Heating oil tanks have remained virtually unchanged for decades. And unfortunately, so have the gauges inside them! The most basic type of oil tank gauge, which most heating oil tanks have, is called a float gauge. Float gauges notoriously go bad over time, and in this post we will talk about the accuracy of a heating oil tank gauge.
How a Float Gauge Works
A float gauge is a very simple mechanism that is mounted in the top of a heating oil tank. It features a plastic sight at the top, with a disc inside to indicate the level. This disc is attached to an articulating arm with a hinge in the middle. At the other end of the arm is the float itself. While the floats were originally made of cork, they are now usually a plastic material that lasts longer.
As the level of oil lowers, the float lowers with it, and the disc is lowered accordingly.
How To Read a Float Gauge
The disc in the plastic sight on a float gauge indicates an approximate level. The key word here is approximate. A float gauge is not a precision instrument.
When reading a float gauge, you will need to know what size oil tank you have. Most oil tanks are 275 or 330 gallons and look like the one pictured below.
Tip: A 275 gallon fuel oil tank measures five feet long, while a 330 tank measures 6 feet long.
Once you know your tank size, you’ll have to determine what your float gauge is reading. The levels are primarily fractions of a tank: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, or Full. Refer to our heating oil tank charts to determine how many gallons are in the tank.
To be safe, always reorder home heating oil at a quarter (of a tank) when using a float gauge!
How Accurate is the Float Gauge?
Unfortunately, a float type gauge is not a very accurate device. There are two main reasons for this.
Float Gauges Go Bad Over Time
After many years sitting in heating oil, the float can actually build up sludge over time. This float below was removed after it was no longer working properly.
Furthermore, the float gauge can occasionally end up getting stuck. If the gauge rotates at all in its fitting, the float arm will get stuck against the side of the oil tank, causing the level to not change.
Float Gauges Do Not Account For the Actual Tank Geometry
Since float gauges simply work by having the arm go up and down, they do not take into account the curvature of the oil tank. In the middle of the fuel oil tank, the walls are straight up and down. As such, there is significantly more oil than in the bottom section of the oil tank where the walls curve in (see below). When an oil tank gauge reads 1/4 or below, the level will suddenly start lowering more quickly without warning.
A More Accurate Heating Oil Tank Gauge
Fortunately for heating oil users, there is a more reliable oil tank gauge available now. The Smart Oil Gauge uses an ultrasonic sensor to detect the oil level in the tank. It also knows the exact geometry of the oil tank – including the rounded edges! As such, it outputs a specific number of gallons remaining instead of just an approximate level.
Smart Oil Gauge Tracks Gallons Per Day
Because the Smart Oil Gauge records readings all throughout the day, you can get a handle on exactly how much home heating oil you are using. Some of the useful statistics it will provide are:
Current oil usage (gallons per hour and gallons per day)
Days until you will be at 1/4 tank
Days to 1/8 tank
Total gallons used (per day, week, month, or year)
How much home heating oil can be delivered to your oil tank
Track Your Monthly Usage, And Reorder Heating Oil Online Quickly
With the Smart Oil Gauge, you can track exactly how much heating oil you are using. The app ties directly to FuelSnap so you are able to shop for heating oil online as soon as you are low. This information will allow you to schedule your home heating oil delivery around your own needs.
An Accurate Heating Oil Gauge
While a float gauge is not very accurate, a Smart Oil Gauge is. The one limitation to the Smart Oil Gauge is that it cannot give a precise reading in the top 8″ of the oil tank. This is because the oil is too close to the sensor when the oil tank is topped off.
Below that top 8″ mark, however, and the Smart Oil Gauge is extremely reliable. And if you would still like a visual oil tank gauge, you can often leave the float gauge installed as well. The Smart Oil Gauge would go in an extra opening on the tank. Knowing how to read a heating oil tank gauge is undoubtedly important, but with Smart Oil Gauge you can view your oil tank level on your phone!
I use my Smart Oil Gauge to make sure I only order oil when I need it. I can watch prices periodically, and then order heating oil online through FuelSnap using my saved credit card when I’m ready. It really doesn’t get any more convenient than that, and I never have to worry about how much heating oil is in my oil tank.
While heating oil is one of the most popular sources for fuel in the northeast, it is also one of the safest. And did you know that heating oil is not even flammable at room temperature? In this post we’ll walk through how heating oil works, and what makes it one of the safest ways to heat your home.
How Home Heating Oil Works
Heating oil, sometimes referred to as fuel oil, is stored in an oil tank at home that is connected your heating system. This fuel oil tank is typically in the basement or garage, but occasionally can be found outside the home or underground. A heating oil truck must come on occasion and refill the heating oil tank to make sure the system always has heating oil when called for.
The heating oil is drawn from the tank by a pump in the burner – or occasionally by gravity – to the burner itself. Once there, the ignitions process takes place as follows:
Heating oil is drawn from the tank through an oil filter to filter out any particulates or contaminants.
The burner preheats the oil and activates a fan that mixes in air to help ignite the fuel.
The heating oil then passes through a nozzle where it is atomized (turned into a fine mist), heated further, and ignited to create a flame.
A sensor inside the system confirms that ignition has occurred, and the system continues to burn heating oil until a thermostat inside the unit tells it to stop.
Is Heating Oil Safe?
Since heating oil must be atomized and heated to 140° F before it can be ignited, it is considered extremely safe. In fact, if you were to drop a match into a bucket of heating oil, the match would simply go out (don’t try this at home though – as heating oil stinks!). This is because heating oil is not flammable in liquid form.
Check Your Heating Oil Tank for Safe Operation
The main thing to watch out for if your home is heated with
oil is that it is properly stored in a secure heating oil tank. If your tank is
underground and over 30 years old, we recommend removing it from the ground and
installing a tank (or tanks) inside your home. This will prevent an
environmental hazard that could result of an underground heating oil tank
begins to leak.
