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October 9, 2021 6:38 PM

If you have shopped for a fuel oil company within the last 30 years, you most likely came across some form of the “computerized degree day/automatic delivery service assures you of an uninterrupted oil supply when you need it most” statement from marketing materials or the sales person. Since most all oil companies use computerized degree-day systems, homeowners might do better figuring out “once my company knows I need oil, does it have the resources to get the oil into my tank before I run out?”

It may seem counter-intuitive but my experience in working for close to a dozen oil companies over the years has led me to conclude that the larger the oil company, the more likely some of their customers will go days without heat during prolonged frigid weather! I’ll tell you what I mean by recounting my experience at one of the largest retail heating oil companies during January-February 2018. But first, we need to know what a typical winter is like.

Large oil companies are like yachts in that once a course is set, they are not nimble enough to change it on a dime. The place I worked for figured on about 30 drivers for the winter working an average of 50 hours per week while the average temperature was close to 30 degrees. If temperatures dropped into the teens or single digits for a couple of days, management would plan on drivers to work more overtime to compensate. When the outside temperature gets to single digits, homes go through twice as much fuel as when the temperature is in the low 30’s.

In periods of brutal cold weather, a smaller company’s owner can jump into a spare truck boosting company delivery output by 25 to 35 percent before his other drivers work extra time. The larger companies simply do not have 15 extra drivers or trucks sitting around in their yards that can boost output in the same way. Even when the weather was brutal, a Contract Automatic Delivery customer who chose a smaller company was without heat for at most a few hours.

From what I saw, the large company’s plan for extenuating circumstances when temperatures became frigid for a few weeks was to plead with government officials to declare a State of Emergency. That way, the company could legally ignore D.O.T. Hours of Service regulations. I kid you not! Now I’m not a fan of overly burdensome regulation by government but I thought this was rich given that the company employed safety officers who followed drivers around making sure they did things like getting in and out of their trucks and pulling the delivery hose according to the company safety policy.

In January of 2018, the weather got bitterly cold and stayed that way for weeks. Our location was doing pretty well considering... maybe 2 percent of the customers were running out of oil. Upper management rewarded our oil delivery manager by taking a few drivers from him and sending us to a location that had by my guess 10 percent of the customers running out of oil and it increased as time went on. When this happens, the service department cannot keep up with the no-heat calls unrelated to run-outs so everything snowballs.

I would say 15 percent of the customers were without heat even though the drivers and servicemen were on a mandatory 7 day per week 12 hour per day schedule for weeks. Servicemen were telling me they were canning about 10 run-outs per day. A few customers I pulled up to were telling me they had no heat for two to three days! They were unable to get a customer service rep on the phone even though they tried for hours at a time. The drivers were told not to prime and start these customers. Instead, the customers were supposed to wait until the service man arrived. I ignored those orders. Meanwhile, the location that I was working previously had more and more people running out of oil. There were quite a few insurance claims because pipes were bursting.

The moral of the story? Bigger is definitely not better when it comes to picking a company that keeps the mechanicals of your most valuable investment running. Choose a smaller company so you can sleep better at night when the weather gets brutal outside.

November 24, 2019 9:14 PM

Some ways to provide automatic heat to a home include electric resistance, geothermal, solar, heat pump, natural gas, propane, and heating oil. In areas where the outdoor temperatures and the electricity rates aren’t severe, heat pumps may have the lowest life cycle cost; especially if the ductwork can be eliminated. For this post though, we will compare burning properties of natural gas, propane, and fuel oil.

Many people are surprised when they find out that jet fuel extinguishes a lighted match. The higher flash points of diesel fuel and fuel oil make it safe enough for tank storage in enclosed spaces like basements. Even though fuel oil must be placarded as “flammable” when more than 1000 pounds (roughly 140 gallons) are transported according to D.O.T. regulations, it may really be a combustible liquid when it is classified according to its flash point. Years ago, if a loading facility was strictly fuel oil, it was common for oil truck drivers to smoke a cigarette while loading his truck.

