Knowing more about how your heating oil furnace works will help you to make smart choices if you’re considering replacing your old heating system with a new, high-efficiency model. And if you’re having a heating problem, understanding how your furnace works will be helpful when you discuss the issue with your heating service contractor.
Furnaces can be powered by either fuel oil, propane gas, natural gas or electricity. Also known as warm-air or forced-air systems, furnaces produce heated air in the combustion chamber.
Besides heat, the ductwork that connects with your furnace can provide other kinds of conditioned air, including through:
Advanced technology has also brought us the ultra-efficient condensing furnace, which recovers and uses some of the lost heat from waste gases, thanks to a secondary heat exchanger.
As noted, today’s high-efficiency furnaces provide extra heat more efficiently than units made a generation ago. Higher efficiency means more energy savings, which of course translates into lower energy costs. This is why it pays to learn as much as you can about today’s high-tech heating solutions—and your heating oil service contractor is here to help you, with all of the latest information on new, high-efficiency heating oil furnaces.
When discussing your heating oil furnace replacement options with your heating expert, you’ll most likely learn about the importance of proper sizing.
Read more about a new furnace installation.
If you’re living in your first oil-heated home, you may be wondering about heating oil usage and the process of measuring your tank level, avoiding run-outs, and more. Here are answers to the most common questions we hear.
On top of the tank is a clear glass or plastic cube that is marked with numbers that resemble the gas gauge of your car: F, ¾, ½, ¼. A red marker or float commonly indicates the amount of fuel left in your tank – if the float is at the bottom of the gauge or not visible at all, your tank is empty or nearly empty.
To make sure the gauge is working, carefully remove the outer case and gently press the float down. If it bobs back up to the original position, the gauge is working. If the gauge is not working, contact your heating oil supplier and let them know. The last thing you want to do is to start guessing how much oil is left in your tank during a cold snap.
The most common size of a heating oil tank is 275 gallons, but the size of the tank doesn’t indicate how much fuel it actually holds.
When full, a 275-gallon tank holds approximately 235-255 gallons depending on how deep the vent pipe goes in to the top of the tank; the rest of the space is left to allow for air or debris at the bottom of your tank.
So, if your gauge reads “½” in a 275-gallon tank, you have about 117 gallons left, not 135 or so as you might first expect. Other typical tank sizes may include 230 and 240 gallons (the size is often indicated on the side of your tank; older models may not include that information).
Read more about heating oil tanks.
To make winter deliveries easier and stress-free for you, ask your heating oil company if they offer automatic delivery. This allows them to be accurate about your fuel needs so they can make a heating oil delivery and you can continue to feel warm and safe using home heating oil.
But if you still prefer to call for heating oil, you need to give your supplier extra time when conditions are harsh in order to avoid running out of fuel. It’s best to call for more fuel when your oil tank falls to the one-quarter mark.
Absolutely. First, heating oil cannot burn in its liquid state. Before combustion can even occur, heating oil must first be vaporized into a finer mist by your oil burner at temperatures above 140°.
Second, the fuel you have stored in your heating oil tank right now is very safe because it can’t explode. In fact, if you were to drop a lit match into a bucket of heating oil, the flame would go out, just as if you dropped the match into water.
Third, a heating oil system poses a very low risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. If an oil burner ever malfunctions, you’ll most likely see smoke and the safety devices will shut the furnace or boiler off.
Fourth, the advent of Bioheat® fuel has made home heating oil even safer. That’s because Bioheat fuel has a higher flash point, also known as ignition temperature. It’s just one more thing that homeowners who use Bioheat fuel can feel good about.
There are various reasons why your heating oil furnace stops working one day. For some simple problems, you may be able to find the solution yourself and save yourself a service call. In other more complex cases, you will need to reach out for help from a heating oil service provider. The last thing you want to do is try to make a repair on your own. You may end up causing an even bigger, more expensive problem with your furnace.
Before we begin with diagnosing problems, here’s a primer on how oil furnaces work. Getting to know your furnace better makes you more informed if a heating problem arises this winter.
