Keeping track of your heating oil is probably the last thing on your mind these days. With more time spent at home, however, you oil usage may be up this year. In this post we’ll discuss the three most common tank gauges: dip sticks, float gauges, and the Smart Oil Gauge®.
Oil Tank Dip Stick
The most basic type of heating oil gauge is a dip stick. A dip stick can be used to manually measure how many inches of oil are in a tank. Once you’ve taken this measurement, you can refer to a heating oil tank chart to determine how many gallons are in the tank. Dip sticks are most commonly used with below ground tanks, as there is no other way to measure the contents of the tank.
Heating Oil Tank Float Gauge
The second type of gauge is a float gauge. This is the most common type of gauge for above ground tanks. It features a float that sits atop the oil and moves down as the level lowers. This type of gauge gives only an approximate oil level in the tank.
Smart Oil Gauge – WiFi Heating Oil Gauge
The most modern style of heating oil gauge is the Smart Oil Gauge. This type of oil tank gauge uses an ultrasonic sensor to precisely measure the oil level. It is extremely accurate except for in the top 8″ of the tank. When the oil is that high in the tank, it is too close to the ultrasonic sensor to get a precise reading.
Which Oil Tank Monitor is the Best?
To compare these oil tank gauges, we looked at four factors: Value, Accuracy, Remote Access, and Ease-of-Use. The dip stick is the most cumbersome to use, so it has the lowest value for money. Further, we gave the float gauge 2 out of 5 points for ‘remote access’ because some folks install WiFi cameras to look at the float gauge remotely.
In sum, the Smart Oil Gauge is by far the best overall heating oil tank monitor available. And the nice thing about the Smart Oil Gauge is that you can still keep the old float gauge in the tank. Additionally, if you’d ever like to use a dip stick to verify the tank level, you can do that as well. Just open up a bung on your heating oil tank and insert the dip stick.
Is it hard to tell how much heating oil is in your oil tank? If so, it may be time for a new gauge. In this post we’ll walk you through replacing your home heating oil gauge. If you are not handy, or are having any trouble with this process whatsoever, you should definitely contact your oil or HVAC company for this!
Tools Required to Replace Your Oil Tank Gauge
If you’re handy, replacing the gauge on your heating oil tank is not too difficult. The tools required are:
Rubber gloves (remember, heating oil stinks, so make sure to wear old clothes too!)
Penetrating Oil (e.g. Liquid Wrench) – OPTIONAL – get it here
How Your Float Gauge Works
Before we begin, it is important to understand how a float gauge works. This will aid in removing it so you know what to expect. In a nut shell, there is a floating piece (the ‘float’) – sometimes cork, but more recently plastic – that sits atop the oil. This float sits at the end of a hinged arm. At the other end of the hinged arm is a plastic disc that moves up and down with the float. The disc is housed behind a plastic vial that can be removed by hand. The disc and vial provide a rough indication of the oil level in the fuel oil tank.
What Causes a Broken Float Gauge
Oil tank float gauges are notorious for going bad. They can go bad for a number of reasons. Most often, the float builds up sludge and no longer floats properly as shown below. Also, the thin piece of metal that connects the hinged arm to the disc can be bent. If you’ve ever removed the plastic vial and pushed down on this disc to see if the float gauge was still working, you could have bent the metal in the arm.
Finally, the whole assembly can rotate inside the tank over time, causing the float to get wedged against the inside wall of the tank. When this happens, it will no longer move up or down. Replacing your heating oil tank gauge is the next step at that point.
Step 1: Loosen Fitting
Before you can unthread the float gauge assembly, you must begin by loosening it only. First, remove the plastic vial by hand to expose the disc. Second, position the pipe wrench on the metal fitting that threads into the tank. Use both hands and loosen the fitting ONLY SLIGHTLY! You cannot loosen this more than half a turn yet because the float will hit the inside wall of the tank.
Pro Tip: If you cannot loosen the fitting easily, soak it in a penetrating oil such as Liquid Wrench for several hours or up to a couple of days.
Step 2: Pull Disc Up and Loosen Fitting Completely
Now that the fitting is loose, you will need to use two hands to continue. If you have someone helping you this would be ideal. If not, no big deal – just continue these steps below.
Pull up the disc as far as it will go. This will lift the float out of the oil (see below) and allow you to rotate the assembly. By lifting the float out, the assembly can rotate without the arm crashing into the inside of the tank.
Step 3: Remove the Float Assembly
Once the fitting is completely loose, you can remove the float assembly. Get your paper towels and garbage bag ready for this step!
Release the disc to allow the float to settle back in the tank. Slowly raise the assembly out and allow the float to fall while doing so. This will allow you to remove the whole assembly from the tank. Use the paper towels to catch any dripping oil, and place the whole assembly in the garbage bag immediately.
Step 4: Install Your New Float Gauge
To install a new float gauge, you’ll want to essentially reverse these steps. Begin by cleaning the fitting on the tank, and applying pipe dope to the threads of the new float gauge assembly.
Use a marker on the fitting to indicate the direction that the arm should fall once the assembly is on the tank. You will need to insure that the float can extend into the open area of the tank so the float does not hit the inner wall.
Gently lower the float into the tank until the fitting mates with the tank. Gently lift the disc to raise the float out of the oil, and hand tighten the assembly as far as you can.
Keep lifting the disc up, and tighten with a pipe wrench until snug. Make sure to stop tightening when the arm is oriented properly in the tank. Once tight, hand-tighten the plastic vial in place and you are good to go!
