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 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 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 While the floats were originally made of cork, they are now usually a plastic material that lasts longer.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 show. 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 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 tank charts to determine how many gallons are in the tank.

To be safe, always reorder at a quarter (of a tank) when using a float gauge!

The disc shown indicates roughly how much oil is in the tank. Once you know the approximate level, check our 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 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 in the tank. In the middle of the tank, the walls are straight up and down. As such, there is significantly more oil than in the bottom section of the 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.

A More Accurate Heating Oil Gauge

Fortunately for heating oil users, there is a more reliable 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 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 heating oil you are using. Some of the useful statistics it will provide are:

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

Track Your Monthly Usage, And Reorder Oil 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 heating oil deliveries around your own needs.

With a Smart Oil Gauge installed, you can watch how quickly you are consuming heating oil, and order oil 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 tank. This is because the oil is too close to the sensor when the 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 gauge, you can often leave the float gauge installed as well. The Smart Oil Gauge would go in an extra opening on the tank.

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 tank.

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. 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.
  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. 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.
  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. 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.
  8. 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.
  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, 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.
  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, 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.

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

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

What’s the Difference Between Home Heating Oil and Kerosene?

Kerosene vs. heating oil

Today, many of the materials we use to power our everyday lives are petroleum-based fossil fuels. We rely on these products to keep our cars, boats, and trucks moving, to power our water heaters and stoves, and to heat our homes. These fossil fuels all come from the same source: crude oil.

Below, we’re discussing the differences between two common fuels that derive from crude oil – home heating oil and kerosene. Let’s take a look!

Heating Oil Vs. Kerosene: Key Differences

Heating oil is a type of diesel fuel that many choose to heat their homes, primarily due to its safety attributes. Specifically, this fuel source doesn’t get hot enough to catch fire because its “flashpoint,” the temperature at which ignition occurs, is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that it won’t burn in liquid form, allowing you to use it to heat your home with no risk of fires or explosions.

Kerosene, on the other hand, is a light fuel that is made by distilling crude oil. It is primarily used to power jets and other aircraft but does have some uses in the home, including cooking, heating, and lighting certain lamps. It can also be used as an industry-grade chemical lubricant or a petroleum solvent. Kerosene burns much hotter than home heating oil, which means it can only be used in a furnace that is equipped to handle high temperatures. Additionally, kerosene should only be used with outdoor oil tanks, as it can produce carbon monoxide.

Cost of Home Heating Oil vs. Kerosene Heating

Local oil prices fluctuate significantly from season to season. This is because crude oil, which accounts for a large portion of home heating fuel prices, is a globally traded commodity. Therefore, the market drives the cost higher or lower. However, there are a variety of other factors that affect heating oil prices for consumers. For example, cold winters can lead to higher oil prices in CT, just as mild winters often mean lower heating bills.

Competition can also drive costs – the more local oil companies in your area, the lower prices will be, as companies will attempt to win over customers with competitive rates. Finally, political factors can also influence the cost of heating oil. If local laws and regulations encourage alternative fuel use, the cost of home heating oil in that area will likely be higher. All of these variables figure into New England oil prices at any given time and can make it challenging to find the right company for discount oil in CT. On average, homeowners can expect to pay anywhere from $2 to $4 per gallon.

Like home heating oil, the cost of kerosene varies based on a variety of factors, including the cost of crude oil. Kerosene tends to be slightly more expensive than heating oil, and can also be harder to find, as not all fuel providers offer kerosene.

FuelSnap: Helping Residents Find the Best New England Oil Prices

When you need to purchase heating oil, sifting through all of the local oil companies in your area can be a daunting task. This is especially true when you are looking for the best rates to fit your budget. At FuelSnap, we simplify the process and take on the heavy lifting for you. Our easy-to-use platform compiles all of the current prices from all of the home heating oil companies in your area, so you can select one that fits your needs. You can even read customer reviews and order heating oil online, all in one convenient place.

