Automatic Delivery vs. Will-Call: Home Heating Oil Pros and Cons

275 gallon heating oil tank

If you’re new to home heating oil, the first decision you’ll have to make is: should I sign up for automatic home heating oil delivery? Automatic delivery means you sign an agreement with a single heating oil company for the year. This agreement says you will buy all your heating oil for the whole season from them, and they will automatically deliver it to you. This sounds like a great idea on the surface, but there is a major cost to this which we will touch on below.

The alternative to automatic home heating oil delivery is being a ‘will-call’ customer: someone who only orders heating oil as needed. There are pros and cons to each, and we’ll break them down in this post.

Automatic delivery means all your heating oil will come from one heating oil supplier. You will pay a premium for this but will not have to worry about ordering oil. You can save money by being a ‘will-call’ customer and only ordering heating oil as needed, but you have to make sure you know when to order heating oil.

Heating Oil Basics

Unlike natural gas or electricity, you must have heating oil periodically delivered to your home. Before you order heating oil for the first time, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with these terms:

  • Automatic Delivery: An agreement, usually for one year, that a heating oil company will delivery all the necessary heating oil to you on their own schedule. The dealer uses a system called ‘Degree Days’ to estimate when you’ll need oil next. The system uses outside temperature and delivery history to estimate your tank level. Expect to pay a premium price for heating oil to receive automatic delivery.
  • Will-Call: The alternative to automatic delivery, wherein you simply order heating oil as needed. By being a will-call customer, you can take advantage of significantly lower prices for heating oil. The downside is you must monitor your own oil tank. When you’re low, just check heating oil prices and order heating oil online with a credit card.
  • Service Contract: A maintenance plan that provides 24/7 support if a heating system fails during the winter. This is sometimes included ‘free’ with automatic delivery, but be wary of this. You are likely paying an extra dollar per gallon of heating oil to pay for this ‘free’ service contract. This adds up to $800 – $1000 per year on an average home in the Northeast! There are many reputable service companies that will service your system in the event of an emergency. Further, you should learn to inspect your own oil tank as well.
  • Budget Payment Plan: A payment agreement with the heating oil company that spreads out your total heating oil spend over 9, 10, or even 12 months. This helps eliminate very large bills during peak heating season by spreading the bills out over many months. This is the most profitable type of customer for the oil heating company, as they can charge extremely high heating oil prices without the homeowner noticing.
  • Fixed-Price Agreement: An agreement when signing up for automatic home heating oil delivery that you will pay a fixed-price for heating oil that season. This helps protect against major price increases that may occur. It comes at a cost, however: usually 20 cents per gallon for your estimated usage. Also, you may pay above-market prices if the prices fall during the season, as happened in 2020.
  • Price-Cap: A price-cap plan is an agreement that your heating oil price fluctuates with the market price but will not exceed a certain price. Many homeowners fall for the price-cap agreement, as they believe there is no downside to it. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! This is because when the market price for oil lowers, the oil company is under no obligation to lower their price accordingly They may lower it only slightly, for instance. So while you may be protected if the price for oil skyrockets, you’ll be left paying extra if the price drops. This played out in early 2020 when oil prices fell by over 50% and folks on automatic delivery did not even see their price budge at all.

How to Choose Between Automatic Oil Delivery and Will-Call

Historically, those were the two options: pay a premium for automatic delivery or run down to the oil tank periodically as a ‘will-call’ customer. Automatic delivery was obviously much more convenient than running down to the basement, so fuel oil dealers could charge a huge premium for this service. Even today, fuel oil dealers are charging an average of 40-50 cents per gallon for automatic home heating oil delivery, with some charging more than a dollar extra per gallon! Be careful to not get lured in by a ‘first fill’ price of $1.49 to sign up for automatic delivery. The price ALWAYS goes up after that.

To avoid over-paying for heating oil, will-call is the next option. To be a will-call customer, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with checking your heating oil tank gauge. For a detailed explanation read how to check your heating oil tank gauge. Remember, running out of heating oil can be very costly, so don’t forget to check that oil tank!

To be a will-call customer, you must remember to periodically check the gauge on your heating oil tank. This type of float gauge will give an approximate indication of how much oil is in your heating oil tank.

Fortunately, these are no longer your only two options. There is now a third option, which brings the cost-savings of being a will-call customer together with the peace of mind of automatic delivery: a Smart Oil Gauge. The Smart Oil Gauge is a WiFi heating oil tank gauge. It tells you on your phone how much heating oil is in the tank. It will alert you when your tank is low and it’s time to order oil. You can even order heating oil right from the app.

