What’s In a Furnace Tune-Up?

hvac technician

It’s October 12 as I write this which means it is officially heating oil season in the Northeast! I talked about the importance of annual maintenance in my previous blog post and will expand upon it here. Take a second to schedule a tune-up now if you have not done so already.

Since I just had my system tuned up last week, I thought I would document the process here. Special thanks to the folks at Ryan F. Murphy Heating & Cooling for not only providing 5-star service for my equipment, but also working with me to document the process!

Make sure to only hire qualified, licensed, and insured HVAC contractors to service your equipment.

Type of HVAC System

The type of HVAC system determines the specific steps of a tune-up. My particular system is a furnace. A furnace works by blowing hot air throughout duct work in the house. This type of ‘forced air’ system can also work in conjunction with a compressor and cooling coils to provide central cooling during the summer months.

I have a very old house (1865) and an oil-fired furnace which I replaced in 2018 with the ThermoPride unit shown here.

Many homes have boilers which circulate hot water throughout baseboard radiators in the house. While many of the steps in the tune-up below apply to both boilers and furnaces, boilers do not have air filters like furnaces. Read this blog post here to determine which type of HVAC system you have.

My home features a furnace which blows hot air through ductwork and vents like this shown here to warm the air inside the house.
If your home has baseboard heating that looks like this, that means you likely have a boiler. A boiler circulates hot water through pipes inside these radiators to heat the rooms.

Tune-Up Steps

The tune-up process is analogous to servicing your car. Just like checking the fluid levels and changing filters on your car, an HVAC technician does so on your furnace. The technician will inspect, clean and replace the following items as needed:

  • Check Oil Supply Line: The technician will check the incoming oil from the heating oil tank. He will disconnect the line to make sure the burner is getting good flow. If there is resistance in the line, this is often due to sludge build-up. If that is the case, he will clean the line by either pressurizing it from one end and draining the other end, or by using a hand pump to suck the oil out. Since my system has a buried oil line, the technician used a hand pump so as not to risk unknowingly bursting the line under the floor.
The technician will disconnect the oil supply line and ensure it is receiving adequate flow from the oil tank. If there is sludge built up in it, he will carefully use pressure or suction to remove the sludge to clear the line.
  • Change Oil Filter/Clean or Replace Strainer: The oil filter can get quite gross after a season in use. The technician will remove and replace the filter. He will also inspect, clean, or replace the strainer as needed. The strainer acts as a secondary filter to catch anything else that may have made it past the oil filter.
This figure illustrates the importance of replacing the oil filter for the incoming heating oil supply line. The filter can build up a tremendous amount of sludge over time, and can prevent the system from getting an adequate oil supply.
The heating oil strainer catches anything that makes it through the oil filter. The technician will clean or replace the strainer as needed.
  • Inspect, Replace and/or Adjust Burner Components: Before combustion, heating oil first passes through a nozzle to become atomized. This nozzle can get clogged or worn out over time, so the technician will replace it during a tune-up. After replacing the nozzle, the technician will use a template to align the tips of the electrodes with the tip of the nozzle as shown. The electrodes ignite the atomized and pre-heated fuel. If the electrodes show signs of wear, the technician will replace them as well. The technician will also test – and replace if necessary – the CAD Cell Eye which is what detects a flame in the system. Finally, the technician will do a visual inspection of the combustion chamber.
During a tune-up, the technician will replace the nozzle and adjust the electrodes as shown. If the electrodes are too worn out to line up with the template, the technician will replace them.
  • Check and Clean Heat Exchanger: Cool air from the house passes through the heat exchanger and leaves as warm air. When older furnaces fail, it is sometimes due to cracks in the heat exchanger that allow exhaust from the burner to mix in with the fresh air that is going to the house. The technician will look for issues like this before they become a problem.
  • Perform Combustion Analysis: The technician will use a special tool to analyze the efficiency of the system. He will perform a pump test to check the color of the smoke, and adjust the burner intake as needed. He will also check the flow of the smoke to ensure the draft is adequate. Finally, the analyzer will check the temperature and CO2 content and use this information to calculate the efficiency of the system. My system reported an efficiency of 85.1% – which is about as good as it gets for a traditional oil-fired system.
The technician will use an analyzer to measure the temperature and CO2 content of the exhaust gases.
This figure illustrates the importance of changing the air filters in your furnace on a regular basis. The filter on the right has lots of dust and debris built up on it and is clearly ready to be replaced.