If your house has an above-ground heating oil tank, then we recommend following our step-by-step guide for inspecting your heating oil tank here.
As a good practice, we recommend inspecting your home heating oil tank at least once per year. In fact, many home heating oil companies will require an in-person oil tank inspection prior to your first home heating oil delivery. While the inspection only takes a few minutes, there are some important things to look for while inspecting your home’s oil tank. We’ll break them down below!
How to Inspect Above-Ground Heating Oil Tanks
While there are still many homes with in-ground heating oil tanks, there is really no way to inspect those oil tanks since they are out of sight. If your oil tank is above-ground though, it is important to check its condition periodically. Heating oil tanks – also known as fuel oil tanks – are typically steel and oval-shaped. Below is a common Granby 275 gallon steel oil tank. This is by far the most commonly installed heating oil tank in the Northeast US. Below are the six things to look for when inspecting a tank such as this.
Step 1 – Inspect the Oil Tank for a Solid Base & Footing
Ensuring the floor that the oil tank is sitting on is solid is a crucial step. Even in a basement, the ground can settle over time which could create issues with your oil tank. All four legs of the oil tank should be inspected to ensure they are rust-free and providing good support. A home heating oil tank with 250 gallons of oil weighs over 2000 pounds! This is as much as a small car, so it is critical that those oil tank feet are on stable ground.
Inspecting the base and footing is even more important on an outdoor oil tank. The oil tank should be sitting on a single, uniform concrete slab. It is not acceptable to have each leg of the tank on a separate cinder block, for instance, as one could shift and cause the whole tank to lean. This can cause the fitting to bend at the bottom of the tank, causing a catastrophic spill.
Step 2 – Check your Oil Tank for Rust Free Seams
The perimeter and sides of a steel oil tank are welded together. Because of the potential for imperfections in the welded area, these seams should be inspected for rust. Once they begin to rust, oil can start slowly leaking out of your tank. Look for any signs of leakage on or around the seams of the oil tank.
Step 3 – Look for Leaks at the Bottom of the Oil Tank
Similar to the seams, the bottom of the home heating oil tank tends to be susceptible to corrosion from the inside out. This is because certain blends of home heating oil are hygroscopic, meaning they absorb water. Water can lead to corrosion inside the fuel oil tank and eventually that corrosion leads to small holes along the bottom of the tank. Check to make sure the bottom of the fuel oil tank shows no signs of leaks. Also pay close attention to the fitting where the oil comes out at the tank. This fitting is where the oil line meets the tank, so it is important that it is secured and free from leaks.
Step 4 – Look for Leaks at the Oil Line and by Following the Line to the Burner
The oil line itself can be prone to leaks, believe it or not. This is why modern oil lines are actually copper that is coated in plastic for one extra layer of protection. Check the oil line for leaks, and be sure to follow the line all the way to the your oil burner (furnace or boiler).
Step 5 – Check for Leaks at the Oil Filter
The oil filter is what the heating oil passes through on its way to the fuel oil tank. This is often found close to the oil tank, but is occasionally found alongside the burner as well. Since these are changed periodically, it is important to check them on an annual basis to make sure they are clean.
Step 6 – Scan for Leaks at the Top of the Fuel Oil Tank
While leaks at the top may seem less important than leaks at the bottom, it is still important to make note of them. Look to see if any oil has dripped from around the fittings at the top of the fuel oil tank. If you see oil there, it could mean that the oil tank has been overfilled before. Overfilling a tank can have major consequences, as the oil can spill out of those fittings and into the basement. In addition, oil can even make its way all the way out of the vent pipe and end up in the soil outside. If the fuel oil tank shows evidence of having been over-filled, then you may need a new vent alarm/whistle.
The vent alarm makes a sound as the oil tank is being filled. The driver listens for this sound when filling your home heating oil tank. Once the oil rises to about 7″ from the top of the tank, it touches the whistle, muffling the sound. The driver hears the whistle stop and shuts off the pump. If the whistle is not functioning, most dealers will not fill your home heating oil tank, as it could result in the tank being overfilled.
Remember to Inspect Your Heating Oil Tank Annually
Inspecting your oil tank at least once a year will give you peace of mind and help prevent an oil leak. If you find that your tank is showing signs of aging and needs to be replaced, then we recommend checking out our guide here on choosing a new oil tank. An oil tank can last up to 30 years, but a leak inside or outside your home can be devastating. Follow this guide once a year and you should be able to sleep well at night!
p.s. A great way to avoid over filling your fuel oil tank is by always knowing how much oil is in your tank. With Smart Oil Gauge, you can check your phone anytime and anywhere to find out how much oil you have. This way you can tell your heating oil company exactly how much you need.
Choosing a home heating fuel type is a major decision if you live in the northeast. While smaller homes or condominiums may offer electric heat, most larger homes do not, as it becomes too expensive to heat large spaces. Instead, more cost-effective heating fuels exist, and we will break down which is best in this post below.
Heating Oil, Propane, and Natural Gas
The three main heating fuel types are heating oil, natural gas, and propane. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s important to choose one based on what you are hoping to get from your house. For instance, if you must have a gas stove at the house, you will want to have natural gas or propane available – even if it is for cooking only.
Natural gas is a popular choice in the northeast, but tends to only be available in cities and the densely populated surrounding towns. It is piped through underground lines beneath the street. You can often tell where there is natural gas available because the roads are constantly being cut open and patched to access and maintain the lines. You can also look at the homes along the street and see if they are fitted with meters like the one pictured below. These meters regulate and track the flow of natural gas into the home. The homeowner is then billed by the natural gas company just like they are billed for electricity usage. Outside of the cities and in the suburbs, you will find that houses are more spread out, roads have more hills and rocks, and natural gas is much less common. For this reason, houses in the suburbs are often equipped with storage tanks at the house for either heating oil or propane.
