Hot Oil Heating vs Steam Boiler Systems for Tank Heating

Thermal Fluid HeaterThere is a big increase in demand for electric circulation heaters. Yet, for tank heaters, steam boilers are still more commonly used than hot oil systems. Is steam heating better, or is the industry slow to adapt?

This article compares thermal fluid systems with steam boilers for tank heating.


In terms of performance, hot oil systems do better than steam heating. Thermal fluid heating is more reliable, providing more consistent heating and accurate temperatures. They also have a high degree of customizability, allowing for optimal performance.

Circulation, or in-line, heaters are key components in thermal fluid heating. Their ability to maximize heating power is a major reason why industries use circulation heaters. Nuclear, oil and gas, and chemical manufacturing processes are all gravitating towards circulation heaters.

Among the advantages of electric circulation heaters are:

  • Safety
  • Efficiency
  • High-temperature operation
  • Greater control & precision

Overall, these benefits ensure that hot oil heating offers superior performance.


With the higher performance and efficiency of hot oil heating, one might expect steam boilers systems to have a lower cost. Otherwise, why else would they remain so popular?

However, steam boilers are actually more expensive to install and operate. If you include the efficiency of electric circulation heaters, the operational costs of thermal fluid heating systems are even lower.

Since the shift in demand for electric tank heating is newer, many old systems already have boiler heating in place. Switching over to hot oil heating is inexpensive. A thermal fluid heating system can easily be implemented to replace the existing boiler tank heater system.

The cost of installing a new tank heater system is quickly offset by the lower operating costs and greater efficiency of hot oil heating.

As well, electric circulation heaters offer easier, less costly maintenance and longer lifespans.


Thermal fluid heating systems offer easier and lower cost maintenance than steam tank heaters. The costs of steam maintenance are often underestimated. This is due, in part, to their use of water.

We generally think of water as an inexpensive resource. But in steam boilers, the water needs to be treated with expensive chemicals. If the chemical balance is wrong, the water can quickly cause corrosion in the tank heating system.

Corrosion is not the only concern with using water for tank heating. In cold climates and outdoor applications, freezing is a major concern. Water freezes easily, and when it does, it causes serious damage that can permanently cripple the boiler. This can also result in damaging or freezing the medium in the tank.

As well, steam heaters also need to perform ongoing maintenance of steam traps and blow down.

In comparison, thermal fluid systems simply require routine flushing. Hot oil flushing is a fast, simple process that removes contaminants and buildup from the pipes.

Flush Thermal Fluid

Why Do Companies Still Use Steam Systems for Tank Heating?

Fo tank heating, hot oil heating is a superior option and offers a lower price point. Yet, many companies still use steam. The reason seems to be that companies will simply stick with what they know.

Industries that are fast to adapt to the advantages of circulation heaters stand to benefit even more, with more efficient processes than their competitors.

It’s not just that companies are choosing to stick with what they know. The cycle is continued by schools and resources still teaching the use of steam boilers. Many professors have experience that predates the advances in thermal fluid heating. As a result, they continue to teach about steam tank heating.

As a result, young engineers are entering the field with more knowledge and experience with steam. This puts the onus of learning the advantages of hot oil on the industries themselves. Companies that do can reap the benefits of using circulation heaters for hot oil heating.

Circulation Heaters for Hot Oil Heating

Wattco manufactures and supplies custom electric circulation heaters. Custom materials, wattages, and design ensure maximum efficiency and performance for hot oil heating. Contact Wattco today for circulation heater quotes and information.

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