Heating Oil Question - Double Our Normal Consumption?

grandgnu

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I've lived in the same place for three years and over that period we've gone through about 5 gallons/day of heating oil during the winter months (i.e. 150 gallons)

We have a 275 gallon tank and filled it up exactly one month ago. Today we are completely out of oil, which is essentially double the usual consumption. While I understand it's been freaking cold, we haven't changed the temperature we set it to. So I can understand consuming additional fuel during this colder period, but double seems way off, no?

Note: We rent a place and our tank doesn't have a gauge we can check, they use a stick to check the level, landlord never wanted to fix the gauge. And we haven't been able to get down to the basement to check because the bulkhead has been snowed over and the other side of the house is the one that has access to the basement. Not to mention, we just topped it off a month ago so there was no reason for us to assume that our 3 years of heating data would change this drastically.

Does something seem off here (poor maintenance on the system or something by the landlord) that might've caused this or is it just this brutal winter? I was going to put this into Bergs thread but kinda needed a helpful answer rather than a funny one
 

links_slayer

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Our natural gas bill has been a bit higher than usual this winter too, partly due to an increase in price and partly due to increased usage.

I think the fact that you haven't changed the temp setting is irrelevant - we haven't changed the settings on ours in years. Your system might just be working more than usual to keep it at the set temps. That seems to be the case for us this winter/furnace season.
 

grandgnu

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I get that it would have to work harder to keep the heat running, but 2x the oil consumption? That just seems way off to me. Never in our three years here have we experienced this.
 

Mental Nomad

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Wearing my engineer's hat, that's too big a difference, IMO. I wouldn't jump to suspecting foul play, though.

Depending on what kind of heating system you have, there can be a variety of problems that have kicked in which limit the amount of heat getting from the oil to your rooms.

Sure, the colder weather may lead your thermostat to call for heat more often - and if you've done silly things like left storm windows open, etc., you may be losing more heat, but that's unlikely to account for double.

On the other hand, if you're on steam heat, and old rust and crud has blocked the returns, the boiler may run and run without pushing much steam up into the radiators.

Or if you're on circulating water, a weak pump may not be pushing much water through the lines, so the burner heats and heats but little is transferred to the rooms.

Or perhaps the burners are the culprit, and are half burned-out with age; now they're not burning the oil efficiently - or they're bent out of place, so the fire's heat is not all going into the exchanger - or half the exchanger is blocked with crud so the flow through it is low and little gets heated...

Or maybe your vents or chimney are blocked; with low air flow, the oil is not burning very hot, and is sending a lot of soot up the pipe instead of heat into the exchanger...

There are a bunch of ways that poor maintenance or just systematic build up can really decrease the efficiency of your heating system - and a cold winter is just compounding the loss of efficiency.
 

grandgnu

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Thanks MN, I figured it was too large a difference that the cold alone could account for it. It is a very old house. With all the snow we've gotten maybe the venting for the system has been blocked outside the house or something?

And since she never wanted to spend the hundred bucks to have the oil company fix the gauge I can't imagine she's done much preventative maintenance on the system.
 

Chicken Rob

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Thanks MN, I figured it was too large a difference that the cold alone could account for it. It is a very old house. With all the snow we've gotten maybe the venting for the system has been blocked outside the house or something?

And since she never wanted to spend the hundred bucks to have the oil company fix the gauge I can't imagine she's done much preventative maintenance on the system.

Thankfully you're leaving this slumlord for the warm south at the end of the month. People who don't maintain their rental properties piss me off.
 

grandgnu

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Thankfully you're leaving this slumlord for the warm south at the end of the month. People who don't maintain their rental properties piss me off.

She was actually pretty good at the start, when her and her husband lived on the other side of the house. But then she went through a nasty divorce, he forced her to put the home up on the market and she moved in with a boyfriend and started renting out the other side as a boarding house (three tenants have bedrooms and then share common space). So it's been a downward spiral since then.