With a Furnace Tune-Up Comes Peace of Mind

As we head into the cold season, I am confident that my system will keep us nice and warm all season. Further, since I signed up for a service contract through Ryan F. Murphy Heating & Cooling, I have 24/7 support should something go wrong.

Preventative maintenance on your HVAC system will keep your system running at its best. As with changing your oil in your car, changing the oil filter and wear items on your furnace should be done on a regular basis. Just remember to always hire qualified, licensed, and insured technicians to do the work.

Happy heating,

Steve

Heating System Annual Maintenance: Why You Should Service Your Equipment Every Year

Well it’s official – heating oil season has started at my house! I changed my air filters, and clicked the heat on yesterday. It’s been about a day, and my Smart Oil Gauge shows 6 gallons of heating oil used so far. Eesh. Unfortunately home heating oil prices have gone up since the pandemic started, so folks are going to have to be much more conscientious when it comes to their heating bills this year.

Good news for me is I have a tune-up scheduled for next week. This will ensure my system is running in tip-top condition this season. Below we’ll walk through some of the items covered in a tune-up, and why you should schedule one for your own house.

Maintenance Tips Before Your Tune-Up

Before you schedule a tune-up, there’s something every homeowner should do: change your air filters! If you have a furnace, it is important to replace your air filters at least once a year. These can get covered in pet hair and dust, and make it very hard for air to pass through your system. Follow these steps for replacing your air filters.

This is why changing air filters is so important: the one on the right has dust, dander, and other allergens caked onto it. Imagine how hard it is for clean air to pass through a filter this dirty! The one on the left is brand new and ready to be installed.

What Is Included In a Heating System Tune-Up

This year, instead of just ordering a tune-up, I signed up for a service contract. It cost $399 and included my tune-up and 24/7 support. Most importantly, I DID NOT BUY THIS SERVICE CONTRACT FROM AN OIL COMPANY! Instead, I bought mine from a local, highly reputable HVAC company Many oil companies offer service contracts only if you sign up for automatic delivery. Sometimes they’re even “free!” But in the end, you’ll be paying an extra $0.50 to $1 per gallon on heating oil for this “free” service contract. Here’s a write-up on the truth about service contracts if you’re thinking about one.

Since I purchased my service contract from an HVAC company, I am free to order heating oil online from any supplier I choose . I have a tune-up scheduled for next week, which means the system will run for a little while before they arrive. While not critical, I prefer to “shake off the cobwebs” before the tune-up. This way I can point out any new noises or issues since the system was shut down last season.

A typical tune-up covers the following items:

  • Check belts
  • Check CAD cell eye, electrodes, fan/limit control
  • Change filters (my tune-up only incudes one, so I provide the second)
  • Check & clean fuel pump strainer
  • Check heat exchanger & perform combustion efficiency test
  • Replace burner nozzle
  • Replace oil filter
  • Perform vacuum test on oil line
  • Inspect oil tank, oil line fittings and OSV (oil safety valve)
  • Check and clean flue pipe
  • Test pump pressure, solenoid valve, and stack relay
  • Check thermostat
During a heating system tune-up, the technician will remove the access panel to get to the burner. Shown here is the Beckett oil-fired burner on my Thermopride furnace. The oil filter is shown on the left, and the combustion chamber is behind the black panel.

Why Annual Heating System Maintenance is so Important

When I bought my house, it came with a 30 year old Oneida Royal oil-fired furnace. As the crew removed the old furnace, I immediately saw why maintenance was so important.

The first thing they did was remove the flue pipe. The amount of soot built up in here was shocking! They had to literally vacuum it out with a shop vac. Imagine what a backup like this does to a system’s efficiency?

This old furnace on the left was in rough shape when I had it removed. The flue pipe was filled with soot that had to be cleaned out with a shop vacuum. The new furnace runs more efficiently, and is maintained regularly to ensure it never ends up like the old one.

HVAC Annual Maintenance

Whether you opt for a service contract, or just a tune-up, make sure to tend your your heating equipment once a year. And make sure to hire only trusted, licensed and insured HVAC contractors to carry out the work. There are certainly some bad actors out there who are not qualified to do HVAC work. Make sure to do your research and not necessarily go for the best price!

And while you’re at it, make sure your heating oil tank is topped off and ready for heating season. Order home heating oil online, and fill up at around a quarter tank to make sure you never run out of heating oil.

Happy heating,

Steve

Fall Tips To Prepare Your House For Heating Season

Today marks the first day of fall, and according to the Farmer’s Almanac, we’re in for a cold winter! Before we all click the heat on for the first time, I wanted to share some tips to prepare your house for heating season.

house in fall
It is officially fall, so now is a great time to prepare your house for heating season.