At FuelSnap, our goal is to help customers get the best possible oil prices in New England. So, if you’re searching for a fuel supplier to keep your family warm and safe throughout the winter, we are your go-to resource. For more information about the FuelSnap platform, reach out to us at (203) 456-1015 or via our online contact form. We’re happy to answer your questions and help you get started finding affordable heating oil suppliers in your area!

What To Do If You Run Out Of Heating Oil

out of heating oil

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.

If you think you are out of heating oil, go down to the float gauge on the fuel oil tank. Remove the plastic vial and press down on the level indicator disc to see if the float is actually floating in oil. If it does not move freely, then the gauge is stuck or the heating oil tank is likely empty.
To see if there’s heating oil in your tank, you’ll want to make sure the float gauge is not stuck. Go down to the fuel oil tank, and unscrew this plastic cover by hand. The yellow or red disc that indicates the level is attached to the floating arm inside the tank. Gently press this disc down and see if it slowly comes back up when you let go. This will indicate that the float is floating on heating oil inside the tank and the tank is not empty.

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.  

Running out of heating oil. You can always go to the gas station and add diesel to your tank to get through the night.
Running out of home heating oil is never a great experience. Fortunately, you can easily go to the gas station and buy 5 or 10 gallons of diesel, so you have heat until your heating oil is delivered.

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.

If you have run out of home heating oil, you will need to reset your burner once you've added heating oil or diesel fuel to the tank. This is the reset button on a late-model Beckett oil burner. Most systems have an easier-to-spot red reset button.
If you ran out of heating oil, you may need to add 5 or 10 gallons of diesel fuel to the oil tank to get you through the night. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to hit the reset button on your fuel oil burner. Usually the reset button is a big red button that is easy to spot. On this late-model Beckett oil burner, however, it is more difficult to see.

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.

Happy heating,

Steve

How to Read a Heating Oil Tank Gauge

Empty Home Heating Oil Gauge

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.

How a home heating oil tank works. The tank includes fill line, vent line, vent alarm / whistle, and gauge.
A typical heating oil tank features a float gauge with a hinged arm. As the float lowers, the visible disk on the top of the heating oil tank moves down accordingly.

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.

A heating oil float gauge features a disk inside that shows how full the tank is. This should only be used as an approximation of how full the tank is.
Most home heating oil tanks feature a float gauge like this one here. The yellow disk can be used to approximate how full the fuel oil tank is. Because of the rounded bottom of a fuel oil tank, the gauge will go from 1/4 to empty quicker than it will go from 1/2 to 1/4. As such, it is very important to reorder oil when the gauge is reading 1/4 full to prevent a runout.

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.

Home heating oil float gauges can break down over time. In this particular gauge, the float was covered with sludge after many years of use.
Heating oil float gauges are susceptible to many issues over time, including sludge build-up as shown here.

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.

A 275 gallon home heating oil tank holds 240-250 gallons depending on its orientation. Use this table as a guide to know how much oil to order.
A 330 gallon home heating oil tank holds 288-305 gallons depending on its orientation. Use this table as a guide to know how much oil to order.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Smart Oil Gauge - WiFi Heating oil gauge - will show exactly how much oil is in a tank, and give a countdown to a quarter tank.
Using a Smart Oil Gauge is the best way to determine how much heating oil is in your fuel oil tank. The Smart Oil Gauge works extremely well when the tank is low, and will give a countdown of days until the level will be at 1/4 or 1/8. Using the app’s ‘shop for oil’ feature, you will also see the maximum amount of heating oil you will be able to order at any given time. Choose from local oil companies, and order heating oil securely with a credit card when the fuel oil tank is low.

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.

Smart Oil Gauge is a heating oil tank gauge that will show you how many gallons per day you are going through.
The Smart Oil Gauge allows you to tell exactly how many gallons of home heating oil your home uses over an hour, day, week, month, or year. These statistics are extremely helpful when adjusting the thermostat throughout the year.

