If you don’t have oil heat, chances are you don’t want it. Oil is expensive, inefficient, maintenance intense and the equipment is expensive to install. If you are building a new home, you should consider (in order): geo-thermal, standard heat-pumps, natural gas, propane and electric before you consider oil.
If you are considering replacing your existing oil furnace, you should also consider your other options. The most common approach is to switch to natural gas. However, not everybody has access to it. Other choices are heat pumps and hybrids. Propane is not much of an option,
because it’s a byproduct of petroleum and therefore its price floats with the price of crude oil.
We have no beef with oil, in fact Calvert Heating and Cooling has a sister company, Lincoln Oil that provides home heating oil. We just want you to know that you have options.
Things to consider if you are heating with oil
Lincoln Oil is Calvert’s sister company, and you should purchase your oil with us. Everyone gets their oil from the same refineries, so it’s all the same. Where we are different is that Lincoln does not have to subsidize their heating and cooling service by raising their price on oil. We’re often 30 or 40 cents a gallon cheaper than our full service competitors.
Efficiency tells you how much of the heat from the fire in your furnace goes into heating your home and how much goes up the chimney. Government minimum efficiencies are set at 80%, which means 80% of the cost for natural gas goes into heating the house and 20% goes up the
chimney. Oil burners can’t get much better than 83% or so because to increase efficiency, you need to reduce air and as you reduce the air you create soot. Soot leads to inefficiency and eventually breaks down. So there is a balance between efficiency and soot.
Annual Maintenance: While maintenance is recommended on all types of heating equipment, it is especially necessary for oil burners. A properly tuned boiler will produce a small amount of soot. Over time the soot builds up and reduces the efficiency of the heater. Left unchecked, the soot will build to a point that creates complete failure of the heating system.
Annual maintenance includes cleaning the soot from the heat exchanger, replacing the nozzle and changing the oil filter.
Chimney Problems: Older furnaces were inefficient with as much as 40% of the heat going up the chimney. This hot chimney exhaust was good for the chimney because it created a really good draft that wasn’t likely to produce condensate. Condensate is bad because it is very acidic and can eat your masonry chimney from the inside out. Without a good draft a furnace may not be able to expel its gas to the outside, spilling instead into the basement.
This a real concern when installing a modern furnace and venting it into an existing masonry chimney. If your chimney goes up the center of the house you usually don’t have a problem, but if your chimney is exposed to the outdoors, 1 side or more, it has to be “lined” with a stainless steel liner. It’s not a big deal, but has to be done. Cost is around $1700.
Manufacturers of Oil Furnaces: Oil is a diminishing industry. New homes are being built with natural gas or heat pumps because it’s far less expensive, environmentally sensitive and easier to sell to new home owners. Most people that have existing oil burners and access to natural gas choose to convert their heating system to natural gas. As a result there is not much demand for oil heaters, so there are only a couple of factories that produce them. The major brands purchase the oil furnaces and slap their major brand sticker on them.
We sell and install Arco-Aire because they are one of the only brand name factories that produce their own furnace. As above they produce furnaces for many brands that re-label the product as their own. We also sell and install a Thermal Pride product produced for Trane. The thermal pride is a bigger, heavier product that will probably last 10 years longer than the Arcoaire, (that is opinion only) but it carries a premium price. Not only is it more expensive to purchase, it’s harder to install.
Variable Speed Blowers: If your furnace is over 10 years old, it is 99% likely you have a traditional fan motor in your furnace. It uses just 2 speeds, high air flow for air conditioning and low airflow for heat. If you ran your fan in the ‘always on’ mode to help keep the air temperature in your home consistent or to improve air filtration, you were paying over $800 a year in electricity. Another drawback is that most fan motors were exactly the same size but the duct systems they were installed on were drastically different. This one-size-fits-all model never worked very well.
Variable speed motors are electronically commutative, (whatever that means!). The first benefit is that it adapts its output to match your heating and cooling systems with the exact air flow required for your duct. Variable speed motors help reduce humidity in the air conditioning cycle because the “ramp up” slowly causes better de-humidification. This ramp-up feature virtually eliminates the noise associated with blower motor startups.
Finally, if you leave your fan in the ‘always on’ position, (which you should) the motor circulates air a very low flow which translates into a savings around $500 dollars a year vs the traditional 2 speed motor. High Boy VS Low Boys: Standard oil burning furnaces are tall because the piece that separates the gases that are produced by the flame from the air that you breathe in your home is called the heat exchanger. Oil burner-style heat exchangers are tall. If you put the blower beneath the heat exchanger, like on a gas furnace, it sometimes becomes so big that you can’t fit the air
conditioning coil between the furnace and the basement ceiling. Low Boys are short but long because the blower assembly is installed behind, (not under) the heat exchanger. Low Boys are a bear to install. but if you want air conditioning, it’s what you need to do.
Burner Types: Most oil furnaces can be purchased with a choice of Riello or Becket burners. We use exclusively the Becket because it’s made in America and anyone qualified to work on oil heaters knows this burner well. The Riello is a European import. There is not a lot in our market, so parts and technical knowledge isn’t as common as with a Becket.