Change Your Air Filters

If you have a forced air system, now is a great time to change your air filters. Ideally, you should do this every three months – especially if you’re running central air in the summer months. These filters trap lots of dust, dander and other allergens. If you have pets that shed, you definitely want to do this several times year!

How to change your air filters:

  1. Shut your furnace off using the red switch nearby. This ensures it does not start up while you have the door open.
  2. Remove the door on the side of the furnace to access the air filters. Take a picture of them in place to make sure they go in the same way as you took them out.
  3. Read the size of the filters on the side of them. This is usually as simple as ’25x20x1′ which is the length, width, and thickness, in inches. Head to the hardware store to buy replacement filters of the same size.
  4. Replace the used filters with the brand new ones. Be sure to watch for the arrow indicating the direction of air flow through the filters (this is where the picture can come in handy!).
  5. Close everything back up, turn the switch on, and you’re ready to go!
It is super important to replace your air filters on a regular basis. This not only eases the air flow through the system, but also keeps dust and dander out of the air that is recirculated through your house.

Inspect Your Heating Oil Tank

Heating oil tanks can go bad over time, so it’s important to inspect them annually. This does not take very long and can pay dividends – especially if you detect a leak. It is much easier to have a heating oil tank replaced before the heating season begins than it is during heating season. That said, it only takes 1-2 days to replace a heating oil tank mid-season, so you should not be without heat for too long. As you prepare your house for heating season, think about whether it’s time to replace your heating oil tank.

We put together a very detailed heating oil tank inspection checklist here which you should definitely follow along when you’re ready to inspect your tank. Here’s the abridged version:

  1. Inspect the tank for a solid base and footing.
  2. Check for rust-free seams.
  3. Look for leaks at the bottom of the tank.
  4. Check for leaks at the oil line from the tank to the burner.
  5. Check for leaks at the oil filter.
  6. Scan for leaks at the top of the tank.
It is important to inspect your heating oil tank annually. Check for leaks and make sure the tank has a solid, rust-free footing. Follow our detailed oil tank inspection checklist here.

Schedule a Tune Up

As you head into heating season, you’ll want to make sure your system is in tip-top condition. The best way to do this is to schedule annual maintenance of your system. Hire a reputable service company for this, and expect to pay $250-$400 for a single zone system, or more for multi-zone systems.

When scheduling your tune-up, ask the service company if they offer a service contract as well. I just signed up for a service contract for my single-zone furnace for $395. For this $395, I get a tune-up included, and 24/7 emergency service if I end up with no heat in the middle of the night. The best part of this is that this company offers service and repair only – they do not sell heating oil! This means that I’m still able to get great prices on heating oil through FuelSnap without locking into any expensive automatic delivery plan.

As you can see, I’ve got a VERY old house, but a very new furnace. Having it tuned up annually ensure that it is operating in tip-top condition and maximum efficiency in my house.

Order Heating Oil

The last thing to think about as we head into Fall is to top off that heating oil tank. Check FuelSnap for heating oil prices in your zip code. If your tank is less than half full, it’s probably a good idea to fill up. Heating oil delivery companies are not very busy yet, so take your time and find a great price before placing an order. Search for heating oil near me online and check FuelSnap for the best prices on home heating oil.

If your tank gauge isn’t working correctly, you may want to consider investing in a Smart Oil Gauge. This will tell you how much heating oil you have on your smart phone, and will send you an alert when you’re low on heating oil. Your Smart Oil Gauge will pull up heating oil companies near you right in your app too, saving you time when searching for heating oil online.

If you’re down to a quarter, it’s definitely time to place an order for heating oil. Check heating oil prices in your town now and order heating oil so you’re ready to go for heating oil season.

Once you’ve made it through this checklist, you should be able to rest easy knowing you’ve taken the steps to prepare your house for heating season. Temps are already dipping down into the 50s at night in CT, and should be in the 40s soon, so you’ll be running the furnace before you know it.

Happy fall,

Steve

What is Radiant Heating in a Home?

If you’re shopping for a new home, or building one from scratch, you’ll have to choose a heat type. There are many types of heating available, with radiant being my personal favorite. OK that’s not true…a wood stove is my favorite but I’m definitely not going to heat my whole house with one, so radiant wins! In this post we’ll explore some of the pros and cons of radiant heating in a home.

