By Dan Vastyan
Corbin Fuel Co. started out as an ice and coal delivery service nearly 100 years ago, but now they focus on oil and propane delivery. Suffice to say the block ice trade isn’t booming these days. In the 1930s, they started swapping ice wagons for fuel tankers and made the leap from keeping ice boxes cold to keeping houses warm.
The company serves northeast Maryland and York County, Pa. A fleet of 10 fuel trucks keeps their customers’ tanks full, while eight service techs keep appliances burning clean. In addition to servicing equipment, Corbin technicians typically install about 25 oil boilers each year. But that number is up over the past six months. With current fuel prices, there’s even less incentive to convert, and Corbin Fuel does a good job of keeping oil clients content, regardless of fluctuating fuel prices.
“We haven’t lost a single oil customer in the past year,” said Rob Bennett, who’s been a service tech at Corbin Fuel for eight years. “Some even have natural gas in their homes for other appliances, but they’re happy with their oil heat.”
Quality in, quality out
More often than not, Corbin installs, fuels them and services their regular customers’ boilers. Being there at every step of the process offers some pretty good insight.
Corbin techs have come to learn what it takes it takes to keep oil boilers running at peak efficiency year after year: quality equipment, clean fuel and professional service at reasonable intervals. It’s a recipe that proves itself each time they open the service port on a boiler owned by a regular Corbin customer.
“This is a great company to work for,” said Bennett. “We take pride in having qualified technicians and we regularly attend continuing education classes. I’m a NORA [National Oilheat Research Alliance] certified technician, as are most of our other techs.”
“We offer two boilers for our oil customers,” said Bennett. “The Burnham MPO-IQ is our premium option, and if DHW is needed we install a Burnham Alliance indirect tank. For a more budget-minded customer, we can offer a Burnham V-8 with a hot water coil, though we do pair the V-8 with an Alliance tank from time to time.”
“If we installed the boiler and we’ve delivered fuel to the home, I never worry about finding a big mess in the boiler when I’m out for a scheduled service,” said Bennett. “I know that cleaning it won’t take all day.”
Part of the reason for that is the quality of the fuel. Corbin Fuel Co. keeps a close eye on the product in their storage tanks, taking periodic samples and treating accordingly. In the home, they recommend a high quality, spin-on filter. A tiger loop is used when a return line isn’t feasible, and an oil safety valve is installed when the tank is higher than the burner.
Making oil ideal
Early this spring, a scheduled service took Bennett back to a home in Fallston, Md., to complete a yearly tune up. Three years ago, he and two other technicians installed an MPO-IQ in the 1,600 square-foot house, along with a 35-gallon Alliance tank.
Three heating zones draw from the 110 MBH boiler, each served by a Taco 007 circulator. The stone-lined sidearm tank has priority. All radiation is fin-tube baseboard except for one hydronic fan coil unit installed in a greenhouse attached to the south side of the home.
If not for the greenhouse, a smaller boiler could have been installed. The 87 percent efficient MPO-IQ is offered in sizes from .60 to 1.65 GPH (84 to 231 MBH), with a direct vent kit available for sizes 1.05 GPH (147 MBH) and larger.
“The original boiler was a 30-year old Burnham V1 with a tankless coil,” said Bennett. “After one year with the MPO-IQ – which has an outdoor reset sensor – the homeowner was happy to tell us about her fuel savings.”
Bennett and his fellow service techs noted the new unit is simple to service and easier to maintain.
Budget, but not without benefits
Across town, Corbin Fuel delivers oil to an old brick home where a family with several teenagers was dealing with a shortage of hot water on weekday mornings. The old boiler, with an old tankless coil likely caked with scale, was guzzling fuel and not producing enough domestic hot water to keep up with several showers in a row.
First and foremost, the owners wanted to increase their domestic capacity, and the boiler needed to be replaced anyway. The owners preferred to keep their simple hydronic system simple on account of their budget. On the same token, an increase in operating efficiency was welcomed.
“A V8 with a coil likely would have been fine to handle the domestic load regardless of the number of occupants, but we also wanted to ensure year-round efficiency,” said Bennett. “A Burnham Alliance indirect tank leaves no doubt about the availability of hot water and substantially reduces the number of times the boiler will fire over the course of a year.”
On their website, Corbin Fuel Co. says that they’re committed to giving their customers the best of everything: Fuel, dependability, safety and service. A decade ago, the words “oil heat” might have left a left an unsavory flavor on the tongue, but things have changed. And the recent dip in fuel costs has many people reconsidering.
“Oil is no longer a dirty outdated fuel source with this modern burner and appliance technology,” said Bennett. “And with lower per-barrel prices, it’s hard to justify the added expense of converting to another energy source.