Alternative To A Float Gauge
If you’re unhappy with your heating oil float gauge, or are tired of replacing it over the years, there are better alternatives available. You can consider a Smart Oil Gauge, for instance. The Smart Oil Gauge uses an ultrasonic sensor to detect the level. As such, it is never directly touching the heating oil. This keeps it from getting sludge buildup on it.
The Smart Oil Gauge gets threaded into an extra opening on your tank, and can even be used in addition to a traditional float gauge. Installing a Smart Oil Gauge is much more straightforward as well. Simply apply pipe dope to the threads, and tighten it in with a pipe wrench. Download the app on your phone to connect the device to WiFi beforehand, and then start monitoring your usage remotely. Check out this great installation video if you would like to install a Smart Oil Gauge.
Reading Your New Oil Tank Gauge
For some helpful insights into your new float gauge, read our post here on how to read an oil tank gauge. If you went with the Smart Oil Gauge, just make sure you configure it for the proper tank size, and set up your alerts in the app as well. The Smart Oil Gauge can send text and email alerts when the tank is low. This way you will never be caught off guard and run out of heating oil again!
Hopefully this illustrates how to replace your heating oil tank gauge. Remember to check FuelSnap when your tank is low to make sure you’re getting the best deal on home heating 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.
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.
If you live in the northeast, you have probably become accustomed to spending significantly more on energy in the winter months as you heat your home. If your home is heated with heating oil, there is good news: there are several ways to save money on heating oil over the course of a winter season. Below are the top 10 ways to save money on heating oil, starting with the most significant.
Discontinue Automatic Delivery. Automatic heating oil delivery was popular for decades, since it meant homeowners did not have to periodically check their oil tanks and call the company to refuel. Because of this convenience, however, dealers charge an average of $0.50 more per gallon for automatic delivery! This equates to hundreds of dollars per year when compared with simply buying oil as needed. To estimate how much oil your house goes through in a given season, check out this post here. Since an average home uses over 800 gallons of heating in a given season, you can expect to save $400 dollars or more simply by ordering oil as needed and taking advantage of the ‘spot’ price.
Install a Smart Oil Gauge. As they say in business: what gets measured, gets managed. There is no good way of knowing what impact the improvements below will have on your heating oil consumption until you establish a baseline. A Smart Oil Gauge will tell you – by the hour – how much oil your heating system is consuming. It will show you daily, weekly, monthly, and annual totals as well so you can see how much heating oil these improvements save you over time. It also will alert you when your tank is low, so you can cut cancel your automatic delivery contract and start saving hundreds of dollars per year right away.
Install a Programmable WiFi Thermostat. Once you’ve gotten the usage data out of your Smart Oil Gauge, you can start to monitor your heating oil consumption throughout the day. You can see, for instance, how much oil you burn during the day when nobody is home. Then you can set the thermostat to automatically lower a few degrees during the day and see how much oil this saves you. With some systems, you may find that you burn moreoil by adjusting the temperature – only a Smart Oil Gauge will give you this type of insight though.
Tune-Up Your HVAC System. You should have your HVAC system tuned up annually, or at least every other year to ensure it is running as efficiently as possible. Cleaning out the system will ensure that as much heat as possible is created for every gallon of heating oil used, and that your filters are clean so air can flow freely through your house if you have forced hot air. A tune-up also acts as preventative maintenance so you will be less likely to have a breakdown in the middle of winter.
Seal Drafty Doors. Adding something as simple as foam tape around the perimeter of an entry door can seal off the door quite significantly. Touch your hand to the perimeter of the door and feel for cold spots to know where cold air is coming in. Usually the bottom of the door ends up letting the most cold air in. If this is the case, installing a simple under-the-door sweep can seal it off nicely while still allowing the door to open and close easily.
Seal Drafty Windows. Especially in older houses, you will find that a lot of heat escapes through the windows. If you put your hand near the window, you may also find that there is even a draft you can feel. To seal the heat in and keep the cold air out, consider installing plastic film over the windows to create a seal. Cut the plastic to size, use double-stick tape to secure around the perimeter, and then use a hairdryer to shrink wrap the film in place. Consider doing this on any exterior French doors that you are not using during the winter as well.
Add or Improve Insulation. Insulation – the pink cotton candy-like substance that you see inside walls – is what acts as your home’s blanket. Insulation keeps warm air in and cold air out during the winter months. If your house was built earlier than the mid-1900s, odds are it may not even have insulation. If this is the case, you should consider getting a quote for some blown-in insulation. Blown-in insulation can be added from the exterior of the house without requiring all the siding to be replaced. Instead, small holes can be added, or single strips of siding removed in order for the insulation to be added. This can pay dividends if you plan on staying in your home long term.
Close Off Unused Spaces. This is especially recommended if your home is heated with forced hot air. Simply close the air vents in any rooms that are unused, and close the door to that room as well. Be sure to not close off too many vents in one particular part of the house though, as this could create back pressure that is detrimental to your heating system. If your home is heated using a boiler, see if you can adjust the temperature down in the parts of the house that are unused. Just be careful during extremely cold weather though, as turning the heat down too far can lead to frozen pipes.
Upgrade Your HVAC System. Oil-fired HVAC systems tend to last as long as 30 years! That said, they do tend to lose efficiency over time, meaning that less of the heating oil is actually being converted to heat as the furnace ages. If your furnace is over 15 years old, you may consider installing a new one. Newer oil furnaces or boilers tend to be much more efficient and put out more heat than older ones. Be sure to track your oil consumption using a Smart Oil Gauge so you can see exactly how much home heating oil the new system saves you.
