Our heating oil guide – all you need to know

Our heating oil guide – all you need to know

New to home heating oil and a little overwhelmed about it, how to order, and what you need to know? Or, been using it for a while but want to know more about it? In this heating oil guide, we’ll take away the confusion, we’re here to help. You’ll find everything you need to know about domestic heating oil and heating your home.

A brief history of kerosene heating oil:

Let's start at the beginning! Abraham Gesner, a Canadian geologist and inventor, first discovered kerosene in 1846. It burned more cleanly and was less expensive than competing products at that time – products such as whale oil. It was originally used in oil lamps but is now estimated to be heating around 1.5 million off-grid homes throughout the UK. Extracted from coal, oil shale and wood, it mainly comes from refined petroleum which is a naturally occurring yellowish-black liquid found in geological formations beneath the earth’s surface. The name ‘kerosene’ comes from the Greek word ‘Keros’ meaning wax. 

How is heating oil produced?

Kerosene is primarily derived from petroleum, (a broad term that refers to both crude oil and petroleum products) and is manufactured from a highly specialised fractional distillation process. This process is the process by which we obtain all the various petroleum products that we rely on from crude oil.  Crude oil is heated and it’s compounds separated by way of a distillation tower or fractionating column – each product has a different density and therefore forms at different stages of the fractionating column, with heavier fuels such as lubricating oil and marine diesel oil at the bottom, and the least dense gases such as butane and propane at the top where it is coolest. These gasses are then processed into Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG).

Does heating oil have any other names?

Yes, as we've already mentioned it’s also known as kerosene heating oil, and is sometimes referred to as 28-second heating oil as well. This is because its viscosity is such that a measured amount will pass through a measured hole in 28 seconds, or less. Other names for heating oil include burning oil and fuel oil.

You may also come across Premium Heating oil which is an enhanced heating oil, which contains a special heating oil additive. Premium heating oil improves the performance and efficiency of your oil central heating boiler by up to 15% and reduces CO2 emissions. It also keeps your oil fired central heating system running efficiently and reliably by helping to stop rust developing in your boiler, and reduces fuel degradation, keeping fuel fresher for longer.

Click here for help and advice about what type of heating oil to order, and the pros and cons of using it.

When is the best time to buy your heating oil?

Whilst it’s often thought that the summertime is the best time to buy as demand is lower, this isn’t always the case. This is because political unrest, the currency market, world demand and decisions made by major oil producing countries all impact market prices.

However, when you order your heating oil can also be determined by how much you have left in your heating oil tank. If you have a full-to-the-brim tank of oil and prices fall, you simply won’t be able to benefit as you will have no room in your tank for a further delivery. It’s always useful to know how big your heating central heating oil tank is so you can work out how much to order – tanks can come in a range of sizes, with the most popular ones holding 1,200 litres, but can be smaller, and also much bigger in size and volume. It’s also useful to know how much fuel you have in your tank, and a heating oil gauge such as our OilFox smart monitor is a reliable and easy way to monitor your tank level 24/7.

How do I pay for my heating oil?

At Northern Energy, we offer a number of different ways in which you can pay for your fuel. You can pay over the phone by debit or credit card - which there is no charge for. You can also pay by direct debit, and split the cost of your fuel over interest-free monthly instalments to ease the financial burden of large bills in the winter months. Our Flexi Saver Plan has been created to help our customers manage the cost of living crisis and rising fuel costs and comes with a free upgrade to our Premium Heating oil, which is more efficient and cleaner burning. Lets face it, every little bit of money saved helps!

Is heating oil safe?

Heating oil is not only a popular choice for heating off-grid homes throughout the UK, it’s also one of the safest. Whilst it is flammable, domestic heating oil isn’t explosive like gas and won’t burn in a liquid state. However, you should have your oil central heating boiler serviced annually to ensure both your oil fired central heating system and boiler are working safely and efficiently as a faulty boiler can be dangerous with the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning a concern for homeowners. Also, small issues can be picked up on before they get worse and become big problems. We would always recommend you have your boiler serviced by an OFTEC registered oil heating engineer. Take a look at our news pages for more specific help on issues like 'Can heating oil freeze?'.

Does heating oil smell?

The quick answer is yes! Home heating oil has a very distinct smell, although you shouldn’t usually smell it in your home. However, if your oil central heating boiler has been idle for a few months, perhaps in the warmer summertime, it can often produce a burning oil smell when fired up for the first time in the autumn. If everything is operating correctly, this will only be a fleeting odour and no cause for worry or concern. However, if you continue to smell oil it could be an indication of a problem that not all is operating as it should be, for instance the domestic heating oil may not be combusting fully or the nozzle which converts heating oil into vapour may be clogged. A fully qualified OFTEC oil heating engineer will be able to pinpoint the underlying cause and get your boiler running safely and efficiently once again.

Heating oil is a stable fuel and does not carry a high risk of explosion, and home heating oil fumes, although not pleasant, are non-toxic posing very little immediate risk. However, avoiding fumes from any heating fuel is always advisable. Any persistent smell of heating oil in your home should always be investigated, your boiler switched off until any problems have been identified and solved, and the area kept well ventilated if the smell is noticeable indoors. An OFTEC oil heating engineer will both diagnose and resolve any issue quickly.

When you receive a delivery and your heating oil tank is filled, it is not uncommon to catch a faint whiff of the fuel as the heating oil smell will linger in the air for a short period of time. It shouldn’t be a strong smell and will naturally disappear.

If the smell doesn’t go away and is still lingering after a few days, it could be that some oil has been spilt when the delivery was made or that you have a leak from your heating oil tank or pipework.

If there has been a small spill, your heating oil delivery driver will have taken steps to clean up, but you can also help by spreading absorbent material over the spill, whilst taking care not to get any fuel on your skin or clothing. Cat litter is a great household item to use for this, or alternatively sand or sawdust. Any porous substance that has then come into contact with the spilled oil should be removed and properly disposed of. Soap and warm water is good for cleaning hard surfaces, such as patios, driveways etc. And vinegar, baking soda or coffee granules are good for absorbing odours and neutralising the smell - even leaving out a few opened bags of charcoal will absorb the smell. But if you have a large oil spill, report it immediately to your domestic heating oil supplier who will guide you as to what to do next. It may be that any fuel in your tank needs removing immediately to prevent further discharge.

If you suspect a leak, it’s important to inspect your heating oil tank thoroughly. It’s possible that oil could be leaking from your tank or your pipework, and if so it's important that you find out where the leak is coming from. Your heating oil supplier will be able to provide help and advise on what to do next.

It’s good practice to check your central heating oil tank regularly for deterioration such as bulging or splits, for dead plants and grass around your tank, or for black stains on the tank supports or on the surrounding ground near the tank - all indicators of a potential leak. Your OFTEC registered engineer will also check your tank and pipework as part of your annual boiler service.

We would always recommend that you check your household insurance policy to make sure it covers you for leaks, damage to your property and your neighbours’ property as well as the environmental impact from an oil leak. Pollution and contamination incidents can be excluded, but often are included with cover restrictions and a financial limit.

We hope you have found our heating oil guide helpful and informative, but if there’s anything more you would like to know, or you’d like to place an order, our helpful team will be happy to help. Just give us a call on 01423 770 666 or email us at helpoil@northernenergy.co.uk