With fall just around the corner it’s time to start thinking about heating oil again. If you just moved into a house with oil heat, there’s a lot you should know. In this post we’ll break down oil heat basics, including how to fill a home heating oil tank.
Heating Oil is a ‘Delivered Fuel’
Unlike natural gas – which is plumbed through the ground to your house – or electricity – which comes straight into the house as well – heating oil is delivered by a truck. Heating oil trucks usually hold around 2500 gallons and deliver an average of 150-200 gallons at each stop.
Types of Heating Oil Tanks
Whatever type of oil tank you have, always remember to clear a path to your oil tank fill pipe after a snowstorm. This will ensure the driver can make the delivery without any issues.
Indoor Oil Tanks
Heating oil tanks are most often located inside of a basement or garage. If this is the case, then the driver will see a fill pipe and a vent pipe extending outside of the house from the tank.
Buried Oil Tanks
Occasionally, a heating oil tank will be buried in the ground. In this case, the driver pumps the oil into a fill pipe sticking out of the ground.
Outdoor Oil Tanks
Outdoor oil tanks are the easiest for drivers to deliver to, as the whole tank is visible from outside.
How to Fill an Oil Tank
The first step to filling an oil tank is placing an order for heating oil online. You can do this by entering your zip code on a site like FuelSnap. Refer to these tank charts to determine how much heating oil to order.
Once you order oil, the truck will come to deliver it. The driver will attach the hose to the fill pipe and begin pumping.
As the oil enters the tank, it will force the air in the tank out of the vent pipe, blowing a whistle. The driver listens to the whistle to know that the tank is not full and he can keep pumping.
The driver stops pumping oil when he pumps the amount ordered, or he hears the whistle stop. The whistle hangs down in the tank and stops whistling when it touches the oil.
Paying For Your Heating Oil
If you ordered a ‘Fill’, the oil company will usually authorize a charge on your credit card for a full tank of oil. For a typical 275 gallon tank, this would be about 250 gallons. Once the delivery is made, a refund will typically be provided for any gallons that the dealer could not fit in the tank.
If you are on automatic delivery, expect a credit card charge around the time the delivery is made, or an invoice in the mailbox when you get home.
Waking up in the summer with no hot water, or in the winter with no heat often means one thing: you’re out of heating oil. The good news with heating oil is you can always grab 5 gallons of diesel oil to hold you over until your next delivery. Click here for a step-by-step guide for what to do if you’re out of oil.
Since diesel and heating oil are virtually the same, you’ll want to know how long those 5 gallons of heating oil will last you. We’ll break this down here!
Heating Oil Usage in The Winter Months
Expect to use significantly more heating oil in the winter months than summer. Your usage in the winter will depend on a few factors. The first factor is the climate: how cold it is, on average. The second factor is how high you keep the thermostat: the higher the temperature, the more oil you will use.
Next, you’ll need to consider the size of your home. Finally, your home’s efficiency plays a major role in your heating oil usage.
Using the figures below, you can estimate that a home may use 3-7 gallons of heating oil on a typical winter day.
Heating Oil Usage During the Summer Months
If your hot water heater runs on heating oil, then you can expect to use oil year round. Your usage in the summer will depend on how much hot water your household uses.
One factor that contributes to your heating oil usage in the summer months is the age and efficiency of your hot water heater: the newer the better. Additionally, the more teenagers taking long hot showers, the more heating oil you will be using.
In the summer months, expect to use between 0.5 and 1.0 gallon of heating oil per day.
Total Heating Oil Used Per Year
The best way to determine how much heating oil you will use during the course of a year is to install a Smart Oil Gauge. This will tell you how much you use by hour, day, week, month or year. It will also alert you when you are low on heating oil.
To get a baseline, however, refer to the chart below for heating oil usage in a given year. These ranges are for a typical CT winter. For a less energy-efficient house, refer to the numbers in the ‘high’ column. For newer, more energy-efficient houses, refer to the ‘low’ column on the left.
A typical home in CT will use approximately 880 gallons of heating oil per year.
So, How Long Will 5 Gallons of Heating Oil Last?
In the summer months, expect 5 gallons of heating oil to last 5-10 days. On a cold winter day, however, 5 gallons of heating oil may not even last a full day. Order heating oil as soon as possible when you are low during the winter to prevent a runout.
We’ve all been there. It’s the middle of winter and suddenly it feels like the heat’s not on. Or it’s the middle of summer and someone complains about a cold shower.
Running out of heating oil happens to the best of us. If you run out of heating oil, don’t panic. Just follow this guide here and you should have heat or hot water in no time.
