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Some Thoughts and Cautious Advice

By Charlie Bursey

Now that winter is approaching, more and more companies are finding themselves getting calls from customers that were told in the spring that a new boiler or furnace was needed before winter. I think that most readers will agree that nothing changes—customers always wait to do in December what they could have done from May to October.

Both oil and gas equipment seem to be moving well, per my conversations with many contractors in my area. Over the last month for the first time in a long time it seems that home heating oil has taken a sharp drop in price and most of the end users will hopefully be what was once known as “Happy Customers.” This, of course, is due to the oil producing countries not cutting back on production, which has been the norm in past years. Could this be what is referred to as a glut?

Two issues that I keep hearing about pertaining to natural gas: price and gas pressure. The word on the street is that in some areas the price of natural gas will increase as much as 20%. On the pressure side, I’m being told if we get a severe winter there could well be a sever natural gas pressure drop that could cause equipment to fail to function properly and without warning. Could this be caused by a failing pipe lines, or too high of a demand caused by the number of oil to natural gas conversion that have taken place over the last couple of years?

I recently read in The Cape Cod Times that a utility company has placed a freeze on some Cape Cod towns, pertaining to new natural gas conversions that could extend into 2019.

I’m also told that some companies are putting clauses in their equipment replacement contracts that state: “We will not be responsible if the equipment fails to function due to the inadequate natural gas pressure.” I know the equipment installers are checking the meters, piping and system pressure before leaving the job site to assure the customer’s installations are all in proper working order before leaving. However, this is not to say the colder the weather gets and demand for the gas increases, causing the pressure to possibly fall below the required natural gas appliance water column pressure of 4″ to 7″ of W/C. On propane 11” of W/C is the normal pressure requirement. Regardless of gas product, a monometer test is required.

I would say an advantage of both fuel oil and propane is having their own storage tanks, and the system pressures are independently set on each system through the use of a regulator or pump. Here again, a monometer or fuel pressure gauge is required to be sure the system will function properly under to required pressure.

The heading of this article mentions the word caution, and the reason is I feel that we often get complacent in our every-day work schedule. I think that beyond good customer service, safety in a priority regardless of the type of fuel we work with. I hope that we will always err on the side of safety.

So with that in mind, I will share a story that I was recently told. Two very well trained technicians installed a wall-mounted gas boiler in a private home and the job came out perfect—the customer was happy. But, the following morning the customer called the installing company to say that he heard a bang from the new unit and the cover came off. The first thought was a defective unit, so the unit was removed and a new unit of the same brand was installed and is still running without issue. After examining the so called defective unit, the real problem was a fitting that was not tightened properly at the time of the installation. Could it be that one technician thought the other had tightened the fitting?

By the time this article reaches your door-step, the holidays will have come and gone, but I want to wish you all a safe and happy 2015 New Year.

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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