Types of Radiant Heat

Radiant heat is heat energy transmitted by electromagnetic waves in contrast to heat transmitted by conduction or convection. Think of the heat you feel when sitting in front of a fire. That’s radiant heat. Compare that to the heat you feel when standing in front of a heating vent – that’s convection. And finally, the heat you feel when you touch something hot – that’s conduction.

Radiant heating in a home is typically in the floor or in panels on the wall. To heat the floor, hot water is channeled just beneath the surface of the floor. It typically stays warm all day to keep the space warm. Radiant floor heating is popular and gives a home a very cozy vibe. It must be added before the floor is laid though, so it tends to be uncommon.

Radiant floor heat is very intricate and must be installed prior to a floor being in place.

Benefits of Radiant Heating

  • It’s Cozy. Radiant floor heating in particular provides a warm surface to walk around on in the winter months.
  • Even Heat Distribution. Radiant heat slowly rises evenly throughout a room, and maintains a consistent temperature throughout the day. Forced hot air, on the other hand, tends to yield warm pockets and cold pockets.
  • It Can Be Zoned. Radiant heat can be zoned to only heat certain parts of the house. Bathrooms, for instance, can be heated all year without heating the rest of the house.

Downsides of Radiant Heating

  • Cost & Complexity. Radiant heating is not simple. It must be well thought out and installed prior to floors being laid. It is very difficult to retrofit a house with radiant heat.
  • Difficult to Service. Because it is encapsulated in the floors, it is rather difficult to service a radiant heating system. That said, most of the issues that require service are in the boiler room so this is not a great concern.
  • Slow to Heat. Radiant heat can take a very long time to heat a room. As a result, it is not ideal for second homes where heat is only needed during short periods of time while you are visiting.

Is Radiant Heating A Good Investment?

If you’re looking at building a new home, I highly recommend radiant floor heating. It is super cozy and provides nice, even heat. If you’re on the fence, check out our post here on choosing a heating system for your home. A hydronics system which combines a boiler (which can be used for radiant heat) and forced hot air (to quickly heat a space) is a great compromise that gives you the best of both worlds when it comes to home heating. To get the most heat per gallon, be sure to get an oil-fired system or a natural gas system to save fuel costs. Avoid propane as this tends to be the most expensive option for heating your home. And when you get low on oil, you can always order heating oil online right on FuelSnap.

Happy heating,

Steve

What Is A Double-Wall Heating Oil Tank?

If you’re in the market for a new home heating oil tank, you may have come across double-wall tanks in your research. As with any type of a tank, there are pros and cons to this system which we will walk you through here. Before you pull the trigger on a new tank though, make sure to check out our guide here for choosing a new heating oil tank!

How a Double-Wall Oil Tank Works

Double-wall home heating oil tanks are extremely popular in Europe, and increasingly popular in the United States. These tanks feature a plastic interior tank that acts as the primary holding tank for the heating oil. A metal tank – usually aluminum or steel – surrounds the plastic tank. This exterior tank acts as a backup in case the interior plastic tank leaks.

Double-wall oil tanks, shown here, feature a plastic inner tank and a metal outer tank. Roth North America is a leading manufacturer of these heating oil tanks.

Double-Wall Oil Tanks – Pros:

  • Leak protection: The main advantage of a double-wall tank is enhanced leak protection. In the event the inner tank is punctured, the outer tank will prevent the oil from spilling.
  • Space-savings: Double-wall tanks can feature a taller height, but smaller footprint than traditional tanks. This allows you to put two tanks side-by-side in just about the same space as one steel tank.
  • No corrosion: Unlike traditional steel tanks, the plastic inner tank will not corrode with time. This greatly reduces the likelihood of a leak in the tank.
  • Reduced sludge: Because the tank will not rust from the inside out, you will end up with less sludge in the tank.
  • Warranty: A 30-year warranty is typical on a double-wall oil storage tank. Steel tanks usually feature a 10-year warranty.

Double-Wall Oil Tanks – Cons:

  • Expensive: Double-wall heating oil tanks tend to be more expensive than regular heating oil tanks because of their complex construction.
  • Unfamiliar: Many technicians prefer to install what they know. Since traditional heating oil tanks have been around for 70+ years, many technicians prefer them.
  • Not a direct replacement: Double-wall heating oil tanks have a different footprint than steel tanks. As such, changes may be required to the existing fill and vent pipes going to your tank.
  • Complicated installation: If multiple tanks are being installed side-by-side, a very complex piping methodology must be followed for proper installation.
This complicated plumbing setup is required when installing side-by-side double-wall oil tanks.

