide to heating oil

Heat-only and combination condensing oil-fired boiler types are both available. Most oil-fired combination boilers have an internal hot water store to supply domestic hot water, rather than the instantaneous heating more common in gas boilers.

Is your oil boiler from a reliable brand? We reveal the best oil boiler brands.

Annual cost of heating oil

The average annual cost for heating and hot water using heating oil in the UK is £552*, when consuming around 12,000 kWh of gas a year. 

£552Average annual cost of heating and hot water using heating oil.

However, this cost is just a guide, as there are a number of factors that affect energy bills. These include the age of your home, what insulation you have installed, the efficiency of your hot water and heating system, and where you are in the UK.

Also, heating oil prices can change. For example, the cost per litre of kerosene heating oil was:

  • 32p in January 2016
  • 43p in January 2017
  • 48p in January 2018

To find out more about price fluctuations throughout the year, see getting the best price for heating oil.

After a sharp price rise in winter 2010, questions around whether there was enough competition in the market sparked an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The OFT concluded that the market did not need price regulation. For more information, go to heating oil investigation.

*(Calculated using the average price of kerosene across the UK in January 2018, when oil prices tend to be a little lower than in winter months. Sourced by Sutherland Tables, which collects domestic-fuel pricing data. The cost per kWh in pence (4.60) was then multiplied by the amount of kWh a medium gas-energy user consumes on average in a year [12,000 kWh], as calculated by Ofgem.)

Want to cut your energy bills? Use our free, independent switching service, Which Switch?, to find the cheapest electricity deal.

Pros of oil central heating

Oil is a highly efficient fuel, so you get a good return on every unit of energy. Modern condensing boilers, which use hot flue gases that are wasted in a standard boiler, are now 90% or more efficient. Replacing a standard oil boiler with a highly efficient modern condensing boiler is relatively straightforward. 

So heating oil can be a cheap way to heat your home, provided the price is low. But as of 2017, prices have started to rise again after dipping in 2016.

Cons of oil central heating

The price of heating oil can fluctuate, with sudden spikes caused by surges in demand, weather conditions and political unrest. 

As oil is delivered by road, there is a possibility you could run out while you wait for your next delivery. However, systems that monitor the amount of oil in your tank, which can automatically notify your supplier if you want this service, help you to avoid this problem. There are other things you can do to get the best heating oil price

Installing an oil central-heating system from scratch can be expensive and disruptive. The heating oil tank can also be unsightly (although this can be resolved by going for an underground tank) and needs servicing annually.

Most condensing oil-fired boilers are floor standing, so you may have problems trying to find a wall-mounted model. They also need to be plumbed in to allow acidic condensate liquid to drain away.

Oil boilers generally limit the hot-water flow rate to ensure the water is as hot as it should be. This means the hot-water flow rate is lower than it would be with a gas combi or hot-water cylinder system, and the temperature will decline as more water is used.

As a fossil fuel, oil produces carbon dioxide when it’s burned, and can’t be considered a clean source of energy.

Heating oil alternatives

You could consider installing a renewable heating system, such as water-heating solar thermal panels or a heat pump

Not only will you be able to generate your own heat, but a scheme called the Renewable Heat Incentive will pay you for doing so.