Knowledge Base


Your source for Oilheat information: from price issues to tank replacement, and much more!

We hope we were able to answer your questions about Oilheat throughout the pages of this web site. This section lists Frequently Asked Questions about heating oil and equipment, and the answers you're looking for.

If you have specific questions regarding equipment brands, prices, full service benefits or other matters pertaining to home heating oil, please consult with your local Oilheat dealer. Often, these dealers are listed on their state/local Oilheat association web sites. For a listing of those web sites, please click here.

Technical Questions

What kinds of Oilheating systems are available?

Today's versatile Oilheat systems can heat with water, steam or warm air. Additionally, a boiler can dispense hot air through the home by using hydro-air. Thus, any Oilheating system is compatible with air conditioning. Oilheat is also a terrific option if you are interested in radiant heat.

Do I need a chimney for Oilheat systems?

Some new systems do not require chimneys, they vent directly. In fact, the newest trend is to put the boiler outside of your home, or to combine a furnace and an air conditioner, and have that unit outside. 

Can I determine the age and life expectancies for a heating system?

One way to determine a system's age is by checking the serial number; the date of manufacture is sometimes "hidden" within the serial number. Look for labels and tags near the unit. It's possible that the installer tagged the system with the date of installation. 

As far as longevity is concerned, oil-fired boilers and furnaces easily provide 20 years of service if properly maintained and serviced. Many of these units last even longer providing quality service to the homeowner for many years. 

What is the oldest furnace that is still in use?

The oldest kind of oil furnace you are likely to encounter will be connected to a gravity warm air heating system that was designed to burn coal and has been converted to oil. As the name implies, the air to heat the building is circulated by gravity, warm air rises and cold air falls. There is no fan to move the air around. Older Oilheat systems were good in their day, but the technology is from the 1930s. Oilheat technology has come a long way since then. 

What is the oldest boiler that is still in use?

The oldest kind of oil boiler you are likely to encounter had been converted from coal. Due to antiquated design, high draft loss and poor heat transfer plague these systems. The oldest systems are steam heat and gravity hot water. The gravity hot water works on the same principle as gravity warm air. The lighter hot water rises up into the radiators as the cooler heavier water falls back to the boiler. There are no circulator pumps or zone valves on gravity hot water. 

How does Oilheat heat water?

There are two kinds of Oil-fired water heaters: direct-fired water heaters, and indirect that use the heating system water from the boiler to heat the domestic water.

A direct-fired water heater heats the water in a storage tank directly by the heat of the oil flame on the outside of the tank. You'll usually find a direct-fired water heater in a home with a warm air furnace.

Indirect-fired water heaters heat the water in the home with a boiler. The boiler water heats the domestic water. The domestic water and boiler water are separated by a heat exchanger. The most common indirect is the tankless coil. It is a coil of copper pipe inside the boiler. The water flows through the inside of the coil where it is heated by the boiler water surrounding it. It is then delivered to the faucets and appliances around the house. A better option uses a combination of a coil and a storage tank. The boiler water flows through the coil. The domestic water is heated by the coil and stored in the tank until a faucet or appliance is turned on. 

What is the future of Oilheat?

The future of Oilheat is HERE, with Bioheat® fuel, blended from renewable biodiesel and Ultra-Low Sulfur Heating Oil. Clean Bioheat® fuel, made domestically from agricultural or recycled resources, is reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, supporting more than 31,000 U.S. jobs, and generating $345 million in federal tax revenue.

In addition, U.S. crude oil production is at its highest levels in decades, and was forecasted to average more than 9 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2015.

Equally exciting are the new technologies, smart controls, and responsive systems which are on the market that improve efficiency – increasing comfort while reducing fuel usage.

What is the AFUE number on the yellow sticker on my appliance mean?

AFUE is an attempt by the Department of Energy to measure how much heat stays in the system versus how much escapes up the chimney. The higher the AFUE rating, the greater the efficiency. New high-efficiency Oilheat equipment can have AFUE ratings as high as 95 percent. NORA's efficiency tool, the Fuel Savings Calculator, does a better job in terms of rating equipment efficiency as it examines a system as it operates within a particular climate.

