Energy Communications Council

Heating Oil Basics

Heating oil is a petroleum product used by many Americans, especially in the Northeast, to heat their homes. At refineries, crude oil is separated into different fuels including gasoline, jet fuel/kerosene, lubricating oil, heating oil, and diesel.

Heating oil and diesel fuel are closely related products called distillates.

Approximately 11 gallons of distillate are produced from each 42-gallon barrel of crude oil. Of these 11 gallons of distillate, less than 2 gallons are heating oil.

Historically, heating oil prices have fluctuated from year to year and month to month.

Of the 111 million households in the United States, approximately 8 million use heating oil as their main heating fuel. Heating homes is the primary use for heating oil, making the demand highly seasonal. Most of the heating oil use occurs during October through March. The area of the Country most reliant on heating oil is the Northeast.

Some customers try to beat rising winter prices by filling their storage tanks in the summer or early fall when the prices are likely to be lower.

Of the approximately 8 million households in the United States that use heating oil to heat their homes, 6.4 million households, or roughly 80 percent, are located in the Northeast region of the country.

In 2008, about 5.1 billion gallons of heating oil were sold to residential consumers in the Northeast; this is 82 percent of total residential fuel oil sales. The remaining 18 percent of annual sales are in the northern part of the country and the mid-Atlantic.

National Oilheat Research Alliance ECC is funded in part through the National Oilheat Research Alliance.