Propane is very similar to natural gas, but it is stored in holding tanks on the property instead of being plumbed in from a pipeline. The gas is pressurized in the tank and actually stored as a liquid – hence the common abbreviation L.P. for liquid propane. The tanks are most often stored above-ground, and are rather unsightly. For approximately 95% of the tanks in the northeast, the propane provider actually owns the tanks as well. This is problematic, as it prevents you as the homeowner from ordering propane from anyone else. This leads to a very high price per gallon for propane – sometimes as high as 2X the price per gallon of heating oil. If you are considering choosing propane for your home heating fuel needs, make sure you read this post here.
Heating oil is a favorite for home heating because it puts out a tremendous amount of heat – approximately 35% more effective BTUs per gallon than propane – at a much lower cost than propane. While heating oil and natural gas tend to be comparable lately in terms of cost, there were times when the price of heating oil rose and made natural gas a much more attractive option. Oil prices have declined significantly in recent years, however, and remain low today. Another benefit of heating oil is that it can be bought off-season and stored, allowing the homeowner to benefit from lower prices in the summer. There are also dozens of heating oil providers in nearly every town in the northeast, meaning there is always competition to choose from. This competition ensures that prices stay reasonable, and you will not be stuck with a monopolistic utility provider as you will with natural gas.
Choosing Between Heating Oil, Natural Gas, and Propane
If given the choice between all three options, it’s important to consider the trade-offs. In terms of cost, heating oil and natural gas are the clear winners. Propane is often twice as expensive when used to heat a house. Since natural gas is provided by a monopoly utility provider, you may prefer heating oil so you can choose from multiple suppliers. If you do not want to worry about your fuel supply, you can sign up for ‘automatic delivery’ of heating oil or propane, in which case the truck will come automatically on a schedule, and the experience will be much like that of having a natural gas line plumbed right into your house. The one limitation of heating oil, however, is that while you can use it to heat your home and hot water, you cannot use it for a gas stove, gas fireplace, or generator. For these, you will need a propane tank outside the house, or natural gas.
Conclusion: Heating Oil and Propane OR Natural Gas
If you find a house that has natural gas coming in from the outside, then you will be able to cost-effectively heat your home, and run auxiliary systems such as fireplaces, stoves, etc.
If natural gas is not available, however, we recommend heating oil to heat your home. Heating oil is significantly more cost-effective than propane, and affords you the ability to shop around from multiple suppliers to get the best price. Since propane suppliers almost always own the tank, there is very little you can do to negotiate a good price. With heating oil, however, you can use a site like FuelSnap to check heating oil prices from local, reputable heating oil dealers in your area and order heating oil online in seconds.
If natural gas is not available and you would like the best of both worlds, then we highly recommend heating oil and propane. Using heating oil to heat your home and hot water is the most cost-effective solution available. And having a single propane tank for stove-top cooking, gas fireplaces, and maybe even a standby generator is a great option as well.
If you live in the northeast, you have probably become accustomed to spending significantly more on energy in the winter months as you heat your home. If your home is heated with heating oil, there is good news: there are several ways to save money on heating oil over the course of a winter season. Below are the top 10 ways to save money on heating oil, starting with the most significant.
Discontinue Automatic Delivery. Automatic heating oil delivery was popular for decades, since it meant homeowners did not have to periodically check their oil tanks and call the company to refuel. Because of this convenience, however, dealers charge an average of $0.50 more per gallon for automatic delivery! This equates to hundreds of dollars per year when compared with simply buying oil as needed. To estimate how much oil your house goes through in a given season, check out this post here. Since an average home uses over 800 gallons of heating in a given season, you can expect to save $400 dollars or more simply by ordering oil as needed and taking advantage of the ‘spot’ price.
Install a Smart Oil Gauge. As they say in business: what gets measured, gets managed. There is no good way of knowing what impact the improvements below will have on your heating oil consumption until you establish a baseline. A Smart Oil Gauge will tell you – by the hour – how much oil your heating system is consuming. It will show you daily, weekly, monthly, and annual totals as well so you can see how much heating oil these improvements save you over time. It also will alert you when your tank is low, so you can cut cancel your automatic delivery contract and start saving hundreds of dollars per year right away.
Install a Programmable WiFi Thermostat. Once you’ve gotten the usage data out of your Smart Oil Gauge, you can start to monitor your heating oil consumption throughout the day. You can see, for instance, how much oil you burn during the day when nobody is home. Then you can set the thermostat to automatically lower a few degrees during the day and see how much oil this saves you. With some systems, you may find that you burn moreoil by adjusting the temperature – only a Smart Oil Gauge will give you this type of insight though.
Tune-Up Your HVAC System. You should have your HVAC system tuned up annually, or at least every other year to ensure it is running as efficiently as possible. Cleaning out the system will ensure that as much heat as possible is created for every gallon of heating oil used, and that your filters are clean so air can flow freely through your house if you have forced hot air. A tune-up also acts as preventative maintenance so you will be less likely to have a breakdown in the middle of winter.
Seal Drafty Doors. Adding something as simple as foam tape around the perimeter of an entry door can seal off the door quite significantly. Touch your hand to the perimeter of the door and feel for cold spots to know where cold air is coming in. Usually the bottom of the door ends up letting the most cold air in. If this is the case, installing a simple under-the-door sweep can seal it off nicely while still allowing the door to open and close easily.
Seal Drafty Windows. Especially in older houses, you will find that a lot of heat escapes through the windows. If you put your hand near the window, you may also find that there is even a draft you can feel. To seal the heat in and keep the cold air out, consider installing plastic film over the windows to create a seal. Cut the plastic to size, use double-stick tape to secure around the perimeter, and then use a hairdryer to shrink wrap the film in place. Consider doing this on any exterior French doors that you are not using during the winter as well.
