Tips to Avoid Frozen Pipes

frozen pipes

We’re just at the tail end of a cold snap here in the Northeast where we’ve seen temps in the single digits for the past few days. When it gets this cold, frozen pipes can become a major issue. While most common in older homes, pipes can freeze in newer homes too!

Especially in mass-produced cookie-cutter homes where corners are cut during construction. All it takes is one section of insulation to be missing from an exterior bathroom wall for pipes to freeze. In this post, we’ll highlight tips to keep your pipes from freezing.

In older homes like mine, ice can form on the single-pane windows. This is because the single pane of glass provides very little insulation and the heat ends up escaping right through it. Whenever you have pipes near a cold spot like this, make sure to leave the water dripping!

Why Are Frozen Pipes Bad?

At first glance you may think that having frozen pipes is simply a nuisance. In many cases, that’s all it is: you don’t have water flowing in a certain faucet for a period of time. In other cases, the pipes can actually burst, causing major flooding and damage to your home.

Why Do Frozen Pipes Burst?

Once water starts to turn to ice, it creates a blockage in the pipe. This blockage keeps any water from flowing through the pipe at that point. Further, it may result in water being trapped between the ice blockage and a closed spigot. Since water expands as it turns to ice, it begins to create pressure in the pipe. Since this pressure has nowhere else to go, the pipe ends up expanding from the inside out until it bursts. Water then just keeps flowing from the burst pipe until someone notices and closes the valve.

As ice forms inside a pipe, it begins to expand and create an immense amount of pressure in the adjacent water. Since this water often gets trapped between the ice and a close spigot or faucet, the water has nowhere to escape under pressure, and the pipe ends up bursting.

Tips to Avoid Frozen Pipes

The best way to handle frozen pipes is to avoid them altogether. Follow these tips to prevent frozen pipes from causing damage to your home:

  • Leave the Water Dripping on Cold Nights. Water has a much harder time freezing when it is flowing. On cold nights, open the faucets slightly throughout your house. This is especially important for pipes in exterior walls. These pipes will be much more prone to freezing than pipes in interior walls.
  • Insulate Problem Pipes. In old homes like mine, you will start to know which pipes freeze. Adding foam insulation to these pipes can keep them from freezing. It’s inexpensive and easy to apply, and helps shelter the pipe from the cold air nearby.
  • Leave Cabinet Doors Open. Often the pipes in a kitchen or bathroom can freeze inside cabinets. Even though the room itself may be warm, the air inside the cabinets can be below freezing on a cold night. Open the cabinets to let the warm air in and keep the pipes from freezing.
  • Turn The Heat Up. People often turn the heat down on cold nights to save money. When it’s really cold, do the opposite! Raising the temperature in the house can help prevent those really cold areas from freezing.
  • Put a Space Heater in Cold Areas. In my house, there’s a section of the basement that extends under my back porch. This area is extremely cold, and is the one spot where pipes can freeze. On cold days (like this week), I run a space heater in this area to keep the pipes from freezing.
  • Use Heat Tape or Heated Cables. Apply a heat source to the area where pipes tend to freeze. This is a more “involved” solution, as you’ll need to turn it on and off at times. Consider this as a last resort if insulation and leaving faucets dripping doesn’t do the trick.
  • Make Sure You Have Enough Heating Oil. If you run out of heating oil, you will have no heat. With no heat, your pipes will be very likely to freeze. Order heating oil online when you’re at a quarter of a tank to prevent a runout. If you do run out of oil, follow these steps here. You can also grab 5 or 10 gallons of diesel to keep the heat on until the truck arrives.
Installing insulation on exposed pipes is one of the best ways to keep pipes from freezing. It is inexpensive and super easy to install. Especially in cold crawl spaces or unheated basements, this should be your first line of defense against frozen pipes.

Always Inspect Cold Areas

Catching frozen pipes before they burst will save you thousands of dollars and lots of headaches. Always turn the heat up when the temperatures are forecast to be extremely low. Touch the baseboards in various corners of the house to make sure they’re all warm. This will indicate that water is flowing and there is not a blockage.

Leave your faucets dripping, leave those cabinet doors open, and hopefully you have no issues. If you do have frozen pipes, call a plumber right away! Sometimes the pipes can burst when thawing, so you’ll want a professional there to shut the water off right away if this happens.

