The Best Ways To Prevent Running Out Of Heating Fuel This Winter

feeling chilly due to running out of heating oil

Millions of homeowners use heating oil or propane gas to keep warm during very cold winters. Now here’s the thing – when it comes to propane and fuel oil, you always need to check the tank to ensure that there is still enough to last you until the next refill. When the tank is about 30% full, then it is time to call for a heating fuel delivery. However, many homeowners forget and run out before they realize it. This article shares various strategies that will call oil-heat homeowners can use to prevent from running out of fuel.

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The Best Ways To Prevent Running Out Of Heating Fuel This Winter

During winter, the simple task of checking the oil tank becomes a forgotten nuisance. This happens because wintertime is a busy time when people have to deal with the holidays, skiing trips, heavy snow, and of course, family outings. Unfortunately, winter is also the time when heating needs have to be met, both for comfort and safety. When the winter is at its coldest, you want to have the security of having an oil tank that is full and will last you for a long time. The last thing you want is to run out of heating oil just when the temperatures drop.

It does not matter what the season is, when you run out of fuel oil, or propane, you are in for a frustrating experience. This is especially so when you need warmth in the middle of the night and discover that your fuel won’t last till the morning. The best thing to do is to prevent this issue from happening in the first place. Keep in mind that when the oil tank frequently runs out of fuel, it will be at a higher risk of premature damage.

Why Your Heating Oil Tank Should Always Be At The Required Level

image of an oil tank gauge and alarm

There are several reasons why you should purchase your oil before you run out. Other than the utter inconvenience this would cause, there are also other reasons why you should always keep your heating oil tank filled. Here’s why:

1. You Want To Avoid Unnecessary Oil Delivery Expenses

Most homeowners run out of fuel during the winter, usually in the middle or near the end of the cold months. This is bad news because the prices of heating oil are typically at their highest in winter. If your fuel tank needs a top-off from October until March, you will have to pay more. This will increase your fuel oil expenses since you will be paying extra.

Other than the increased cost of heating oil, you will also spend on emergency oil delivery. Heating oil delivery services typically charge more for emergency deliveries than for regular refills. Even with small fill-ups, you could still save more than if you frequently called for emergency service.

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2. Sludge In The Oil Tank Could Build Up

Sludge, along with fine debris is common in heating oil tanks. They usually just settle at the bottom and do not cause any problems until your tank begins to run empty.

As the heating oil starts to run out, that heating system will begin to pull the sludge and other debris into the tank’s supply line with the oil. The sludge could cause a blockage in the supply line. If it reaches the filter, it will cause more blockage. If the fuel line and/or filter are clogged with sludge, the furnace or boiler will no longer be able to work efficiently. In some cases, the system will shut down automatically. Should this happen, the heating system will have to be inspected by a professional technician.

3. You Will Have To Do A Manual System Reset

If your system did run out of heating oil, you will have to reset it. This can be done by pushing a button. However, if the pilot light is out, you will have to perform a reset (prime and start).

If this happens to your system, make sure to call a professional HVAC technician to reset the pilot light for you. To do this, the technician will have to eliminate the stuck oil in the supply line and replace the plugged filters. When this happens, expect to be paying for the service. You can avoid this, of course, if you simply get a refill before your oil runs out.

How To Prevent An Empty Oil Tank

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There are risks in allowing your heating oil to run out. By taking the proper preventive measures you can protect your heating system from damage, avoid inconvenience, and enjoy a consistently warm home this winter.

The rule of thumb as recommended by the heating oil industry is simple: make sure that the oil tank is always one-third full at the very minimum. Of course, making sure that the oil tank is at the perfect level does not mean that you will have to keep checking on your heating system to ensure that the oil is at the right level. There are technologies and services available that will help you prevent problems with your heating oil tank. These include:

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Automatic Oil Delivery

When you choose an automatic delivery service, you can rely on a service that comes to you automatically so you do not have to worry about running out. The great thing about an automatic delivery service is that you just simply sit back, relax, and do other more important tasks around the house or at work. You no longer have to frequently check your heating oil tank to estimate how much oil is still left. The heating oil delivery company will take care of everything for you.