The Smart Oil Gauge provides the peace of mind of automatic home heating oil delivery and enables homeowners to realize the tremendous savings of being a will-call customer. It screws into the top of the heating oil tank and uses an ultrasonic sensor to detect the tank level. The level is reported to an app where it also displays daily usage and gives a countdown to the next fill. The Smart Oil Gauge will even send text and e-mail alerts when it’s time to order oil

What is the Best Option for Heating Oil Delivery?

So what’s best? We rate the three options below.

While automatic delivery is more convenient than will-call, it is much more expensive. The average homeowner pays 40-50 cents per gallon more to be on automatic delivery. This equates to $300-500 more per year for the average home in the Northeast. Since the homeowner is locked in with a single heating oil dealer, flexibility is low. And there is still a risk of running out of heating oil when on automatic delivery, so you won’t get the same peace of mind that you will get with a Smart Oil Gauge.

3rd Place: Automatic Home Heating Oil Delivery

We recommend automatic delivery for folks who just don’t want to think about heating oil. Sign up at the beginning of the season, and then get a bill every month for your deliveries. This is an expensive option, but if money is no object then we recommend it. You may also prefer a budget payment plan which spreads out your payments over the course of the season. This is usually only possible with automatic delivery. But remember, you pay much more over the course of the season for this benefit.

There is still a risk of runout with automatic delivery. So, ask your heating oil company to install an oil tank monitor, or buy your own to make sure you don’t run out.

2nd Place: Will-Call

Will-call will save you hundreds of dollars per year, and thousands over the long-term. That said, those savings can be wiped away if you run out of oil when you’re away from home. Frozen pipes can lead to a catastrophe that costs tens of thousands to repair.

If your oil tank is in a convenient location, however, will-call may be the way to go. You’ll have total flexibility when it comes to choosing a supplier. And you can shop around for the best price for heating oil whenever you are low. Just don’t forget to check the tank!

1st Place: Will-Call with a Smart Oil Gauge

If you want to save money on heating oil, go with will-call, and invest in a Smart Oil Gauge. For around $150 a Smart Oil Gauge will give you even more peace of mind than automatic delivery. It will tell you how much oil is in the tank, and alert you when it’s time to order heating oil.

Within the app, you can even check heating oil prices near me and order heating oil online in seconds. Pay with a credit card and take advantage of will-call pricing right through the app.

What about a Service Contract?

Some dealers will insist that you MUST be on automatic delivery for them to provide a service contract. If that’s your dealer, we recommend finding a new one! There are plenty of dealers who offer service contracts and do not require automatic delivery. DollarWise Oil is one of these companies that offers various maintenance options. Ryan Anthony’s Heating Service Inc. is another one – they offer maintenance plans and do not even sell heating oil! So next time a heating oil dealer tells you that you have to buy all your heating oil from them if you want a service contract, find another company!

Save Money And Only Order Heating Oil As Needed

With today’s technology, you can now take advantage of the lowest pricing possible by only ordering heating oil as needed. Get the peace of mind of automatic delivery by installing a Smart Oil Gauge to keep an eye on the tank level. Configure your alerts so you know when the tank is low. And when it’s time to order heating oil, come back to FuelSnap and get the best heating oil prices possible.

Happy heating,

Steve

When to Order Fuel Oil

when to order fuel oil

Ordering home heating oil can be a daunting task. Choosing a home heating oil dealer and deciding how much oil to order are two important questions to consider. But another important question that comes up is when to order fuel oil. In this blog post we’ll talk about the right time to order heating oil online.

Home Heating Oil Basics

If your home is heated with fuel oil, there are a few things to be aware of. First, your home will have an oil tank to store the heating oil. This tank will be in the basement, garage, outside the house, or even in the ground. Check out this blog post here to learn how a heating oil tank works.

To maintain a consistent supply of home heating oil, you will have to order oil. A truck will come and deliver a specific number of gallons to your tank. Alternatively, you can order a ‘fill’ and the truck will fill the oil tank to its capacity.

When to Order Heating Oil

When deciding when to order home heating oil, there are a couple of factors to consider. First, you do not want to run out of heating oil. Second, you want to get the best price for heating oil.

Avoid Running Out of Heating Oil

If you are out of heating oil right now, check out this blog post here for what to do. Fortunately, you can add diesel from the local gas station to get you through the night.

To avoid running out of heating oil, we recommend reordering heating oil when your oil tank is at a quarter full. This is true whether it is the summer or winter. Heating oil prices tend to not fluctuate too widely throughout the season. Most home heating oil dealers work on a target ‘cents per gallon’ margin which does not often change throughout the year.