Step 1: Check To Make Sure You Are Actually Out of Heating Oil
There can be many reasons why your house is suddenly cold in the middle of winter. Somebody could have accidentally turned the thermostat down. Somebody could have left the back door open after letting the dog out. There could also be a problem with your oil burner (air in the lines, for instance).
To check if you are out of heating oil, you’ll have to go down to your oil tank. Look at the float gauge on top of the tank to determine the level. If it is reading empty, you can be pretty sure you are out of oil. If that gauge indicates the tank is full, it could be stuck. Unscrew the plastic cover from the gauge and gently lift the disc to free the float inside the tank. If it moves up and down freely, you should be able to trust the level.
If you cannot trust your float gauge, open up a spare opening on the tank and use a long stick to measure the oil level (in inches). Refer to a heating oil tank chart to see how many gallons are in the tank. If you’ve got less than 30 or 40 gallons in the tank, the burner may not be able to draw any more oil and will not run. This is because the oil lines do not always reach the very bottom of the tank.
If you are out of heating oil, proceed to step 2. If you are not out of heating oil, proceed to Step 5, then call your oil service technician if your system will not stay on.
Step 2: Order Heating Oil
If you are out of oil, order heating oil right away. You can order oil online on a site like FuelSnap, or call your local heating oil delivery company. As soon as you have oil on the way, proceed to Step 3.
If you are not out of heating oil, then you should try resetting your burner. Skip to step 5 if you have oil in the tank and have ruled out someone having turned the thermostat down.
Step 3: Get 5 Gallons of Diesel Fuel
Did you know that heating oil is almost identical to diesel? This is great news if you are out of oil, as you simply need to buy 5 or 10 gallons of diesel fuel to hold you over until you get an oil delivery.
Step 4: Pour The Diesel Into the Fill Pipe Outside of Your House
Even though your heating oil tank may be located inside the house, DO NOT bring the diesel can inside. Your house was designed with an exterior fill pipe for heating oil.
Locate the fill pipe and vent pipe on the outside of the house. The vent pipe will have a mushroom cap on it. This is where the air escapes from inside the tank as it’s being filled.
The fill pipe will have a hexagon shaped cap on it. Remove the cap and pour the diesel into the tank.
Step 5: Reset Your Oil Burner
Once you’ve added 5 or 10 gallons of diesel to your heating oil tank, the next step is to reset your oil burner. The oil burner typically has a big red reset button on it.
Press this button once and you’ll hear the system start. After 15-30 seconds, the system should stay running if all is well. If that happens, you’re all set!
If the system does not restart, press the reset button again. In the event it does not start after the second press, you may need to bleed the oil lines. This is only for the mechanically-inclined homeowner…if this does not describe you we highly recommend calling a service technician!
Once you’ve added heating oil to your tank and restarted your burner, you should have enough oil to last a day or two until the truck arrives.
If you’d like to ensure you never run out of heating oil again, order a Smart Oil Gauge. It will alert you when the tank is low and you can reorder heating oil right through the app.
If you’re new to home heating oil, you may be wondering how to read an oil tank gauge. Or for that matter, how much oil does a heating oil tank even hold? In this post we’ll break down the different types of oil tank gauges and how to read them.
Types of Heating Oil Tanks
Home heating oil, like propane, is a ‘delivered fuel’. This means it must be delivered to your house on a truck, rather than supplied directly to your house like natural gas or electricity. As a result, you must store heating oil in a holding tank at the house.
Heating oil tanks can be found indoors in a garage or basement (most common), outdoors just outside the house (less common), or even buried under the ground (least common). Indoors is the best place for a heating oil tank because it is safe from the elements. Just imagine what rain, sun and snow can do to a steel tank over time. An indoors location will shield the tank, and make any leaks or issues easy to spot.
Buried oil tanks are less common today than they once were. The problem with buried tanks is they can leak over time without anyone knowing. This can make for a very expensive removal and remediation process. Once a buried tank reaches 30 years of age, it is recommended to have it removed and replaced with an above-ground tank, preferably indoors.
Above-ground tanks are much preferred to buried tanks. Detect leaks faster and be proactive with your tank maintenance with an above-ground tank.
Types of Tank Gauges
Above-ground heating oil tanks typically have a float gauge up top. A float gauge relies on an arm with a floating end to it (picture a cork) that moves up and down with the oil in the tank.
Smart Oil Gauge
A much more precise way to measure your heating oil tank is by using an ultrasonic sensor such as that found in a Smart Oil Gauge. With the exception of the top 8″ of the tank, the Smart Oil Gauge will provide readings within a few gallons in your tank.