Happy heating,

Steve

How Much Heating Oil Will I Use a Day?

cold house

It’s peak heating season in the Northeast, and many folks have heating oil on their mind. Questions like ‘what is the price of oil near me?’ or ‘how much heating oil will I use in a day?’ are being asked non-stop. So I figured I’d break down how much heating oil you can expect to use in a given day.

Keep this in mind as you’re planning for your next heating oil delivery, or if you run out of oil. If you do run out of oil, you can always add 5 or 10 gallons of diesel to your tank. Knowing how long 5 gallons of heating oil will last will help you determine how many trips to the gas station you’ll have to make!

The outside ambient air temperature is the biggest contributor to heating oil usage at your house. On a cold day in New England, your house may use 5-10 gallons of heating oil or more, depending on its square footage!

Factors That Impact Heating Oil Consumption

There are several factors that will impact how much heating oil you use at your house:

  • Outside Temperature: Your home’s heating system works to keep the inside of your home at a comfortable temperature. The colder the air outside, the harder it has to work, and therefore the more heating oil you will consume.
  • Inside (Set) Temperature: Setting the thermostat around 68-70 degrees is common and provides a comfortable internal temperature. The higher the set temperature, the more heating oil you will use. Consider adding a few layers and lowering the heat to 65 if you want to conserve oil.
  • House Size: The larger your house, the more heating oil you will consume. The layout of your house can also impact this. A ranch house is often harder to keep warm than a two-story house because there is more exterior surface area relative to interior space. This means more surfaces for heat to escape through.
  • Insulation: A well-insulated house will retain the heat much better than a poorly-insulated house with single-pane or drafty windows. Sealing up drafty windows in an old home will pay dividends and make your home more comfortable on cold winter days.
  • Age of Heating System: As heating systems age, they lose some of their efficiency. This means that you will use slightly more heating oil to generate the same amount of heat as a newer system. High-quality oil-fired equipment can last over 30 years. A new furnace can start to pay for itself, however, as you’ll see much improved efficiency.
  • How You Heat Your Hot Water: Another consideration is what you’re heating with oil. If your hot water heater runs on oil, you will use more heating oil than just for heat alone. This also means that you will consume oil year round.
Replacing this 30 year old Oneida Royal oil-fired furnace with a new ThermoPride unit in 2018 allowed me to cut down on my heating oil usage almost 25%. To determine this, I used exported data from my Smart Oil Gauge to summarize my usage by day, and overlaid temperature data to account for outside temperature.

Home Size And Temperature Impact Heating Oil Usage

To keep things simple, we’ll focus on two factors: house size and outside temperature. Find your house size on the chart and you’ll see a range of usages. If your house is well-insulated and new, consider a lower amount. If, like mine, your house is old and poorly-insulated, consider an amount on the high end.

This chart will give you a good indication of how many gallons of heating oil you can expect to use on an average day. For a 2500 square foot house, for example, you will use 5-7 gallons of heating oil on a typical New England winter day.

On a typical New England Winter day, expect to use 5-7 gallons of heating oil per day. Use this as a baseline, and plan your oil deliveries accordingly.

If you have a 275 gallon oil tank, you’ve got a maximum capacity of about 250 gallons. You also don’t want to get too low, as you can get sludge in the tank sucked into the lines. With this in mind, consider a ‘usable’ capacity of about 200 gallons. At 5 gallons per day, this should last about 40 days in the winter before needing to be filled up.

A 275 gallon oil tank like the one shown here is the most common size in the Northeast. The maximum capacity for a tank this size is approximately 250 gallons. Since it’s important not to let the level get too low (sludge can get stirred up), its usable capacity ends up being about 200 gallons. At 5 gallons a day, this will last approximately 40 days in the winter.

Heating Oil Used Per Year

While most of us only use oil in the winter months, many use it year round. If you use oil for your hot water, expect to use approximately 0.5-0.8 gallons per day in the summer months.

In the winter months, we must go back to the factors above: house size and outside air temperature. For this calculation, we looked at a typical winter in CT.

The average house in the Northeast uses about 880 gallons of heating oil per year. In a typical winter in CT, you can expect to use between 600 and 1200 gallons per year for an average-sized house.

Track Your Heating Oil Consumption

The best way to track your oil consumption is to measure it. The best way to measure your oil consumption is to use a sensor in the oil tank. A Smart Oil Gauge uses an ultrasonic sensor to measure the oil level at hourly intervals throughout the day. It reports these readings onto an app on your phone. It provides history that allows you to track your usage throughout the day, week, month, or year. You can even export the data from your Smart Oil Gauge for true numbers crunching.