“Reorder at a quarter” is a great rule to live by.

The reason to not let your tank get down past 1/4 full is occasionally it can take a few days before your heating oil is delivered. A quarter tank is usually enough to hold you over. Since a typical heating oil tank holds 275 gallons of oil, a quarter of a tank is approximately 70 gallons. A typical house burns approximately 3-5 gallons per day in the winter, so this gives you a cushion to prevent a runout.

Reorder heating oil when your tank gets to 1/4 full to avoid a runout and make sure you get the best deal on heating oil. Order oil online through FuelSnap to compare prices and choose the best delivery date.

Order Heating Oil Online To Get The Best Price

Ordering heating oil online when your tank is at 1/4 full has another benefit as well. This leaves enough space in the tank for a 150 gallon delivery. Most oil dealers require a minimum delivery size of 100 gallons. Some even give a price break for 150 gallons. If your dealer gives a price break for 200 gallons, you will have to let your tank get down to 1/8 full. Check our tank charts here to see how low your oil tank must get for a 200 gallon delivery.

When you order heating oil online through FuelSnap you can not only compare prices, but also delivery dates. If you can wait a few days for your home heating oil delivery, you may get a better price for heating oil. Searching for heating oil near me will bring up multiple sites. Check FuelSnap to easily compare several dealers and order heating oil online.

Check Your Heating Oil Tank Gauge And Reorder Oil At A Quarter Full

Make sure you learn how to check your float gauge and avoid running out of heating oil. Order heating oil online when your gauge reads one quarter full. And if you want to make sure you do not run out again, consider getting a Smart Oil Gauge for your tank. The Smart Oil Gauge gives you a readout of your oil level on your smart phone. It will send you text and email alerts when the tank is low as well.

Happy heating,

Steve

How Accurate Is An Oil Tank Gauge?

heating oil tank gauge

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.

Most oil tanks feature a float gauge like the one shown above. The float only provides an approximate oil level.

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!

The disc shown above indicates roughly how much fuel oil is in the oil tank. Once you know the approximate level, check our oil tank chart to determine the number of gallons.

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.

This is what the float on a heating oil float gauge looks like after years in an oil tank. For this reason, float gauges cannot be counted on to provide an accurate oil level.

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.

An oil tank float gauge does not account for the rounded bottom of a tank. There is much less oil in the bottom 8″ of the tank than elsewhere in the tank. So how can we properly track our oil tanks’ heating oil level if the float gauges go bad over time and do not account for the oil tank geometry?

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 uses an ultrasonic sensor to detect the level of oil in the tank. Because it does not come in contact with the oil itself, it does not get sludge built up and lose accuracy the way a traditional float gauge does.

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
Smart Oil Gauge outputs a specific number of gallons in the oil tank. It also tracks consumption so you can see exactly when you need to order home heating oil next.

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.

With a Smart Oil Gauge installed, you can watch how quickly you are consuming heating oil, and order heating oil online in seconds with FuelSnap.

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.

Happy heating,

Steve

Is Home Heating Oil Safe?

flammable sign

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:

  1. Heating oil is drawn from the tank through an oil filter to filter out any particulates or contaminants.
  2. The burner preheats the oil and activates a fan that mixes in air to help ignite the fuel.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Happy heating,

Steve

How to Inspect a Home Heating Oil Tank and What to Look For

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.

A home heating oil tank such as this should be inspected at least once a year. It is important to check for leaks and replace an oil tank before it shows significant signs of aging. This will help to prevent an oil leak inside the house. Find your model heating oil tank here.

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.

This vent alarm is installed where the vent pipe meets the oil tank. As oil enters the tank, air escapes through the vent pipe and passes by this whistle, making a sound that the driver hears. Once the oil level rises and touches the bottom of the whistle, it stops making noise, signaling the driver to stop pumping. If you see evidence of heating oil around the top fittings on a tank, it could mean that there’s a problem with the whistle that has led to the fuel oil tank being overfilled in the past.

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!

Happy heating,

Steve

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 a 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.

Gas or Oil Heat: Which is Better to Heat Your Home?

gas or oil heat natural gas meter

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

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.

Look for a natural gas meter like this to determine if a home is connected to a natural gas supply line.

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.

Propane is stored in outdoor tanks such as this one shown here. Occasionally they are buried beneath the ground. In most cases with above ground tanks, the propane tank itself is owned by the propane delivery company, making it extremely difficult to compare prices and shop around for propane.

Heating Oil

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.

Heating oil is stored in fuel oil tanks like this one shown here, typically in a basement, garage, or just outside the home. Heating oil can be purchased off-season, or only as-needed, allowing the homeowner to get the best price available at any given time.