Because it generates heated air, a furnace is also known as a forced-air or warm-air system. Here is how it produces heat.
1. No Power
If your heat stops working and you’ve confirmed that there isn’t a power outage in your community, your next step should be to check for a tripped circuit breaker or a blown fuse. You also should check to see if the power switches to your furnace have been accidentally turned off.
If you find that power switches for your heating system have been turned off by mistake, simply turn the electrical switches back to the “on” position and your problem may be solved.
If your power switches are not the problem, next check your circuit breaker box to see if all circuit switches are still in the “on” position. Flipping the proper switch to on again may be all you need to get your system running again.
However, please keep this in mind: a circuit breaker rarely ever trips for no reason. If this happens once and never happens again, it may be just a fluke. But if this happens more than once, contact a heating oil service professional, as this could indicate a serious problem.
2. Malfunctioning Thermostat
Many instances of furnaces not working can be traced to the thermostat, whose signal to your oil furnace to turn on may be interrupted if the wiring of the thermostat has begun to deteriorate. A build-up of dust inside your thermostat is another common reason why your thermostat is not operating correctly. Another thing to look for are weak batteries in the thermostat.
3. Wrong Thermostat Setting
Make sure your thermostat is set to at least five degrees higher than your current room temperature so the furnace “knows” you need more heat. In most cases, you’ll also want to make sure the fan is set to “auto” instead of “on.” Here’s why. Once your furnace gets your home to the room temperature you want, it will shut off and stop producing warm air. If the fan is set to “on,” the furnace will continue to blow air—but it will not be warm. You can fix this by switching the setting to “auto.”
The main benefit of setting the thermostat to “auto” is your energy usage and costs will be less. You will also eliminate cool air coming out of your vents.
However, if indoor air quality is an issue for someone in your household, choosing the “on” setting instead may be a trade-off you’re willing to make. By leaving the setting to “on,” you will ensure continuous circulation and filtration of your indoor air, which will benefit anyone in your home who suffers from a respiratory ailment. Experts say you will also be able to maintain a more efficient distribution of heat inside your rooms.
4. Clogged Air Filter
You need to change or clean the air filter in the furnace on a regular basis during the heating season. A dirty filter lowers heating efficiency and if the filter gets badly clogged, it can cause your furnace to shut down. This is a built-in safety measure to prevent your furnace from overheating and causing damage.
To check the filter, turn off the furnace first and then remove the filter. Hold it up to the light. If no light shines through, the filter needs to replaced with a new one, or in some cases, cleaned and then returned to the furnace. You can also use your sense of smell to detect a dirty filter. If you notice a dusty/dirty odor coming from your heating vents when the furnace is blowing hot air, this often indicates that the filter needs to be changed or cleaned.
5. No Heating Oil
If you call to order your fuel, make sure to check your heating oil tank regularly—especially in the middle of a cold snap. You should not let your oil tank fall below the ¼ mark. To prevent run-outs, see if your heating oil company offers automatic delivery service, which is designed to prevent run-outs.
Like any piece of equipment, your heating oil furnace will eventually have to be replaced one day. A new furnace can be a better option than paying for another furnace repair because you will be able to reduce your annual heating expenses substantially.
The most modern oil furnaces have adjustable speeds and are very energy efficient. They feature high-pressure flame-retention burners, durable heat exchangers and microprocessor-based controls. This could save you a lot of money on heating costs in the years ahead.
If you think your furnace is wearing out, research your replacement options soon and then reach out to your heating oil service company for advice.
Heating oil comes from crude oil, which has to be refined to remove impurities. It’s then separated into different “fractions.” More refined fractions are used to produce such products as gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, diesel fuel and No. 2 home heating oil, which is what you use to heat your home. Even heavier fractions become No. 4 or No. 6 heating oils. These fuels are used for more heavy-duty purposes in commercial and industrial buildings, schools, and hospitals.