Summary: Is a Double-Wall Oil Tank Worth it?

We highly recommend a double-wall heating oil tank. They are not only more compact, but the comfort factor that comes with a plastic internal tank is worth the extra money. Further, when it comes time to sell your house, an oil tank with a 30-year warranty is much more appealing than one with a 10-year warranty.

When making the decision to invest in a double-wall heating oil tank, we recommend checking out our post here on the subject: choosing a new home heating oil tank.

Happy summer,

Steve

Should I Lock-In a Heating Oil Price?

Home heating oil is certainly a major expense for many homes in the Northeast. While it generates significant heat per gallon, it can still lead to some high energy bills in the winter months. In this post we’ll cover whether it makes sense to lock-in a home heating oil price.

Types of Heating Oil Prices

Heating oil prices can actually be more complicated that you may expect. The first question is whether you are on automatic delivery or will-call. We break down the pros and cons of automatic heating oil delivery here. The bottom line: will-call is much less expensive than automatic delivery.

If you opt for automatic delivery for the convenience factor, you can expect to pay more no matter what. That said, you should understand the types of pricing you may be offered.

Most heating oil companies offer both automatic delivery, and on-demand oil delivery (known as will-call). They use the same trucks, but charge a premium for automatic delivery because of the convenience factor.

Market Price – Automatic Delivery:

Opting for the market price for heating oil means that you will be charged whatever the ‘going rate’ for heating oil is on the day of your delivery. This rate is usually determined very simply by the heating oil dealer. They take the price they pay, and typically add $0.80 to $1.00 per gallon as their profit. This is an average of $0.50 more per gallon than their will-call customers pay – so keep this in mind if you think you are paying the true market price on automatic delivery!

Market Price – Will-Call:

The market price for a will-call customer is nearly always less – and usually a lot less – than for automatic delivery customers. This is because the will-call market is much more competitive. Since you, the homeowner, are free to order oil from whomever you’d like, dealers will compete for your business by offering competitive prices. You can check heating oil prices at any time on FuelSnap.

Fixed Price Per Gallon:

Some dealers will offer a fixed price per gallon. The way this works is you will agree to purchase a certain number of gallons at a predetermined price. The number of gallons is based on your estimated usage for the year. There is usually a fee for this, or the dealer mandates that you also buy a service contract from them which covers the fee. Because of the fee and the necessary contract purchase, this is a great deal for the oil company. As a homeowner, you may do well in some years, but be left over-paying in others.

Price Cap:

This one sounds the most-enticing of all: you only pay up to a certain price. Why wouldn’t you sign up for this? Remember, if it sounds good to be true, it probably is! First, you pay for this. Whether it is a fee up front, or via a padded oil price throughout the year that keeps you hovering around the price-cap amount, you are paying for this one way or another. Second, just like with the market price for oil, if you are on automatic delivery, the oil company has no incentive to lower the price when the market price falls. As a result, there may be a major lag between the market price falling, and automatic delivery customers seeing their prices lowered.

Expect to pay more if you sign up for automatic delivery instead of will-call. If you do sign up for automatic delivery, sticking with market pricing tends to be the best bet in the long run. If you would like certainty, however, go with a fixed price or price cap. You generally pay more, but it could be worth it to you.

How To Get the Best Price For Heating Oil

For the best ways to save money on heating oil, take a minute and read this post here: 10 ways to save money on heating oil. The best money-saving decision you can make is to switch from automatic delivery to will-call. You’ll need to read your oil tank gauge periodically, or install a Smart Oil Gauge so you never run out of heating oil.

If you do end up sticking with automatic delivery, however, we recommend sticking with the market price so you’re not paying any extra fees for your home heating oil delivery. If you want to lock-in a heating oil price for peace of mind, by all means, go ahead, but just know if will not be the most cost-effective choice in the long run! And finally, if you’re on automatic delivery, check your ticket price and then compare it to heating oil prices here to see how much you could have saved by ordering as needed.

Happy heating,

Steve

How Much Heating Oil Will I Use During the Summer?

oil fired water heater

While heating oil is probably the last thing on your mind during the summer, you may still need to keep track of your tank level! This is because many houses rely on heating oil for not just heat, but also hot water. In this post we’ll explore how much heating oil you can expect to use this summer base on the type of house you have, as well as the type of home heating system you use.

Homes That Use Oil For Heating Only

There are four main sources of heat in the US: natural gas, heating oil, propane, and electricity. The same goes for hot water. That said, just because your house has one particular fuel for heat does not mean you use the same fuel for hot water. In my house, for instance, I use heating oil for my furnace (heat), and propane for my hot water heater and stove.

