Harrisburg & Central PA Heating Oil Questions
Heating oil and related products are most widely used for indoor heating in the Northeastern United States; a region which requires high-energy, high-efficiency heating fuels due to harsh winter conditions. In many other parts of the nation, these fuels are not widely available, and many people are therefore unfamiliar with them. Each year we sign up new customers who have never used heating oil before. Usually, they have a number of questions about the fuel and the equipment, as well as the process of ordering and purchasing their fuel. This page answers the questions we are most frequently asked, and we hope that it can also serve as a resource for heating oil customers everywhere.
Use these links to go directly to the information you need:
What is heating oil?
Why do people use heating oil instead of other fuels?
What does oil heat require?
What is the process of heating with oil?
How do I order oil?
How much oil should I order?
How long will it take for my oil to be delivered after I order it?
How much oil will I use in a year?
How much will my fuel cost?
Does my heating equipment need regular maintenance?
How do I know how much oil is in my tank?
Is it bad to run out of oil?
I am about to run out of oil, and can’t get a delivery in time to prevent it. What do I do?
I’ve run out of heating oil! Now what do I do?
Heating oil is a liquid petroleum fuel that can be stored safely for long periods of time, and used in a furnace as a heat source as needed. Kerosene and blended fuel are similar products that can be used in place of heating oil in all oil-based heating systems. For in-depth information about these fuels, please visit our fuel delivery page.
Heating oil has several advantages over other fuels on the market today.
- It’s easily portable. Liquid heating fuels can be carried in a truck to wherever there are roads. It is not distributed over a network of dedicated pipelines, like natural gas. It can be transported without the need for pressurized tanks or special equipment, which lowers the cost of handling and transporting it. ABC and other domestic heating oil suppliers can easily and rapidly deliver by truck to codes-approved domestic storage tanks.
- It has very low volatility when compared to other heating fuels. It can be stored safely in tanks inside your home, and is delivered at ambient pressure. Other fuels require potentially-explosive compression and pressurization for delivery and use; whether through a network of pipelines, or from a pressurized tank which must be stored outside the building due to safety regulations.
- It delivers powerful, fast, reliable heat. #2 Home Heating Oil produces 138,700 BTU/gallon. As a comparison, propane only delivers 91,000 BTU/gallon. Whether you use vents or radiators to distribute that heat around your home or business, the warmth spreads rapidly, powerfully, and efficiently from the moment your oil furnace roars to life.
- Heating oil suppliers are not giant utilities. They must compete for your business. People who use oil heat always have choices. There is no “oil utility” that holds the monopoly on a network of regional pipes or wires. Oil customers have a great variety of suppliers to choose from, most of which are small, privately-held companies; owned and staffed by people who live in the communities they serve.
- Many oil suppliers offer emergency equipment repair service and emergency deliveries. As mentioned above, the heating oil industry is very competitive, and a company with a strong service department will gain and keep customers by offering superior value and service. ABC offers 24-hour emergency service and deliveries to its fuel customers, and offers service and maintenance contracts that can greatly reduce our customers’ heating and cooling costs throughout the entire year.
Oil heat at its most basic level requires 6 components:
- A tank to store the fuel;
- A furnace to burn the fuel;
- A heat-distribution system to spread the heat;
- An exhaust system to carry away the products of combustion;
- An electrical supply.
Heating oil arrives on a tank truck that is equipped with a hose and a pump. The driver will then locate the fill system for the tank. The fill system consists of a fill pipe with a removable cap, and a vent, which may have a cap or dome on top that is not removable. If your oil tank is inside your house (most are), the fill system will be located somewhere near it, usually sticking through the outside wall directly next to the tank. If your tank is underground, the fill system will usually be above the tank, protruding from the ground.
The driver then removes the cap for the fill pipe, and locks the hose nozzle into the end of the fill pipe. He or she then either delivers a pre-determined amount of oil, or fills the tank completely, depending on the customer’s order. The fuel comes out of the hose very quickly, and with great force. When this happens, air is displaced from the tank and forced out through the vent, creating a distinctive whistle that the driver listens to in order to make sure he does not overfill the tank.