Diesel fuel and No. 2 fuel oil are virtually the same things, in terms of their chemical composition. Speaking of similarities, there is also a No. 1 fuel oil, which is similar to kerosene but less refined. No. 1 fuel oil has a lower pour point, which means it won’t gel as quickly as No. 2 heating oil does in extreme cold. However, it produces fewer BTUs of heating energy than No. 2 heating oil.
There is more work to be done before your home heating oil reaches your heating oil tank. After it is refined and ready for use, heating oil is transported by ship, barge, truck, and/or pipeline to major fuel terminals. It is distributed from these terminals to local heating oil companies. Many of these companies have their own storage facilities, which can hold thousands of gallons of heating oil. These company storage facilities ensure that an adequate supply of fuel is on hand during the cold months to ensure people get their heating oil delivery whenever they need it.
There have been significant strides in the refining of heating oil that make it much cleaner and increasingly greener. Notably, most of the sulfur content has been removed, which is why today’s heating oil generates so little soot compared to the past.
Here is why this is important.
Heating oil has also been reformulated with Bioheat® fuel, which consists of ultra-low sulfur heating oil that’s blended with renewable biodiesel. Bioheat fuel blends represent the future of heating oil in our country.
The most refined grade of heating oil available, Bioheat fuel is one of the cleanest burning heating sources for your home. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions significantly and no changes to your existing heating oil system are necessary.
Read more about the benefits of Bioheat fuel.
If your furnace has been properly checked and maintained by a heating oil service professional on a regular basis, it will likely keep your home warm without any problems. But if you have ignored regular heating maintenance, your furnace will eventually give you warning signs of a coming problem. Those signs often come in the form of odd smells.
Odors coming from your furnace can indicate several problems; some are easy to fix and some are more complex. Here are some common furnace odors and what they may mean for your heating equipment.
One way to help your furnace operate without any trouble is to change or clean your furnace’s air filter as often as the manufacturer recommends. In general, you should check the filter’s condition about once a month and change/clean it when necessary.
If your air filter gets clogged with dust and other debris, there is less room for air to flow through your system and then through your home. Your furnace will need to work harder to circulate air, which will result in an increase in your heating bills. Your home will become less comfortable and the indoor air quality will degrade. If neglected for too long, a dirty, clogged air filter can result in your furnace shutting down.
If you’re not sure how to change the filter yourself but would like to, please contact your heating oil service provider for advice.
If you think your oil furnace has seen better days and needs to be replaced, please see how you can qualify for an equipment rebate.
Please contact your heating oil service company for more information about a new furnace installation.
Modern heating oil is already one of the most eco-friendly home comfort fuels around today. And thanks to the advent of Bioheat® fuel — a blend of ultra-low sulfur heating oil and biofuel made from organic and recycled ingredients —we’re moving toward a future of net-zero carbon emissions.
The good news keeps on coming. Companies have been using advanced technology to convert woody fiber waste from lumber and paper mills into ethyl levulinate (EL). This can then be converted into an ultra-clean home heating product that replaces petroleum, gallon-for-gallon. Emitting zero greenhouse gas emissions EL, like Bioheat fuel, can be used safely with current home heating oil systems.
This is just one example of the quest to find more eco-friendly renewable liquid fuels. The continued growth of Bioheat fuel already results in a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions!
“Ethyl levulinate could be a game changer for the industry, delivering the comfort of heating oil and essentially eliminating greenhouse gas emissions,” said John Huber, president of the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA).
Bioheat fuel is being used today in homes across South Carolina. You can burn it in any oil-fired equipment without modification. It’s better for the environment and leaves fewer deposits, saving you money on maintenance!
Transitioning to Bioheat fuel is a win-win situation: it’s been proven to reduce emissions because it is a low-carbon heating —and it doesn’t require any expensive system upgrades in your home.
The biodiesel, or biofuel, blend in Bioheat fuel is composed of various organic products, including vegetable oils, animal fats, and even algae. Besides the recent positive development of ethyl levulinate, studies have also shown the viability of using various types of grass for the production of biofuel.
Biodiesel is considered a biogenic fuel that eliminates carbon output. By contrast, when traditional fossil fuels that do not contain biodiesel are burned, they take carbon that was stored in soil and put 100% of that carbon into the atmosphere.