Add or Improve Insulation. Insulation – the pink cotton candy-like substance that you see inside walls – is what acts as your home’s blanket. Insulation keeps warm air in and cold air out during the winter months. If your house was built earlier than the mid-1900s, odds are it may not even have insulation. If this is the case, you should consider getting a quote for some blown-in insulation. Blown-in insulation can be added from the exterior of the house without requiring all the siding to be replaced. Instead, small holes can be added, or single strips of siding removed in order for the insulation to be added. This can pay dividends if you plan on staying in your home long term.
Close Off Unused Spaces. This is especially recommended if your home is heated with forced hot air. Simply close the air vents in any rooms that are unused, and close the door to that room as well. Be sure to not close off too many vents in one particular part of the house though, as this could create back pressure that is detrimental to your heating system. If your home is heated using a boiler, see if you can adjust the temperature down in the parts of the house that are unused. Just be careful during extremely cold weather though, as turning the heat down too far can lead to frozen pipes.
Upgrade Your HVAC System. Oil-fired HVAC systems tend to last as long as 30 years! That said, they do tend to lose efficiency over time, meaning that less of the heating oil is actually being converted to heat as the furnace ages. If your furnace is over 15 years old, you may consider installing a new one. Newer oil furnaces or boilers tend to be much more efficient and put out more heat than older ones. Be sure to track your oil consumption using a Smart Oil Gauge so you can see exactly how much home heating oil the new system saves you.
Replace/Upgrade Your Windows. Along with replacing your HVAC system, replacing your windows can have a major impact on your heating oil consumption. That said, both of these improvements can be quite costly, so we only recommend them if you are going to be in the home for many years and you’ve already gone through the list above. Newer, dual-paned windows are significantly more energy efficient than the single-paned windows that older homes have. Dual-paned windows feature an air gap between the panes that acts as an insulative barrier keeping the cold air out and the warm air in.
Start Saving Money on Heating Oil Today
Hopefully you’re able to take some of these suggestions and start saving money on heating oil today. Just remember, the biggest savings you can achieve is by cancelling your Automatic Delivery contract and ordering heating oil online through a site like FuelSnap. You’ll start saving money immediately, and then you can start to look at energy efficiency improvements. And if you really want to understand your consumption, you have to start by tracking your heating oil usage using a device like the Smart Oil Gauge. Understand your baseline heating oil usage, and then start working your way through the list above to save money on heating oil. Most of these improvements will pay for themselves over time, and all will lead to a more comfortable home during the winter months.
Heating oil is a popular choice for home heating – especially in the Northeast. But what makes heating oil so popular here? It turns out that home heating oil is not only extremely efficient, but also very safe and easy to come by in the Northeast. In today’s post we’ll break down the origins of home heating oil and why it remains such a popular fuel for home heating.
Home Heating Oil and Forced Hot Air
The Northeast US has some of the oldest homes in the country – with many dating back to the 1800s or earlier. In the early 1900s, many homes were heated with coal-fired furnaces in the basement. Coal was delivered by truck and shoveled into a hot furnace to keep the home warm. In the 1930s, oil-fired furnaces were introduced, and slowly began to replace coal or wood-fired systems of the past. Oil was much more convenient than coal or wood. Not only did it produce more heat, but it was much easier to operate, as the oil could simply be stored in and drawn from a heating oil tank directly to the burner. This eliminated the need to manually add coal or wood to a burner in the basement.
The Transition to Home Heating Oil From Coal
The ease of heating with oil, coupled with the low cost and high heat output made home heating oil increasingly popular in the mid-1900s. Many coal delivery companies began to evolve into coal and home heating oil companies, and eventually began selling only heating oil.
It’s Safe: At room temperature, home heating oil cannot be ignited. In fact, heating oil must be heated to 140° F and atomized before it can be ignited in a burner.
It’s Efficient: Heating oil produces over 138,000 BTUs per gallon. Home heating oil is significantly more efficient than propane, which produces approximately 91,500 BTUs per gallon. While oil furnaces are not able to deliver 100% of that heat to the home, they are able to deliver about 85% of it to the home, for about 117,725 effective BTUs per gallon. This compares to propane furnaces, which are about 95% efficient, and therefore produce approximately 86,925 effective BTUs per gallon.
It’s Cost-Effective: Oil prices in today’s market have dropped significantly from their peak. Oil is currently in the mid $1.50 range in the Northeast. This compares to propane which is well north of $2.00 per gallon. And considering a home needs 1.35 gallons of propane to produce the same amount of heat as one gallon of heating oil, the price for propane is nearly twice that of heating oil!
The Homeowner Is Free to Shop Around: Heating oil tanks always belong to the homeowner. Unlike with propane, you are free to buy from any supplier you’d like. This gives you maximum flexibility and saves you hundreds of dollars per year.
You Can Add Diesel If You Run Out: Since heating oil is virtually the same fuel as diesel, you will not be left in the cold if you accidentally run out. You can simply go to the gas station, grab five gallons of diesel fuel, and add it to your oil tank. Five gallons is usually enough to last the night until you can have the heating oil tank filled. Be sure to follow our guide if you ever run out of heating oil.
Home Heating Oil Is Extremely Easy to Monitor
Historically, folks with oil-heated homes have had to either sign up for ‘automatic delivery’ or remember to check their oil tank periodically. This would ensure they do not run out of home heating oil on a cold night.
Today, however, tools like the Smart Oil Gauge exist to alert you when your oil tank is low. You can track your usage per day, week, month, or year to know how much home heating oil you are using. You can adjust the thermostat to save heating oil as well. And finally, when you’re low, you can use a site like FuelSnap to easily shop for heating oil.