What is degree day monitoring?

The degree day system was developed by heating engineers who wanted a method to relate each day's temperatures to the demand for fuel to heat and cool buildings.

To calculate the heating degree days value for a particular day, retail heating oil dealers find the day's average temperature by adding the day's high and low temperatures and then dividing by two. If the number is above 65, there is no heating degree days value that day. If the number is less than 65, dealers subtract it from 65 to find the number of heating degree days.

For example, if the day's high temperature is 60 and the low is 40, the average temperature is 50 degrees. 65 minus 50 equals 15 heating degree days. Cooling degree days are also based on the day's average minus 65. They relate the day's temperature to the energy demands of air conditioning. For example, if the day's high is 90 and the day's low is 70, the day's average is 80. 80 minus 65 equals 15 cooling degree days. 

How much heat does an oil burner make?

The efficiency levels of Oilheat systems can exceed 95 percent. For every gallon of oil burned, a whopping 138,000 Btus of energy are released. 

Where should my thermostats be mounted in my home?

Ideally, a thermostat should be mounted on an inside wall about five feet from the floor. It won't communicate proper heating needs if it's near a heat source, like a lamp or television, or if it's in an area prone to drafts, such as near a door or window. 

How does an oil burner work?

Heating oil in liquid form must be turned into vapor and mixed with air before it can burn. The oil pump lifts the oil from the storage tank, pressurizes it and delivers it to the burner's nozzle that sprays the oil in a fine mist of small droplets. This process is called atomizing. These droplets are mixed with air and then ignited by a spark from the burner's ignition system.

The flame from the oil burner heats the air in a heat exchanger inside the boiler or furnace. On one side of the metal is the flame, and on the other is the water or air that circulates in the house. All of the emissions from the oil flame (mostly nitrogen, water, and carbon dioxide) are sent up the chimney. 

What is the difference between a furnace and a boiler?

To heat the home a furnace uses air and a boiler uses water. A furnace uses the flame from the oil burner to heat air, which is distributed throughout the house. A boiler uses the flame to heat water that is either sent around the house in pipes to radiators, or is sent to a fan coil unit that heats air. 

What is a steam boiler?

In a steam system, water heated in the boiler turns to steam, and the steam rises to radiators to heat the home. For the most part, steam boilers have not been installed in new homes since the 1950s, when forced hot water heating systems proved to be cheaper to install and more efficient. However, steam is still an efficient and comfortable way to heat a home. 

Is there a way for my Oilheat dealer to gather data about my heating system?

Some new equipment connects your heating system with your Oilheat dealer's computer. Several companies have ways for the heating system to communicate with the dealer's computer system. The dealer will be able to gather data from the heating system, such as operational changes and burner problems, in addition to telling the dealer when the homeowner is low on fuel; reducing the chance of a run-out.

What is the highest AFUE on the market now for an oil furnace?

Several companies make furnaces with AFUEs over 95.

Questions About Oil

Where does heating oil come from?

Much of today’s heating oil comes directly from the U.S.A. – as of late 2014, crude oil production was at its highest level in decades, with 2015 forecasted to be the highest annual average crude oil production since the 1970s. The majority of the heating oil used in the United States is refined domestically.

There are more than 50 oil-producing countries meaning that the U.S. is not overly dependent on any one region for our supply. In fact, nearly one third of our crude oil imports come from Canada. Mexico, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia are our other largest suppliers.

How is heating oil made?

Heating oil is refined from crude oil. The refining process first separates crude oil into different "fractions" by using a distillation process. The middle distillates are then further refined to produce gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, diesel and No. 2 home heating oil. 

Why is heating oil red?

After refining, No. 2 heating oil is the color of champagne. For tax purposes, regulations require that heating fuel be dyed red before it is sold. This is so the authorities can tell the difference between heating oil and on-road diesel fuel. The dye has no effect on the fuel and how it burns. 