By contrast, the combustion of biofuels and other biogenic energy sources recycles carbon-dioxide emissions through renewable plant materials and other biomass feedstocks.
That’s why you’ll keep hearing a lot about net-zero carbon emissions in the years ahead. You can read more about Bioheat fuel here.
The school buses in Richland School District will be using organic biofuel in the near future. But this biofuel won’t come from an industrial facility. It’s coming from a science lab in Blythewood High School!
Chemistry students at the school are learning how to process used cooking oil into non-petroleum diesel fuel. They’ve tested the fuel in the school’s tractors with the goal of using it in buses. This is the same kind of biofuel used in the clean-burning Bioheat® fuel that some South Carolina families use in their heating systems.
Blythewood’s program has been running for five years, but it’s now scaling up operations because of grants from the South Carolina Energy Office and Green Energy Biofuels. Funding will take it from producing 40 gallons per week to 150 gallons!
Chemistry teacher Will Epps started the program as a way to educate his students and help them enter Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers after graduating. Student response has been incredibly positive. They love the hands-on process and the fact that they’re helping reduce carbon emissions.
Advanced heating fuels like Bioheat fuel combine ultra-low-sulfur heating oil and biofuel. One of the organic products used to make biofuel is used cooking oil.
To give you an example of the process, let’s take a look at local company Green Energy Biofuel, the company that has given its financial support to the program at Blythewood High School and has locations in Winnsboro, SC and Warrenville, SC.
Green Energy Biofuel collects used cooking oil in drop-off bins at local recycling centers. And in Charleston County, the local government has made the process even easier by distributing cooking oil disposal containers at eight county-operated convenience centers.
After collection, Green Energy Biofuel refines this used cooking oil to make its biofuel product, which is then blended with heating oil to create Bioheat® fuel!
Biofuel is a gallon-for-gallon substitute for petroleum-based fuels. Widespread regional use of Bioheat fuel annually prevents more than 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of removing 320,000 vehicles from the road.
Plus, homes that heat with energy-efficient Bioheat fuel use less energy overall. Right now, and in the years ahead, you should feel great about heating your South Carolina home with renewable heating oil. So, please remember to recycle your used cooking oil!
You can read more about Bioheat fuel here.
With energy prices so high and inflation rates draining cash from our pockets every day, most people want to save money at home wherever they can.
The good news is that there are actually many easy yet important energy conservation methods that can add up to impressive savings over time. Here is a closer look at some of the steps you can take to improve your home’s energy efficiency right now—and for years to come.
During the cold months, keep curtains and shades open in sun-exposed rooms to absorb all that free heat and solar energy during the day, then close them at night to keep it in at night. Do the reverse in the summer by closing curtains and shades during the day to block solar heat. Smart window treatments can help manage solar energy throughout the year.
In the spring and summer, the U.S. Energy Department recommends setting your central air conditioning system to 78°F when you’re at home. Program your A/C system to shut off 20-30 minutes before you leave home each day; return the temperature setting to normal comfort levels 20 to 30 minutes before you come home.
In the winter, the optimal setting is 68°F when you’re at home. Dial it down toward the 60°F range when you’re asleep or out of the house. The temperatures you ultimately choose will depend on factors like the outdoor temperature and your family’s comfort preferences. Remember, these are just guidelines.
To learn about how you can positively impact your home’s energy efficiency through upgrades to systems like heating oil boilers and heating oil furnaces, please go here.
It’s no surprise that some people in the Palmetto State who use heating oil to keep their home warm may be thinking of switching their heating fuel to escape the stress of paying high heating oil delivery bills over the winter. Paying more for your heat is always a valid concern, especially when prices rise to painfully high levels.
But simply switching fuels is not a guarantee for savings. It’s important to understand that energy efficiency is driven by the technology of the heating system, not the type of fuel used in the home. An old system, no matter the fuel type, is going to be extremely inefficient compared to today’s technologically advanced equipment.