Replace/Upgrade Your Windows. Along with replacing your HVAC system, replacing your windows can have a major impact on your heating oil consumption. That said, both of these improvements can be quite costly, so we only recommend them if you are going to be in the home for many years and you’ve already gone through the list above. Newer, dual-paned windows are significantly more energy efficient than the single-paned windows that older homes have. Dual-paned windows feature an air gap between the panes that acts as an insulative barrier keeping the cold air out and the warm air in.
Start Saving Money on Heating Oil Today
Hopefully you’re able to take some of these suggestions and start saving money on heating oil today. Just remember, the biggest savings you can achieve is by cancelling your Automatic Delivery contract and ordering heating oil online through a site like FuelSnap. You’ll start saving money immediately, and then you can start to look at energy efficiency improvements. And if you really want to understand your consumption, you have to start by tracking your heating oil usage using a device like the Smart Oil Gauge. Understand your baseline heating oil usage, and then start working your way through the list above to save money on heating oil. Most of these improvements will pay for themselves over time, and all will lead to a more comfortable home during the winter months.
In the northeast US, we see the full range of temperatures, and all types of weather throughout the year. And depending on the winter, we even see subzero temperatures at times. If you’re looking into buying a house in the northeast, you’ll want to understand how home heating works. In this post we’ll talk through the different fuel types, as well as the different types of heating systems you may find in a house, so read on below!
Steps in the Home Heating Process
There are three things that have to happen in order for a home to be heated. First, a fuel source must be delivered to the house. We’ll break down the pros and cons of the most common fuel types below. Second, the fuel source must be converted to heat. This is typically done in a boiler or furnace, but electric radiators can be used as well. Finally, the heat must be transferred throughout the house. This can be via warm air that is circulated through ducts, or via water or electricity that warms radiators along the walls throughout the house. We’ll dive further into these below as well.
Home Heating Fuel Types
There are a number of different fuel sources in the northeast, each with their pros and cons. While each of these must be delivered to the house, they are all delivered in different ways:
Heating Oil: One of the most popular fuel choices in the northeast, heating oil is delivered to a house by a home heating oil delivery truck. The heating oil is stored in an oil tank that is usually located in the home’s basement but can occasionally be found outside or underground. The nice thing about heating oil is it burns hotter than natural gas or propane, which makes it an extremely cost-effective choice, especially when prices are low like they are in 2020. As a homeowner, you are free to choose from any supplier you want. Just don’t forget to reorder, as you can easily run out if you forget! For more information read How to Fill a Home Heating Oil Tank.
Natural Gas: Natural gas is also a great choice for home heating – if it is available where you live. Natural gas is plumbed underground through pipelines and directly to a home from the street. Treated as a utility, the homeowner does not have to worry about having natural gas delivered – it simply comes automatically, and they have to pay the bill. The downside, however, is that you cannot choose from multiple suppliers.
Propane: Propane, like heating oil, is delivered to a house via delivery truck. It is stored in a tank – or tanks – outside the house. While propane tends to be more expensive than natural gas or heating oil, the nice thing is that it can also be used for a gas stove, fireplace, or generator. For more information read Heating Oil vs. Propane.
Electricity: Since virtually every house has electricity, this can sometimes be used for heating as well. Especially in places where winters do not get too cold, electric heat can be good to have on standby, but is generally too expensive to be considered in larger homes or places with very cold winters.
Converting the Fuel Source to Heat
The next part of the process of heating a home involves converting your fuel source to heat. For propane and natural gas, a burner is used to easily ignite the fuel as it is released from the incoming gas lines. The burner is either part of a boiler, which heats water that gets pumped throughout the house, or a furnace, which heats air that gets pumped throughout the house.
Heating oil is a bit different from propane and natural gas because it is actually not flammable at room temperature. In order for home heating oil to ignite in a burner, it must be first heated to 140° F and atomized through a nozzle. Only once heating oil has been heated and atomized can it be ignited in the burner.
If your house has electric heat, then you will likely have electric radiators throughout the house, or a heat pump. A heat pump is a system that is mounted outside the house and heats your house by extracting heat from the outside air, and transferring it into the house. One of the benefits of a heat pump is that they can often work as an air conditioning system in the summer time by extracting the heat from the house and transferring it outside.
Transferring the Heat Throughout the House
Once the fuel source has been delivered to the home and converted to heat, that heat must then be transferred throughout the house.
One very common way that heat is transferred throughout the home is through a boiler. In a boiler system, water is heated and then pumped through radiators that are located all throughout the house. Occasionally, a boiler will also send the hot water to a heat exchanger where air will be heated and pumped out via a blower to heat other parts of the house.
Radiators, such as those shown below, can also be electric. When they are electric, they simply turn on and heat up when the thermostat calls for heat, then shut off once the room is warm. The benefit to electric radiators is that there is no need for a complex plumbing system to send hot water to the radiators. The downside is that it can get very expensive to heat a larger home with electricity. As such, electric heat is only recommended for small spaces or places with very mild winters.
My personal favorite is radiant floor heat. This is where instead of the radiators being placed along the walls, the floor itself radiates heat. The plumbing is installed in the floor and the result is some warm floors throughout the house! The only downside to radiant floor heat is that it can take a while to heat the house up. This means it may not be a great choice for a weekend house where you arrive on a Friday and need to wait several hours for the house to get up to a comfortable temperature.
