Guide to Home Heating Oil

Oil is the primary source of warmth for a significant proportion of the US and UK. It tends to be restricted to rural areas where pipelined heating (ie, natural gas) is uneconomical. Despite tending to be more expensive than piped gas, it is generally considerably cheaper than bottled gas - those propane cylinders with large danger symbols on them.

How Much Oil Do I Have?

The first thing to know with your oil tank is how much is in it. The picture on the left shows a typical arrangement of a tube running vertically down the outside of the tank. Look closely down the length of the tube until you see the oil level, which can tell you the level inside the tank. You are looking for a yellowish liquid, and this can get quite difficult if the tank is getting a bit old and the tube is discoloured or dirty. Be warned - the oil level you see may not be the actual level inside the tank!

How Much Oil Do I Really Have??

At the bottom of the tube is the junction where the oil comes out of the tank, and you should find a button there. Ours is red. Watch the oil level in the tube, then hold the button down. You may see the oil level in the tube drop; hold the button down until the level stops falling. Now you have the actual level inside the tank.

What if I Can't See Oil Inside The Tube?

Check a few times to make sure that you haven't missed it; the oil level can be tricky locate, especially if you aren't used to it.

If you are sure that you can't see any oil, or if you pressed your level equalisation button and the oil level has disappeared below the tube, you urgently need to fill up with oil.

How Little is Too Little?

If you can't see the oil level at all, or the level is reaching the outlet point on the tank (ie, within a few inches of it), you MUST fill up urgently.

Who Will Sell Me My Oil?

There are numerous companies who offer heating oil; a web search for 'domestic heating oil' or 'home heating oil' will show plenty of ads and search results. Do your homework before calling for a quote, though: the companies tend to be regional, so check where they deliver to. A lazy (but pretty reliable) option is to use an oil supplier location service, to find the cheapest companies in your area. Another good source is your neighbours; they should be able to advise you on who to use or who to avoid, and may even run a local syndicate that can group-buy to get the very best prices.

How Much Oil Should I Ask For?

Know the size of your tank. There is no hard-and-fast rule how much a tank may hold by measuring its exterior size, but as an example our (newish) tank is around seven feet (2.1m) long and five feet (1.5m) round; it holds 2500L of oil.

The oil level tube takes some getting used to in estimating how much oil to fill up the tank. 'Most' of the oil is in the middle of the tank, as the top and bottom are the small parts of the circle. If the oil level is a third of the way down, you may only have used 10% of your oil, so definitely not enough for a fill. If, however, it's a third of the way from the bottom, your tank is 90% empty and you can think seriously about getting a big order in.

How Do I Get The Best Price?

The short answer is, you should naturally ring around to try and get the best price for your oil. In reality this is only part of the picture.

A bigger way to save money is to track your usage and the domestic oil prices every couple of weeks. Pay attention to the news; is there cold weather on its way, or has an oil producing country announced supply problems? All these things can point to higher (or lower) prices in the months ahead, so with a bit of forecasting you can avoid having to do a big tank fill-up when the retail price is peaking.

Other Heating Oil Terms

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9 Comments

by Mark Elmy on 18 December 2011
The biggest problem with heating oil is you never know just what the 'going rate' is until you start rining round all the suppliers .. then you have to ring back to say company X beat your quote are you willing to beat their price .. and get into a dutch auction driving down the quote as you go whereas if there was somewhere you could look up the 'going rate' beforehand you'd know from the start what to expect and when you get an uncompetitive quote know straight away that they have to do better to even be competeitive - otherwise the first will quoye you the earth as a starting price etc etc etc.
Reply
by John Swindells on 18 December 2011
Oil buying groups are a way out of the ringing-around palaver that we find ourselves in. The collaborative effort means that the price-watching and quote-collecting is handled by one or two locals, making for a stress-free purchase for you.

Finding or establishing an oil club in your area... now that's where the fun begins.

Reply
by Gaz on 09 August 2011
Ive given up on oil, i have just installed solar pannels

Gaz

Reply
by Dilmah on 24 May 2011
I use personal combustion analyzer lmbd3 and I have already saved a lot of fuel - if you keep good burning parameters you save a lot.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqQgiqPmz78

Reply
by Andy on 07 March 2011
Regarding the "How Much Oil do I Really Have". Our setup looks very much like your pictured set up (except you pull the red button not push it) and it makes a visible difference to the level in the sight tube if the boiler is firing and drawing oil. The flow of oil out of the tank past the T junction to the sight tube obviously drops the pressure there and depresses the level shown in the sight tube. I've just measured it and its 2.5" or 6cm lower. So you may just be lucky and have a little more oil left than you think..

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by John Swindells on 07 March 2011
That's interesting Andy; I've never noticed whether the boiler's firing when I check the level. I'll try to make sure that it's off when I next check.
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by Ken Lowe on 26 January 2011
helpful advice on heating oil. many thanks.

keep the money saving tips coming. the more the better. i have one. source the cheapest home heating oil in your area.

Reply
by sue pugh on 19 January 2011
does anyone know how much oil a 3 bedroomed house would use in the summer months of average temperatures in Cheshire per day/week?
Reply
by John Swindells on 19 January 2011
Hi Sue, during the summer months you should be using hardly any oil. Even if you use it to provide hot water, it should take very little oil for that. Even on a small tank you shouldn't notice the oil level drop more than an inch or two.
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by paul on 29 December 2010
how long should 500 litres last on a typical family home with average usage,im currently using 500 litres every 3-4 weeks....costing me a fortune,surely that aint normal??
Reply
by Steve Webb on 20 February 2011
Paul, we are getting through the same levels, ours is an older 3 bedroomed farmhouse with poor insulation. Few tips - if boiler is outside insulate with insulation blocks around the boiler, also make sure its warm inside near thermostat otherwise boiler keeps on pumping needlessly.
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by Richard Baxter on 18 December 2010
Don't forget that if you can get a supplier to deliver to several neighbouring addresses at the same time you will get a better price. With oil, the more you buy the cheaper it is. I used to be treasurer of the local church and the village hall so by gauging delivery for those and mine at the same time I talked the distributors into a very good price.
Reply
by Graham Parker on 03 December 2010
As a newcomer to the world of heating oil your advice has been a real help!
Reply
by John Swindells on 03 December 2010
Thanks for your feedback, Graham. Glad to be of help!
Reply
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