An automatic delivery service allows your heating oil provider to keep track of your usage using non-invasive technology to measure how much oil you use on average so they can schedule a refill at the right time. The company uses information such as the size of your home, the number of household members, your usage, and the calculated HDD or heating degree days. HDD measures the amount of energy required to keep your home heated based on the temperatures outdoors.

Using data such as the square footage of your home, your fuel tank capacity, and past information about your heating needs, the heating oil provider can accurately calculate when your tank will require a refill. When this happens, they will schedule the delivery.

Benefits Of An Automatic Oil Delivery System


Automatic delivery is quite popular for many heating oil homes because it has a high rate of success in helping prevent problems with empty fuel tanks. Automatic deliveries also save customers a lot of money over the long term. Many providers even offer rewards to customers through discounts once they sign up for automatic delivery. This helps bring down the cost of heating oil even further.

The automatic system uses your heating history as a basis and deliveries are customized to your needs. This means that the heating oil company will never sell you heating oil that you do not need.

Because these companies use non-intrusive methods to calculate how much oil you require, you do not have to deal with any invasive software.

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Limitations of Automatic Fuel Oil Delivery

An automatic delivery system does not calculate for increases in heat, which are largely unexpected. Let’s say you have visitors over for a few days or weeks. This will increase the demand for hot water. If, on the other hand, you are going away on a holiday and leave your home empty, your heating system will not be using a lot of heat as usual. However, this is largely avoidable as all you have to do is inform your oil company about any changes in your schedule ahead of time.

Another limitation to consider is that when you choose an automatic delivery service, you will sign a contract with one supplier for a period of time. During this period, you are only allowed to receive deliveries from that one supplier and cannot compare prices with other suppliers until after your contract is completed. So if you do opt for automatic oil delivery, be sure to sign up with a reputable company like McAllister Energy.

Smart Meters & Oil Tank Monitoring Apps

smart oil tank meter

With smart technology, you can expect better services that increase your convenience and comfort. You get to pick from smart thermostats and cookware to smart garbage bins and security systems that allow you to automate your home. The same technology is being used by the heating oil industry with the onset of smart oil meters for tanks.

With this type of technology, monitoring the oil levels in your home is instant. This type of technology can also allow you to monitor how much oil you consume and the costs of heating your home from a remote location. With this technology, the system can send data to your computer or phone using a sensor attached to the oil tank.

Advantages of Smart Meters

  • A professional will need to install this type of meter. Fortunately, they can quickly install the meter for you during your annual heating system tune-up.
  • Smart meters come with a built-in alarm that will notify you in case of potential oil theft.
  • Some smart systems also notify you if the oil level reaches a critically low level so you can call your oil supplier.
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Limitations of Oil Tank Smart Meters

  • There is a cost associated with smart technology. A system designed for monitoring tanks can cost about $100 or even more.
  • There have been reports of inaccurate readings that were as high as 50% in monitoring systems using electricity. These inaccuracies tend to be rare, however, but should still be considered carefully.
  • Most smart tank meters are designed to send a notification to you if the oil level is low. It will not notify your oil provider directly. It is still up to you to call your supplier before your heating tank runs out.

Local Oil Tank Monitors

image of a heating oil delivery and fill pipe

You could still monitor your tank levels remotely or locally without using a computer or smartphone that is connected to a smart meter. You can use software designed for local tank monitoring instead.

Local tank monitors work in the same way as smart meters. They have a transmitter that can be attached to the oil tank. This sensor will transmit a reading to a monitor that is plugged into an outlet in the home.

Advantages of Local Tank Monitors

  • These monitors can be installed quickly by simply placing the sensor on the heating tank. The monitor is then plugged into an electrical outlet. Even without a smartphone, you can still monitor your heating tank.
  • The system will alert the monitor if the oil level gets too low, so you can call your oil provider right away.
  • Local tank monitors are considered more accurate compared to mechanical float gauges. If these types of gauges are inconvenient for you, a local tank monitor is a great option.
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Limitations of Local Tank Monitors

  • Unlike smart meters, the range of local tank monitors is usually narrower, although some can be installed throughout your home. Local tank monitors also derive power from electricity, which means they need to be installed near the closest outlet.
  • Local tank monitoring systems and transmitters are also quite costly. Like smart tech meters, local tank monitors cost about $100 on average.
  • The system does send an alert when the oil level is low but it will notify you instead of your oil supplier. This means that you will have to call the supplier yourself to schedule a refill.