Is today's Oilheat's sulfur content reduced?

Oilheat is available in Low Sulfur (50-500 ppm) and Ultra-Low Sulfur (15 ppm) products. This reduces the sulfur emissions as much as 99 percent from traditional heating oil. In much of the Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont), low or ultra-low heating oil and or Bioheat® fuel are mandated for use in residential and commercial properties, and other states had mandates scheduled beginning 2016. This cleaner burning fuel gives us all a chance to breathe easier.

Consumer Attributes

What creates such a cozy feeling in my home when I heat with heating oil?

You can feel the difference with Oilheat. There are many technological reasons that contribute to Oilheat's legendary warmth. A high percentage of Oilheated systems are hydronic rather than warm air. Hydronic systems provide a more steady heat. Oilheat systems are sized to provide very fast recovery times for both space and water heating.

Which is the best way to heat my home?

Home heating fuel consumers tend to report high levels of satisfaction with all aspects of heating fuel that were measured including: Safe, Clean, Accessible, Fast service, Local, Efficient, Convenient, Dependable, and Reliable.

Prices of energy vary from market to market and at different times of the year. The Consumer Energy Council conducted a study to determine the best ways for consumers to save energy in their home and they found that changing fuel sources was not effective. Rather than changing fuel sources, homeowners can upgrade their heating equipment to new high-efficiency systems. Studies have shown that replacing an old boiler with a new high-efficiency boiler can save as much as 48 percent of energy usage – with the average upgrade providing 25 percent savings. (Energy Research Center, Field Measurement of Boiler Energy Savings, NYSERDA)

Why choose Oilheat?

If you want heat that is clean, comfortable, environmentally friendly, efficient, economical, dependable, safe and versatile, Oilheat is for you. With Bioheat® fuel, you’re getting all that with the added benefit of knowing you’ve made the renewable choice.

Is Oilheat clean?

Cleanliness is an important Oilheat improvement. Today's Oilheat is 95 percent cleaner than it was in 1970. When properly adjusted and maintained, new Oilheat systems create absolutely no soot, dirt, or odors in the home. Bioheat® Fuel blended with Ultra-Low Sulfur Heating Oil is cleaner, produces fewer emissions, and makes your heating equipment work even more efficiently with less maintenance.

How safe is Oilheat?

Heating oil is safe. It takes an advanced high-tech burner to ignite the oil. If you drop a match into heating oil it will go out as if dropped into water. Heating oil must be vaporized before it will ignite or burn. 

Has Oilheat improved, and what is its impact on the environment?

Over the last three decades, Oilheat equipment has improved its environmental performance. Before the development of the modern oil burners, the emissions of particulate matter from an Oilheat system were 10 pounds per 1000 gallons burned, or .1 percent. Today's Oilheat has significantly lowered its emissions. Now, only 7 ounces is released for every thousand gallons burned, or .006 percent. 

How big are the heating appliances?

New oil fired heating boilers and furnaces are much smaller than older ones. The average boiler today is as big as a three-drawer filing cabinet. Furnaces are similarly sized. 

How can I take advantage of Oilheat, or get it in my home?

Oilheat can be installed into any home and be easily combined with air-conditioning. If you don't currently have Oilheat, using Oilheat should not be a problem. It will require the installation of a tank, which may be installed inside or outside. The furnace or boiler may be installed either inside or outside depending on the space in your home, and what works best for you. The most important step is to find a local Oilheat dealer who can work with you to ensure that the Oilheating system you install will meet the needs of you and your family. 

How much smoke is produced in my heating unit?

An Oilheat system with one of today's modern burners is capable of burning 99.9 percent clean. The oil burners of today are so clean that they produce on average six ounces of particulate emissions (soot) a year. To put that in context, consider that the six ounces of particulate comes from burning three and a half tons of heating oil. 

What is the average consumption of a household?

The Oilheat Industry has made great progress with energy conservation. In 1980 the average American home burned approximately 1,400 gallons per year. In 2013, the average number of gallons burned was only 700 per year. This is a 50 percent decrease per household! A new system offers such exceptional efficiency you could save up to 40 percent or more in heating and hot water costs.

