The decade started on a nervous note. It was called Y2K and as the last century was coming to a close, some were anxiously awaiting the clock to strike midnight. However, the time came and passed without every computer in the world blowing up.
The oil heating industry was in for some dramatic changes in the new century, we just did not know it at the time. The heating plants we worked on then were on the way out, giving way to the new systems we have today. We went from not worrying about the price of oil to it being a true form of “black gold,” and we went from it being a plentiful product to a scarce commodity and back.
We have seen the evolution of electronic controls replacing the mechanical ones and we have seen the boilers go from a hunk of cast iron to a highly designed appliance. But along with the advantages of these more efficient boilers came a down side—now the chimneys need to be lined.
In the first article I wrote for this magazine, I suggested that we were going to see a major change in how our customers view technicians. The customers I have dealt with have become more knowledgeable about their home and have taken more of an interest in what we are doing.
The mechanical rooms seem to be getting smaller. Some of these mechanical rooms today are only large enough for a technician to stand in. Because of this we have seen the units suffocating themselves and causing a soot condition. Enter the age of fresh make-up air.
When this century started we never heard about boilers using combustion air, which was ducted from the outside. But by 2010 everyone knows the advantage of doing just that.
Again in that first article I wrote about the training of the technician, which has definitely changed. It used to be a problem to get technicians to go to training seminars after work, but online training made that a lot easier. This has been, in my opinion, one of the best advances in our industry.
Over the course of the decade, we had a revolution in the design of motors. Remember the old burner motors? Today we rarely use a 1725 rpm speed motor. The vast majority are 3450 with a capacitor start. These used to be only on commercial jobs, but over the years the manufacturers started to introduce them in the residential market.
Controls were not overlooked either. Remember the electro-mechanical aquastats? Today the electronic aquastats are making a big difference in the ratings of whatever system they are used on. Cad cell relays replaces the stack relay and the new versions of this control now will give feedback to the technician who is educated in its use.
As you can see, today’s technicians are, and rightly so, qualified tradesmen. Today we use digital equipment to analyze the condition of the system. We use electrical meters to measure the resistance to tell us temperature. We use computers to plug into systems and run diagnostics.
The changes were not only in the customer’s home, some major changes were made in the company office. We used to depend on our delivery drivers to route their work. Now some companies use a computer program to lay out the day’s route to minimize travel and maximize the amount of product delivered.
We went though a tough time with the insurance companies regarding issues with oil tanks. Much of the concern was confined to underground storage tanks (USTs) and caused many customers to change to other fuels, but a lot of aboveground tanks (ASTs) got caught up in the frenzy. We saw the rise of an industry in tank testing of ASTs in the customers’ home.
In the last decade, the National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers (NAOHSM) discussed how the organization can help those who can’t help themselves since we, as an industry, are neighbors in our local communities. The program “Oil Heat Cares” was born; providing new heating systems to those who need it, but have financial hardships.
NAOHSM also wanted to always remember one of the most memorable persons in our industry, Dave Nelson. Dave was a service manager, an industry instructor, a truly fun guy, and a very good friend of mine. Dave’s love was teaching the future generation technician and so the Dave Nelson Scholarship was founded in his name. NAOHSM awards 10 scholarships each year, in Dave’s name, to students in the heating industry field.
And of course, one of the biggest changes in this decade is BioFuel. It is not really a new product, but has gained popularity due to rising fuel oil costs and environmental concerns.
There are many more changes to come in the fuel oil industry and I wonder what the changes will be as we approach 2020. Anything is possible. I would love to hear about your experiences as to how the industry has changed for you in the last decade, write me at email@example.com