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.

Happy heating,

Steve

What Negative Oil Prices Mean for Heating Oil

oil storage tanks

Negative oil prices?! Yes, you read that right! But no, you will not be paid to fill your heating oil tank. Oil prices have tumbled dramatically in recent months, and just when we thought they could not get any lower – they have. Here’s a snapshot of what’s going on right now.

In the past two months, the COVID19 pandemic has virtually ground the US – and the global economy – to a screeching halt. Planes aren’t flying; kids aren’t going to school, and nearly all non-essential businesses have been ordered shut. In fact, travel has been so significantly reduced, that car accidents have dropped a whopping 50% in recent weeks. And crazier still, futures contracts for Crude Oil are so undesirable, the traders are literally paying for them to be taken off their hands.

May 2020 oil futures contracts have gone negative. This means traders are actually paying to get rid of their contracts for oil delivery in May.

No Demand For Oil, and Nowhere to Store It

How can oil prices be negative? The explanation comes down to futures contracts. What happens in the oil markets is traders buy futures contracts as an investment. An oil futures contract is an agreement made today to buy a quantity of oil at a predetermined date in the future for a predetermined price. A futures trader is hoping that by the time that date actually arrives, the value of that oil is greater than the agreed upon price. If that’s the case, the trader sells the contract to someone else, for a profit. In other cases, the oil price may have dropped, and the trader takes a loss.

In the case of the May futures contracts (oil that someone has agreed to take delivery of in May), there is so little demand for oil, that no one wants it! With planes not flying, and cars not driving, there’s just nobody using oil at the moment. As a result, all of the storage tanks and tankers that store oil between the refineries and the gas pumps are already full. There’s simply nowhere to store the oil!

There is so little demand for oil and gasoline at the moment due to the COVID19 pandemic, that most oil storage tanks are already full. As a result, traders are paying buyers to take their oil futures contracts so they don’t have to actually take delivery of oil in May.

Why Would Anyone Sell at a Negative Price?

If a trader purchases a contract to take delivery of oil in May, and fails to sell that contract, then that trader is obligated to actually receive the barrels of oil that were ordered. The problem is, a trader is sitting behind a desk somewhere, and has no way of actually taking those barrels and processing them. So the trader’s only option is to do everything possible to sell those contracts. In this case, this means actually paying someone to take possession of the contracts, and thus the oil.

What This Means for Heating Oil Prices

Fortunately, heating oil prices are at historically low levels at the moment. In Long Island, we’re seeing prices as low as $1.19 per gallon, with prices in the rest of the Northeast hovering around $1.49. Traditionally higher-priced areas such as the Albany, NY area and Maine are a bit closer to $2.00 per gallon still.

With this in mind, prices may fall slightly, but are not likely to go too much lower. The downstream players (e.g. heating oil companies) do not have the same urgency to offload incoming oil as the producers who are pumping the oil out of the ground. The crude oil still needs to be stored, refined, and transported to the terminals where heating oil trucks fill up. All of these steps are costly and ultimately get factored into the price before trucks start rolling. Since oil dealers often work on a fixed ‘cents per gallon’ markup, there’s only so much lower heating oil prices can go.

With that in mind, if you’ve got room in your tank, now would be a perfectly reasonable time to fill up.

Happy Spring everyone,

Steve

How Much Heating Oil Is In My Tank?

Home Heating Oil Gauge

When it comes to ordering heating oil, it is important to know how many gallons you can reasonably expect to fit in your tank. This allows you to maximize the delivery size, and take advantage of any price per gallon discount that you heating oil dealer provides for a larger delivery size. For a breakdown of everything you should take into account when shopping for heating oil, see our blog post here.