My Smart Oil Gauge shows me my current level, as well as my current and historical usage rates. It is REALLY cold this week, so you can see that my usage is off the charts. I also have an extremely old house (1865) which is mostly original (no insulation). But despite all that, I know exactly when I need to order oil at any given time.

Check Your Oil Tank Regularly Throughout the Winter

You should now be able to estimate your daily usage of heating oil. That said, a good estimate is still no substitute for regularly checking your oil level. Check out this post here on how to read a heating oil tank gauge. Running out of oil can lead to sludge in the feed line, and even worse, frozen pipes. Set a reminder on your phone to check your tank level at least once a week during the cold months. And better yet, get a Smart Oil Gauge and get alerted when your tank is low!

Happy heating,

Steve

How To Choose A New Furnace

oil-fired furnace

When your oil-fired furnace hits the 30-year mark, odds are it’s time for an upgrade. While annual maintenance can be a godsend for your home’s HVAC system, there will come a time when it’s ready to be replaced. If that time is now, follow these steps to choose a new furnace.

What’s a Furnace?

A furnace converts home heating oil, propane, or natural gas into heat, and then transfers the heat through ductwork into the rooms of your house. The furnace consists of:

  1. Burner: The burner combines the fuel, air, and a flame to ignite the fuel and create heat.
  2. Heat Exchanger: The heat exchanger takes the heat from the combustion chamber (where the fuel burns), and transfers the heat to the clean air that gets circulated to the house.
  3. Blower: The blower takes cool air from inside the house, passes the air through the heat exchanger, and blows the hot air out of the furnace into the house.

To help you choose a new furnace, we recommend following these steps below.

Step 1: Choose a Fuel Type

Many of us don’t have much of a choice when it comes to the fuel that heats our home. If you have natural gas plumbed in your street, you are one of the lucky ones. Hook into it right away, and find yourself a nice gas furnace.

If your road has natural gas available, you’ll see meters like this one on many of the houses. Check to see if you are able to connect your house to the gas line. There are moratoriums in much of the Northeast that prevent new homes from being added because of the deteriorating infrastructure that is used to transmit the gas under the streets.

If you do not have natural gas in your street, don’t be alarmed. Oil heat is only slightly more expensive than natural gas heat, and oil-fired furnaces actually tend to last a lot longer than gas furnaces.

The most common approach to replacing your furnace is to continue using the same fuel you’ve been using all along. If you heat with propane, stick with propane. If you heat with oil, stick with oil. Many oil & propane providers will encourage you to switch to propane when it comes time for a new furnace. THIS IS BECAUSE PROPANE IS MORE PROFITABLE FOR THEM. You will end up paying far more in the long run to heat your house with propane than with heating oil. And if they tell you the price per gallon is lower for propane, just know this: it takes 1.35 gallons of propane to generate the same amount of heat as 1 gallon of heating oil!

When you choose a new furnace, sticking with the current fuel is usually the best idea. We break this down in a separate post here: Heating Oil vs. Propane.

Step 2: Choose a Brand

The nice thing about oil-fired furnaces is that there aren’t too many options to choose from. Whatever system you buy, you’ll only have one or two burner options to choose from, and they will all be good choices. Further, if your burner stops working in the middle of winter, the technician who comes to fix it is almost guaranteed to have the right parts to fix it.

This is not the case with natural gas furnaces, unfortunately. Natural gas furnaces are build and sold all over the country. As a result, there are too many versions of these for technicians to be able to service every single one with the parts on their truck.

When choosing a brand, you get what you pay for. If you are buying this furnace for your long-term home, I’d highly recommend getting a ThermoPride, or a comparable high-end furnace. If it is for a rental property that you may only own for few years, go with the best priced-furnace available.

Your HVAC company will be your best resource. Make sure to have them quote a range of brands so you can compare them.
A furnace is the heart of a home’s HVAC system. A high-end furnace, such as a ThermoPride, can last as long as 30+ years.

Step 3: Choose a Size

The easiest way to choose the size for your furnace is to look at your current system. A drop-in replacement is the path of least resistance. But, things could have changed since your house was first built. Was an addition built onto the house? Were the windows and siding upgraded? Was the system sized properly in the first place?

