With snow and freezing temperatures forecast this week, we have some tips to help keep your oil tank and oil from freezing.
Home heating oil technically doesn’t ‘freeze’ in that it becomes a solid mass – however, when the temperature drops, it can turn into a gel-like consistency (see below), which makes it less fluid and can lead to clogging in your pipes. The terms “waxing,” “gelling” and “freezing” all mean the same thing. When heating oil freezes, it becomes thicker and gooier, creating a sort of sludge. That sludge can affect your system in several different areas:
- Heating Oil Tank — When heating oil gels in the tank, the heavier sludge settles to the bottom. This reduces the volume of the tank for the usable oil. As more oil settles to the bottom, less viable oil remains.
- Heating Oil Lines — As the waxier oil is pumped through the lines, the oil builds on the walls, narrowing the passage way. That means less of the required fuel reaches the igniter, resulting in reduced efficiency.
- Atomizing Nozzle — The opening at the end of the nozzle is very small, but it’s designed to allow heating oil to pass through it and mist. As the heavier gel oil is forced through it, the buildup can block the aperture. If it becomes clogged, oil can’t get to the igniter, and the unit can’t convert oil to heat.
- Fuel Filter — As thicker oil and wax platelets are forced through the filter, causing it to require replacement more often. If you don’t have the filter replaced, the nozzle can clog.
More likely is that there will be a small amount of water condensation in your oil tank, which is much more prone to freezing. As the water freezes, it can block the fuel supply lines, making it impossible for the oil to travel to the boiler until the blockage is removed, or melts. So, for this reason it’s a good idea to lag your pipes, water and fuel lines, anywhere where they are exposed and subject to the elements.
To prevent water build up in your oil tank, check it around the lock, seals and pipes for any cracks or damage where rainwater could leak in. It is quite difficult to remove water from your tank once it’s inside, so prevention really is better than cure in this case. If you do find that water has got into your tank, you’ll need to have it pumped out. You may also need to have the fuel line flushed and the filters cleaned so really ensure that all potential debris and blockages are removed.
- Shelter Your Heating Oil Tank — If you have an outdoor oil tank, the outer metal skin of the unit is probably in direct contact with the cold. Building a shed around the unit can insulate it against cold and windy weather. A shelter can also prevent ice from forming on the outside of the tank or snow from sitting on or around the unit, which are both factors that can drop the temperature of the oil inside. You can also insulate the walls of your shed for additional thermal protection.
- Bury Your Line — If you have an aboveground line, you may consider burying it. Snow and frost can freeze aboveground lines, leading to waxing. By burying them, you’re using the ground to naturally insulate the lines.
- Insulate Your Fuel Line — You can protect your oil line from the cold by wrapping or spraying it with an insulated material. Consult a heating unit expert to determine the best kind of insulation to safely protect your line and handle the weather conditions for your area.
- Install a Wider Fuel Line — A wider line might not prevent your heating oil from colder temperatures, but it can prevent a wax blockage from allowing the fluid oil to reach your igniter.
- Routine Maintenance — Your home heating oil is very unlikely to freeze this winter, but the cold weather does put a greater strain on your boiler, as it will be relied on more heavily and used more frequently than in the previous summer months. For this reason, you need to have it serviced, to make sure that everything is working as efficiently as it can be, and to flag any potential issues before they turn into full blown problems. Always get a professional to do this – they’ll check for dangerous carbon monoxide leaks too which are potentially deadly.