What Is Heating Oil?

Written on: January 27, 2023

How It’s Made and How It Warms Your Home

heating oil maine If you own one of the more than 60% of homes in Maine that depend on heating oil delivery to keep warm, you may already know quite a lot about heating oil. But do you know the qualities of heating oil that make it one of the most energy-efficient home heating fuels in use today?

Let’s start at the beginning. Heating oil, like many other products, comes from the refinement of crude oil. Through the process of distillation, hydrocarbons are removed from the crude oil and become a substance that can be further purified and blended to make the clean-burning heating oil that is ultimately delivered to your heating oil tank.

Refining is just a step in the process, however. There is more work to be done before fuel reaches your heating oil tank. After it is refined and ready for use, heating oil is transported by ship, barge, truck, and/or pipeline to major fuel terminals. It is distributed from these terminals to local heating oil companies. Many of these companies have their own storage facilities, which can hold thousands of gallons of heating oil. These secure storage facilities ensure that an adequate supply of fuel is on hand during the cold months to ensure people get their heating oil whenever they need it.

Many heating oil companies in Maine now deliver Bioheat® fuel—a renewable biodiesel blended with ultra-low sulfur heating oil. Bioheat fuel helps contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions, a cleaner heating system and improved air quality. Plus, because it burns so cleanly, it can help save you money by improving the efficiency of your system.

Where Biodiesel Comes From

Biodiesel, also known as biofuel, is generally produced by agricultural byproducts, including used cooking oil, animal fats, inedible corn oil, soybean oil and canola oil. This puts excess oil and fats that would otherwise be discarded to good use. Food is never sacrificed for fuel in the production of Bioheat fuel. Bioheat fuel is also sourced and produced right here in the United States, supporting local farmers, local industries and local economies.

A new biofuel product is called EL 100, which is short for ethyl levulinate. It is made by processing woody fiber waste that comes out of lumber and paper mills. Emissions-free and safe to use with current home heating oil systems, EL 100 is expected to be in active use this year.

Read more about Bioheat fuel.

How Your Home Stays Warm

If you use heating oil (or blended Bioheat fuel), you either have an oil furnace or oil boiler in your home. A furnace uses air to heat your home, while boilers use water. Furnaces and boilers can both use fuel oil to heat, and it starts in the combustion chamber, where the oil is turned into a flame by the oil burner.

Like any mechanical device, heating oil systems require all components to work together. But some parts are more important than others. One component that is particularly vital to the efficient and effective operation of a heating oil system is its burner.

The burner can be considered the engine of the heating oil system. When your house gets chilly, the thermostat will send a signal to tell the oil burner in the furnace or boiler to turn on. A fuel pump then starts to draw the oil from the tank and through fuel lines to reach the oil burner.

There is a device on the burner called the nozzle, which turns the oil into a very fine spray. This oil mist mixes with air and ignites in the combustion chamber, which gets very hot. This heat then gets moved around your home and comes out either through radiators or baseboards (if you have a boiler) or vents (if you have a furnace).

Read more about Oilheat.