Finally, perhaps the most common means of heating a house today is through what’s known as ‘forced hot air’. This is where a furnace is used to heat air in the basement, then a blower is used to send that hot air through ducts in the house. Forced hot air is great for quickly changing the temperature inside the house. It is also preferred because the same ducts can often be used for central cooling in the summertime.
Summary: How Home Heating Works
If you’re shopping for a home in the northeast, it is important to understand how home heating works. You’ll have to first identify the fuel source for that particular home. If the house has natural gas or electricity, you don’t have much of a choice when it comes to your supplier. For propane, you typically must select one supplier to provide all of your propane for the year, and they will often provide the tank as well. With heating oil, you have maximum flexibility and can use a site like FuelSnap to compare heating oil prices from multiple oil dealers in your area, saving hundreds of dollars a year over automatic home heating oil delivery (where one company provides all your oil for the year). Just remember to also install a Smart Oil Gauge so you don’t accidentally run out of heating oil in the middle of winter!
Next, you’ll want to understand what type of heating system the house has. If the house has forced hot air, it means that it will be very easy to add central cooling to the house in the future. For the best of both worlds, a house with radiant floor heat AND forced hot air will allow you to quickly change the temperature, while also maintaining some nice warm floors!
If you live in the northeast and have an oil-heated house, you may be wondering how your fuel oil tank gets filled. Since most oil tanks are located indoors, and the delivery driver cannot access the basement, the delivery must be made without the driver entering the home. To facilitate this, oil tanks are fitted with a fill pipe and a vent pipe to allow the oil tank to be filled from the outside.
In this post, we will introduce the various components of a fuel oil tank and walk you through what’s involved in the home heating oil delivery process!
What are the Components of a Heating Oil Tank?
Oil tanks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be found inside the house or outside. Occasionally, oil tanks are buried in the ground, but the components below are consistent with most tanks.
The fill pipe extends from the top of the oil tank, through the exterior wall, and outside of the house. There is a cap that screws in place to keep the fill pipe closed. The vent pipe also extends up and out of the house, and allows air to escape as the oil tank is being filled. It also allows air into the tank as the oil is being used.
The whistle (also known as a ‘vent alarm’) is the most critical component when it comes to filling an oil tank from outside. The whistle is located at the bottom of the vent pipe and hangs approximately 6” down from the top of the oil tank. As air is forced out of the tank by the incoming oil, it blows by the whistle, creating a sound that the driver hears outside. Once the oil level rises to the level of the whistle, the sound is muffled, and the driver knows to stop pumping, as the tank is full.
How to Set the Amount for your Home Heating Oil Delivery
Before the driver begins the home heating oil delivery, he or she needs to determine whether to ‘fill’ the oil tank (keep pumping until the whistle stops), or just deliver a predetermined amount. Since many customers prefer to know exactly what they’re spending, many will order 100 gallons or 150 gallons at a time. In this case, the driver will set the pump to stop once that amount has been delivered. They will still listen for the whistle to ensure that the oil tank is not over-filled.
If you’re wondering how much heating oil to order for your fuel oil tank, consider installing a Smart Oil Gauge. This will tell you not only how much oil is in the tank at any given time, but also how much home heating oil can be delivered.
Connecting the Hose to the Fill Pipe
Once they have determined how much heating oil to deliver, they must find the fill pipe. Since this can be located anywhere at the house, remember to give instructions when placing your heating so they know where to find it!
Once they locate the fill pipe, they will pull the hose from a reel on the back of the truck. If you have a small driveway, the driver may opt to park in the road and pull the hose all the way to the fill pipe. If you have a larger driveway or your house is too far from the road for the hose to reach, expect the driver to pull in to get close to the fill pipe. Once they’re at the fill pipe, they will remove the cap, and screw the end of the hose in place to secure the hose to the house.
Pumping Heating Oil into the Fuel Oil Tank
Once the hose has been attached to the fill pipe, the driver is ready to start pumping the heating oil into the tank. There is a lever on the nozzle that allows the driver to start the flow of heating oil into the tank. They will typically begin pumping slowly by only partially opening the nozzle. This will allow them to listen for the vent alarm and ensure the oil tank is not full before pumping too much oil into the tank. Since these trucks pump at a rate as high as one gallon per second, an oil tank can be overfilled very quickly if the driver is not careful!
After the driver hears the whistle, they’re able to turn up the flow on the pump and fill the tank. If the customer ordered a specific number of gallons, the pump will shut off automatically once that amount has been pumped.
If the customer has ordered a ‘fill’, then the driver will continue pumping until he hears the whistle sound stop. At this point, he will shut the pump off.
Printing the Home Heating Oil Delivery Ticket
Once the pump as stopped, the driver removes the nozzle from the fill pipe and reinstalls the cap. They retract the pump back to the truck, and prepare the delivery ticket.
A delivery ticket will be printed to include the heating oil company information, as well as a starting volume (0.00 gallons), and an ending volume that shows how much oil was delivered. There will also usually be additional information such as the price paid per gallon, delivery date, etc.
In-Ground Oil Tanks
In-ground oil tanks are less and less common these days but are still out there. They also often do not have a vent alarm / whistle to alert the driver when the oil tank is full. If this is the case, the driver will typically use a stick to measure the amount of oil in the tank before making the delivery. With this knowledge, and knowing the size of the heating oil tank, they will know how much oil can safely be delivered.
If the driver and homeowner do not know what size oil tank is buried, then the driver will take a measurement of the oil level, pump a certain amount of oil (e.g. 100 gallons), then take another measurement. They will then compare the two levels on a tank chart to determine what size oil tank it is.
