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