Heating Oil System Troubleshooting, Maintenance, and Repair
Do you spend time thinking about your heating oil system? Is it a typical topic of dinner party conversation? We didn’t think so. But now that we are on the topic, it’s really a good idea to spend a little time each year thinking about your system. And it’s a really good idea to know what to do if your heating system has stopped working in the middle of the night or how often you should service it. Read on for some more tips and advice.
What to do if my heating oil system has stopped working?
Can I troubleshoot my own heating oil system? Absolutely! There are four fairly common reasons why your heating system has stopped working. So, if you wake up to a cold house one morning, check these out before calling for help.
Cause #1: Your thermostat got turned down. Check to make sure your batteries are good, and your thermostat is set to a warm setting.
Cause #2: Your electricity is off. Your furnace or boiler needs electricity to get things rolling, so if there’s a blackout in your neighborhood or a circuit is blown, your furnace or boiler probably won’t work.
Cause #3: The emergency shut off switch has been flipped. It happens. The emergency shut off switch looks just like a regular light switch, except bright red. Make sure the switch is set to ‘on’. If you have more than one switch (most people do!), then be sure to check them both.
Cause #4: You’ve run out of heating oil. Check the fuel gauge on your tank. If the indicator is below 1/8 or isn’t visible at all, the tank may be out of oil and in need of a refill and a “prime and start” to get going. If you’re out of oil, get an order into Heatable ASAP (just enter your zip code in the box on this page or learn more on our Get Started with Heatable page) and contact us to let us know your situation. You can read more about what to do here: What should I do if I am out of heating oil?
For more details on what to do if your heating oil system has stopped, be sure to read Troubleshooting 101.
How long will a ¼ of a tank of heating oil last?
You’re system is still going but you want to make sure you have enough heating oil to last through this cold snap, We’ve pulled together a chart that should help you estimate how quickly you’re going through oil and how long a 1/4 of a tank of heating will last. (1/4 of a tank is 60 gallons for a typical tank.)
|Average Outside Temperature||Approximate Gallons Used in 1 Day||Approximate Days 1/4 of a Tank (60 Gallons/275g tank) Will Last|
Looking for more? Check out How Long Will the Oil in my Tank Last.
How often should I service my heating oil system?
You probably see your heating system every time you walk by with your overflowing piles of laundry but don’t think twice about it. It always looks the same, so it must be totally fine, right?
The good news is an annual tune up will keep it working great – and keep it off your mind the other 364 days a year! This yearly tune up preserves the health of your system, making sure it can burn at its maximum efficiency to save you money on heating expenses all year long. Tune ups are also the best way to ensure your system is safe and your tank is not leaking oil – headaches you never need.
You have two options when it comes to doing an annual heating system tune up:
Call a qualified HVAC technician: If you're looking for a reputable HVAC technician to service your heating system, Google is your best friend. You can also contact your friends at Heatable and we will point you in the right direction. If you want to learn more about what an HVAC technician will do during your tune up, go to How Do I Service My Heating Oil System?
DIY: If you are familiar with your heating system and are comfortable with things like how to change heating oil filters and other necessary steps for cleaning, you totally can attempt it. You can check out some resources on how to do that on our How Do I Service My Heating Oil System?
What about my oil tank? How do I make sure it’s not leaking?
When your technician does the annual tune up, the technician will check your heating oil tank to ensure its keeping the oil inside the tank. Not even sure what the heck a heating oil tank is, you learn more about your tank in our Parts of an Oil Tank page) If you are a DIY, or if you at any time you want to do a quick safety check of your tank, it’s well worth the investment. Here’s a 9-point inspection to make sure your oil tank is good-to-go.
Point #1: Vent pipe. Located outside, make sure it’s not clogged with snow or other debris.
Point #2: Fill pipe. Make sure it’s clear and there are no signs of leakage.
Point #3: Tank surface. Look for rust, oil “weeps”, wet spots, or excessive dents.
Point #4: Tank legs. Legs should be stable and on an even foundation.
Point #5: Beneath the tank. Look for leaks or signs of leaks
Point #6: Oil filter. Look for leaks or signs of leaks under or around the oil filter.
Point #7: Oil lines. Look for leaks or signs of leaks along the entire oil line.
Point #8: Tank gauge. Check the gauge is working.
Point #9: Age of tank. Confirm that your tank is less than 25 years old.
If you want more detail, read the Heating Oil Tank Safety Check.
Should I repair or replace my heating oil system?
You’ve been diligently maintaining your system, but it’s starting to have issues and it’s not running like it used to – what’s that loud clunking noise its making! What should you do: repair or replace? Here are some general rules of thumb for either scenario.
Repair: If the heating oil system repair is a straightforward fix (with accessible and cost-appropriate parts) at a reasonable cost.
Replace: You’ll likely be looking at replacing your heating oil system with these scenarios:
If the unit is 20 years old or older
If the efficiency is 20% lower than when it was purchased and declining each year (with the usage going up)
If it’s not heating the home the same
If there are signs of corrosion and increased noises
If the estimate for repair is >33% of heating oil system replacement cost
Whatever you do, you’ll want the opinion of 2-3 trained technicians to make the most informed decision.
Learn more here: Should I replace or repair my heating oil furnace or boiler?
Learn more about Heating Oil
Visit our Ultimate Consumer’s Guide to Heating Oil for everything you need to know about heating your home with heating oil.
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