To check your heating oil level with the Smart Oil Gauge, simply open the app. It will display the level, in gallons, as well as some usage statistics. You will see how much oil you are using and when you will need to order heating oil next.
How Much Oil Can I Order?
Based on the size of your tank and how much oil is in it, you should know how much you can order for your tank. Follow this guide here to determine how much heating oil you can fit in your next delivery. For tanks beyond the standard 275 and 330 gallon tanks, use this tank chart here.
Refer to a Tank Chart For the Most Precise Reading
To be absolute sure your float gauge or Smart Oil Gauge is providing a perfect reading, grab a tape measure. Measure your tank to confirm its dimensions. Then, place a yard stick inside the tank to measure the height of the oil in the tank. Check the tank chart for you tank here and you’ll know how much oil is in the tank.
If you enjoy crunching numbers like me, you’ll be happy to know that you can export the tank readings from your Smart Oil Gauge. In this post we’ll walk through how to export data into Excel.
Smart Oil Gauge Tank Readings
Your Smart Oil Gauge records a level reading from your tank every hour of the day. It uploads these readings after a certain time interval has elapsed. This interval is known as the upload interval. An upload interval of 4 means that every four hours the Smart Oil Gauge connects to WiFi to upload the latest batch of readings to the cloud. An upload interval of 1 means every hour, and an interval of 24 means once per day. An interval of 12 or 24 will improve battery life over the long run.
When you open your app, the app checks the cloud for new readings. Pressing the refresh button in the app also checks for new readings in the cloud. It does not, however, trigger a new reading from the gauge itself. To manually force a reading, press the configure button on the Smart Oil Gauge for half a second. Then, refresh the app and look for a new ‘Last Reading’ time stamp.
Smart Oil Gauge Records 24 Readings Per Day
Regardless of your upload interval setting, the Smart Oil Gauge still takes 24 readings per day. After many months or years, this adds up to a LOT of data points. For this reason, we have added an Export Data feature to our site. Just go to the My Tanks page and follow the instructions below to export data.
Start Crunching Numbers!
Once you’ve downloaded your Smart Oil Gauge data, feel free to start crunching numbers! If you would like to see how much oil you are burning each day based on outdoor air temperature, check out Weather Underground. This website lets you download historical low, average, and high temperatures by zip code. You can overlay this data with your Smart Oil Gauge data and have some real fun!
Well, it’s been another crazy week in the oil markets. Crude oil futures contracts for May expired earlier this week, and with so little demand for oil, no one was willing to buy them! As a result, traders ended up having to pay to have these futures contracts taken off their hands. The end result: prices went negative.
An oil futures contract is an agreement to buy oil at a future date at a predetermined price. Traders buy these contracts with the hope that the price for oil goes up. When this happens, the trader can then sell the contract for a profit. With that in mind, there’s always the risk that the price for oil goes down. When this happens, the trader may take a hit when selling the contract.
No Demand For Oil, and Nowhere to Store It
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought global travel to a halt. With schools and non-essential businesses closed, and trips cancelled, there are almost no airplanes in the sky, and very few drivers on the road. In fact, there are so few drivers on the road that accident insurance claims have fallen by as much as 60% in recent weeks.
Despite there being almost no demand for oil, it is still being pumped out of the ground. As a result, storage tanks are at capacity all throughout the country. There is simply no good place to store oil at this time.
Why Did Crude Oil Prices Go Negative?
With almost no demand for oil, and nowhere to store the oil being pumped out of the ground, traders were left with May futures contracts that were expiring this week. If they did not sell these contracts, the traders would have had to take delivery of actual barrels of oil next month. For a trader sitting behind a desk somewhere, this would be a big problem! Traders frantically did whatever they could to get rid of these contracts, and eventually started offering money for people to take them.
What Does This Mean For Heating Oil?
Heating oil prices tend to lag slightly behind crude prices. As such, we’ve seen heating oil prices adjust accordingly in the past two days since crude futures prices dropped. For those of you who remember heating oil prices north of $4 a gallon some years back, paying under $1.50 a gallon feels pretty good right about now!!
If you’ve got room in your tank, now would be a great time to fill up.
It was late 2010 when I discovered heating oil for the first time. I always knew ‘of’ heating oil, but never gave it much thought growing up. My parents’ home had two giant buried oil tanks, and the truck would come once a year, delivering somewhere between 2000 and 3000 gallons. Little did I know how unusual this is, and that most homes do not have 3000 gallons of underground storage available!