What has changed over the years with heating oil?

The biggest change is the introduction of Bioheat® fuel, which blends renewable, domestically produced biodiesel with your heating oil. Bioheat® fuel is reducing the already low emissions, creating American jobs, and making heating equipment work better and more efficiently all across the country. Further still is the reduction in sulfur in the fuel — we have dramatically reduced the amount of sulfur in the fuel from over 1 percent in 1970 to an average of .2 percent today in "low sulfur heating oil," an 80 percent reduction. This leads to improved efficiency, cleaner burning, lower environmental impact, and increased longevity for heating equipment. Today, many dealers have gone even further. They are marketing .05 percent sulfur fuel (Ultra-low sulfur heating oil — a 99 percent reduction). Bioheat® fuel blended with ultra-low sulfur heating oil is a clean, green, renewable option for your home, your children, and your grandchildren. 

How reliable are new Oilheat systems?

New Oilheat system components are amazingly reliable. They are so reliable most manufacturers offer 3 to 5 year warranties, and if something ever fails it is easy to get replacement parts.

Tank Questions

Should I be concerned about my tank?

Tanks are an effective way to store oil, and with proper maintenance can last for several decades. You should not be concerned if you or your oil dealer are taking care of the tank.

Is it normal for my oil tank to give off an odor?

No, a properly functioning oil tank should not produce odors. If you notice an oil smell in the building it may be a sign that there is a problem with your tank, the piping or your heating appliance. You should contact your oil dealer about this. 

When is it time to replace my oil tank?

Home heating oil tanks last a long time. They are made of high-grade steel, fiberglass, or sometimes double wall tanks of plastic and steel, and can last for decades. Maintenance of the tanks and inspections prolong the life of the tank. You should talk with your Oilheat retailer about the potential need to replace your tank. He can provide advice on how to evaluate the tank, and replacement options. 

What should I do when it is time to change my tank?

Consult with an Oilheat professional as to the ideal tank size, type, and installation location for your home. NORA recommends that — if possible — an aboveground tank be installed inside a building or enclosure to protect it from the elements. There are attractive enclosures for outdoor tanks to preserve them, and blend in with your home and property.

What should I look for in a tank installation and maintenance?

Your heating oil tank should always be installed by a professional. Tank installation is NOT a do-it-yourself weekend project.

Have your tank inspected periodically. This can be done during your oil burner preventive maintenance check. The service personnel should look around the tank; inspect the fittings, the area the tank is in, and the tank itself.

You should ensure that a tank that is outdoors is away from debris and bushes, and metal objects should not be leaned on any tank. Also, if there is a smell of oil from the tank, bring it to the attention of your Oilheat dealer. If a tank is corroding from the inside out, smells and small wet spots can indicate the tank is beginning to fail.

Many full-service Oilheat dealers also offer “Tank Protection Insurance” to provide additional protection in the rare instance of a leak. Speak with your dealer about this or other options they may offer.

What causes tank failure?

The answer is corrosion. Corrosion is a natural process. It is essentially rust. Corrosion occurs in the presence of water. That is why it is very important to protect the tank from exposure to water inside the tank. An outside tank does not have to be protected from rain, but it should be painted, and inspected periodically to ensure that any rusting is only on the surface. 

How does the deliveryman/woman fill my tank?

In addition to the tank, a heating oil storage system includes the fill pipe and the vent pipe. The oil driver connects the hose from the delivery truck to the fill pipe when making a delivery of fuel.

The vent pipe releases air from the tank as it's filled. The terminus of the fill pipe and vent pipe are outdoors and near each other. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires inside tanks to have a whistle (generally called a vent alarm) that indicates when, during a delivery, the tank reaches its fill point.

Hot Water With Oil

Does Oilheat produce a hot shower that stays hot?