Definitely looking forward to getting the hell outta here, we've had our fill and then some.
 

dennis63

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We heat the house with gas, and keep it constant. With a new solar roof, I'm keeping really close track of our energy use, including cubic feet of gas used.

In January this year, we used 28 percent more gas than last January, so weather has been a definite factor.

Still, using all that oil in one month seems odd.
 

grandgnu

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I shared Mental Nomad's information with my landlord and her response was:

Have u called and asked for the heating index it has never been this cold i have used over 240 gal myself simce jan 14th and we use the same amount. ..usually. ..so i dont know what else to tell u nut it is freaking cold.
 

Ben

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To be honest, her response may not be completely off-base - when dealing with very cold temperatures and depending on a number of factors, just a few degrees lower outside temperature can make a huge difference in the amount of energy necessary to heat a space to X level. It is not going to follow a linear progression - I wouldn't be surprised at all if in a space/heating situation such as you describe, it might take double the fuel to heat to the same level from 0 degrees as it does from 10 degrees. Of course there could be (and probably are) other things going on as well where your system is not operating at maximum efficiency for one reason or another, but I would suspect that even moderately-colder temps are in fact the main culprit.
 

grandgnu

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Thanks for your input Ben. As I said, all I really have to go off of is the past 3 years of data which has been 150 gallons/month. Just seems odd that in our last month here we blow through 2x that amount. And we had a period the first year we moved in where we lost power for 8 days and had a horrible winter, but I don't recall anytime between then and now ever seeing us go through this amount of heating oil.
 

grandgnu

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Did you measure to be sure you got a full delivery? I almost never check when I get a propane delivery, just trusting they didn't short me.

DrStrange

I originally ordered 125 gallons from a supplier that I preferred with a better rate a month ago. Historically we had used the same oil company she did, and so when she was filling she would check with us and we'd give the ok and she'd tell them to put oil in ours as well.

So anyway, this time around I used a different service and didn't go with a fill. But less than a week later I get a notification from her supplier that I have a bill for $115 and I tell them I didn't order any oil from them. I speak with her and by mistake she sent them to us instead of another friend on the same street. So at that point we're essentially filled up. Based on my knowledge of where we were when I ordered the 125 gallons, the amount her company put in made sense to top it off. So pretty confident we were filled up.
 

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Heating costs are greatly affected by outside temperature. You could calculate the amount of oil used per degree day for comparable periods this year and last year. If you're not familiar with this calculation, check out this site. You can get degree-day information for your location here. Because this calculation is based on averages or totals, the periods don't need to be equal so you can use fill dates. It would probably be best if you reviewed your data over several months/fills in each winter.

Although I might be mistaken, degree-day calculations do not take wind speed into account, and unless you have a very tight house (my guess is that you don't), wind speeds are yet another factor in fuel usage. On two zero-degree days, your furnace will run more when winds are high than when there is nearly no wind at all.

You could always move. ;)
 

grandgnu

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Well, it has been brutally windy too. My wife said they found some pipes leaking in two areas, I don't really know enough about it to know if that had an impact or if that occurred after the heat went out. Either way, we've got heat back at least, and we're outta here in two weeks.
 

abby99

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The place I rent is about as tight as cheesecloth. I usually keep the thermostat at 67 during the day/evening, but when it's windy I can crank it up to 70 and I'm still cold.
 

maxim_666666

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The place I rent is about as tight as cheesecloth. I usually keep the thermostat at 67 during the day/evening, but when it's windy I can crank it up to 70 and I'm still cold.
Yes, I would agree with that ....
I noticed it in my case ...
 

Mental Nomad

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The wind could be a factor, but it hasn't really been that much colder. Someone mentioned degree days; that's the right way to compare. The higher the number of heating degree days, the more heat you need to run - it counts more "degree days" for each day that's cold enough to require more heating.