My real introduction to heating oil came when I moved into my first house – an 1865 Victorian fixer-upper in Ridgefield, CT. The house was all original: single-pane floor-to-ceiling windows, no insulation, 11 foot ceilings, and a 30 year-old oil-fired furnace that must have replaced a coal furnace before that. Fueling the furnace was a single, 275 gallon oil tank in the basement. As we quickly discovered, that tank needed refilling quite often as the cold months came in!
Automatic Heating Oil Delivery
Like most homeowners do, the first thing I did was go through the checklist of services that we would need. Garbage was easy…the first direct mail piece that showed up in the mailbox told me that that company had their act together. Electricity and cable…there is only one option for each in Ridgefield, so those were easy too. Heating oil delivery, I would later learn (years later, in fact), was actually a very competitive space, and choosing the right supplier (or suppliers), could amount to hundreds of dollars of savings every year.
What I ended up doing for those first couple of winters is signing up for ‘Automatic Heating Oil Delivery’ with a company in the next town over. I would sign a contract with them, they would check my credit, and then they would simply show up on their own schedule and top the tank off now and then. There was never any normalcy to their delivery schedule. All I remember from those first few years was coming home from work every day, and dreading finding another $500+ delivery ticket in the mailbox.
By the second and third winter in the house, heating oil prices started to rise significantly. At times I was paying over $4 a gallon, and was really having a hard time with it. I rented out a couple of bedrooms in the house to friends, and splitting the heating oil bill became so contentious that one of the roommates left mid-winter. We tried everything to conserve heating oil. We would put plastic up on the windows to seal out any drafts. We would turn the heat to 50 degrees during the day while we were all at work. Other times, we would leave the heat alone all day, thinking that was the better move. We really had no idea what was working – if anything – and by the fourth winter, I simply decided to try a new supplier.
Budget Payment Plan
I remember chatting about my heating oil woes with one of my trusted friends, and decided to give the company he uses a try. This company offered me the stability of a ‘Heating Oil Budget Payment Plan’, wherein I would make consistent monthly payments for 9 months out of the year. This would soften the blow of those cold winter months and sounded like a good plan to me.
Before long though, it turned out that this Budget Plan was too good to be true. After only a few months in, I got a letter saying their estimates were wrong, and my $300 monthly payment wasn’t going to cut it. $300 become $450 and ultimately became almost $700 by the end of the winter. Suddenly, summer had arrived and I was still paying $700 a month for last winter’s heating oil.
As I’ve since learned, customers on Budget Payment Plans are the most profitable type of customer. The reason is two-fold: 1) the heating oil delivery company can deliver on their own terms – even topping you off at the end of the season right before the contract is up; and 2) they can charge very high prices for oil. Since the impact of those high prices is spread over many months, the homeowner will not notice it immediately. But I digress…back to my Smart Oil Gauge story!
Locking-In a Heating Oil Price
Around 2015, after experimenting with a budget payment plan and seeing sky-high oil prices, I decided to lock in on an oil price for the first time. This would alleviate the concern that if prices went up, I would be on the hook. All started out well that year, but when prices started to come back down a bit, I was left stuck at the price I agreed to. This didn’t bother me too much, as I knew that it could have gone the other way. But in the process of seeing what prices heating oil was going for those days, I discovered the ‘Cash’ or ‘COD’ heating oil market. This was a whole new way of buying heating oil it seemed: if you simply waited until your tank was low, and called up an oil dealer for a delivery, you would get a seriously discounted price for oil. Let me repeat…instead of being loyal, and counting on one single heating oil supplier for the year…you could simply order oil as needed and actually save money!? This seemed completely backwards to me. In what other industry do you get a worse deal by committing all your business to a single company?
The Idea For The Smart Oil Gauge
In May, 2016, at the end of another expensive heating oil season, I thought to myself there had to be a better way. If only there were a device on the tank that could tell me on my phone how much oil was in the tank at any given time, I could start taking control of our heating oil consumption. We could set it to record the level all throughout the day, so we can actually see when oil was being used. We could determine once and for all whether it made sense to turn the heat down during the day, or leave the thermostat alone. (The answer, it turns out, is it depends on your system…I have forced hot air, so turning the heat down during the day ends up being most cost-effective.)
After putting some thoughts and a back-of-the-envelope business plan together, I called up childhood friend Joe Mygatt, and laid out the plan. Joe and I went to elementary, middle, and high school together, competing in various super-nerdy Science programs along the way, and ultimately both went off to engineering school after high school. Joe had just moved back to CT after working at and co-founding a couple of startups. In his most recent company, he had developed robots that could identify veins in a patient’s arm, and then insert a needle into a vein and draw blood – all without human intervention. I was working for Branson Ultrasonics – a division of Emerson Electric – at the time, leading the Global Product Management team. This was probably the coolest job I could have asked for, as I spent my time traveling between Japan, China, Southeast Asia, and Europe bringing our next generation product line to fruition. When I had the idea for the Smart Oil Gauge, however, I knew we had to jump on it.