The vent, as you might imagine, is an extremely important piece of safety equipment, and a properly-functioning vent is required by safety codes and regulations in order to receive a fuel delivery. If your vent is not functioning, the driver will be unable to make your delivery.
When the oil level reaches the whistle’s intake, the whistle stops, and the driver knows the tank is full. He then quickly shuts off the flow of oil. Once the driver has delivered the oil, it then sits in the tank until needed. Thermostats will turn the furnace on or off when changes in temperature occur. When the thermostat sends a signal to the furnace to come on, several things happen:
- A fuel pump is switched on, drawing fuel from the tank into the furnace through a supply tube, and spraying it from a nozzle into the combustion chamber;
- A spark is generated, causing the mist of fuel in the combustion chamber to burst into flame;
- The distribution system is switched on, moving the heated air or water into the various heating zones of the building.
When the ambient temperature near the thermostat has risen sufficiently, the thermostat sends a signal to the furnace to shut off. The distribution system may continue to work for a while afterwards, spreading the heated air or water throughout the system. Then it shuts off as well, until the next cycle begins.
Oil is ordered and paid for by the gallon. You can order oil by finding a local supplier and placing an order/opening an account with them. Although different suppliers have different rules, in general, you can either call your supplier to order each delivery, or enroll in an automatic delivery program, like that offered by ABC. Oil can be ordered in specific amounts, or, in some cases, you can simply have your tank filled.
Please note that nearly all suppliers have a minimum delivery amount, and will not accept fuel orders in lesser amounts. ABC’s minimum delivery amount is 100 gallons. Also, due to the nature of automatic delivery, all automatic deliveries are “fill the tank” deliveries. Otherwise, it would not be possible to calculate fuel consumption and therefore know when to make deliveries to keep the customer from running out. Specific information regarding deliveries from ABC can be found on our Delivery Options page.
Most tanks are 275-gallon tanks, which have an actual fuel capacity of anywhere from 220-250 gallons (an important safety feature of oil tanks requires that some tank capacity be devoted to an air pocket that can act as a buffer against expansion and contraction). In general, it’s best to keep your tank filled. It will avoid run-outs, and helps prevent numerous problems that could arise in tanks that are left nearly-empty for long periods of time. But if you choose not to have your tank filled, a minimum of 100 gallons is recommended for 275-gallon tanks; most suppliers will not deliver less than 100 gallons, and those who do will usually charge a fee for doing so, or charge a higher price on the fuel.
This depends entirely on your supplier. ABC requires one business day’s notice for most normal deliveries (although if you live at the extreme edges of our delivery area, we may require two or three business days. Please check with our office if you are unsure where your address is located within our delivery range) during the heating season, but many suppliers deliver to specific areas on specific days. “Discount” suppliers, in particular, are very rigid about which days they will deliver to an area, and in some cases, your fuel must be ordered up to 2 weeks in advance! If you are using a “discount” supplier, always make sure you find out when your fuel will be delivered at the time you order it!
ABC does not charge a delivery fee for normal deliveries, although some other companies may, so be sure you ask your supplier if any fees apply before ordering. ABC also offers 24-hour emergency deliveries to current oil customers. For our Automatic Delivery customers, this service is free of charge (subject to the terms of the Automatic Delivery agreement). For will-call customers, there is a $100 overtime delivery fee for emergency deliveries (deliveries made on evenings and weekends at the express request of the customer), and a $60 delivery fee for same-day service (again, at the express wish of the customer). Other companies may not offer this service at all.
Individual use varies greatly. It is based on the size and energy-efficiency of the building, the heating equipment used, the thermostat settings, the weather conditions during the heating months, and on whether or not oil is used to heat the domestic water supply. In addition, some homes use their oil system as a backup to a heat pump (which cannot deliver heat in very cold weather), or have supplemental heating systems that may reduce oil consumption. The average oil-consuming home in our delivery area uses between 300 and 500 gallons of oil per year under normal winter weather conditions.