Homeowners with oil-fired water heaters have discovered they have low-cost access to virtually unlimited amounts of hot water. Oilheat's ability to produce a reliable, inexpensive supply of domestic hot water is one of its strongest features. Although an oil-fired water heater may cost a little more to install up front, its efficiency in heating water means extremely low operating costs over the life of the unit.

Oil-fired water heaters have high recovery rates, which means they can heat large amounts of water quickly. Homeowners can contact an oil dealer to find out which water heating option is best for their home and family. The oil company can work with them to make sure the water heater they choose has a sufficient recovery rate for their needs. Two adults, for instance, may never need more than 30 gallons of hot water an hour, but a family of six may need 70 gallons. 

Economic Issues

Why do my oil prices change so often?

Oil prices fluctuate for a variety of reasons. These include:

  • Commodities Trading - Heating oil is traded on the commodities market just like other home heating fuels. This means heating oil cost is subject to fluctuations, just like the stock market. The price of crude oil has the biggest impact on the price of wholesale heating oil. Due to the variations in crude oil prices, dealers are generally price takers on any given day. Heating oil like any energy product responds to supply and demand fundamentals, such as cold or warm weather or supply issues in foreign countries.
  • Changes in the cost of crude oil - Crude oil is a major price component of heating oil, and changes in the price of crude oil affect the price of heating oil.
  • Regional operating costs - Prices also are impacted by higher costs of transporting the product to remote locations. In addition, the cost of doing business by dealers can vary substantially depending on the area of the country in which the dealer is located. Costs of doing business include wages and salaries, benefits, equipment, lease/rent, insurance, overhead, and state and local fees.

    Because the heating oil industry is composed of many companies, there are a wide variety of pricing options for consumers. Not all of these are available from every retailer or in every area.
How do I compare different heating options?

Each fuel is different. Gas is sold by the Therm or cubic foot, electricity is sold by the kilowatt and heating oil and propane are sold by the gallon. However, a gallon of heating oil and a gallon of propane have different characteristics and different energy contents. Heating oil has 138,000 Btus per gallon. You need to find out how much energy is in the other fuels and compare it to heating oil. A local oil dealer can probably get you the information you need for your market.

However, don't forget the comfort and reliability of oil when you do your research. 

What do you recommend consumers do to combat higher energy costs?

The best strategy continues to be conservation. NORA has completed a 160 page training guide "Efficient Oilheat, An Energy Conservation Guide" which is the foundation for the NORA Gold Certification. This program educates technicians on energy conservation strategies ranging from simple thermostat replacements to system redesign including boiler replacements and how to analyze the energy savings for consumers. It also includes information on how to explain these energy improvements to the customer. Working with customers, Oilheat dealers can help them cut energy costs by 20 to 25 percent. Careful attention to energy conservation can cost effectively be achieved by nearly all consumers.

NORA estimates that a replacement of an older boiler could save on average more than 25 percent - and as much as 48 percent. A reduction of this size could save a homeowner more than $1,000 per year.

Less expensive modifications such as installing and properly using a programmable thermostat could reduce usage by up to 10 percent per year, insulating pipes and ducts can save another 5 percent per year, and a tune-up could save up to 10 percent. These changes will pay for themselves in a short time.

Describe price cap and fixed price programs.

Typically, a fixed price program is first developed when an Oilheat dealer secures heating oil contracts for his/her customers on the wholesale market for a specific price. The dealer then develops the fixed price based on his operations.

Once that price is established, the Oilheat dealer will offer the price to customers and the price is fixed for a given period of time (or number of gallons) and will never go up or down during the contract term. The customer commits to paying that fixed price even if the price for a gallon of heating oil goes up or down on the open market during the heating season.

A cap price program allows for market changes. Customers can lock in a price for the entire heating season (or number of gallons) with a price cap, which is the most they will pay no matter how high heating oil prices go throughout the heating season.

If the retail price goes up the customer pays the cap price, but if the retail price goes down the customer pays the lower price. 

