As you look for reliable home heating oil delivery, you may wonder about the differences between heating oil vs. diesel fuel. 

While diesel fuel is safe to use as a heating oil substitute in an emergency, it isn’t intended for long-time use. Let’s compare the two fuels so that you understand why these two similar products have different applications. 

How Heating Oil and Diesel Fuel are Similar

It’s time for science class! After all, it would be helpful to understand some of the chemistry involved in crude oil distillation to understand better the similarities and differences between heating oil and diesel fuel.

Both heating oil and diesel fuel are made from crude oil. A refinery turns crude oil into finished petroleum products, including home heating oil and kerosene

Crude oil is made up of a mixture of hydrocarbons (carbon and hydrogen atoms). During the distillation process, these hydrocarbons are heated, and different “products” are pulled out according to their vaporization temperatures. 

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For example, butane, other liquid petroleum gasses, and gasoline blending components are recovered at the lowest temperatures and considered the lightest fuel oil. These products have the lowest boiling points. 

Jet fuel, kerosene, home heating oil, diesel fuel, and lubricating oil are considered mid-range petroleum products

The heaviest products, including residual fuel oil, require a vaporization temperature of over 1,000 degrees. 

How Home Heating Oil and Diesel Fuel are Different

Home heating oil and diesel fuel oil have a similar boiling range and chemical composition. So, why are they considered different products? It partly has to do with tax regulations, which are controlled according to the product’s intended use. However, there are also some differences in the chemical makeup of the two fuels.

Heating Oil

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Home heating oil is a mixture of No. 2 and No. 1 fuel oil. This mixture, called heating oil, has a lower viscosity and results in more efficient home heating. This blend is sometimes called a “kerosene mix” or a “home heating oil winter blend.”

Regardless of what you call it, home oil enjoys a reduced tax status because it is an essential need for many consumers. Home heating oil is tinged with red dye to distinguish it from higher-taxed diesel fuel. 

Diesel Oil

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Construction machines, vehicles used for agricultural purposes, and other off-road vehicles can be run on lower-taxed diesel fuel. This diesel is mixed with the same red dye as home heating oil to distinguish it from higher-taxed diesel. 

Taxed diesel remains undyed and is light green in color. Those driving diesel cars and trucks on public roads must use higher-taxed diesel fuel.

The only real difference between green and red diesel is the higher price of the green-tinged fuel. 

Differences Between the Products

The differences between diesel fuel and heating oil are insignificant. 

BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, representing the amount of heat that must be added to increase the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Diesel fuel burns at 139,000, and some home heating oil burns slightly less hot at 137,000, which means that home heating oil is more efficient.

Also, as we mentioned earlier, heating oil includes an ingredient that keeps the fuel from turning into sludge during bitter cold weather. This makes it the preferred product for residential and commercial heating systems

Comparing Costs of Heating Oil vs. Diesel Fuel

The costs of home heating oil and diesel fuel fluctuate because the prices depend on supply and demand. At some times of the year, you will visit the fuel pumps and see that diesel fuel is more expensive than heating oil. However, this may change during the winter months when demand for home heating oils increases.

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One way to combat fluctuating prices is to purchase heating oil before cold weather comes to your area. Also, check with your heating oil delivery company to learn more about budget-friendly payment options.

Overall, if you adjust for inflation, the price of heating oil today is less than in 1980. Globally, oil reserves have lowered in recent months. However, if there is a shortage elsewhere, the US is not dependent on imports or a single supply source. As of December 2022, there were nearly 400 million barrels in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Comparing Heating Oil vs. Diesel Fuel Uses

When comparing the cost of fuel oils, you may notice at times that diesel fuel is less expensive than heating oil. As a result, you might be tempted to purchase diesel fuel for indoor applications. While some sources say that diesel can be mixed with #1 fuel oil to minimize sludge formation during cold months, it would be best to talk with a qualified source before trying this method. 

And during those times when heating fuel is less expensive than diesel fuel, you might be tempted to put heating oil in your diesel engine. However, this is illegal. You may face charges if pulled over and found to be using red-dyed fuel on the road. 

Key Takeaways About Heating Oil and Diesel Fuel

  • Both diesel fuel and home heating oil are made from crude oil. They both have a similar boiling point.

  • Both heating oil and diesel fuel utilized by construction and farm equipment are not taxed the same as diesel fuel used in cars and trucks that use the highway system.

  • Although you may be able to use diesel fuel to replace heating oil for a short time, it is not recommended. This is because heating oil includes an ingredient that minimizes sludge formation.

  • Using home heating oil in a car or truck with a Diesel engine is illegal.