When Joe and I first started chatting about the device, you could see the gears turning. Within about a week, Joe had a very crude breadboard with a bunch of wires going to a sensor, taking measurements, and spitting them out on a laptop on the dining room table. I was thrilled, to say the least, and we were off to the races.
We spent the next several months building the foundations of a company. We needed not only to turn that breadboard into a product, but also build a website, a database, instruction guides, packaging, raw materials, circuit boards, and the myriad other things required to take a product to market. We worked long hours – mornings, nights and weekends – and were able to launch the product officially in October, 2016.
Introducing the Smart Oil Gauge – a WiFi Heating Oil Tank Gauge
After a few months of testing, we hand-soldered a bunch of circuit boards and built the first 10 units for sale. We told each other that if we sold 10, we would buy the components to make 100 circuit boards. Well, we put the website up, and within a few days had sold the first 10. With not even a mobile app yet – you had to access the tank levels on our website – we knew we were on to something.
In the very beginning, we did not even have dedicated packaging. We did our best to make some nice stickers to put on the boxes, and to make a decent-looking QuickStart Guide to go in the box.
When we first started shipping the Smart Oil Gauges, we had a Google Voice number that would ring me first, then Joe, if anyone needed help. Since most calls came after hours (people tend to install these types of devices after work), we’d often spend weeknights together getting live customer feedback, while Joe would make programming changes on the fly to get people online.
Expansion – Wholesale and the Eastern Energy Expo
After hand-assembling those first several hundred Smart Oil Gauges, we continued improving the product and started showing it to the world. We began speaking to heating oil dealers and learned of a trade show that we had to attend: the Eastern Energy Expo. We bought a booth in the summer of 2017, and immediately had interest from a variety of wholesalers. The main one was Sid Harvey’s, a company with 80+ locations that specialized in oil heat. We spent the next several months making a pitch at their corporate headquarters, and negotiating specifics to get our product into stores. We eventually landed a deal where they would put our product in a select number of stores, and expand from there. The product started selling immediately, and we quickly expanded into the remaining locations in the northeast.
With success at Sid Harvey’s, we then entered F.W. Webb, Torrco, Bell Simons, and a variety of other wholesalers that would resell the Smart Oil Gauge to technicians and oil companies.
Droplet Fuel – For Heating Oil Dealers
In 2018, we were approached by a number of heating oil dealers who were using our product but wanted it to do more for them. With their feedback, we developed Droplet Fuel, a platform that would report hundreds of Smart Oil Gauge tank levels to a central dashboard for heating oil dealers. This would allow them to optimize delivery schedules, avoid runouts, and improve efficiencies with their automatic delivery customers. Our software speaks directly to the oil companies’ back-office software so customer service representatives can easily pull up a homeowner’s exact tank level if need be.
We also developed a way for dealers’ will-call (on-demand) customers to reorder heating oil right from the Smart Oil Gauge app. This proved to be an extremely valuable tool for heating oil dealers. By selling a ‘private-label’ Smart Oil Gauge, their customers could order from them with the touch of a button, and have fuel on the way in no time. This created a much stickier customer for the heating oil dealer, and customers loved it too. With the Droplet Fuel platform, we had developed a recurring revenue stream for the business, and tested a new way of ordering heating oil, which would ultimately lead to our next project.
FuelSnap – A Heating Oil Marketplace
After building a solid reputation online for the Smart Oil Gauge, and developing a technology platform that would connect homeowners and heating oil dealers, we started laying the groundwork for FuelSnap. FuelSnap is a marketplace for heating oil that eliminates nearly all of the friction in the ordering process. With or without a Smart Oil Gauge, a homeowner can quickly review prices for local heating oil dealers. They can read reviews, see when the delivery can be made, and order oil in seconds. Payment is made securely with a credit card, and the Smart Oil Gauge knows exactly how much to order. We signed up over 50 dealers to join FuelSnap in the first few months, and are hearing nothing but great feedback about FuelSnap so far.
Smart Oil Gauge in 2020
In the last few years, we’ve gone from an idea, to hand-building Smart Oil Gauges in Joe’s barn, to having a dedicated assembly line, and an amazing team of customer service, sales, assembly, and software developers to support our growing community of users.
If you’ve got oil-heat and a similar story to mine, it’s time to give the Smart Oil Gauge a try! Watching your consumption by the hour, and ordering oil in a matter of seconds are two things you soon won’t be able to live without :-).