One of the most common problems with fuel oil is its cleanliness and having the ability to keep it flowing through the burner. Many of you have already noticed that some of the new high efficiency oil heating equipment is coming off the assembly line with nozzles ranging in sizes of .50 GPH and with oil pump pressure settings on some units over 200 PSI. Even more reason to have clean fuel going into the oil storage tank.
Cleaner fuel reduces those unwanted and after hour service calls, which are often attributed to a clogged oil filter, pump strainer or nozzle. Often water (another culprit of system failure) in the tank can be overlooked as the possible cause of a burner out service call. It makes good sense to have water test paste available and stick the tank for water accumulation during a system tune-up. Water can also lead to serious tank corrosion as well as promote bacteria and fungi, known also as microbes. The best solution is to try and locate and minimize how or where water may be entering the tank. Often water will be more noticeable in oil tanks that are located outside of a building, due to a greater possibility of rain or snow entering through loose piping or fill pipe plugs.
Condensation is another factor that must also be mentioned when it comes to contamination issues found in oil tanks. Condensation can be caused by the difference in air temperatures from within the tanks free air space, located above the fuel level. This will occur as air temperature changes move in and out by way of the tanks vent piping. This condensation will then travel down the inner walls of the tank and collect on the tanks bottom where corrosion is likely to occur. Water tests have been performed on empty 275 gallon tanks located outside of a dwelling and as much as 1 quart of water has been found to accumulate over a four month period. This often takes place during high temperatures and high humidity conditions. As you would expect, it takes longer for the water to accumulate during low humidity conditions. A simple solution would be to keep the tank full to reduce condensation during these periods.
Another problem found that can cause oil burner shutdowns is varnish or gum type residue. This can be found coating the internal parts of oil pumps, nozzles, filters and oil lines. Varnish is also referred to as sludge, caused by the degradation of fuel, which settles on the tank’s bottom and, with each burner run cycle, flows into the burner. In time, that can cause a burner lock out. Keep in mind that sludge does not occur over a short period of time, and in general, I have found it to occur within tanks that have been in service for several years and had little, if any, care.
There are several methods used to address tank sludge issues. Just to mention a few’tank cleaning devices, additives, etc.’but total tank and line replacement is the most positive way of eliminating contamination and potential leak issues. An area of importance when considering the use of additives is to talk directly to the manufacturer or representative of the product to be sure the product will address your type of contamination issue, regardless of whether it is water, rust, sludge or any of the many other types.