In the 1990s, almost one in five Quebec households used furnace oil as their main source of heat. Today, this number has dropped to less than one in ten.

Why has furnace oil become less popular over the years despite being a proven heating method? Are there significant disadvantages that make it less attractive than other energy sources? 

In this article, find out how oil heating works and learn about its main advantages and disadvantages.

How do oil heating systems work?

The most popular system for heating with oil involves the use of a forced air furnace. We have divided the forced air furnace heating process into 5 steps in order to simplify our explanation:

  1. The oil tank can be located inside or outside the building. The furnace oil is generally refilled by a fuel supplier once every few months. The frequency depends on the tank’s capacity and the heating needs of the occupants.
  2. The heating oil is pumped from the tank to the furnace.
  3. The burner ignites the fuel with a spark produced by an electrode. 
  4. The combustion produces heat.
  5. The heat produced in the furnace is dispersed through the building via a ventilation and ducting system. 

There are also other methods for heating with oil. Oil-fired boilers can be used to heat water that is then circulated through the house via baseboard heaters. Atmospheric burners are also an option. However, these methods are less popular than forced air furnaces because their output is lower. 

The advantages of heating with oil

Homeowners continue to heat with oil due to the advantages it offers. Here are a few:


Unlike gas and electric heating, heating with oil does not always require a connection to a public distribution network. Suppliers can deliver furnace oil to remote areas, which is why many rural buildings are equipped with oil furnaces.


Oil furnaces disperse warm air throughout a building quickly and efficiently. The temperature can be precisely controlled with a thermostat. The air produced is not as dry as air heated by electric or wood-burning systems, and the forced air heating system is odourless when properly maintained. 


Although heating with oil is not without danger, it is less likely to cause a fire or an explosion than heating with wood or natural gas.

Energy efficiency

Oil furnace manufacturers have developed new technologies to improve their energy efficiency. There are even high-efficiency units that are Energy Star certified. 

The disadvantages of heating with oil

The many disadvantages of oil heating overshadow its advantages and explain its decline. Here are the main disadvantages of heating with oil:

The price of furnace oil

Like most petroleum products, the price of furnace oil fluctuates considerably. It currently costs more than any other fuel used for heating. For example, heating with oil currently costs two to three times more than heating with gas.

The risk of spills

Oil tanks and other components of oil heating systems are prone to leaks, particularly if they are not properly maintained. When a residential oil spill occurs, residential environmental response professionals must be called to decontaminate the soil.

A quick response is vital in order to ensure that this hazardous waste doesn’t seep far enough into the soil to reach the water table.

Air pollution

Furnace oil is a non-renewable fossil fuel. Burning it produces greenhouse gases and harmful particles such as CO2, nitrogen monoxide and dioxide, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and aromatic hydrocarbons. 

Equipment maintenance

Oil heating systems must be properly maintained to keep them operational and prevent spills and fires. Maintenance comes with additional expenses that must be considered along with the cost of the fuel.

  • A comprehensive maintenance plan should include the following:
  • A yearly inspection of the furnace and tank
  • Checking the carbon monoxide detector periodically
  • Checking and cleaning the chimney
  • Inspecting and changing the burner when necessary
  • Cleaning or changing the filters

EBI Enviro Urgence: a useful resource for those heating with oil

Even though oil heating is being phased out because of its disadvantages, it remains a reliable and efficient heating method that is suitable in certain circumstances. 

If you heat your home with oil, make sure you have our contact information on hand. In the event of a residential oil spill, EBI Enviro Urgence can respond quickly to limit the damage. Just contact us and our team will come to you with the necessary equipment, regardless of the day or time.

If you decide to switch to a different heating system, we can dispose of your tank and other oil heating components in accordance with regulations.