These factors could all lead to your current system being under-sized or over-sized. A competent HVAC contractor will ask you LOTS of questions about your house, such as:

  • What is the square footage of your house?
  • How tall are the walls?
  • How many windows on each floor?
  • What are the dimensions of the windows?
  • Are windows single-pane or dual-pane?
  • How would you rate the insulation in the house?

If your HVAC contractor just asks for the square footage of your house to determine your furnace size, find a new HVAC contractor. There are many more factors that contribute to heat loss than just square footage.

The easiest choice is to keep the same size furnace. However, it may not be sized appropriately for your house. A heat loss calculation will help determine the appropriate size for your new furnace.

Step 4: Consider Other Factors

Replacing your furnace can be expensive. I replaced mine a few years ago, and the whole job cost about $8,500. Since many companies offer 0% financing for these types of jobs, you may consider additional work beyond just the furnace. For example, does your oil tank need to be replaced? Would you like to add central A/C to your house?

Combining these jobs all at once can help drive the total price down. It can also allow you to take advantage of 0% financing – for the whole project.

Consider other upgrades, such as a new heating oil tank, when buying a new furnace. This way you can take advantage of the excellent finance rates many HVAC companies offer.

Final Thoughts on a New Furnace

I like to check out ‘open houses’ every once and a while to see what’s on the market. One of the first places I go in an open house is to the basement. I look at the HVAC equipment, and if there’s high-end equipment installed, it’s a clear indication to me that the builder or the current owners did not skimp on quality. When you choose a new furnace, think about whether you will be selling your house soon and what that furnace will signal to prospective buyers.

While it may be more expensive in the short-run, a high-end oil-fired furnace can pay dividends due to its reliability over the long-run. Just make sure to get it tuned-up once a year to keep it in top-notch condition.

Happy heating,

Steve

Heating Oil 101: What To Know

heating oil 101

Welcome to Home Heating Oil 101 where we’ll give you the run down on heating oil. Home heating oil is one of the most efficient fuels for heating your home. It creates more BTUs per gallon than propane, and is super easy to have delivered. There are hundreds of heating oil providers in the Northeast, so the price per gallon tends to be kept very competitive.

If you are new to heating oil, there are a few things to know. In this post, we’ll break down the best and most cost-effective ways to manage your heating oil supply so you never run out!

Where is Heating Oil Stored?

Heating oil is stored in a tank (or tanks) at your property. The tank can be indoors or outdoors, and underground or above-ground. Underground tanks are less common these days, as it is very difficult to detect a leak in an underground tank. A leak could become a very expensive environmental hazard if not found.

The best way to store heating oil is in an above-ground tank, stored inside. An indoor tank is not subject to rain, snow, sleet, and direct sunlight. As a result, it will last much longer and be much less prone to leaks.

indoor 275 gallon oil storage tank
This steel 275 gallon heating oil tank is by far the most common oil tank found in the Northeast. When stored inside, the fittings and seems will be much less prone to corrosion which could cause leaks.
outdoor 275 gallon horizontal oil tank
Outdoor heating oil tanks are subject to the elements. Exposure to snow, rain, sleet, and sunlight will greatly decrease the longevity of the tank. Further, the oil inside the tank can gel in extreme cold. For this reason, fuel providers will include an anti-gel additive when delivering to outdoor tanks in cold climates.
underground heating oil tank being removed
Underground storage tanks such as the one shown here are less and less common these days. After about 30 years, it is typically recommended to remove these and replace with above ground tanks.

How is Heating Oil Delivered?

Heating oil is delivered by truck to your home. Unlike natural gas, there are no underground pipelines delivering oil directly to homes. As a result, the truck must come to your house, hook up to a fill pipe, and pump fuel into your tank.

When the truck arrives, the driver will first locate your fill pipe. The fill pipe will be sticking out of the ground or out of the side of your house for an indoor tank. For an above ground outdoor tank, the fill pipe will be sticking out of the top of the tank.

Once he is hooked up to the fill pipe, he will begin pumping. While pumping, he will listen for a whistle coming from the vent pipe (next to the fill pipe). The whistle is at the base of the vent pipe and makes a sound as the air is escaping from the tank. Check out this article here on how the delivery works start to finish.