Natural gas is the most dangerous of the three. If fuel oil or diesel fuel leaks a little, the worst thing that can happen is contamination of the surrounding area. Leaks are expensive to clean up for sure but its vapors will not ignite with a spark or match when in confined spaces unless it is really hot.

If you have not filed your taxes yet and use heating oil to heat your house in New York state, you may want to look at form IT-241. New York offers a “Clean Heating Fuel Credit” for up to 20 percent bio-fuel use in the heating oil used to heat your home or business.  If you live in Suffolk County, you most likely have been getting 5% bio-fuel (B5) in your heating oil.  Depending on the ingredients of the bio, the fuel has between 85 and 93 percent of the BTU’s as regular heating oil.  At least one large heating oil dealer is delivering 10 percent bio-fuel in their fuel oil.  The UL has only approve for up to B5 in heating oil components.  Below is a chart with the tax credit savings compared with the extra cost of lower BTU content.  Keep in mind that bio-fuels could cause breakdowns due to its increased thickness at lower temperatures; especially  for outside tanks.      

 

Heating Oil With 10 Percent Bio Vs. Straight Heating Oil

 

B10 BTU's per gallon

137,115

ULS Heating Oil BTU's per gallon

138,500

Gallons Delivered 2013

848.7

Heat Equivalent Gallons

840.2

 

 

 

 

Average Price Paid Per Gallon

$ 4.126

 

$ 4.126

2013 B10 Heating Oil Cost

$3,501.74

Using Conventional Heating Oil

$3,466.72

 

 

 

 

New York IT-241 Clean Fuel Credit

$ 84.87

Savings over 10% Bio Fuel

$ 35.02

Total Heating Oil Cost

$3,416.87

 

$3,466.72

 

 

 

 

Actual Tax Credit Savings

$ 49.85

 

 

 

There have been many regulations imposed on people for the expressed purpose of protecting the environment and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  Some regulations make sense but others seem to have made matters worse.  Among the regulations that have done more damage than good are requirements to add MTBE and ethanol to gasoline.  MTBE was bad news and has since been banned.  Ethanol contains sugar which attracts water and makes the fuel corrosive which is not good for engines. Landscapers and boaters hate the stuff because of the damage caused to small engines by the short usable life.  Vehicle owners that fill up 85 percent ethanol (E85) risk voiding their warranties and will get about 25% miles per gallon less in their car due to the lower BTU content of ethanol.  The price of ethanol and other bio-fuels would be higher than straight gasoline or diesel were it not for the heavy subsidies offered by various governments.

Electric water heaters are the second most common, the least expensive to buy, the easiest to install, and have efficiency ratings of 90% and higher. So you may ask, “what’s the problem?” For an explanation, here is an excerpt from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

"More U.S. households use natural gas to heat water than any other fuel source, and about 40% use electricity. A small percentage use propane or heating oil. Typical water heaters in the U.S. are electric resistance or atmospheric natural gas tank water heaters. Electric water heaters typically have Energy Factors (efficiency ratings) of about 0.9, while gas ones will be rated about 0.6.

The energy factor is based on site energy use, which is the amount of energy your water heater uses. However, it takes about three times as much source energy (this includes the energy needed to generate and distribute a fuel) to deliver a unit of electricity to the site as gas, since only about 1/3 of the fuel energy that enters the power plant reaches the house. The rest is lost due to inefficiency at the power plant and the power lines. Therefore, an electric water heater that appears to be 50% “better” than a gas one (0.9 Energy Factor versus 0.6 Energy Factor) actually uses much more source energy than the average gas water heater."

Some power plants are still coal fired which aren’t exactly as clean as natural gas or oil. When source energy is considered, Electric Resistance water heaters are only about half as efficient as gas and oil fired water heaters. These water heaters are used every day in all sorts of climates. If “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” is being caused by mankind’s inefficient energy use and pollution, why not be consistent and ban them like incandescent light bulbs?

There have been too many useful products that have been phased out already because of politically motivated science. With the incandescent bulb, any energy that is not used as light winds up as heat. This is good inside a home in winter but not so good for stage lighting. Let people decide for themselves based on their own needs or wants and not on junk science.