Home Heating Oil is a Great Source for Heat
If you’re shopping for a new home in the Northeast, you should feel comfortable if it is heated with oil. Home heating oil provides great value in that it is relatively inexpensive and produces significant BTUs per gallon.
Having a heating oil tank inside the house means you can buy heating oil on a site like FuelSnap from whichever heating oil dealer you’d like. Check local New England oil prices, and pay with a credit card to have heating oil delivered in no time. Do not worry about getting stuck with one single supplier as is often the case with propane or natural gas.
Choosing a heating system for a new home requires understanding different ways homes are heated and how home heating works. From oil to propane, natural gas to electric, there are a variety of fuel types to choose from. And from radiant floor heat, to forced hot air that comes through vents in the floors, there are also many ways to heat the space inside the home. In this post, we’ll break down our favorites and reasoning for our choices…read on below!
How to Choose a Heating Fuel Type
Depending on where your new home is being built, your options for fuel type may be limited. If you are in the Midwest or Northwest US, natural gas may be your only choice. In the northeast however, you may be choosing between heating oil, propane, or natural gas. Electric heat is also an option, but we do not recommend it if you live in a cold climate, as it can be very expensive in the wintertime.
Natural Gas: If your neighborhood has natural gas, we recommend tapping into it for your home’s heating system. You can also use natural gas for fireplaces, backup generators, and pool heaters. The downside to natural gas is you are dependent on one supplier, and therefore cannot price compare and switch between suppliers. If the price goes up, you are stuck.
Heating Oil: Heating oil generates more heat per gallon than any other fuel type, and as of this writing is about as cost-effective as natural gas. The nice thing about heating oil is that you can choose from many heating oil suppliers and store a large quantity of heating oil in an oil tank in your basement. This allows you to stock up in the off-season and avoid fluctuating local oil prices in the winter.
Propane: Propane is the most expensive option when it comes to heating your home, so we recommend avoiding it. Propane not only puts out less heat per gallon than heating oil, but actually costs more per gallon. Further, when you use propane, the propane supplier will provide you with a tank. This prevents you from ordering propane from any other supplier – even if the price is lower! The only benefit to propane is it can also be used for cooking and gas fireplaces. That said, you can always use both heating oil and propane if you would like the best of both worlds and natural gas is not available.
Choosing a Heating System
There are two basic heating types: air-based systems and water-based systems.
Air-Based Systems (Forced Hot Air)
Air-based systems rely on a furnace to heat incoming air. Once the air is hot, a blower circulates this air through ducts throughout the house.
Benefits of air-based heating systems:
Duct work is relatively inexpensive to install during new construction.
Vents can be closed off in rooms that do not need to be heated.
The space can be heated very quickly.
The same ducts can be used for a central A/C cooling system.
Water-Based Systems (Boilers)
The second type of system, which was more common before central A/C was introduced, is a water-based system. This type of heating system features a boiler which heats water in the basement. This hot water is then pumped through radiators that are placed throughout the house. The radiators slowly heat the surrounding air and warm the house up.
Benefits of water-based systems
These systems retain heat better, as the water in the radiators stays warm.
They can be used with under-floor heating (also known as radiant floor heat) for extremely comfortable warm floors.
Hydronic Heating Systems (Hybrid Systems for Water and Air)
Our favorite type of home heating system for new construction is a hydronic system. This type of system uses a water heater to heat water for the house. This water can be used in two ways:
The hot water can be used in the floor to provide radiant heating. There is nothing like walking on warm floors on a cold winter day.
The hot water can be sent to a heat exchanger to heat air as well. In this case, forced hot air remains a back-up option to quickly heat the air in the home.
Benefits of a Hydronic System with Radiant Floor Heat:
The coziness of warm floors provided by radiant floor heat is second to none.
The floors help retain heat throughout the day.
The backup forced hot air can help heat the house quickly, or provide a backup heat source on a really cold day.
Summary: Forced Hot Air is a Must
If you’re considering building a new house, you should, at the very least, install a forced hot air system. This will allow you to very easily install a central A/C system as well. You can install the A/C system while building the house up front, or always add it later – just be sure to specify a furnace that has enough clearance to add coils for cold air.
If your budget will allow, then you should consider a hybrid system that incorporates hot water and hot air. This will provide the duct work for quickly heating the house but will also accommodate radiant floor heat. Radiant floor heat provides maximum coziness in the winter and tends to maintain the heat nicely throughout the day.
Since you’ll already have the duct work, this will allow you to have central A/C installed as well. Planning for this during construction will eliminate the need for any renovations down the road. As for a fuel type, we recommend natural gas if it’s available, and heating oil if it is not. Propane is unnecessarily expensive and will make it very difficult to switch providers or price shop if need be.
If you choose home heating oil as your primary fuel type, FuelSnap has the best New England oil prices around. Compare oil prices from various heating oil suppliers, find your perfect fit and enjoy the home heating oil delivery! Yes, it really is that simple.
In the northeast US, we see the full range of temperatures, and all types of weather throughout the year. And depending on the winter, we even see subzero temperatures at times. If you’re looking into buying a house in the northeast, you’ll want to understand how home heating works. In this post we’ll talk through the different fuel types, as well as the different types of heating systems you may find in a house, so read on below!
Steps in the Home Heating Process
There are three things that have to happen in order for a home to be heated. First, a fuel source must be delivered to the house. We’ll break down the pros and cons of the most common fuel types below. Second, the fuel source must be converted to heat. This is typically done in a boiler or furnace, but electric radiators can be used as well. Finally, the heat must be transferred throughout the house. This can be via warm air that is circulated through ducts, or via water or electricity that warms radiators along the walls throughout the house. We’ll dive further into these below as well.