Some drivers also carry a specially-designed vent/fill pipe that can be inserted into the fill pipe. It features a vented pipe that extends just past the fill pipe into the top of the buried oil tank. The truck’s nozzle is able to thread onto this, and pump oil by the vent section. A whistle sound will be created until the oil tank is full, at which point the driver knows to stop pumping oil.
Summary: Filling a Home Heating Oil Tank
Since most home heating oil delivery drivers cannot see the oil tank while making a delivery, they must rely on the vent alarm / whistle to know the fuel oil tank is safely being filled. As long as they hear that whistle making noise, they know that air is escaping from the vent pipe, and the oil tank is not full.
If you’d like to see a heating oil tank get filled
in-person, go on outside next time your heating oil truck arrives! Most of the
drivers I’ve met are super friendly and always willing to explain how
If you live in an older home, you probably dread the heating bills that come every winter. Since older homes tend to have older windows and less insulation than newer homes, then tend to require more heating oil to maintain a comfortable temperature inside. As someone with firsthand experience living in an older home, I will share some tricks and tips on how to conserve heating oil in an old home and track your oil usage while doing so.
Three Areas to Focus on to Conserve Heating Oil
My house in Connecticut was built in 1865 and is virtually all original. While this can be extremely charming, it comes with its downsides! For instance, the windows are from 1865. As you can imagine, they are not sealed very well. When I first moved in, the wind would literally blow papers off the kitchen table. As cold air would blow in, the warm air would blow out, and my heating oil bills were outrageous.
Over the years I worked out several ways on how to conserve heating oil, and I spend significantly less now on heating oil. The three areas to focus on for conserving heating oil are:
Heat loss – identifying where heat is escaping
Heat generation – keeping your burner in good condition
Heat setting – adjusting your thermostat and monitoring your oil consumption
Heat Loss: Identifying Where Heat is Escaping
If it sounds like your furnace or boiler is working overtime, you probably have a lot of heat escaping your house. As warm air escapes, cool air comes in and replaces it, lowering the temperature inside. The main sources for heat loss in a home are:
Single pane windows create much of the charm of older houses. However, they do very little to keep the heat in. Modern windows have two panes, with an air pocket in between. This air pocket acts as insulation to keep the heat in your home. If your home has single pane windows, you should consider applying plastic film to seal them. This film is easy to come by, and not too difficult to install. Just cut the film to size and use double-sided tape to adhere it. Once secure, use a hairdryer to shrink it in place. If done properly, you will not even notice it! But it will undoubtedly feel more comfortable in the house once done.
Walls are also a major source of heat loss. As such, if you are embarking on any major renovations to your house, you should consider adding insulation to help you conserve oil. Blown in insulation tends to be quite cost-effective and can often be subsidized through an energy audit that your state offers. Once the insulation has been added, you should see a decline in heating oil usage immediately.
Since doors are constantly being opened and closed throughout the day, it is unlikely that they are perfectly sealed when shut. As a result, you likely have drafts at your exterior doors, especially at the bottom. On a cold day, place your hand near the base of your doors to feel for cold air. If it feels cold, you should consider a ‘door sweep’ or ‘draft blocker’. There are various types of these, with varying degrees of installation difficulty and effectiveness. The simplest ones can be slid right under the door without any screws and will do a good job of keeping the cold out.
This one came as a major surprise to me when I had my energy audit done. My house has what’s known as ‘forced hot air’ as its heating type. With this setup, I have a furnace in the basement that heats air in a heat exchanger. Once the air is hot, the furnace blows this hot air through ducts into the rooms of the house. At the same time, it sucks in air through ‘return’ vents in the house. Since these return ducts are bringing in the room-temperature air from the house, the furnace does not have to heat cold air from the outside.
With my house, however, I have a VERY cold, unheated basement. As a result, the air in the basement is constantly cooling the ducts. This makes the furnace work extra hard, as it is inadvertently heating the basement. Wrapping these ducts in insulation helps keep this heat headed to its final destination and keeps the return air from being unnecessarily cooled as it returns to the furnace. Also, the insulation helps seal any leaks on the ducts, keeping the hot air inside.
Heat Generation: Keeping Your Burner in Good Condition
Your boiler or furnace is the ‘engine’ that creates the heat in your home. Just like it’s important to change the oil in your car on a regular basis, servicing your burner should be a regular event. A furnace tune-up should be done at least every other year. Best case, you should have your furnace tuned up annually. An annual cleaning and tune-up will help allow the technicians to spot any potential issues before they occur. Staying ahead of problems with your system will ensure the heat stays on all winter and save you money in the longrun.
A furnace tune-up should be done at least every other year.
There are also catastrophic issues that the technicians can spot, such as a crack in the heat exchanger. This can lead to harmful exhaust gases entering the home. When this happens, it is definitely time to replace your furnace.
An oil-fired furnace or boiler is usually built to last 20-30 years. If your system is much more than 20 years old, you should consider replacing it. Newer systems are much more efficient, quieter, and can generally output more heat. My system was 28 years old when I replaced it in 2018. Prior to replacing it, I had gathered lots of data on my oil consumption through my Smart Oil Gauge. This allowed me to see exactly how much oil the new system was saving me each winter.
Heat Setting: Adjusting the Thermostat and Monitoring Oil Consumption
The best thing I did since moving into this house was install a Smart Oil Gauge to track my heating oil usage and consumption. Since the Smart Oil Gauge shows me my hourly burn rate throughout the day, I was able to determine what to do with my programmable thermostat. Since I have forced hot air, I lower the temperature while I’m not home during the day. Reheating the house does not take very long, and only causes a short spike in oil consumption.