If your house is like mine, and relies on heating oil for heat only, then you can stop worrying about heating oil around mid-May. I have to admit, I did have my heat on last weekend (it was in the 40s!), but that should be it for the summer.

In October or November you can plan on turning it back on again and checking your heating oil tank level. You should also be aware of how long your oil tank lasts.

This figure illustrates the tank level throughout the course of a year for a house that relies on heating oil for heat only. As you can see in this data provided by the home’s Smart Oil Gauge, no heating oil was used from June until the end of October at this particular house.

Homes Where Heating Oil is Used For Heat and Hot Water

If your house has an oil-fired hot water heater, then you should plan on monitoring your heating oil level year-round. We highly recommend purchasing a Smart Oil Gauge so you never run out. A Smart Oil Gauge will send you low-level alerts any time of year.

An oil-fired hot water heater such as this one shown here will use between a half a gallon and one gallon of heating oil per day in a typical home. More frequent or longer showers will definitely impact this!

As you can see in the figure below, a home that uses heating oil for both heat and hot water will use significantly less heating oil in the summer months. This particular home used 0.7 gallons per day of heating oil during the summer.

Depending on how often you take hot showers, you can expect your house to use between 0.5 and 1.0 gallons of heating oil per day in the summer.

This Smart Oil Gauge data is from a house that uses heating oil for both heat and hot water. The house used an average of 0.7 gallons per day in the summer months, and 6.0 gallons per day in the heating season.

When To Order Heating Oil

In the summer or winter months, we recommend ordering heating oil when your tank gets to 1/4 full. This will ensure that there is plenty of time for the delivery to be made before running out. Make sure to compare heating oil dealers in your area.

It’s also good to not let your tank level get too low. If this happens, the incoming oil could stir up some sludge. When your tank is low, check heating oil prices online and place your order right away. Choose from reputable, local suppliers and make sure you have oil in that tank all year.

Stay cool,

Steve

Kerosene Heating Fuel Guide for Homeowners

blue can for kerosene

Quick History of Kerosene Oil

Remember learning about John D. Rockefeller and his oil empire in the 1800s? One of the main fuels he was selling back then was kerosene. Derived from crude oil, kerosene gained popularity as a fuel for light fixtures and was available all over the country.

Today, kerosene is primarily used for home heating and in jet fuel. In this beginner’s guide to kerosene we will break down the basics of kerosene in the modern world. Let’s dive in!

What is Kerosene?

Kerosene is a low-viscosity, combustible clear liquid that is derived from petroleum. It has a flash point between 100 and 150° F and, importantly, freezes (turns to gel) at around -40° F. Because heating oil gels at around 16° F, kerosene can be stored in significantly colder air without the risk of it gelling.

What is Kerosene Oil Used For?

Kerosene was originally used in the late 1800s as a fuel for lighting fixtures. Its popularity soared and price dropped dramatically as a result of Standard Oil’s marketing and distribution practices. Its popularity waned, however, once electricity became commonplace throughout America. Electric lamps, which did not require refueling, soon eliminated the need for kerosene deliveries.

Today, kerosene is primarily used as a fuel for home heating. It is also used as a fuel additive and can be mixed in with a tank of heating oil as well. Kerosene is also the primary ingredient of jet fuel used in aircraft today.

Kerosene lamps were commonplace in the late 1800s as Standard Oil brought down the price for kerosene and made it readily available throughout the country. In the 1900s, however, electric lamps that did not require refueling soon replaced kerosene lamps.

How is Kerosene Different From Other Types of Heating Oil?

Kerosene is similar to heating oil, but the two are not interchangeable. There are some differences between home heating oil and kerosene. Kerosene has a lower flash point of 100 to 150° F. It starts to give off flammable gases at around 100° F, making it a bit more hazardous than heating oil. Heating oil must be atomized and heated to 140° F to be ignited.

One of the benefits of kerosene, however, is its freeze point. Kerosene begins to gel at around -40° F, compared to 16° F for heating oil. This means kerosene can be stored in outdoor tanks in colder climates than heating oil, making it better for colder climates where temperatures can drop well below freezing.

Kerosene should be stored only in approved blue cans. This safely distinguishes it from gasoline (red cans) and diesel fuel (yellow cans). Diesel fuel can be used as a direct replacement for heating oil in a pinch if you are out of oil. Kerosene, however, should only be used in kerosene-burning equipment, or when mixed in with a full tank of heating oil.

