Heating Oil – A Brief History

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Ever wonder about the history of heating oil? How did it become such a popular, relied upon fuel choice for so many homeowners?

In the United States, only 4.4% of all households heat their homes with heating oil. But that number is misleading when you look at the fact that heating oil is highly concentrated in the Northeast. Let’s break that down by state: 16% of households in Pennsylvania use it, 19% in New York, 24% in Massachusetts, 29% in Rhode Island, 39% in Connecticut, 40% in Vermont, 43% in New Hampshire, and 59% in Maine.

In all those states combined, residential consumers in the Northeast account for 85% of heating oil sales in recent years. Commercial use of heating oil is lower but still significant, accounting for about 35% of the total commercial consumption of oil.

Where Does Heating Oil Come From?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nearly all of the heating oil consumed in the United States is produced from crude oil. Crude oil is formed deep in the earth and created when geological forces compress the remains of plants and animals. Scientists estimate that the process takes hundreds of thousands of years. This crude oil is then refined to produce products like gasoline and heating oil.

When Was Oil Discovered?

According to EKT Interactive , the first oil had actually been discovered by the Chinese in 600 B.C. and transported in pipelines made from bamboo. But Colonel Drake’s discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1859 and the Spindletop discovery in Texas in 1901 are really what heralded in the new oil economy. Initially oil was used to produce kerosene, which was much more adaptable, flexible and inexpensive than coal oils and whale oil for fueling lamps.

Who drilled the first oil well?

This first successful oil well was drilled on August 27, 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until 1938 that the first oil well in the Middle East would be drilled in Saudi Arabia, tapping into what would soon be identified as the largest source of oil in the world.

When was Oil First Used?

The modern history of oil began in the 1840s when a Canadian geologist discovered that crude oil could be distilled into kerosene to light lanterns. The invention of heating oil happened soon after when M.A. Fessler invented the oil burner to take advantage of the crude oil discoveries in California.

Why did Oil Heat Become Popular in the Northeast?

The Northeast’s reliance on oil heat correlates to the development of cities during the 1800s and early 1900s. Population growth and industrialization centered in the Northeast and thus it was in this region that the majority of homes and businesses were built.

Even today, its usage is highly concentrated among older homes. 87% of homes that use heating oil were built before 1990.

Transition from Coal

In the 1800s, wood was the fuel used most often. In the 1900s, most homes in the Northeast were heated by coal fired furnaces in the basement. Coal was delivered by truck and shoveled into a hot furnace to keep the home warm. But it constantly needed to be stirred and restocked.

The 1920s saw the rise of the household oil burner, At the same time, more automated coal systems were introduced to lower some of the maintenance issues, but too few problems were solved to offset the advantages of oil heating. By the 1930s, oil heating began to find its way into new construction as well as in retrofits of existing coal boilers.

Benefits of Heating Oil

  • Storage and safety – Homeowners no longer needed to worry about storing dirty coal or in their homes. Not only was coal messy, it was also highly flammable. In contrast, oil could be stored safely in tanks, which took up less space.
  • Labor – With oil, there wasn’t as much work involved to keep a home warm. With coal or even wood, homeowners needed to constantly fuel their fires in stoves and furnaces. Oil could be delivered much less often, depending on the size of the tank. All you had to do was to remember to call for a delivery. Today, advances like automatic delivery make oil even less work for the homeowner!
  • Quality of Heat –Oil produces more heat than either wood or coal. It produces over 138,000 BTUs per gallon and has optimum efficiency levels of 85-95%. Oil has much more heat energy per BTU than other fuels.
  • Safety — Heating oil doesn’t ignite until its temperature reaches 140 degrees, when it vaporizes. Because of this higher flame point it’s much harder to ignite accidentally. It is non-explosive so it won’t release flammable vapors in its liquid state. If you drop a lit match into heating oil, the flame extinguishes on contact. And heating oil also does not produce carbon monoxide.

How is Heating Oil Transported?

According to Library of Congress records, railroads were historically the primary means of oil and petroleum transportation. Today, railroads compete with pipelines, and while transportation via pipelines is usually less expensive, the railroad infrastructure offers a flexible, alternative route when pipelines are at capacity. Many petroleum products travel from refineries to markets by tank truck or railroad tank car. Smaller tank trucks, operated by suppliers like Levco, then deliver it directly to your home’s storage tanks.

Today, oil remains a popular choice for home heating in the Northeast region of the United States. It’s safe for the homeowner and the environment. Because thanks to advances in technology over the past several decades, today’s heating oil is 95% cleaner than it was fifty years ago.

Levco Delivers

Levco provides safe and timely oil deliveries to thousands of homeowners throughout Fairfield and New Haven counties. Our customers trust Levco’s expertise, reliability and unwavering dedication to safety.

We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for all your home or business HVAC service needs. With a full fleet of trucks and technicians located in Trumbull, we are in your neighborhood almost everyday! Get in touch with a member of our team by calling (203) 533-8249 or filling out this form.

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