We have just come through a very interesting summer, don’t you think? Temperature swings in the Northeast were not, as you would say, normal. And that can create problems for us in the winter. How you ask? Think tanks. Think humidity. Think freezing. Think trouble!
Many of us, over the years, have dealt with the issues of contamination in oil tanks, myself included. Whether they were above or below ground, one thing they all had in common was contamination. And we addressed these problems, sometimes by selling the customer a new tank. “Since I need a new tank, can’t it be put outside?” asked a customer whose tank was in the basement. “Look at all the extra room I will have,” and we obliged. “You’re not putting that thing in MY basement,” said another customer, whose tank was buried in the backyard. “Put it outside,” and we obliged. Did we create a monster?
During the annual tune-up, most technicians will do a very good job of checking the oil burner and boiler. The oil burner will be set up to specs, right? And the boiler cleaned or checked, right? Some will even check the circulation system to ensure on the first cold day everything will work as designed. But I wonder how many check that outside oil tank? Some of those tanks we installed in covers to hide them from view. Some of those tanks we put in total containment vessels to give the customer peace of mind. Some of those tanks are now our problem to check.
The worst thing that can happen to an oil burner is to have water mixed with the oil. Water is the worse than having no oil at all. If there is water in the oil tank you have the beginning of sludge, no doubt about it. Is there water in that oil tank? You can’t tell by running the oil burner. Since water is heavier than the oil, it settles on the bottom of the tank. If the tank is pitched so water accumulates, you have a problem. If you installed a supply and a return line (not the best method) you will never know if there is water in the tank until you have a few inches or so. The only way is to test for it, period.
Think where we live. Most of us live near a body of water. Where I hail from, the “Isle of Long” as Dan Holohan calls it, we are surrounded by water and a very large lake in the middle of it all. How could we NOT have water in these tanks? Tanks breathe every day, just like you and I. As the sun heats up the tank, the air inside expands pushing air out the vent. Now as the sun sets, the tank inhales as the air inside it contracts. You think that “new” air is humid? You betcha. In addition to this, add the factor of the weird temperature swings we had this summer. According to NORA, “Condensation can contribute about a quart of water to a tank that is only ¼ full during the summer months…” How many summers has it been since that tank was installed? If it has only been four years, there is probably about a gallon of water in it, if it has lines off the top. The only way to tell if there is water in the tank is to test for water.
Testing for water is not a very hard job once you get to the tank. Some of the installations I have seen do make this quite difficult. Why? Because we obliged the customer. We let the customer tell us the best way to do what we do for a living, so now we must pay the piper, so to say. Whatever we have to do to test the tank for water, we have to do. I know I would rather be working outside now, taking the time to check for water than coming back on a freezing cold night and finding the oil tank bottom frozen and no oil to the oil burner. How about you? How about our customers? Let’s do it right and let’s test for water. It could make your day.