Shown here are the vent pipe, left, and fill pipe, right. The heating oil delivery driver will attached the hose to the fill pipe and listen for the whistle at the bottom of the vent pipe while filling the tank. The whistle will sound until the oil level rises to the point where it muffles the sound. At this point, the tank is full and the driver stops pumping.

Ordering Home Heating Oil

Heating Oil 101 would not be complete if we didn’t teach you the two types of delivery service. There are two ways to ensure a consistent heating oil supply:

  1. Automatic Delivery: This is where you “lock-in” with one particular oil provider for the season. They estimate your usage based on outside temperature and historical usage, and come to delivery on their own schedule. Automatic delivery is considered a premium value so expect to pay significantly more for your heating oil if you sign up for automatic delivery.
  2. Will Call / On-Demand: By far the most cost-effective means of ordering heating oil. With this approach, you check your tank periodically, then order heating oil online and schedule a delivery. You can order oil on your own terms, pay be credit card, and avoid surprise deliveries.
To save money on heating oil, avoid automatic delivery and only order as needed. In order to do so, however, you’ll have to keep track of your oil level. You can use a Smart Oil Gauge to check your tank remotely, or just remember to check the float gauge periodically.

What if I Run Out of Heating Oil?

If you run out of heating oil, do not panic. There are 4 steps to follow if you run out of heating oil:

  1. Check to see that you are actually out of home heating oil.
  2. Order oil! Go online and order heating oil right away. Call the dealer to confirm receipt of your order.
  3. Add 5 or 10 gallons of diesel fuel to your tank.
  4. Restart your fuel oil burner by hitting the reset button.

Do I Have To Be Home For a Heating Oil Delivery?

Some heating oil providers will require a one-time tank inspection. This is for their protection and yours. If your oil tank is not sturdy enough for a delivery, you could end up with a major leak inside your house. And in case you’ve never smelled it…oil smells terrible! Other companies may only require that you send them pictures of your tank prior to the first delivery.

It is also good practice to inspect your own tank regularly. Follow this guide to inspect your own tank at least once a year.

Once you’ve had your first delivery with one particular oil company, you’ll often not need another tank inspection for a few years. Just always remember to “reorder at a quarter” so you never run out of heating oil. And check heating oil prices and order online anytime through FuelSnap. Hope you enjoyed Heating Oil 101 – you are now ready for winter!

Happy heating,

Steve

Heating Oil Prices Update 11.5.21

heating oil prices

Heating oil season is in full swing as we wrap up the first week of November, 2021. Night-time lows have been down below freezing this week, and the heat is officially on in most homes. If heating oil prices are not on your mind yet, they will be soon!

With the sudden cold this week, tons of folks have run out of oil. If you ran out of heating oil, or know someone who has, click here. We put together a step-by-step guide for what to do if you run out of heating oil. The first step? Make sure you’re actually out of heating oil.

Oil Prices Are Flat or Down In Last 7 Days

Good news now that we’ve got the heat on is that prices have seemed to settle down. While still up significantly over last year, we’re seeing some relief for the first time this season.

  • Connecticut heating oil prices have dropped 1-3% to a low of $2.84 per gallon
  • Long Island, New York heating oil prices have dropped about 1.5% to a low of $2.87 per gallon
  • Heating oil prices in Portland, ME are hovering around $2.87
  • Prices throughout the rest of the Northeast remain otherwise unchanged

Click here to check prices in your town.

150 gallon heating oil prices range from a low of $2.84 a gallon in CT, to a high of $3.33 a gallon in upstate NY. Prices have remained flat or are slightly down from a week ago.

Cold Temps Stay In Immediate Forecast

With highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s over the next week, expect to be using some heating oil. If you don’t have a Smart Oil Gauge, you can use the guide below to determine how much heating oil you’ll use, depending on the size of your house and the outside temperature.

Use this table to determine how much heating oil your system will consume at a given temperature. Adjust up or down for the energy efficiency of your home. For the best indication of usage, install a Smart Oil Gauge and get hourly readings to determine exactly how much heating oil your home is using.

Remember to fill up soon if you haven’t already, and always check FuelSnap and order heating oil online for the best prices in your area.

Happy heating,

Steve

Cash or Credit Card for Heating Oil?

cash for heating oil

In many respects, heating oil is an old, dirty business. There has not be a ton of innovation in the heating oil space. Until recently, that is. With the advent of the Smart Oil Gauge, and online buying platforms like FuelSnap, ordering heating oil is now a lot easier than it’s ever been. And with special credit card rates for heating oil dealers, cash heating oil prices are very rarely any better than credit card prices!