Home Heating Fuel Types
There are a number of different fuel sources in the northeast, each with their pros and cons. While each of these must be delivered to the house, they are all delivered in different ways:
Heating Oil: One of the most popular fuel choices in the northeast, heating oil is delivered to a house by a home heating oil delivery truck. The heating oil is stored in an oil tank that is usually located in the home’s basement but can occasionally be found outside or underground. The nice thing about heating oil is it burns hotter than natural gas or propane, which makes it an extremely cost-effective choice, especially when prices are low like they are in 2020. As a homeowner, you are free to choose from any supplier you want. Just don’t forget to reorder, as you can easily run out if you forget! For more information read How to Fill a Home Heating Oil Tank.
Natural Gas: Natural gas is also a great choice for home heating – if it is available where you live. Natural gas is plumbed underground through pipelines and directly to a home from the street. Treated as a utility, the homeowner does not have to worry about having natural gas delivered – it simply comes automatically, and they have to pay the bill. The downside, however, is that you cannot choose from multiple suppliers.
Propane: Propane, like heating oil, is delivered to a house via delivery truck. It is stored in a tank – or tanks – outside the house. While propane tends to be more expensive than natural gas or heating oil, the nice thing is that it can also be used for a gas stove, fireplace, or generator. For more information read Heating Oil vs. Propane.
Electricity: Since virtually every house has electricity, this can sometimes be used for heating as well. Especially in places where winters do not get too cold, electric heat can be good to have on standby, but is generally too expensive to be considered in larger homes or places with very cold winters.
Converting the Fuel Source to Heat
The next part of the process of heating a home involves converting your fuel source to heat. For propane and natural gas, a burner is used to easily ignite the fuel as it is released from the incoming gas lines. The burner is either part of a boiler, which heats water that gets pumped throughout the house, or a furnace, which heats air that gets pumped throughout the house.
Heating oil is a bit different from propane and natural gas because it is actually not flammable at room temperature. In order for home heating oil to ignite in a burner, it must be first heated to 140° F and atomized through a nozzle. Only once heating oil has been heated and atomized can it be ignited in the burner.
If your house has electric heat, then you will likely have electric radiators throughout the house, or a heat pump. A heat pump is a system that is mounted outside the house and heats your house by extracting heat from the outside air, and transferring it into the house. One of the benefits of a heat pump is that they can often work as an air conditioning system in the summer time by extracting the heat from the house and transferring it outside.
Transferring the Heat Throughout the House
Once the fuel source has been delivered to the home and converted to heat, that heat must then be transferred throughout the house.
One very common way that heat is transferred throughout the home is through a boiler. In a boiler system, water is heated and then pumped through radiators that are located all throughout the house. Occasionally, a boiler will also send the hot water to a heat exchanger where air will be heated and pumped out via a blower to heat other parts of the house.
Radiators, such as those shown below, can also be electric. When they are electric, they simply turn on and heat up when the thermostat calls for heat, then shut off once the room is warm. The benefit to electric radiators is that there is no need for a complex plumbing system to send hot water to the radiators. The downside is that it can get very expensive to heat a larger home with electricity. As such, electric heat is only recommended for small spaces or places with very mild winters.
My personal favorite is radiant floor heat. This is where instead of the radiators being placed along the walls, the floor itself radiates heat. The plumbing is installed in the floor and the result is some warm floors throughout the house! The only downside to radiant floor heat is that it can take a while to heat the house up. This means it may not be a great choice for a weekend house where you arrive on a Friday and need to wait several hours for the house to get up to a comfortable temperature.
Finally, perhaps the most common means of heating a house today is through what’s known as ‘forced hot air’. This is where a furnace is used to heat air in the basement, then a blower is used to send that hot air through ducts in the house. Forced hot air is great for quickly changing the temperature inside the house. It is also preferred because the same ducts can often be used for central cooling in the summertime.
Summary: How Home Heating Works
If you’re shopping for a home in the northeast, it is important to understand how home heating works. You’ll have to first identify the fuel source for that particular home. If the house has natural gas or electricity, you don’t have much of a choice when it comes to your supplier. For propane, you typically must select one supplier to provide all of your propane for the year, and they will often provide the tank as well. With heating oil, you have maximum flexibility and can use a site like FuelSnap to compare heating oil prices from multiple oil dealers in your area, saving hundreds of dollars a year over automatic home heating oil delivery (where one company provides all your oil for the year). Just remember to also install a Smart Oil Gauge so you don’t accidentally run out of heating oil in the middle of winter!
Next, you’ll want to understand what type of heating system the house has. If the house has forced hot air, it means that it will be very easy to add central cooling to the house in the future. For the best of both worlds, a house with radiant floor heat AND forced hot air will allow you to quickly change the temperature, while also maintaining some nice warm floors!
If you live in the northeast and have an oil-heated house, you may be wondering how your fuel oil tank gets filled. Since most oil tanks are located indoors, and the delivery driver cannot access the basement, the delivery must be made without the driver entering the home. To facilitate this, oil tanks are fitted with a fill pipe and a vent pipe to allow the oil tank to be filled from the outside.
In this post, we will introduce the various components of a fuel oil tank and walk you through what’s involved in the home heating oil delivery process!
What are the Components of a Heating Oil Tank?
Oil tanks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be found inside the house or outside. Occasionally, oil tanks are buried in the ground, but the components below are consistent with most tanks.
The fill pipe extends from the top of the oil tank, through the exterior wall, and outside of the house. There is a cap that screws in place to keep the fill pipe closed. The vent pipe also extends up and out of the house, and allows air to escape as the oil tank is being filled. It also allows air into the tank as the oil is being used.
