Boy, I just love to read all the “war stories” that we all have. I thought it was only me! A friend of mine in Rhode Island, Stephen deLisle sent me this note looking to see if I have ever experienced something similar. It reminded me of a situation a number of years back where fuel that we delivered was causing nothing but trouble. I thought it was something we were doing until, at a service managers meeting, we started talking. To my relief I discovered other companies were experiencing the same condition as we were.
After some more conversations we were able to determine that the fuel all came from one terminal. After the terminal was informed of this, the problem just disappeared. Here’s Stephen’s stituation:
<i>Just finished reading your column in the March 2011 </i>Fuel Oil News<i> and thought I would write you a quick e-mail about the "experience" I had this past season. Some back ground first. We are a small family owned heating oil company that has been in the oil business since 1898. I have been involved with the business since I got out of college in 1976. I've never experienced the event that happened this past February during some cold (but not frigid weather).
The temperature had been in the 20s during the day and down around 8-10 degrees at night for about 2-3 days. Not unusual for early February in Rhode Island. I had a customer with an outside oil tank that he had for years and we never had any problems with in the past. We faithfully treat the tank with one of the usual tank additives (Hot's 4 and 1. Superheat, etc.). We treat the tank every delivery during the months October-March. Got a call from the customer about a reset problem and that he was having to push the reset button to start the boiler 1-2 times a day and had been doing so since his last delivery on 2/1/2011 and was getting "tired" of doing it.
Sent a technician there and did the usual checks on the system including checking for fuel gelling or ice in the fuel system etc. (found no evidence of gelling or ice). Replaced the nozzle, filter, flushed and cleaned the complete fuel supply system (mind you this is a brand new heating system just installed the previous fall, a Trio boiler model P4 with a Riello oil burner and new indirect hot water heater). As always, my technicians do an efficiency test after installing a new nozzle and making adjustments to insure a "0" smoke and that there is no chance a new "triple pass" boiler like that would plug up. No matter what my technician did he could not achieve a "0" smoke and instead was getting a number 4-5 smoke. Multiple calls to both Riello and Boyertown (maker of the boiler) and different nozzles, pump pressure, settings, etc. would not clear up the problem. The technician was at the customers’ house the whole day.
Well the only "culprit" left was the heating oil. COLD heating oil would not burn correctly no matter what we did and burned with a 4-5 smoke. We set up a 5 gallon can in the basement with warm, new oil and achieved a 0 smoke! We then set up a 55 gallon drum outside and filled it with winter spec. diesel fuel just to be on the safe side. The boiler ran fine with a 0 smoke on the "new" fuel. It gets better!
I had another customer with an outside tank a few days later (the fuel was delivered the same date as the above customer on 2/1/2011) that had the same "problem" except this was a 500 gallon outside tank connected to 2 Burnham V-74 boilers and the same problem happened!!...the oil would not burn and actually plugged both boilers up. We had to again set up 2-55 gallon drums and run the heating system off of the drums (again, no freezing or gelling issues but oil that produced a 4-5 smoke). I quickly checked my records and thankfully these 2 customers were the only 2 with outside tanks that we delivered to with the oil picked up at the terminal on 2/1/2011.
I've never had anything like this happen. We have had problems with outside tanks in the past because of condensation/freezing/gelling problems but can control it with additives. I've never had a problem with oil not able to "burn." We just recently switched both customers back to their regular outside tanks because it is now warm and the boilers can run with a 0 smoke due to the fact that the outside temperature is now consistently in the 50s.<i>
Had I not been a member of our local Service Managers Association my problem may have gone on and cost quite a lot in service calls. This is but one advantage of being a member of NAOHSM (naohsm.org). It is good to discuss our problems because one, you will find out “you are not the only one” and two, you may be able to benefit from “those who went before.” If you had an experience like this, or another weird experience, drop me a line. If we openly discuss any problem, it can probably be solved.