What Are the Different Fuel Options for Boilers?

by Team eLocal
A modern residential boiler system in a historic East coast home

With the rising costs of fuel, heating your house during cold weather months can do serious damage to your wallet.

Read More Heating and Cooling Articles

If you’re shopping for a new home boiler system, the type of fuel it uses can substantially impact your energy bill.


Electricity is a widely used residential power source, and homeowners who opt for electric boilers pay for the cost of running them on their regular monthly electric bill. These energy-efficient appliances are hooked up to existing electrical lines or powered by your home’s solar panels, so they’re relatively inexpensive to install. Plus, because they don’t require fuel deliveries, you’ll never have to worry about running out of oil. Oil boilers are also typically compact, so they’re a space-saving choice for small homes.

However, depending on the price of electricity near you, electric boilers can be expensive to run. Additionally, they have a low heating capacity, so they typically won’t meet the cold-weather needs of large or poorly insulated homes. Households that rely on electricity for heating may also want to consider a backup generator to power their home boiler system during power outages.

Natural gas is a type of fossil fuel that results from the decomposition of ancient plants and animals deep in the earth. This nonrenewable energy source is composed of various compounds, including methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor. Utility companies typically deliver natural gas to residential areas via an underground pipeline, and this energy source is widely available throughout the country.

Homes with access to a natural gas pipeline may use this fuel to power gas-fired boilers. Because it’s delivered continuously through underground lines, homeowners won't need to purchase and maintain a bulky storage tank or schedule fuel deliveries. Natural gas is also relatively inexpensive, so it can keep heating costs low. Plus, because power outages don't affect natural gas transport, it’s a reliable way to heat a home, especially in storm-prone areas.

However, unless your home is already hooked up to a gas line, installation of a natural gas boiler can be costly. Natural gas is also highly flammable and comes with the risk of dangerous leaks. For this reason, it's typically scented, so homeowners can quickly identify gas leaks. If you use natural gas, you may want to install carbon monoxide and natural gas detectors in your residence. You should also know where the natural gas shutoff valve is in case of emergency.

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Propane is a nontoxic, colorless gas that’s typically compressed and stored in liquid form. It’s considered a byproduct of natural gas processing. Although propane is commonly known as a fuel source for outdoor barbecue grills, this clean-burning energy source may also be used to power natural gas boilers with simple modifications to the unit.

Because propane arrives via delivery truck and is stored in a large tank on your property, it’s available to homes in regions that don’t have access to natural gas. It’s also extremely reliable and can keep your boiler running when the power goes out, making it a viable option for home heating in areas that regularly experience inclement weather or are prone to natural disasters, such as hurricanes. However, propane is typically more expensive than natural gas.


Heating oil is a petroleum-based fuel that’s primarily used for home boilers, furnaces and water heaters. Homeowners who choose an oil-fired residential boiler must have fuel delivered to their property, where it’s stored in a large tank.

Oil boilers are exceptionally energy efficient and can typically heat your home more quickly than residential boiler systems that use other types of fuel. Plus, because it’s non-toxic, non-explosive and carcinogen-free, oil is one of the safest fuels to use.

The cost of heating your home with an oil boiler can vary depending on the current market value of fuel oil, but it’s often more costly than natural gas. However, oil may be ideal for homeowners who live in areas that don’t have access to gas lines. Plus, because it’s stored on your property, it can keep your boiler running when the power goes out. Some modern oil boilers also run on biodiesel heating oil, which is typically less expensive than standard heating oil, burns cleaner and reduces boiler upkeep requirements.

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