What Is Heating Oil?

Where It Comes from and How It Keeps You Warm

heating oil source wisconsin Heating oil comes from crude oil, which has to be refined to remove impurities. It’s then separated into different “fractions.” More refined, lighter fractions are used to produce such products as gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, diesel fuel and No. 2 home heating oil, which is what you use to heat your home. By the way, did you know that diesel fuel and No. 2 fuel oil are virtually the same thing, in terms of their chemical composition?

Refining is just a step in the process. There is more work to be done before your fuel reaches your heating oil tank. After it is refined and ready for use, heating oil is transported by ship, barge, truck, and/or pipeline to major fuel terminals. It is distributed from these terminals to local heating oil companies. Many of these companies have their own storage facilities, which can hold thousands of gallons of heating oil. These secure storage facilities ensure that an adequate supply of fuel is on hand during the cold months to ensure people get their safe heating oil delivery whenever they need it.

How Heating Oil Keeps You Warm

You either have an oil furnace or oil boiler in your home. A furnace uses air to heat your home, while boilers use water. Furnaces and boilers can both use fuel oil to heat, and it starts in the combustion chamber, where the oil is tuned into a flame by the oil burner.

Oil Burner: Engine of Your System

Like any mechanical device, heating oil systems require all components to work together. But some parts are more important than others. One component that is particularly vital to the efficient and effective operation of a heating oil system is its burner.

The burner can be considered the engine of the heating oil system. When your house gets chilly, the thermostat will send a signal to tell the oil burner in the furnace or boiler to turn on. A fuel pump then starts to draw the oil from the tank and through fuel lines to reach the oil burner.

There is a device on the burner called the nozzle, which turns the oil into a very fine spray. This oil mist mixes with air and ignites in the combustion chamber, which gets very hot. This heat then gets moved around your home and comes out either through radiators or baseboards (if you have a boiler) or vents (if you have a furnace).

How efficiently this is done depends on the design of the burner. Modern burners contain electronic pre-purge and post-purge controls to ensure ultra-clean starts and stops. New two-stage burners also have an efficiency level that’s 5–15% higher than older ones because they have been designed to conserve fuel.

Combustion Problems in an Oil Burner

If an oil burner seems to have combustion issues, it doesn’t always mean the burner is malfunctioning on its own. Sometimes, poor air flow around the system can be the culprit. Poor air flow can be caused by a variety of factors.

  • the furnace or boiler room is always sealed off or closed.
  • insulation or other energy conservation steps have been taken, resulting in a very tightly-sealed home.
  • a clothes dryer, workshop or pet’s living quarters are near the system. Lint, sawdust or animal hair can be drawn into the air openings of the burner and clog it.

If the burner flame looks weak, its color is orange and if there are signs of soot, there may be a lack of combustion air. To confirm this, open a door or window to bring fresh air to the area around the heating system and watch the burner flame. If it turns a bright white, lack of combustion air is the problem.

If you are uncertain about the cause, the best thing to do is to reach out to your heating oil service contractor and arrange for burner service.