For homes with boilers and radiators, it takes much longer to reheat the home. What our data from Smart Oil Gauges shows is that it is best to leave the temperature the same all day, or only lower it slightly in homes with boilers.
The best part about having the Smart Oil Gauge though, was analyzing the savings from my new furnace. By exporting the data from a one-month period with the old furnace, and overlaying average temperature in my town, I was able to calculate the K-factor for my old system. The K-factor determines how long your heating oil lasts you. The higher the K-factor, the longer a gallon of heating oil lasts. To understand the math below, there is one more variable to be aware of: degree days. The degree days figure is used to determine how much heat is required to warm a house on a given day. Using 65° F as a baseline, degree days can be calculated by subtracting the average temperature on a given day from 65.
For example, if the average temperature is 30 one day, then that day is considered to have had 35 degree days (65 – 30 = 35). In Connecticut, we see approximately 5,930 degree days over the course of a year.
Calculating the Savings From My New Furnace
With the exported data from my Smart Oil Gauge, I determined that my K-Factor from the old furnace was approximately 3.37. With 5,930 degree days per year, that put my annual usage at around 1,760 gallons in a typical winter. This is about right, looking at my Smart Oil Gauge consumption.
With my new furnace, the K-Factor was increased to 4.59. This means that in the same winter, my house will now use only 1290 gallons. This is a savings of 470 gallons of heating oil per year – which adds up fast!!
My New Furnace Saves Me 470 Gallons of Heating Oil Per Year
Summary: Conserving Heating Oil in an Older Home
The first question you should ask yourself is where you can get the biggest savings without spending much money. Obviously, a new furnace would be nice to have, but this can cost thousands of dollars and may not be necessary right away. As such, start with containing the heat by eliminating drafts. Seal your windows with thin plastic film. Then, go around and install door sweeps under the exterior doors. If you have any French doors, or sliding glass doors that you do not use in the winter, consider wrapping those in plastic as well.
Finally, get a handle on your oil usage by installing a Smart Oil Gauge. This will show you exactly when you’re using your heating oil. You can optimize the settings on your programmable thermostat and begin saving oil immediately. When you’re ready to add insulation to your house, or install a new furnace or boiler, look for any local subsidies that may be available in your state.
Once you’ve taken care of the areas where your heat is escaping, be sure to visit FuelSnap’s heating oil price comparison tool. FuelSnap finds local home heating oil dealers and allows you to compare prices (saving you money!). New England oil prices fluctuate but with FuelSnap you’ll always find the best rate.
If you’ve found yourself in the middle of the summer with no hot water, or worse, in the middle of winter with no heat, you may have run out of home heating oil. Don’t panic – there are a few steps to take, and you will have heat or hot water again before you know it.
Below is our step-by-step guide for what to do if you run out of home heating oil:
Step 1: Check to see that you are actually out of home heating oil. Step 2: Order oil! Order heating oil online right away. Call to confirm that the oil is on its way. Step 3: Add 5 or 10 gallons of diesel fuel to your tank to hold you over until heating oil is delivered. Step 4: Restart your fuel oil burner by hitting the reset button.
Step 1 – Confirm That You Are Actually Out of Heating Oil
Because there are a number of components that can fail in a home’s heating system, running out of heating fuel is not always the culprit when there’s no heat or hot water. If you suspect you are out of home heating oil, the first thing you should do is go down to the fuel oil tank and confirm there’s no oil in it.
Most fuel oil tanks are equipped with a float-style gauge. This type of gauge gives a general indication of how full the fuel oil tank is. Look at the red disk inside the plastic vial to determine the level. If the disc is above the 1/8 mark, you may still have oil in the tank. To check, unscrew the plastic vial by hand. Press the red disc down gently with your finger. If there is still oil in the tank, you will see the disc slowly rise back up. This indicates that the float is rising up on the oil inside the tank. If this is the case, you may have another issue with your system. If you find that you have oil in the tank, then skip to step 4. Learn how to read a heating oil tank gauge if you run into any issues.
Step 2 – Order Heating Oil Online
Once you’ve determined that there is actually no oil in the tank, it’s time to order home heating oil. We recommend ordering heating oil online for this purpose. Local oil companies on FuelSnap have predetermined delivery routes so you can see exactly who will be in your town on which days. Searching for heating oil dealers near me will likely yield dozens of options. Check FuelSnap to avoid emergency service fees or outrageous same day premiums that many local full-service heating oil companies will charge if you inform them that you are out of home heating oil.
Once you’ve ordered your oil through a site like FuelSnap, you will receive an order confirmation email with the ‘deliver by’ date. Feel free to call right away to confirm when the truck will be coming or call FuelSnap ahead of time and they will confirm for you.
Step 3 – Add 5 or 10 Gallons of Diesel to Your Fuel Oil Tank
One of the great benefits of having heating oil is that when you run out, you can always go to the gas station and add some diesel fuel to the oil tank. Since diesel fuel and heating oil are nearly identical (except primarily for some dye that is added to the heating oil), your system will burn diesel fuel just as well as it burns heating oil.
Ideally, we would recommend buying a yellow can from the gas station to fill with diesel fuel. This way you do not accidentally use the same can for regular gas in the future. If they do not have the yellow cans available, then any gas can will suffice. 5 gallons will usually get you through the night (depending on the size of your house and how cold it is), but you will probably sleep better with 10 gallons in the tank.
