It’s nice and cold now and the oil burners have been humming along very nicely, right? That’s because the burners now being produced are very reliable; all they need is a sufficient quantity of good clean fuel. But about now you may be getting a call where the burner has stopped for some reason. One of those reasons could be a clogged oil filter or oil line or both. Don’t clean those oil lines unless you plan to complete the job.
The story goes like this: Mr. and Mrs. Jones are spending two weeks in the sun over the winter holidays. Mr. Jones realizes that with the freezing temperatures here they should have their heating system checked before going away. He calls you for an appointment, which you give him on Friday. Mr. Jones is fine with this since he is getting an oil delivery on Thursday.
You show up at the Jones’ home to do the check-up. Now, since this is outside your once a year scheduled visit, of course, you are charging for this. You inform Mr. and Mrs. Jones that all is well with their system and to enjoy their trip. On the receipt you give them lists all the things you did and are charging for, and cleaning the oil lines is one of them.
Two weeks go by and you get a frantic telephone call from Mr. Jones. It seems that they just got home from their vacation, only to find the house had froze up! Water lines frozen – if you are lucky they are still frozen and not thawed yet – and oil all over the basement floor. When you arrive, the insurance investigator is already on the scene. Mr. Jones has told him that you had checked the heating system two weeks ago, the day before they left. Boy, you are now on the hook for answers, no?
After the cleanup of the oil, and hopefully nothing was structurally destroyed, you find the source of the failure. The oil burner shut off because the oil line developed a hole in it. Because the oil burner was not getting any oil, the unit simply shut down. Now, the question is, when did the oil line develop the leak? You, having cleaned the oil line just two weeks ago, will have some explaining to do. Cleaning the oil line by blowing the line back to the tank, but capturing it before it enters the tank, is the normal procedure. Once this is done, are you finished with the lines? If you said yes, you may be setting yourself up for this situation.
It does not take very much to prevent this from happening to you, you just need to spend a few minutes and complete the job. I don’t care what chemicals you use to clean the lines or if you simply use the fuel in the line you do not know, you can not know, if you have opened a weak spot in the line, without testing for it.
What I always did (I learned the hard way) was after cleaning and flushing the line and the filter can, I always attached a pressure gauge to one end of the line and using my hand pump (also called a push/pull pump) on the other end I would pressurize the line to about 10 psi. The line must be completely disconnected from the system so to protect the fuel pump seal from this pressure. If you had any leak in the line, it would now be evident. If there is a leak, you now can charge for the oil line replacement. Instead of having Mr. Jones as a litigant in the lawsuit, you will have a customer that is willing to pay for the new oil line. Although he may not be happy about it, he’ll have his home intact when he gets back home.
Other protection devices to save you from this type of disaster could be an oil safety valve, which would have prevented the loss of the oil, and having the heating system on a communicating device to your office. With so many ways to protect yourself and your customers from this type of disaster, it makes no sense why you would not be offering them to your customers.
Oh, I can hear you now, “I heard about this happening, but I’m careful.” Yep, we’re all careful, but trust me, this can happen, this has happened, and it will happen again. Complete the job and test those lines after you have cleaned them. It can happen to you!
On UST’s after cleaning the oil supply line, I would always vacuum check it to be sure, and I will never blow out a return line again. There is a reason for devices like a “Tigerloop.” More on that next time.
As always, I love to trade “war stories” with you so keep those e-mails coming. I can be reached at email@example.com for your comments.