Heating oil is priced according to market conditions; the prices rise and fall according to the forces of supply and demand. Also, your geographic location affects the local price of heating oil; regions that are close to refineries and supply-lines experience lower fuel prices than areas that are less conveniently located. In general, though, heating oil is usually cheaper during the summer months, when demand is low. Oil purchased during times of peak demand will generally cost more. Also, different companies have different purchasing, payment, and finance plans that may affect your fuel costs. Some companies even charge different prices for cash or credit deliveries (ABC does not do this). Your total annual cost, therefore, will depend on not only how much you buy and when you buy it, but also who you buy it from. ABC’s available purchase and payment plans can be found on our Payment Options page, and our current fuel prices are always listed at the top of every page on this website.
Yes. ABC recommends annual cleaning and maintenance of your equipment in order to keep it at peak operating efficiency, to clean away the built-up products of combustion that can interfere with its operation, and to detect and repair the normal wear and tear that all such equipment is subject to. Our price for an annual cleaning and maintenance service for oil-burning equipment is $139.95. Although this price is very low and not necessarily representative of the industry average, it is still always possible to find good rates on quality service even if you live outside our service area.
Nearly all tanks have gauges that indicate fuel levels. Most of these are mounted directly on the tank, at the top. It is a common occurrence in older tanks for the gauges to stop functioning. If your gauge has stopped working, call your supplier (if they furnish service as well as fuel. All the better ones do), and ask for a new gauge. This is a quick repair that is usually inexpensive, as well.
Yes. Allowing your furnace to run dry can cause problems such as clogged nozzles and filters, and, unless your system is self-bleeding (most aren’t), will often cause your fuel lines to fill with air, rendering your furnace inoperable. If air gets into your fuel lines during a run-out, and you do not have a self-bleeding system, your furnace will not start again until the fuel lines have been manually bled, even after fuel has been put into the tank.
The lines are manually bled by opening a small valve at the bottom of the fuel pump, and then pushing the restart button on the furnace and allowing the pump to cycle. The air bubbles are expelled from the valve, along with some fuel, as the pump cycles. Once the bubbles have been replaced by a steady stream of fuel, the valve is closed, and the furnace restart button is pushed again to restart the furnace. It may take several restart cycles to purge the air from the lines, and the restart button will not activate the pump cycle again until a waiting period has passed after it shuts off (usually 30 seconds to a minute).
Additionally, there may be water in the tank (this water comes from condensation; the more empty space there is in the tank, and the longer that empty space has been there, the more condensation will have occurred. This is one of the reasons that keeping a full tank is important), and if this is the case, the furnace will not restart until the water has been bled from the lines, as well.
Monitoring fuel levels and keeping oil in the tank, or choosing an automatic delivery plan like ABC’s is always the best course to follow if you have oil heat.
If you have another source of heat or hot water, you can turn off the furnace using the thermostat or the emergency shut-off switch (a switch located near your furnace), and wait until the delivery arrives to turn it back on. This will keep fuel in the lines, and prevent the need for a furnace re-start.
If you need to keep the heat on, you can put diesel fuel or kerosene in your oil tank. Diesel fuel and kerosene are alternate fuels that are very similar to the #2 home heating oil that your furnace normally burns. When burned in an oil furnace, they will keep your heater running without causing any damage to your system. Putting these fuels into your furnace in small amounts is a simple process that most people are capable of following. Get a few 5-gallon petroleum cans, go to a gas station that sells diesel fuel and/or kerosene, and purchase enough fuel to keep your furnace running until your delivery arrives*. Pour the diesel into your tank using the same fill nozzle that your delivery driver uses. If you are very close to empty, you will need to monitor your tank closely and get more fuel as needed.
In order to restore the heat, you need to put fuel in the tank, and restart the furnace.
All full-service suppliers like ABC train their drivers to restart a furnace as needed after a run-out. There is usually a fee for this service (our furnace restart fee is $75, but if you are an ABC Automatic Delivery customer with an account in good standing, there are no fees for emergency deliveries and furnace restarts). ABC offers 24-hour emergency deliveries and furnace restarts to our current oil customers.
If you know how to bleed the fuel lines, you may also do it yourself if needed, after fuel has been put into the tank. If you cannot get a delivery, but need to get the furnace restarted, you can put diesel fuel into the tank as described above, then bleed the lines/restart the furnace. It will take around 10 gallons to restore a good, even flow in most cases, although some systems may require more than that.