The primary function of any heating system is to keep you warm and comfortable when natural temperatures don’t quite cut it. But the fact is there are a lot of options when it comes to choosing or installing a heating system. Some homes are “wired” for gas or electricity, but oil heating systems have proved to be a perfectly viable solution, and in certain circumstances, even preferable.
The inner workings of an oil heating system are relatively easy to understand in principle: use a combustible agent to heat air or water and distribute through a home or building. But the practical science of it, as historic as it may be, is complicated – primarily because there are different and unique options.
Oil-fired heating systems distribute heat in one of three ways:
- By heating air and distributing it through ducts and vents
- By heating water and distributing it through pipes and baseboards
- By creating steam and distributing it through radiator coils
It all starts with a thermostat. You tell the thermostat what temperature you want a certain room to be. When the temperature drops below that number, it signals the furnace (for hot air) or boiler (for warm water) to kick into action.
From there, oil is pumped into a burner through a nozzle. Much like the nozzle on a hose, it converts the flowing liquid into a spray. At the same time, a blower distributes air to mix with the oil mist in a combustion chamber where it is ignited.
The heat ignited by the flames passes through a heat exchanger and is blown through a complex distribution system consisting of ducts and vents of varying shapes and sizes.
Meanwhile, at the same time, the spent fuel or combustion gases exit from the combustion chamber through a flue passage and out an exhaust stack, usually through a home’s chimney.
FORCED AIR DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
In a forced air distribution system, the process continues with cold air being sucked through a return air duct where it is filtered. It is then recycled back into the heat exchanger where it is warmed by the by-product combustion gases which are on their way out. Talk about recycling!
HOT WATER DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
Oil can also be used to warm a house through a hot water distribution system. Again, a thermostat triggers oil to be pumped through a nozzle to combine with air, creating a volatile mix. The mix is combusted in a chamber, but this time the heat generated warms water that is being held in an adjacent boiler.
The heated water is then pumped through a distribution system of pipes running through a home’s baseboards. The cold air from the rooms absorbs the heat and spreads it around.
Eventually, when the water cools, it is returned back to the boiler where it is rewarmed and held in reserve. This allows for hot water to be available at your convenience.
A steam system is very similar to a hot water system, except that the distribution system consists of radiators rather than pipes.
The merits of an oil heater system over a natural gas system will continue to be debated, not the least of which is its effect on the environment. A blogger on DoItYourself.com points out, “New technology has allowed manufacturers to produce oil central heating systems that meet and exceed the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency.”