When adding the diesel fuel to your heating oil tank, you do not need to go into the basement. Instead, open the fill cap on the outside of the house where the oil truck hooks up. This cap will have a hex on top of it and should not be too difficult to remove. Just pour the diesel into the fill pipe and it will make its way into the oil tank.
Step 4 – Restart Your Oil Burner
Check that your red oil burner emergency on/off switches are in the on position, and that the thermostat is set to the desired temperature. This means that the system should be telling the burner to turn on. Since the system was starved of fuel oil, you will need to press the reset button. This tells the burner to try to start burning fuel again. The reset button can be found on the oil burner and is usually a big red button. Sometimes they are harder to spot, like on this late-model Becket burner shown below. Once you press the reset button, you will hear the system start up. After about 15 seconds, it will either stay on (a good sign) or shut back down. If it shuts back down, it may mean you have to bleed some air out the lines. Press the reset button once more and see if that does the trick. Do not press the reset button more than 2 or 3 times. If the system does not start at this point, you may have other issues and need to contact an HVAC technician.
Conclusion – What To Do If You Run Out of Heating Oil
At the end of the day, running out of heating oil is not a pleasant experience. In the best-case scenario, you can simply have heating oil delivered the same day through a site like FuelSnap. Pressing the reset button on the burner may get you up and running again in no time.
If you are less fortunate though, your heating system may have sucked in some sludge from the bottom of the oil tank, clogging the oil filter or the fuel oil lines. In this case, you may need an expensive emergency service call to get your heating system up and running again.
To prevent all this, the best investment you can make is in a Smart Oil Gauge. The Smart Oil Gauge will alert you before your tank gets too low. You’ll be able to track gallons used per day, and days to 1/4 or 1/8 tank. And even if you forget to check the app periodically, it will send you text and email alerts when the oil tank is low. You can choose from local oil companies and reputable dealers on a site like FuelSnap, and order heating oil online before you ever even come close to running out of fuel oil.
In an oil-heated home, nothing is more important than making sure you don’t run out of heating oil. Even if you pay a premium for Automatic Heating Oil Delivery, it’s important to occasionally check your home heating oil tank to make sure you do not run out. In this post, we’ll walk through the nuances of reading a typical float-style heating oil tank gauge and introduce some alternative ways of monitoring your fuel oil tank.
How to Read a Float Gauge in a Heating Oil Tank
Most fuel oil tanks come with a traditional float-style gauge. This fuel oil tank gauge features an arm with a float attached to its end, and a hinge. There is a plastic vial with a disk that indicates how full the heating oil tank is. As the float lowers, so does this disk. For a detailed breakdown of how an oil tank works, check out our blog post how an oil tank works here.
To read the level of a float gauge, look for the tick marks on the plastic vial. These typically indicate Full, 3/4, 1/2, and 1/4. Because the home heating oil tank is rounded at the bottom, these gauges are not very accurate when the tank is low. As a good rule of thumb, always order heating oil online at around 1/4 full. This gives you a few days for the oil to arrive before running out.
Note: Some ‘experts’ say you should look at where the top of the disk lines up with a tick mark, rather than the bottom. These float gauges are nowhere near precise enough to make such a distinction, so just look for where the middle of the disk lines up with a tick mark to determine the level.
Multiply the level shown by your fuel oil tank size to approximate how much heating oil is in the tank. For a 275 gallon tank, 1/4 full is approximately 0.25 * 275 = 69 gallons. For a 330, 1/4 full is approximately 0.25 * 330 = 82.5.
How Accurate is a Heating Oil Float Gauge?
Since these are not precision heating oil tank gauges, they should only be used as an approximation of how full a tank is. Because of the moving parts inside, these can also be prone to wear over time. If you suspect your heating oil float gauge is stuck, simply unscrew the plastic vial by hand. Use your finger to press the disk down. If the gauge is not stuck, the disk should easily move down, then slowly float back up and remain up, indicating the arm is moving freely.
One of the ways a heating oil float gauge can get stuck is by simply rotating inside the fuel oil tank. This can happen over time, and the result is the float is wedged against the side of the tank, unable to move.
Another problem that can arise is the float itself becoming less buoyant over time. As seen below, the float can develop sludge that prevents it from floating on top of the oil.
How Much Heating Oil Should I Order and When?
Once you know how much oil is in your tank, you’ll need to figure out how much to order. Use the guide below to determine how much oil your tank can take.
Amount to Order = Tank Capacity – Current Level
For a 275 gallon vertical heating oil tank, the max capacity is 250 gallons. The reason it is not 275 gallons is because there is always an air space left at the top of the tank after a fill. This allows the oil to expand in the fuel oil tank and prevents the tank from being over-filled.
If your 275 gallon vertical heating oil tank is 1/4 full, we know that 275 * 0.25 = ~69 gallons.
Amount to Order = 250 – 69 = 181 gallons or fewer.An order of 150 gallons, in this case, should easily fit in the fuel oil tank.
By using the above guides, you should be able to determine when to order heating oil for your home. Find the best and cheapest heating oil dealers near you with FuelSnap to avoid being overcharged by local oil companies!
What if I Want to Order 200 Gallons?
Since many dealers offer a discounted price for 200 gallons, you may be tempted to wait until your tank is lower that 1/4 full to order. This can be risky with a float gauge, as they are notoriously inaccurate when the fuel oil tank is that low. Instead, we recommend two options if you would like to get your tank that low:
A Smart Oil Gauge. This will report your oil level to within a couple of gallons. The Smart Oil Gauge knows the specific geometry of your heating oil tank as well. As such, it can account for the rounded edges and the reduced amount of oil in the bottom of the tank.
