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Avoiding Freeze Ups

This has been a winter I think we will all remember due to the snow and the many below zero days we experienced this heating season. As I write this column, it is now close to the first day of spring and the roads are full of pot holes and the snow is still piled high and at the same time we are experiencing more record breaking temperatures. 


Over the last couple of months, I have been getting calls from both home owners and contractors asking me what they can do to cut back on their oil and propane bills, due to the cost of these fuels rising at an unexpected rate. Many families are simply lowering their thermostats and wearing warmer cloths around the house to cope ‘ this being one of the best and safest ideas. Lowering the thermostat will help if your comfort level is 70 degrees and you lower it to 65.  I know some people are still looking for thermostats that will go to 55, because they are burning coal, pellets or wood. In my opinion this is asking for a freeze up. I, like many of you, have seen homes with heat and domestic water pipes passing through a garage, enclosed in an outside wall or installed along the sill where they are exposed to a bad-draft condition freeze.


Some people don’t understand that during these recent subs zero days, if water doesn’t flow it will freeze quickly with no pre-warning. During my visits with contractors, several have shown me pieces of baseboard or piping that have split obviously from a freeze-up. I have a couple of thoughts regarding freeze ups.


First, if the home owner is going away, add an antifreeze solution that is good for below zero (test it on an annual basis to verify its strength related to temperature). You can also connect a temperature-sensing phone alarm system that will call both the service provider and the home owner should the system fail.


Have someone check the home on a regular basis, and possibly ask your service provider who may, for a fee and a key, provide an in-home daily check-up. If the system is hydronic, consider installing a control that will allow the circulator to move the systems water if the unit should fail to provide heat.


Another call I often get during the heating season is from service contractors wanting to know what to do when the oil filter on an outside tank is filled with something like jelly. The advice I give is to move the filter into the basement and connect it to the oil burner. Next install an oil tank stick heater that will add temperature to the oil when the temperature in the tank reaches 40 degrees.


I also suggest that oil companies treat their outside tanks with an additive that will improve the oil’s ability to flow during the sub zero days. I would start the additive treatment program as early as October and add it with every delivery throughout the winter months.


All of the suggestions I have offered cost money ‘ that is true, But ask yourself what was, or would be, the cost for repairs or replacing the entire heating system as the result of a freeze-up?


Charlie Bursey began his long career in the oil heating industry in 1963. He has delivered coal, kerosene and oil and serviced heating and cooling equipment. He has also managed service departments, worked for a manufacturer and currently works with F.W. Webb, Warwick, R.I. He is a recipient of the Association of Oil & Energy Service Professionals’ prestigious Hugh McKee Award for making an outstanding contribution to the fuel oil industry; having had an understanding and cooperation with his/her  fellowman; and having unselfishly aided the industry in education and related activities.

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