Heating Oil Compared to Diesel

Written by aurora porter
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Heating Oil Compared to Diesel
Diesel fuel (diesel storage tank image by Jim Parkin from Fotolia.com)

Heating oil and diesel fuel are similar, in that they are both made from crude oil. However, each fuel is valuable and unique in its own way, and serve different purposes in their fuel applications. Heating oil is used primarily to heat buildings, while diesel fuel is used to power diesel car, truck and manufacturing engines. Both fuels are seen as fairly economical compared to alternatives (propane or kerosene compared to heating oil and gasoline compared to diesel) though both can be viewed as politically and environmentally controversial by some, since petroleum is not a renewable resource.

Heating Oil Background

Heating oil is a flammable, liquid petroleum fuel most often used to heat homes and buildings, especially in cold climates like the northern U.S., Canada, England and Ireland. Heating oil (also known as No. 2 Heating oil in the U.S.) is similar to diesel fuel (both are created by separating mixtures in the petroleum through a process known as distillation). Heating oil is made using about 25 per cent of the total yield of crude oil, with gasoline/petrol using a greater percentage. Heating oil is also classified as a hazardous material by U.S. federal regulators.

Diesel Fuel Background

Diesel fuel is a liquid fuel used to power diesel engines. Like heating oil, diesel fuel is a distillate made from petroleum, though biodiesel, made from vegetable or animal fat, is an alternative fuel that also powers diesel engines. (Standard diesel engines must first be converted to use this new fuel successfully). On a fueleconomy.gov fact sheet, diesel-powered car engines are shown to have better fuel economy than gasoline-powered cars, as diesel provides more energy per-litre than gasoline, and with fewer greenhouse emissions. On the U.S. EPA website, some chemical characteristics and natural impurities in diesel fuel have been shown to affect exhaust emissions and increase pollution in the atmosphere.


The EPA has regulated diesel quality since 1993 and even established low sulphur requirements in 1996. In 1996, the predominant use of low-sulfur diesel transitioned to ultra low-sulfur as a result of the highway diesel fuel sulphur program. The EPA also adopted a national program designed to reduce emissions from future non-road diesel engines (such as those used in manufacturing) by encouraging engine manufacturers to produce new engines with advanced emissions-controlling technologies. They estimate that the reduction of non-road diesel engine emissions by 2030 should prevent 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalisation and 1 million work days lost. Since heating oil is considered to be hazardous in some situations, the Ohio EPA released a fact sheet in 2007 to help residential heating oil users protect drinking water and prevent the spread of contaminants in the event of a spill.

Price comparisions

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration website, diesel fuel cost £2.03450e+10 a gallon the week of May 10, 2010, and all grades of gasoline cost an average of £1.90 for the week. (Keep in mind the greater fuel efficiency of diesel engines and diesel fuel). From the same website, residential heating oil cost £1.90 the week of March 15, 2010, while residential propane cost £1.70 for the same week.


In the northeastern U.S., Canada and parts of Europe, heating oil has been a valuable source of heat and energy for many years while remaining fairly cost effective. In a similar way, diesel fuel is valuable for its fuel economy in powering diesel engines. However, petroleum is not a renewable resource, and each of these oils will increase in price as world petroleum stores diminish. Consumers may want to explore the viability of alternative fuel sources in the meantime.

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