A yard stick. Using a yard stick to measure the specific number of inches of oil in the tank will give you a good idea of how much oil is in the tank. This is obviously cumbersome, but much more reliable than the float gauge. Once you’ve measured the level, in inches, check it against a tank chart to determine the level.
How Much Heating Oil Will I Use in a Day?
This is a great question to be asking yourself as you plan your next heating oil order. The first factor is whether you are using oil for heat only, or heat and hot water. If you are using heating oil for hot water, you will continue to consume oil year-round. Your usage may be reduced to 1-2 gallons per day in the summer months, and as high as 6 or more gallons per day in the winter months. This depends on the size of your house, how well-insulated it is, and other factors. The age of your heating system and keeping it well maintained are also contributing factors.
The only good way to know how much oil is used on any particular day is by installing a device like the Smart Oil Gauge. The Smart Oil Gauge uses an ultrasonic sensor to measure the oil level every hour. It then graphs this data over time, giving you usage statistics.
Use the Float Gauge to Approximate Your Heating Oil Tank Level
Now that you understand how to read a float gauge, don’t forget that it is only an approximation. For a precise tank level when the tank is low, consider a Smart Oil Gauge or using a yard stick. Both of these options will give you a much better indication of the tank level. When you’re ready to order heating oil, check out a site like FuelSnap to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible on heating oil.
Looking to get the best deal on your heating oil? There are a few considerations that you want to make sure you keep in mind – we’ll talk about them here.
How to Buy Heating Oil Online
It’s that time of year again when the temperature has dropped, the leaves have fallen, and the heat is on. You go down to the basement and check the old heating oil tank and realize it’s time to order oil. You know there are lots of local heating oil dealers out there – you see the trucks every day. But you’re thinking to yourself, what’s the best way to compare all the home heating oil companies in my area and make sure I’m getting a great price for oil? The most important considerations when shopping for heating oil online are:
Heating Oil Dealer Reputation
Available Delivery Dates
Methods of Payment
Prices Per Gallon
Heating Oil Company Reputation
When ordering heating oil, it is important not to leave the delivery to some anonymous dealer you found online. Instead, find a heating oil source that allows you to not only see dealers’ names, but also read reviews. You’ll want to see the experiences others have had dealing with that heating oil company. Make sure the dealer shows up when promised, delivers the amount ordered, and the driver is respectful of your property. If you got a good price, but the driver ran over your garden, then maybe it was not the best deal after all.
Available Delivery Dates
The next consideration is when you need oil. A general rule of thumb is to “reorder at a quarter”. This means you should order heating oil when your tank is around ¼ full. This gives you at least a few days to have oil delivered without worrying about running out. It also allows you to check heating oil prices for several days out to ensure you’re getting the best price on a particular day. If it’s a Saturday morning and you’re out of oil, you’ll obviously not want to wait until next week so you’ll need to find a dealer that delivers over the weekend.
Fortunately, with sites like FuelSnap, you can see exactly when each particular dealer delivers heating oil to your town. Keep in mind though: a same-day delivery may result in a slightly higher price per gallon, so schedule a delivery for the next day, or a couple days out to get the best price if you don’t need heating oil right away. You might also consider a Smart Oil Gauge for your tank, which not only tells you how much oil you have, but also how many days it will be before you’re at a quarter or an eighth of a tank.
Methods of Payment
Before you pick your home heating oil company, it’s also important to ensure they take payment via credit card. Credit card payments give you a layer of security that cash and checks do not. Besides, who wants to leave an envelope of cash or a blank check at the house when you’re not home? Make sure you order from a heating oil company online that captures the payment up front.
DO NOT give your credit card number over the phone to the dealer, as this allows them to charge whatever they want to your card, regardless of what was delivered (trust me, I know from experience!). When you buy heating oil online, you know exactly what you’re ordering, and the maximum that your card will be charged for. If your oil tank ends up taking fewer gallons than you ordered, then you’ll receive a refund for the difference. The most important thing is that your card will not be charged MORE after the delivery.
Home Heating Oil Price Per Gallon
Now that you’ve read the reviews on your dealer, chosen when you want to have your oil delivered, and found a dealer that takes credit cards securely online, you’re ready to choose the delivery amount. With many dealers – although not all – the price per gallon varies with the amount of heating oil ordered. For instance, while oil may be $2.35 per gallon if you order 100 gallons, it may be $2.30 if you order 150, and even $2.25 if you order 200. For many folks, it makes sense to order 200 gallons to get the best rate. Keep in mind, however, that if your tank cannot hold the full 200 gallons, you may end up paying the higher price per gallon on your order.
If you want to know how much your heating oil tank holds, refer to this guide here: how much heating oil is in my tank, and how much can I have delivered. A typical rule of thumb is that a 275 gallon oil tanks holds about 250 gallons when full (there is an air space at the top of the tank). You can use a tank chart to see how many gallons are in your tank already.
Placing the Order
Now that you know what to consider when shopping for heating oil, it’s time to get started. Fortunately, with sites like FuelSnap, you can choose from reputable local heating oil dealers and read reviews before ordering. You see exactly when you can have your oil delivered, and pay securely ahead of time with a credit card. This eliminates any surprises, and allows you to choose the best price per gallon. You’ve got all the information needed right at your fingertips, so go ahead and order with confidence!
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