Speaking as a millennial, I almost NEVER have a lot of cash on me. I actually cannot think of the last time I’ve used cash, outside of tipping at an open bar during a wedding.

In this post, we dig into why paying cash for heating oil will likely be a thing of the past somewhat soon.

Cash Discount for Heating Oil

For many small businesses, credit card processing comes at a price. The price typically hovers around $0.30 per transaction, plus 2.9% as a processing fee. The ‘cost’ of this, however, is made up for by more people stopping in and making purchases. My favorite deli in Ridgefield didn’t take credit cards until just a few years ago. Since I virtually never had cash on me, I would just drive up the road to my second choice whenever I needed lunch. Now that they do take credit cards, I’m there all the time, without hesitation.

What’s interesting about heating oil dealers is that they are not subject to the same 2.9% processing fees that traditional merchants pay. This is because heating oil is treated by credit card companies as a ‘Utility’ (think gas and electric). Because people need to keep their houses warm, they need flexible payment options. Fortunately, through some lobbying, credit card processors charge heating oil dealers a significantly lower fee. All in, the fee comes in at just above 1% on average. As a result, there’s not a huge difference between the cost of taking cash vs. credit card. In fact, if you factor in the trips to the bank, it actually costs more to take cash. With this in mind, very few dealers want to take cash any more.

Credit card processing for heating oil dealers only costs about 1.1% on average. As a result, the cost of processing credit card orders is minimal when compared to the costs of carrying, counting, and depositing cash on a regular basis.

Pros and Cons of Paying Cash for Heating Oil

As a consumer, you are always more protected when making a purchase with a credit card than cash. And given the fact that cash heating oil prices are very rarely better than credit card heating oil prices, the choice for most is obvious: credit cards are the way to go.

The following shows the pros and cons of paying with a credit card or paying cash for heating oil.

Pros and cons of paying cash for heating oil vs. paying with a credit card for heating oil.

The Verdict: Paying with Credit Cards Is Better

Beyond the convenience factor, the fact that you do not need to meet a driver face-to-face to exchange dollar bills cannot be overlooked. Who wants to do this, especially during a pandemic? Paying with a credit card is more convenient in so many ways. Dealers love it too; nobody likes handling thousands of dollars of cash – which could get lost or stolen – all day long only to have to deposit it in-person at the end of the day.

Knowing this, you can rest assured that you’re getting the best prices on heating oil – even if you’re paying with a credit card.

Happy heating,

Steve

Heating Oil Trends October 2021

jack-o-lantern heating oil prices blog cover

Happy Halloween from FuelSnap! As we wrap up October here, I wanted to summarize heating oil price trends we’ve seen lately. In the last year and a half, we’ve seen major swings in heating oil prices. With the world opening back up, prices for heating oil have trended upward recently – but not as much as other fuel prices!

Market Price for Heating Oil – 10/29/21

The market price for heating oil is now hovering around $3.00 a gallon. The best heating oil prices of ~$2.90 per gallon can be found in coastal communities. Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, for instance, are always competitively priced.

Higher prices – as high as the mid $3’s per gallon – are seen in upstate NY. Oil companies up there are fewer and farther between and end up having to travel further to each stop, hence the higher prices.

Heating oil prices on FuelSnap range from a low of $2.89 per gallon in Portland, ME, to a high of $3.33 in upstate NY.

Year-Over-Year Changes in Fuel Prices

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, prices for EVERYTHING seem to be up lately. This has to do with supply chain constraints in many industries. In others, like oil, global demand has increased significantly over the past 12 months. As a result, per the US Energy and Information Administration:

  • Propane prices are up 49% year-over-year
  • Gasoline prices are up 50% year-over-year
  • Heating oil prices are up 58% year-over-year
  • Natural gas prices are up 168% year-over-year
Heating Oil: NY Harbor No. 2 Heating Oil Prices per the EIA. Consumer prices for heating oil benefited from the massive drop that occurred in the beginning of 2020. Prices have since rebounded, however, and are tracking up about 58% year-over-year.

With heating oil prices rising and temperatures falling, it would be wise to fill up soon if you have no already. Check heating oil prices right on FuelSnap to know you’re getting the best deal.

Happy heating,

Steve

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