Diagnosing ‘No Heat’ Calls

This time of year, as temperatures drop, we may be fielding a number of “No Heat” calls. Let’s look at some of the reasons for these calls.

Below-zero temperatures can create oil flow issues, in some cases resulting in heating equipment failure.

I have had the opportunity to talk with several oil company owners and technicians as to what preventive measures they take to keep the oil flowing during extreme cold.

Many say that they have used an additive for years that helped in dealing with the cold-oil flowing issue, particularly when sub-zero temperatures occur. But several also said that they have experienced oil gelling issues in outside tanks, even with the use of a fuel additive. When I asked what they think the issue was, most said they suspected a change in oil quality; and some mentioned biofuel concerns. I’m not an oil quality expert but like many I experienced fuel oil gelling–and long before biofuel became part of the heating industry’s language. Many also say that  their customers will  complain when they get billed for the oil additive. But my response would simply be: Which cost is less? The cost of labor to restore equipment compromised by cold oil flow issues (potentially hundreds of dollars) or the cost of the additive, which over the heating season may cost $40 to $50 dollars?

Asked for other reasons for the “No heat” calls, several technicians mentioned lack of proper maintenance, burner switches that have been turned off, dead thermostat batteries, and failures of the new Wi Fi thermostats that were installed before the heating season and never set properly.

Recently I heard from my daughter, who let me know that she had no heat. I mentioned that it was probably her heating equipment. But while driving on this same day I learned via the radio that the reason turned out to be natural gas pressure in her area.

The temperature during this heat outage was at minus 2 degrees. Some 10,000 natural gas customers were without heat or hot water in the Newport, R.I., area. They included both homes and businesses. The cause was not absence of fuel, but lack of gas pressure required to keep the gas equipment operating properly. The effect was equivalent to what we refer to as an out-of-oil and no heat call. According to the media, there was a faulty valve in a main line located in Massachusetts. By the time an army of utility personnel got the gas valves turned off and on at every location, it turned out to be a 3-day ordeal, with the governor of Rhode Island declaring a state of emergency.

When it comes to gas pressure failure, I have often wondered if this situation will re-occur as new gas customers are added to existing, possibly aged, gas lines.

I must say that the natural gas company showed compassion toward their customers by offering to cover, without limit, customers’ expenses for transportation to a local hotel of their choice. And the utility also picked up the tab for the hotel accommodations.

Those of you supplying oil to your customers should feel good knowing that you will never have 10,000 customers with no heat or hot water.


PICTURED: Charles Bursey, Sr.

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 fellow man; and having unselfishly aided the industry in education and related activities. He can be reached at ChasBursey@aol.com.

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