The last few years have not been kind to oil furnace sales. According to the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), sales of oil warm air furnace shipments decreased 14.5 percent, to 48,247 units in 2011, down from 56,455 units shipped in 2010. Looking at the last 20 years, AHRI shows that sales of oil furnaces peaked in 1994, with sales of 164,336 units, which is significantly higher than where the market stands today.
This tracks with anecdotal evidence from contractors — mainly in the Northeast U.S. — who claim they have been converting oil equipment to natural gas at a record pace. But that doesn’t mean oil furnaces will fade from the marketplace any time soon, as there are many areas in the country that have limited access to natural gas. In addition, it can be expensive to convert to another fuel, and new technologies and cleaner burning fuels (see sidebar below) mean that oil furnaces can provide better comfort and higher efficiencies than units manufactured just a few years ago.