That’s why the Consumer Energy Council of America says it doesn’t make economic sense to switch fuels, and the better move is to upgrade to a new high-efficiency system of the same fuel. That’s because there are extra costs involved with a conversion that homeowners probably won’t recoup quickly enough.
Modern high-efficiency heating oil systems in well-insulated homes can help homeowners achieve the same amount of warmth while using much less fuel per year. This results in huge savings and reduces consumption considerably.
With the availability of heating oil equipment rebates, it is easier than ever to cut your annual heating fuel costs by upgrading to a high-efficiency heating oil furnace or boiler. Read more about replacing your equipment.
It’s important to keep things in perspective when looking at heating oil prices. For the most part, the price of oil has been fairly stable since 2014. However, there have been a lot of changes over the past couple of years that have upended the energy markets, including the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
These events have had a negative effect on all energy prices, causing everything to go up. But if history is a guide, we can expect to see heating oil prices drop pretty significantly in the not-too-distant future.
While some market analysts expect heating oil prices to go lower by a fair amount over the next several months, the current high volatility in the commodity markets makes it extremely difficult to form accurate predictions.
But one of many problems right now is the reluctance of fuel suppliers to purchase their product in the current market because they don’t want to get stuck with the higher-priced product. This situation has led to supply concerns and caused prices to be artificially higher now. Adding to the uncertainty is that no one really knows for sure what will happen with the Ukraine war. The war is also causing a historic amount of diesel fuel to be shipped to Europe, which is impacting heating oil as well because diesel fuel and heating oil are pretty much the same things.
The heating oil industry recently committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The number of households that use blends of ultra-low-sulfur Bioheat® fuel are increasing in parts of the country and more blends are in development every day. Shorter-term goals include reaching a 15% reduction in carbon emissions by 2023, and a 40% reduction by 2030.
Being safe at home is just one of the many reasons people prefer to heat their home with oil. With everything that’s happening in the world today, the last thing you want is to feel unsafe at home.
For starters, heating oil cannot explode. The oil in your tank is as likely to explode as the water in your backyard swimming pool. It’s that safe.
Plus, with an oil tank on your property, you can always count on having a secure, on-site supply at your home. Heating oil is easily transported and handled by highly trained professionals, who use equipment and techniques that keep safety at the forefront.
Most heating oil companies are locally-owned and locally-based. They’re proud to offer safe, reliable heating oil deliveries backed by friendly, personalized service.
Read more about the benefits of upgrading your furnace or boiler to a new, high-efficiency oil heating system. Then, contact your heating oil service contractor.
Some things get better with age, but that’s not true for heating oil storage tanks. Oil storage tanks can last for many years, but like all equipment in your home, they will eventually wear out.
Specific life spans vary depending on the humidity, the thickness of the steel and more. And when tanks do fail, it’s hard to see it coming because they generally erode from the inside out.
As a general rule of thumb, if your fuel storage tank is more than 30 years old, you should consider replacing it.
It’s a good idea to get regular, professional tank inspections done on your aboveground oil tank. You should also do your own visual inspections periodically because some trouble signs can be seen, including:
Other warning signs that your tank may need to be replaced:
Here’s another reason for tank failure: condensation on the outside of the tank, long after a heating oil delivery. When there is a lot of empty space in an oil tank during the spring and summer, condensation can form along the inside walls. This turns into sediment later, and, if ignored, can result in corrosion.
TIP: To avoid condensation from forming, you should keep your oil tank full during the warm-weather months.
If you notice any trouble signs with your heating-oil storage tank, you should reach out to your local heating oil service contractor for assistance and advice.
There have been big improvements in heating-oil tanks over the years. One of the most important is double-walled construction with an outside layer of corrosion-proof galvanized steel. This keeps the chance of a costly leak to a minimum. Other innovations include:
To sum up, today’s aboveground oil storage tanks provide peace of mind and convenience—in addition to all the other benefits of heating your home with oil!
If you’re thinking about replacing your old oil tank, please read about South Carolina heating oil equipment rebates, which will save you money on your purchase.