Oil Tank Alert Systems

homeowner using smart phone to order home heating oil

If you want an effective alert system that sends you a notification when the oil level is too low, then consider oil tank alert systems. This type of system does not require you to pay extra for more settings or data. Simply install the gauge on the oil tank so it can start sending a signal to the receiver in case the oil supply is low. The receiver will either flash or beep to alert you.

Advantages of Fuel Oil Tank Alert Systems

  • These systems are considered ideal monitoring solutions for those who are not familiar with smart technology. The receiver is a simple feature that does not come with a complicated interface. When the oil level is low, it will send you an alert without requiring other information.
  • Alert systems are also inexpensive because of their simple setup.
  • Many models are battery-powered, which means they can be installed virtually anywhere.
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Limitations of Oil Tank Alert Systems

  • Although alert systems work well by notifying you when the amount of oil is at a critical level, they do not collect data about oil consumption. This type of information is helpful if you want to how much oil you are using so you can determine your consumption trends. Knowing how much oil you consume within a period will help you manage your expenses better. Unfortunately, alert systems do not have this feature.
  • Alert systems also do notify your heating oil supplier directly. Once you receive the alert, you will have to make the call yourself.

Manual Checkups of Your Heating Oil Tank Levels

oil tank gauge

Checking your heating oil levels is important to ensure that your tank system is working properly and that you have a source of heat during winter. If a monitoring device or system is not in place, you can still monitor your tank manually using the gauge.

Check the level of the oil using a dipstick to determine the amount of oil in the tank. Just before the level reaches a fourth full, call for a refill right away. If the oil level goes lower than the 1/3 mark, the chances that your tank could become damaged or that you’d run out of fuel is higher.

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Advantages of Manual Monitoring

This is easily the cheapest means to monitor your oil level. However, it relies heavily on your alertness and memory. If you are too busy, you could forget to check the tank.

Limitations of Manual Monitoring

Manual monitoring is not the most efficient way to monitor your oil levels, especially if you forget or are simply not around for the job. There are no alerts to notify you and you will have to ensure that you do the checks yourself regularly. Otherwise, you will be spending more on either emergency fill-ups or repairs.

If your tank happens to be located outdoors, then imagine having to manually check your oil level during the coldest winter.


What To Do If You Run Out Of Heating Oil

Now, in case you do run out of fuel, here are tips you can use:

  • Call For Emergency Oil Delivery Service: An emergency fuel delivery company can make fill-ups in 24 hours or less once you make the call.
  • Use Other Means To Heat Up Your Home: You could turn to other types of fuel such as diesel or kerosene for the interim. You could also use space heaters to keep warm. If you have a fireplace, you could light it up.
  • Insulate: Once you have a source of heat, make sure it does not escape. Keep windows and doors closed, and use weather stripping when necessary. Dress in layers and consume warm drinks and foods.
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Call McAllister Energy For All Your Home Heating Needs

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For all your HVAC and oil delivery needs, contact McAllister Energy. We have some of the most highly qualified and professionally certified technicians in Camden County, New Jersey. Each of our friendly techs can conduct all kinds of HVAC services, such as oil tank upgrades, boiler repair, ductless installations, furnace replacements, and more. We have various oil delivery plans and financing options. This way, you can customize your fuel deliveries to meet your needs. Our heating oil delivery and HVAC services are affordable and are done accurately and promptly at all times.

All of our services come with a guarantee. Our HVAC maintenance services improve your energy efficiency and home comfort while decreasing your HVAC costs. We can also assist you when you need to replace your heating and cooling system. We will help find the best make and model for your home without sacrificing your budget. Our experts have the skills, training, and experience to ensure that all your home comfort needs are met. Book an appointment with us today. Call McAllister Energy for a free, in-home estimate.

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