Can I Add Kerosene to My Heating Oil Tank?

It depends. While kerosene oil is similar enough to heating oil to be mixed together and burned together, it is not similar enough to replace heating oil outright. In other works, it is OK to add kerosene to a full heating oil tank. It is not OK to fill an empty heating oil tank with kerosene. Heating oil equipment can be permanently damaged if running kerosene for an extended period of time.

All that being said, some technicians recommend adding kerosene to a tank periodically as a cleanse of sorts. There are other additives available that may be able to do this as well.

If you are out of heating oil at home, we recommend picking up 5 or 10 gallons of diesel fuel and adding it to your tank until you have have heating oil delivered. Follow this step-by-step guide for what do do if you run out of oil here.

Can I Switch From Heating Oil to Kerosene?

The only way to make a wholesale switch from heating oil to kerosene would be to upgrade your burner and nozzle for kerosene-specific components. This would be recommended for extremely cold climates where an indoor heating oil tank is not permitted, and an outdoor heating oil tank has trouble with gelling.

Kerosene is generally not as readily available as heating oil though, so it is quite unusual for folks to make this switch. Due to its scarcity, especially in the Northeast, we would recommend heating oil over kerosene. It comes with a lower price per gallon, and you can easily use an additive to keep it from gelling in the colder months. Plus, with a Smart Oil Gauge you can be saving even more money every month and keeping your home heating system efficient.

Happy heating,

Steve

Owning vs. Renting a Propane Tank

above ground propane tank

Are you moving into a house heated with propane? Or thinking about switching propane suppliers this year? If so, you may be wondering if it’s better to rent or own a propane tank. In this post we’ll talk about the pros and cons of each. If you’re thinking about switching from oil to propane, we have a great post on heating oil vs. propane here.

Why Does It Matter If I Rent Or Own My Home Heating Propane Tank?

Propane, like heating oil, is different from regular utilities – such as electricity and natural gas – in that it must be delivered via truck. Once delivered, it must be stored in a tank on your property. If the tank is above ground, it can be rather unsightly. Fortunately, home heating propane tanks can be safely buried out of sight as well.

While a heating oil tank is always owned by the homeowner, a propane tank is not. As a homeowner, if you own your propane tank, you are free to order propane from any company you’d like. If your propane company owns the tank, you must buy your propane exclusively from that company – you cannot shop around. This makes buying a propane tank for home slightly more complicated. As such, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of owning or renting a propane tank.

A propane tank like this one can either be owned by the homeowner or the propane company. By owning your tank yourself, you have the freedom to choose any supplier you would like. By allowing the propane company to own the tank, you must buy all your propane from that company, but may save a little money up front by not having to purchase a tank.

Pros and Cons of Owning a Propane Tank

Owning a Propane Tank – Pros:

  • Save money in the long run. Buying a propane tank for home gives you the ability to shop around, and make sure you’re getting the best price on propane when you need it.
  • No minimum consumption amounts. Many propane companies have minimum consumption amounts in order to be a customer. If you do not meet these requirements, they will want to charge you exorbitant prices or a propane tank rental fee.
  • You can hide it underground. If you own your propane tank, you have the option of burying it underground. This keeps it out of sight, and unlike a buried oil tank, does not present the same environmental hazard if it leaks.

Owning a Propane Tank – Cons:

  • Higher upfront cost. You may be spending around $1,000 or more to purchase a propane tank up front when you move into your home.
  • Maintenance is on you. When it is your equipment, it is your responsibility. You may have to pay to have the propane tank serviced if there is a leak or any other issue with the tank.

Pros and Cons of Renting a Propane Tank

Renting a Propane Tank – Pros:

  • No upfront cost. Your propane company will usually install a tank for free when you sign up for a delivery contract.
  • No maintenance concerns. It will be the propane provider’s responsibility if the tank need to be repaired or replaced.

Renting a Propane Tank – Cons:

  • More expensive over time. You cannot shop around between propane suppliers to get a better price. It is actually illegal in many states for a propane provider to fill another provider’s tank(s). Even where it’s not illegal, many will not do so out of courtesy to the other company.
  • Minimum annual usage. You must meet certain annual usage amounts to avoid a propane tank rental fee or especially high prices per gallon.
  • No control over pricing. If one supplier is less expensive than your current supplier, you cannot simply switch suppliers for your next propane delivery. Instead, you must wait until your contract is over and then have a new propane tank installed.
When you rent a propane tank, it will often have the propane company’s logo on it, and if you look closely at this particular tank, you will see DO NOT FILL written on it as well. This is to prevent other propane companies from filling these tanks, which would be in violation of the homeowner’s delivery contract. It is actually illegal in some states for one propane provider to fill another provider’s tank(s).

