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Hoping for Cold

Winter is around the corner, and perhaps it will be a colder one than last year, as my associates in the oil business are hoping. Recently I’ve had a chance to speak with oil dealers, manufacturers and suppliers regarding their sales for the 2015-16 season and, across the board, they all said that their sales were off and they attributed it to the lack of degree days. If you were to review the actual heating season degree days for the past two heating seasons, you would find that in 2014-15 there was an average of 5,793, and in 2015-16 there were 4,240. That is a difference of 1,553 or 27% between the two heating seasons. One dealer in Rhode Island told me that he hopes the coming winter temperatures will return to the more normal 5,000-degree day range.

On the manufacturing side, sales seem to have averaged a drop of about 4%, and on the supplier side sales seem to have been down an average of about 5% on parts and pieces.

One of the main concerns this year, like other years, is oil quality. I’m not an oil analyst, nor do I have a crystal ball. But my home has been heated with standard home heating oil from the same supplier for many years, and on an annual basis I can see a difference in the oil. How? Each year when I change the filters at both the tank and burner pump, I can see the difference in the condition of the system filters.

For some time, I’ve been told that biofuel is a cleaner fuel and that it will also help to reduce service calls. I sure hope so!

I am continually questioned about the best cold-weather additive to buy, or whether it is a good idea to pay extra money to get fuel at the terminal that already is weather-conditioned. To me, this comes under the heading of “Dealer’s Choice.” By now most dealers who have been in both the oil and service businesses have already had an experience with the over-the-counter additives and order the same product every year. I hear the names of several specific additives that are currently available, but the list is too long for me to mention and my only response when selecting an additive is simple: Whatever works!

I would hope that many of you remember the properties involved in burning fuel oil. They are:

Flash point: The lowest temperature when there is a momentary flash. Generally that happens somewhere between 130 and 200 degrees F.

Ignition Point: The lowest temperature at which rapid combustion will occur—approximately 630 degrees F.

Pour Point: The lowest temperature that oil will flow. Generally, at about 5 degrees F fuel oil will begin to solidify.

Cloud Point: The temperature at which wax crystals will begin to form. Generally, 10-20 degrees F above the pour point.

Viscosity: In my opinion this is one of the most critical of all the properties, because it is the ability for the oil to flow. The colder the oil, the thicker it is. The thicker it is, the more the combustion of the burner will be affected. Think of how molasses will flow compared to kero syrup. Keep in mind that most oil trucks are stored outside during the winter, therefore, when deliveries are made the oil is colder. If the oil tank is low, and a delivery is made in the early morning hours, the oil is likely to be thicker. Until the oil reaches the average 65-degree basement temperature, the burner may not reach its peak level of performance.

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