The whistle (also known as a ‘vent alarm’) is the most critical component when it comes to filling an oil tank from outside. The whistle is located at the bottom of the vent pipe and hangs approximately 6” down from the top of the oil tank. As air is forced out of the tank by the incoming oil, it blows by the whistle, creating a sound that the driver hears outside. Once the oil level rises to the level of the whistle, the sound is muffled, and the driver knows to stop pumping, as the tank is full.
How to Set the Amount for your Home Heating Oil Delivery
Before the driver begins the home heating oil delivery, he or she needs to determine whether to ‘fill’ the oil tank (keep pumping until the whistle stops), or just deliver a predetermined amount. Since many customers prefer to know exactly what they’re spending, many will order 100 gallons or 150 gallons at a time. In this case, the driver will set the pump to stop once that amount has been delivered. They will still listen for the whistle to ensure that the oil tank is not over-filled.
If you’re wondering how much heating oil to order for your fuel oil tank, consider installing a Smart Oil Gauge. This will tell you not only how much oil is in the tank at any given time, but also how much home heating oil can be delivered.
Connecting the Hose to the Fill Pipe
Once they have determined how much heating oil to deliver, they must find the fill pipe. Since this can be located anywhere at the house, remember to give instructions when placing your heating so they know where to find it!
Once they locate the fill pipe, they will pull the hose from a reel on the back of the truck. If you have a small driveway, the driver may opt to park in the road and pull the hose all the way to the fill pipe. If you have a larger driveway or your house is too far from the road for the hose to reach, expect the driver to pull in to get close to the fill pipe. Once they’re at the fill pipe, they will remove the cap, and screw the end of the hose in place to secure the hose to the house.
Pumping Heating Oil into the Fuel Oil Tank
Once the hose has been attached to the fill pipe, the driver is ready to start pumping the heating oil into the tank. There is a lever on the nozzle that allows the driver to start the flow of heating oil into the tank. They will typically begin pumping slowly by only partially opening the nozzle. This will allow them to listen for the vent alarm and ensure the oil tank is not full before pumping too much oil into the tank. Since these trucks pump at a rate as high as one gallon per second, an oil tank can be overfilled very quickly if the driver is not careful!
After the driver hears the whistle, they’re able to turn up the flow on the pump and fill the tank. If the customer ordered a specific number of gallons, the pump will shut off automatically once that amount has been pumped.
If the customer has ordered a ‘fill’, then the driver will continue pumping until he hears the whistle sound stop. At this point, he will shut the pump off.
Printing the Home Heating Oil Delivery Ticket
Once the pump as stopped, the driver removes the nozzle from the fill pipe and reinstalls the cap. They retract the pump back to the truck, and prepare the delivery ticket.
A delivery ticket will be printed to include the heating oil company information, as well as a starting volume (0.00 gallons), and an ending volume that shows how much oil was delivered. There will also usually be additional information such as the price paid per gallon, delivery date, etc.
In-Ground Oil Tanks
In-ground oil tanks are less and less common these days but are still out there. They also often do not have a vent alarm / whistle to alert the driver when the oil tank is full. If this is the case, the driver will typically use a stick to measure the amount of oil in the tank before making the delivery. With this knowledge, and knowing the size of the heating oil tank, they will know how much oil can safely be delivered.
If the driver and homeowner do not know what size oil tank is buried, then the driver will take a measurement of the oil level, pump a certain amount of oil (e.g. 100 gallons), then take another measurement. They will then compare the two levels on a tank chart to determine what size oil tank it is.
Some drivers also carry a specially-designed vent/fill pipe that can be inserted into the fill pipe. It features a vented pipe that extends just past the fill pipe into the top of the buried oil tank. The truck’s nozzle is able to thread onto this, and pump oil by the vent section. A whistle sound will be created until the oil tank is full, at which point the driver knows to stop pumping oil.
Summary: Filling a Home Heating Oil Tank
Since most home heating oil delivery drivers cannot see the oil tank while making a delivery, they must rely on the vent alarm / whistle to know the fuel oil tank is safely being filled. As long as they hear that whistle making noise, they know that air is escaping from the vent pipe, and the oil tank is not full.
If you’d like to see a heating oil tank get filled
in-person, go on outside next time your heating oil truck arrives! Most of the
drivers I’ve met are super friendly and always willing to explain how
If you live in an older home, you probably dread the heating bills that come every winter. Since older homes tend to have older windows and less insulation than newer homes, then tend to require more heating oil to maintain a comfortable temperature inside. As someone with firsthand experience living in an older home, I will share some tricks and tips on how to conserve heating oil in an old home and track your oil usage while doing so.
Three Areas to Focus on to Conserve Heating Oil
My house in Connecticut was built in 1865 and is virtually all original. While this can be extremely charming, it comes with its downsides! For instance, the windows are from 1865. As you can imagine, they are not sealed very well. When I first moved in, the wind would literally blow papers off the kitchen table. As cold air would blow in, the warm air would blow out, and my heating oil bills were outrageous.
Over the years I worked out several ways on how to conserve heating oil, and I spend significantly less now on heating oil. The three areas to focus on for conserving heating oil are:
Heat loss – identifying where heat is escaping
Heat generation – keeping your burner in good condition
Heat setting – adjusting your thermostat and monitoring your oil consumption
Heat Loss: Identifying Where Heat is Escaping
If it sounds like your furnace or boiler is working overtime, you probably have a lot of heat escaping your house. As warm air escapes, cool air comes in and replaces it, lowering the temperature inside. The main sources for heat loss in a home are:
Single pane windows create much of the charm of older houses. However, they do very little to keep the heat in. Modern windows have two panes, with an air pocket in between. This air pocket acts as insulation to keep the heat in your home. If your home has single pane windows, you should consider applying plastic film to seal them. This film is easy to come by, and not too difficult to install. Just cut the film to size and use double-sided tape to adhere it. Once secure, use a hairdryer to shrink it in place. If done properly, you will not even notice it! But it will undoubtedly feel more comfortable in the house once done.