Deciding Whether to Rent or Buy a Propane Tank

There are a few questions to ask when buying a propane tank for home or deciding to rent a propane tank:

  • How long do you plan on staying in the house? If you plan on living in the house for 5 years or more, then it may make sense to spend the money up front for your propane tank(s). When you spread out the up front cost of the propane tanks over that many years, it will pay to own the tanks.
  • How much propane do you plan on using? If you are only using propane for cooking and hot water, then it is probably not worth it to buy the propane tank. If you are using it for heating your house, then it will definitely pay to own the tank yourself.
  • How many propane suppliers are there in your area? If you have many suppliers to choose from, you may want to own the propane tank. This way you can price-shop each time you are low and fill up only as needed. If there is only one or two suppliers in your area, then you may want to stay on their good side and just rent their tank so you can always get filled or serviced.

In sum, whether it makes sense to rent or buy your propane tank depends on your personal situation. If your house comes with a propane tank buried in the ground, this gives you maximum flexibility. You can make sure you are always getting the best deal on propane, and can switch suppliers at any time.

Happy heating,

Steve

How Long Do Roth Oil Tanks Last?

side by side roth oil tanks

Spring is finally here, so now is a good time to think about heating system upgrades. If your oil tank is showing signs of rust, it may be time to replace it. A Roth Double-Wall storage tank is one of the best values today, and we talk about its longevity here.

About Roth Fuel Tanks

Roth Double-Wall storage tanks are a unique, European style tank assembly. On the inside is a plastic tank that stores heating oil. This internal tank is encapsulated by a rust-proof aluminum housing. This external tank holds 110% of the plastic tank’s capacity, and is designed to prevent a leak in the event the internal oil tank ruptures.

Roth double-wall storage tanks feature an internal plastic tank and an external aluminum tank for heating oil storage.

Pros and Cons of Roth Double Wall Fuel Tanks

Roth fuel tanks tend to have a love-them or hate-them reputation among HVAC technicians. Here are some of the Pros and Cons of the double wall Roth Fuel Tanks:

Roth Fuel Tank Pros:

  • Small footprint – can be hidden in a closet in a finished basement.
  • Lightweight – easy for one or two technicians to carry into a basement for installation.
  • Rust-free design – plastic internal tank and aluminum external tank will not rust – even if exposed to the elements.
  • Cover for outdoor installations – Roth double wall tanks for outdoor installations feature an angled cover that shields the fittings, gauge, and top of the tank from sun, rain, snow and ice.
  • 30 year warranty – included from the factory.

Cons of the Roth Double Wall Fuel Tank:

  • More expensive – Roth fuel tanks can be 20-40% more expensive than traditional steel tanks.
  • Unfamiliar – many technicians are unfamiliar with Roth oil tanks and are hesitant to install them.
  • Complex installation for twin-tank setups – when installing side-by-side, a very specific procedure must be followed to ensure the tanks will be filled evenly.
  • Limited ports – unlike steel tanks which have a drain port at the bottom, Roth fuel tanks only have openings at the top. As such, the oil lines use one hole, the fill pipe and vent pipe each use one hole, and there is one hole for a gauge. This means that with a Roth tank you must choose to use either a float gauge or a Smart Oil Gauge – you cannot have both.
Roth fuel tank installation can get very complicated when multiple tanks are involved. Also, since there are no fittings on the bottom of the tank, there is only room for one gauge. You can choose to install a float gauge (shown) or a Smart Oil Gauge which will display the level on your smartphone.

How Long Will a Roth Double Wall Fuel Tank Last?

Since Roth has been manufacturing tanks since the early 1970s, they have a good idea of how long they last. Because of the plastic internal tank and durable design, the oil tanks actually come with a limited 30 year warranty. This warranty is only valid for installations done by a certified Roth oil tank installer. With this in mind, we would estimate that Roth double wall fuel tanks last at least 15 years, with many making it past the 30 year mark.

To maximize longevity of your Roth tank, do not store anything on top of the oil tank. This causes the top to bow in, putting stress on the tank and fittings.

If you’re in the market for a new heating oil tank, check out our guide here for choosing a home heating oil tank. And when you’re low on heating oil, check prices here and don’t forget to fill up at a quarter tank!

Happy heating,

Steve