With both fixed price and cap price programs Oilheat dealers sign for and are committed to contracts with their suppliers for fuel oil months in advance of the heating season. This enables the dealer to lock in a price and pass the price on to their customers, but the dealer will most likely pay for insurance to protect these investments. The cost of this insurance is often called "downside protection." It is not till the end of winter that you can tell whether these programs were a better value than the more traditional way of buying oil at the dealer's daily price.

What is a pre-buy plan?

A "pre-buy" plan allows customers to cost-effectively buy heating oil in advance, agreeing to take a certain number of gallons at a set price during the next heating season. As the name suggests, most “pre-buy” plans require payment in full before the heating season begins.

Do you recommend that consumers sign up for these kinds of programs?

These programs provide a variety of alternatives for Oilheat consumers, but every customer must decide what works best for their energy needs and budget. 

Do all Oilheat dealers offer these programs to customers?

No. Many full-service Oilheat dealers will try to offer one or more of these programs to their customers.

What other fuel buying options do consumers have for Oilheat?

A customer can buy home heating oil by paying the daily market rate. Since heating oil is a commodity that is traded on world energy markets such as the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), the price can change from day to day. The daily rate would reflect the most recent activity in the heating oil market. For example, a consumer could take delivery on a Monday of home heating oil at a specific price, and then the following day the price could be higher or lower.

What is the definition of the wholesale price for heating oil?

The wholesale price is the price the dealer pays for his oil from large wholesale companies that typically buy oil by the bargeload. These prices reflect the daily trading activity that occurs on world energy trading markets such as the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). Your local Oilheat dealer has no control over the wholesale price, however, most dealers work hard to find the lowest wholesale price in their market. A dealer prices heating oil to customers by examining the wholesale price, overhead or fixed costs associated with running the Oilheat business (rent, vehicle expenses, employee wages, insurance, etc), and the price trends and other prices in the market. 

What's a typical profit margin for a heating oil company?

Due to strict anti-trust laws regarding commodity pricing and competition among Oilheat dealers within the marketplace, do not have that information.. 

Where can homeowners go for help in paying their heating oil bills?

Families in need of assistance and the elderly can apply for fuel assistance (Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program - LIHEAP) through state agencies such as the Department of Housing & Community Development. Every state has different eligibility requirements that you must meet in order to qualify for assistance. 

Service Issues

Who should service my heating unit?

The NORA Oilheat Technician Certification Program provides a national standard for Technician Training. It gives credibility and recognition to Master Technicians. It encourages Technicians to become perpetual students by requiring Continuing Education. It builds upon and supplements existing education programs. It gives Oilheat companies who invest in education for their Technicians a way to differentiate themselves from those companies that do not. Currently, there are over 10,000 NORA certified technicians.

The diagnostic tools technicians use have also improved dramatically. Our new digital test equipment gives technicians the information they need to maximize a system's safety, efficiency, and reliability.

Many technicians go into the field with smartphones, laptops and tablets which can access equipment troubleshooting and repair databases to streamline the diagnostic process. These devices can also, in many cases, connect to the smart controls on new heating systems, for more information about the equipment’s operations and status.

What is the reset button and why should I only press it once?

Primary controls have a reset button. This button allows the homeowner to restart the burner should a problem cause the unit to shut down. (For example, burners may need to be restarted after a power outage.) Pushing the reset button should get the burner running, but if the safety switch shuts the burner down again, the homeowner should call for service. Homeowners should NEVER push the reset button more than once because it might cause excess oil to be pumped into the combustion chamber.

How long does a tune-up take?

A complete professional tune-up generally takes from one to two hours. It typically includes a series of safety and operating tests and any needed adjustments. These include, among many others, testing the draft, the stack temperature, burner operation and system efficiency. 

What is the difference between "automatic" delivery and "will call"?

"Automatic" delivery means that an Oilheat dealer will automatically determine when a customer needs fuel by using degree day monitoring. The customer does not need to place a call to the dealer for a delivery. The dealer will automatically deliver fuel on a regular basis and the customer is assured of never running out of fuel.

"Will-call" means that a customer will monitor their own consumption and "will call" the dealer when a delivery is needed.