There are many reasons to not let your oil tank get too low -- besides running out on the coldest night of the year. So, other than running the risk of no heat in the middle of a Delaware Valley winter, what happens when you get too low on oil?
A typical above-ground, horizontal oil tank is about 275 gallons. The amount in the tank is measured by a dipstick with inch increments on it, which is essentially a ruler for your tank. Your furnace or boiler will most likely stop running if you let the oil level get down to about four inches, or about 32 gallons.
It's also important to note that if you have an older tank, there is a good chance that impurities or sediment have settled in the bottom. Outdoor, above-ground models commonly accumulate condensation on the interior walls, resulting in an ideal environment for bacteria. The bacteria will turn the oil into sludge on the bottom, which will indicate a deeper fuel level than what's actually there. This is just another reason to not let your tank get too low, as it may even be lower than you think -- heightening the chance that you'll run out of oil.
When you let your oil get too low, there is also a greater chance that water and impurities will be sucked into the feed line. This can clog the nozzle and prevent the burner from operating properly, upping the risk that you'll need to schedule a service call. You can save yourself the trouble by keeping the minimum fuel level above that four-inch point, but it's even better to always keep the tank at least half full if possible.
Aside from buying fuel when prices are low, some of the best ways to save money on heating costs are to keep up with annual heater maintenance, set back the thermostat at night (five degrees or more), and air seal and insulate the house.
You can also monitor your fuel use by frequently checking the fuel depth. But beware -- this can be deceptive, as the bottoms of most oil tanks are rounded. This means that the inch mark on the dipstick at 20 inches represents a lot more fuel than the inch mark at five inches. While it may take several days to drop from 20 to 19 inches, you could burn up the fuel from five to four inches quite rapidly in a day, and you might find yourself without heat until you can get a delivery.
If you have a regular oil provider, they may be able to supply you with a chart that estimates the amount of oil left in your tank according to the level on the dipstick.
Another option is to get a full-service oil contract where your oil provider will track your usage using a calculation of heating degree days. They will then schedule your oil delivery before your tank gets too low and ensure that you never run out.
If you live in the Delaware Valley/Greater Philadelphia area and would like to find comfort within your home, visit our website or give us a call at 215 - 245 - 3200 to learn more.