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.

Happy heating,

Steve

10 Ways to Save Money on Heating Oil

insulation can be added to conserve heating oil

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Install a Smart Oil Gauge. As they say in business: what gets measured, gets managed. Establish a baseline to determine how much the following steps save you. 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. Track this to 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.
  3. 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 more oil by adjusting the temperature – only a Smart Oil Gauge will give you this type of insight though.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Seal Drafty Windows. Especially in older houses, you will find that a lot of heat escapes through the windows. To find out, put your hand near the window and feel for a draft. To eliminate the draft, install 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.
  7. 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. Homes built earlier than the mid-1900s almost never have insulation. If this is the case, you should consider getting a quote for some blown-in insulation. You can add blown-in insulation from the exterior of the house without replacing all the siding. Instead, you can add insulation through small holes or by removing individual strips of siding. This can pay dividends if you plan on staying in your home long term.
  8. Close Off Unused Spaces. We especially recommend this for homes with forced hot air. Simply close the air vents in any unused rooms, 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. This could create back pressure that is detrimental to your heating system. If your home uses a boiler, 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.
  9. 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. As a result, they convert less of the heating oil 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 are much more efficient and generate more heat than older ones. Track your consumption using a Smart Oil Gauge to see exactly how much heating oil the new system saves you.
  10. 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. Therefore, we 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 found in older homes. 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 To Save Money on Heating Oil Today

Hopefully you’re able to take some of these suggestions and start to save money on heating oil today. Just remember, the biggest savings is achieved by cancelling your Automatic Delivery contract. Instead, 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 to really understand your consumption, start by tracking your heating oil usage using a Smart Oil Gauge. Understand your baseline heating oil usage by collecting data for a year. 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.

Happy heating,

Steve

Why Do Households Use Oil For Heating?

cold snowy house with oil heat

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.

The Benefits of Home Heating Oil

Home heating oil has many benefits when compared to other fuels such as natural gas, propane, electricity, or kerosene. For example, consider the difference between home heating oil and kerosene. Below are the main benefits of using home 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.

Happy heating,

Steve

What is the Best Heating System for a New Home?

radiant floor heat

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.
forced hot air incorporates ducts and vents throughout the house and allows for central a/c to be installed to cool the air in the summer
Forced hot-air heating systems are extremely popular and feature vents like this to channel the hot air throughout the house. The added benefit of this type of system is that the same ducts can be used in the summer to channel cold air from the home’s central A/C 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.
radiators like these are usually indicative of a boiler system that pumps hot water throughout the house, or electric heat which is less common in the northeast
Look for radiators like these to determine if a house uses a boiler for heat instead of forced hot-air.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
radiant floor heat makes for an extremely cozy living space in the winter months
Radiant floor heat is extremely cozy and should be considered before construction begins on the home, as it must be installed under the flooring.
Rheem offers a comprehensive hydronic system that combines hot water with forced hot air for the best of both worlds
The components of a hydronic heating system. The hot water that is sent throughout the house can also be sent to the hydronic air handler. In the air handler, air passes through a heat exchanger where it is heated before being blown throughout the house. This hybrid system provides the benefits of radiant heating, with the quick response of forced hot-air.

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.

Happy heating,

Steve

How Home Heating Works

floor vent

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.

Three things must take place for a home heating system. The fuel must be delivered to the house, converted to heat, then transferred throughout the house to warm the air.

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.
Heating oil and propane are two fuel types that must be delivered to the home. Natural gas is plumbed directly to the house from a pipeline beneath the street, while electricity is supplied from the power lines on the street as well.
Once the heating oil is delivered, it is stored in a fuel oil tank like the one shown. Typically located in the basement, these can also be found outside the house or underground.

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.

Home heating oil is considered extremely safe because it is not flammable at room temperature. Heating oil must be heated to 140° F and atomized before it can be ignited. Shown here is a Beckett heating oil burner. On the left hand side is a filter that the oil travels through before arriving 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.

A heat pump is a popular choice for town homes and condominiums. Heat pumps are powered by electricity and work by transferring heat from outside the house to inside the house in the winter time, and in the opposite way to cool the house during the summer.

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.

Baseboard radiators such as the one shown are very common. They are often part of a boiler system which sends hot water behind these radiators to heat the room. They can also be electric, in which case a thermostat inside the room will be used to turn them on or off.

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.

A home with forced hot air has a furnace in the basement that heats the air in a heat exchanger. A blower inside the furnace sends the hot air through ducts in the house, and out vents like those shown here.

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!

Happy heating,

Steve