Am I complaining? No! So does the common electric water waste more energy than the common lightbulb? My guess would be Yes. Don’t tell the powers that be because they create enough mischief on their own.
December 26, 2010 5:52 PM

When we hear the commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  (Exodus 20:16 NASB)  should we say it means we ought not lie and leave it at that?  OK, you know my answer because if I thought it to be yes, I would not have written this article.  This commandment encompasses others.  In practical terms, I believe this to be a difficult commandment to understand, let alone obey.  I will try to explain what is required of us by the above commandment and to give practical ways for us not to stumble over it.

We all know the harm that can be done if we act on something that turns out to be false.  What if the person giving us a report is ignorant or believes he is speaking the truth?  Is he exonerated?  Here is an example. A man says “Go ahead and dig. There are no lines there.”  It turns out he was wrong, and the machine operator knocks out power to a whole town!  The man did not attempt to deceive anyone so he did not lie.  Is he blameless?  

An honest reading of the ninth commandment should tell us that there is more to it than lying.  Presumably, the machine operator in the example is a co-worker of the man and Jesus gave a broad definition of “neighbor” in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) so there would be no reason not to consider co-workers our neighbors.   What the man said was proven to be false so he gave a false witness that caused harm. The operator acted on the man's word.  Does this mean that it is sin to be wrong so we must know everything?  I believe the keys to obeying this commandment are language, wisdom, and sense. (which does not seem to be so common these days)

If we are to attempt to obey the ninth commandment, we would do well to understand the third which is “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)  There are many names given in the books of Moses for God.  Would it not make sense here to use the name “I AM” (Exodus 3:14) because it is the name God told Moses to use when he was about lead God's people out of Egypt?  This would mean we ought not use a form of “to be” haphazardly because we may be taking the Lord's name in vain.  We should be able to explain why the thing we referenced is true.  I would rather say “stop using the word “God” in a swear phrase” and call it a day.  Oh, if it were that easy to satisfy what is required of us!

I remember an off the cuff conversation in high school with my Spanish teacher in which the jist of it was that in her country they say “I saw him in the other room” but we say “He is in the other room.”  I did not take much away from her class but at least I saw the profound difference here.  The first statement remains true but the second statement is likely to become false as time passes.  If we are careful to qualify our statements, we can better honor God by refraining from falsehoods.  “I don't believe there are wires there”, “according to the town...” and “I don't know” are perfectly valid answers if that is all we can attest to.

So is that it?  Not quite.  We have neglected the “bear”.  Should we hold on to stuff that is not true?  I don't think so.  We would do well to throw up anything we believe that is false.  Better yet, we should not swallow it in the first place.  This is where the machine operator may come in.  Does he have reason not to believe what the man told him?  If the man has a record of being incompetent, careless, or loose with the facts, did the machine operator have a duty to not carry the falsehood and seek help from others?  

Paul commended the Bereans because they did not swallow everything he said without checking it out.  (Acts 17:10-12)  We have a responsibility to make sure we have checked out things (not just scripture) before we pass them on to others and before we believe what others say to us.  Should we believe ourselves to be spiritual so when a thought crosses our minds we say it is “a word from the lord” without checking it out against reality?  I find this attitude infuriating and a great hurdle to overcome when presenting the gospel!  If we frequently give our friends and co-workers information that they check out and find to be wrong, why should they believe us when we talk about the things of God?  If they find that we are trustworthy and pretty much everything we say turns out to be true, we may be able to overcome the “fruitcake” label in some people's minds.     

It is hard to bring falsehoods into conversations if all we believe is true and we do not give definitive statements about things we do not know about.  How do we go about this?  Two things come to mind.  The first thing is we ought not take part in gossip!  (Proverbs 18:7-8) (Romans 1:28-32)  God takes gossiping seriously because I believe it is a way we take God's name in vain.  I wonder what percentage of gossip is true.  My guess is that it is not very high.  Secondly, we should forbid ourselves from getting into frivolous arguments.  The truth can become secondary if egos get bruised and it becomes more important to win the argument.  Is God glorified in this?  I believe this barely scratches the surface on this topic.  I hope I have given you some food for thought.