Not sure what city you're in, but I ran a degree day report for:
WHITE PLAINS WESTCHESTER, NY, US (73.71W,41.07N)

December, 2012: 825
January, 2013: 1012

December 2013: 940
January 2014: 1231

December 2014: 859
January 2015: 1193

It was actually colder last year than this year, temperature-wise, though this year may be windier. Still, this does not explain double the oil. Double is a big difference.

(Use http://www.degreedays.net/ if you want to run a report for you zip code, or a station near it - 26 months will get you the past three winters.)
 

grandgnu

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Dec, 2012: 914
Jan, 2013: 1101

Dec, 2013: 1054
Jan, 2014: 1259

Dec, 2014: 900
Jan, 2014: 1,275
 

manamongkids

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too lazy to read the responses. my dad has been a plumber handling boilers and heating systems for over 30 years so I know a thing or two about efficiency. the number one thing that typically drives your oil usage up is poor efficiency; poor insulation, cheap/old windows, multiple zones vs one zone.

if you have poor insulation, and lets say your temp is set at 68, your system will have to work overtime and keep turning on over and over again until it reaches and stays comfortably at 68, same thing with old/cheap windows.

multiple zones vs one zone is a bit trickier, lets say you have two zones, one heating zone for a main floor and one main zone for a finished basement or maybe an infrequently used room/area

if you are in one zone, its going to take a lot to heat (and keep the temp at whatever temp you decide) but if you have multiple zones you can decide which areas you care most about being heated.
 

Mental Nomad

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too lazy to read the responses. my dad has been a plumber handling boilers and heating systems for over 30 years so I know a thing or two about efficiency. the number one thing that typically drives your oil usage up is poor efficiency; poor insulation, cheap/old windows, multiple zones vs one zone...

True, but doesn't answer the question. Why did his oil consumption double what it was in previous years? It's not like they changed the house between this year and last. Same insulation, windows, zones...
 

abby99

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I get a notification from her supplier that I have a bill for $115 and I tell them I didn't order any oil from them. I speak with her and by mistake she sent them to us instead of another friend on the same street. So at that point we're essentially filled up.

Is it possible that you didn't actually get this oil? Was there room in your tank for both deliveries?
 

manamongkids

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i live right outside boston, and we have HAMMERED with snow, the temps within the last 2 weeks have been unlike I have ever seen in my lifetime. My parents house have had the oil company come refill 3 times in 90 days. its been crazy, their house is an older home with poor efficiency.

i cant speak to how the tri state region has been in regards to weather and temps, but if its anything at all like we have (we have had 8 feet of snow in 3 weeks) that could be enough alone to double his fuel costs.
 

grandgnu

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Is it possible that you didn't actually get this oil? Was there room in your tank for both deliveries?

At the time I ordered oil I had a decent idea of what was in the tank. So I ordered 125 gallons, not enough to fill it, but enough to make me comfortable with the levels. When my landlord wound up having her company put oil in my tank shortly thereafter, the amount I was charged was in line with what I believed would've been left to fill it, so I don't think we were ripped off there.

- - - - - - - - - Updated - - - - - - - - -

I looked it up and this house was built in 1830! The listing for sale on the house states it was once a stage coach stop and part of the underground railroad. The house is split into a duplex, and on our side we have two thermostats/zones. Generally we've kept these set between 62-65 degrees. We have also gotten hammered with significant snowfall in the past month and a half, we have many feet of the stuff pilled up against the house, and of course below zero temps and wind-chills.
 

jbutler

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so the question is whether you got screwed out of a couple hundred bucks? not worth the worry imo. i would write it off as the final cost of escaping the great white north and just gtfo.
 

bergs

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so the question is whether you got screwed out of a couple hundred bucks? not worth the worry imo. i would write it off as the final cost of escaping the great white north and just gtfo.

Yeah, this ^. I'd love to move away from this god-forsaken land that weather forgot.
 

Mental Nomad

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Snow up against the house acts as an insulator against colder air, and blocks the wind, as well. Accumulated snow should not raise the heating bill.
 
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