Before ordering heating oil, you’ll want to make sure that your heating oil tank has room for at least 100 gallons to be delivered. 100 gallons is most often the minimum delivery amount most dealers require. If you order 100 gallons and your tank will not take the full amount, you may be stuck paying a significantly higher price per gallon on your order. To determine whether your tank can take at least 100 gallons, you’ll need to know a few things about your home heating oil tank:

  • What style heating oil tank you have
  • Your heating oil tank’s max capacity
  • Your current level

The amount you can have delivered is equal to your tank’s max capacity, minus the current level.

Max Delivery Amount = Max Tank Capacity – Current Level

What Style Heating Oil Tank Do I Have?

There are a variety of heating oil tank styles these days, ranging from in-ground tanks, to a long list of above ground tanks. We’ll highlight the most common tank styles here, and give you a few tips for figuring out which style and size tank you have.

Steel Tanks

Traditional Granby Steel Heating Oil Tank

These are by far the most common style heating oil tank, especially in the Northeast US. They are most often 275 gallon tanks, but can also be 330 gallon.

Tip: A 275 gallon tank measures 5’ long; a 330 measures 6’. They are otherwise identical.

For a full list of steel tanks, refer to Granby’s website here.

Roth DWT (Double-Wall Tanks)

Roth Double-Wall Heating Oil Tanks

If you have a newer home, live near the water (i.e. the ocean), or have had your tank replaced in recent years, you may have a double-walled tank like the one shown above. These tanks feature an internal plastic tank enclosed in an outer metal shell. The most common variant of the Roth tank is the 1000L (275 gallons), which has a capacity of approximately 250 gallons.

Heating Oil Tank Capacity

Once you’ve identified which style home heating oil tank you have, the next step is to determine the overall capacity of the tank.

Tip: A 275 gallon oil tank DOES NOT hold 275 gallons – it actually holds between 240 and 250 gallons when full. A table of common tank capacities is shown at the bottom of this post.

The reason a tank does not hold the full amount has to do with two things: the vent alarm “whistle”, and the air space required at the top of the tank.

The Vent Alarm is a roughly 6” device that hangs down in the tank, positioned right under the vent pipe. As oil enters the tank, air is forced out of the tank through the vent pipe, causing the vent alarm to audibly whistle. The driver can hear this whistling sound from outside the house where the oil is pumped in. As the oil in the tank rises, it eventually touches this vent alarm whistle, causing it to stop making noise. At this point, the driver knows to stop pumping oil into the tank, as it is full. The whistle is designed to stop making noise when there’s approximately 6” of air remaining in the top of the tank. This way, it gives the driver a few seconds to shut the pump off without over filling the tank. It also allows the oil to expand as it warms up once it’s inside the house.

Heating Oil Vent Alarm “Whistle”

Your Current Level

Now that you know your heating oil tank’s max capacity, you’ll need to figure out your current level. The easiest way to tell is to use a Smart Oil Gauge, which not only tells you to the nearest tenth of a gallon what’s in your heating oil tank, but will also show you how much oil you can have delivered at any given time. If you don’t have a Smart Oil Gauge, then you’ll need to refer to the float gauge on your tank. This will give you a ballpark reading of ¼, ½, ¾, etc. At the bottom of this post are approximate levels based on your tank style, and what the float gauge is reading. With this, you can see the maximum amount of oil you can fit in the tank. If you don’t have a float gauge or a Smart Oil Gauge, you will need to use a measuring stick and an oil tank chart – a time consuming and messy process!

A Float Gauge at 1/4 Full

If your float gauge does not work, you should definitely consider installing a Smart Oil Gauge. Since it does not have any moving parts, it will not be subject to sludge buildup over time that typically causes the float gauges to fail. It will tell you from an app on your phone exactly how much oil is in the tank, helping you plan for your next delivery.

A Smart Oil Gauge Tells You Current Level and Days to Next Fill

With all this in mind, we’ve put together the guide below to determine how much oil can be delivered based on the current level in your particular tank.

Happy Heating,

Steve

How to Buy Heating Oil Online

Empty Home Heating Oil Gauge

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! 

Happy heating, 

Steve