Walls are also a major source of heat loss. As such, if you are embarking on any major renovations to your house, you should consider adding insulation to help you conserve oil. Blown in insulation tends to be quite cost-effective and can often be subsidized through an energy audit that your state offers. Once the insulation has been added, you should see a decline in heating oil usage immediately.
Since doors are constantly being opened and closed throughout the day, it is unlikely that they are perfectly sealed when shut. As a result, you likely have drafts at your exterior doors, especially at the bottom. On a cold day, place your hand near the base of your doors to feel for cold air. If it feels cold, you should consider a ‘door sweep’ or ‘draft blocker’. There are various types of these, with varying degrees of installation difficulty and effectiveness. The simplest ones can be slid right under the door without any screws and will do a good job of keeping the cold out.
This one came as a major surprise to me when I had my energy audit done. My house has what’s known as ‘forced hot air’ as its heating type. With this setup, I have a furnace in the basement that heats air in a heat exchanger. Once the air is hot, the furnace blows this hot air through ducts into the rooms of the house. At the same time, it sucks in air through ‘return’ vents in the house. Since these return ducts are bringing in the room-temperature air from the house, the furnace does not have to heat cold air from the outside.
With my house, however, I have a VERY cold, unheated basement. As a result, the air in the basement is constantly cooling the ducts. This makes the furnace work extra hard, as it is inadvertently heating the basement. Wrapping these ducts in insulation helps keep this heat headed to its final destination and keeps the return air from being unnecessarily cooled as it returns to the furnace. Also, the insulation helps seal any leaks on the ducts, keeping the hot air inside.
Heat Generation: Keeping Your Burner in Good Condition
Your boiler or furnace is the ‘engine’ that creates the heat in your home. Just like it’s important to change the oil in your car on a regular basis, servicing your burner should be a regular event. A furnace tune-up should be done at least every other year. Best case, you should have your furnace tuned up annually. An annual cleaning and tune-up will help allow the technicians to spot any potential issues before they occur. Staying ahead of problems with your system will ensure the heat stays on all winter and save you money in the longrun.
A furnace tune-up should be done at least every other year.
There are also catastrophic issues that the technicians can spot, such as a crack in the heat exchanger. This can lead to harmful exhaust gases entering the home. When this happens, it is definitely time to replace your furnace.
An oil-fired furnace or boiler is usually built to last 20-30 years. If your system is much more than 20 years old, you should consider replacing it. Newer systems are much more efficient, quieter, and can generally output more heat. My system was 28 years old when I replaced it in 2018. Prior to replacing it, I had gathered lots of data on my oil consumption through my Smart Oil Gauge. This allowed me to see exactly how much oil the new system was saving me each winter.
Heat Setting: Adjusting the Thermostat and Monitoring Oil Consumption
The best thing I did since moving into this house was install a Smart Oil Gauge to track my heating oil usage and consumption. Since the Smart Oil Gauge shows me my hourly burn rate throughout the day, I was able to determine what to do with my programmable thermostat. Since I have forced hot air, I lower the temperature while I’m not home during the day. Reheating the house does not take very long, and only causes a short spike in oil consumption.
For homes with boilers and radiators, it takes much longer to reheat the home. What our data from Smart Oil Gauges shows is that it is best to leave the temperature the same all day, or only lower it slightly in homes with boilers.
The best part about having the Smart Oil Gauge though, was analyzing the savings from my new furnace. By exporting the data from a one-month period with the old furnace, and overlaying average temperature in my town, I was able to calculate the K-factor for my old system. The K-factor determines how long your heating oil lasts you. The higher the K-factor, the longer a gallon of heating oil lasts. To understand the math below, there is one more variable to be aware of: degree days. The degree days figure is used to determine how much heat is required to warm a house on a given day. Using 65° F as a baseline, degree days can be calculated by subtracting the average temperature on a given day from 65.
For example, if the average temperature is 30 one day, then that day is considered to have had 35 degree days (65 – 30 = 35). In Connecticut, we see approximately 5,930 degree days over the course of a year.
Calculating the Savings From My New Furnace
With the exported data from my Smart Oil Gauge, I determined that my K-Factor from the old furnace was approximately 3.37. With 5,930 degree days per year, that put my annual usage at around 1,760 gallons in a typical winter. This is about right, looking at my Smart Oil Gauge consumption.
With my new furnace, the K-Factor was increased to 4.59. This means that in the same winter, my house will now use only 1290 gallons. This is a savings of 470 gallons of heating oil per year – which adds up fast!!
My New Furnace Saves Me 470 Gallons of Heating Oil Per Year
Summary: Conserving Heating Oil in an Older Home
The first question you should ask yourself is where you can get the biggest savings without spending much money. Obviously, a new furnace would be nice to have, but this can cost thousands of dollars and may not be necessary right away. As such, start with containing the heat by eliminating drafts. Seal your windows with thin plastic film. Then, go around and install door sweeps under the exterior doors. If you have any French doors, or sliding glass doors that you do not use in the winter, consider wrapping those in plastic as well.
Finally, get a handle on your oil usage by installing a Smart Oil Gauge. This will show you exactly when you’re using your heating oil. You can optimize the settings on your programmable thermostat and begin saving oil immediately. When you’re ready to add insulation to your house, or install a new furnace or boiler, look for any local subsidies that may be available in your state.
Once you’ve taken care of the areas where your heat is escaping, be sure to visit FuelSnap’s heating oil price comparison tool. FuelSnap finds local home heating oil dealers and allows you to compare prices (saving you money!). New England oil prices fluctuate but with FuelSnap you’ll always find the best rate.
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