It's that time again. Homeowners up in the soon-to-be-frosty North know what's coming. Old Man Winter is showing signs of crashing fall's party - and that means they'll be firing up their home heating systems. Those of you who have oil-fired furnaces know there's a drill to get your unit up to operating speed before the temperature drop to sub-zero.
Heating systems are like cars. First, because you forget about them until something goes wrong. And second, because they have to have regular maintenance to keep working their best and trouble-free. Now, most of the recommended best practices center around having to do some kind of leg work. There's no real way around it. At Bell Performance, we manufacture an excellent fuel treatment for home heating oil, but it would be disingenuous for us to write a blog just to tell the world that the only thing the consumer needs to do is throw some fuel additive in the system and fire it up. So here's a more complete picture of what's recommended to do:
Visual Inspection of Parts and The Tank
The eyes are your best tool. Nothing beats simply keeping an eye on the condition of important areas of the system, like the pipes and boiler. Maybe you notice a small sign of a leak. Better call the service company to get that fixed before the heavy winter use causes a small leak to become a big, expensive one.
Fill Up The Oil Tank Before It Gets Too Low
Your dad's old advice about gas in your car also applies to your heating oil. He used to say never let your car get below a quarter tank of gas. Same thing for your heating oil - get a fuel addition before it drops below 1/4th full. That will keep all the accumulated sludge in the tank away from the filters and fuel line where you don't want it to be. Of course, if you've treated the heating oil with a furnace oil additive like ATX-942, you're less likely to have a problem with sludge, and the system will be easier to start this winter.
We do want to take a moment to touch on why it might be a good idea to put something in the fuel. Heating system have a handful of well-identified areas of concern that are fuel-related. That implies that fuel doesn't cause every problem in a system. In order for the heating system to work properly, all the parts of the system have to be in good condition. These parts wear out over time and have to be replaced. Hence the importance of a good maintenance program.
What can be traced back to the fuel are black smoke and deposit problems caused by drops in fuel quality as it is stored. Sludge accumulation in the storage tank doesn't burn cleanly like pure heating oil does. Deposit buildup in criticial combustion areas also hampers the system and contributes to both hard startup after summer dormancy and that billowing black smoke. These are areas that can be helped by furnace oil additives.
Test Your Burner, Change Your Air Filter and Move The Furniture
Turn your heating system on and let it run for a few minutes at the start of the season. This will tell you if the burner is working properly. And to work most effectively, the entire system needs to have optimal air flow - oil can't burn without oxygen. A clean air filter gives the system ample supply of clean air for combustion, while unblocking air vents by moving furniture helps ensure the air flow of the entire system is what it should be.
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This post was published on October 9, 2014 and was updated on December 16, 2015.