How Safe Is Heating Oil?

Developments in the technologies for using domestic heating oil have made it a much cleaner and more efficient choice of fuel for our modern era. It's also considered by many experts to be the safest way to heat your home. Heat generated by burning oil today is 95% cleaner than it was 50 years ago, and modern systems running properly produce no soot, smells or dirt.

Heating oil is safe

Heating oil is graded for safety hazards by the government, and it is listed as stable, even under conditions where fire might be present. There is a small risk of flammability, but the oil must be heated to a very high temperature to catch fire, and this is unlikely in a domestic environment. 

While it remains in a liquid state, the oil cannot burn, even if you stick a lighted match into it! It's only when it reaches the flash point, at 140º Fahrenheit, that the oil can ignite. This is the temperature at which the oil begins to vaporize, and this usually only happens when it's sprayed from the nozzle inside your burner.

There is also a much lower risk of explosion or inhalation of poisonous gases with a system run on heating oil than one run on gas. The only time your heating oil will become hot enough to ignite is in your burner and, to cause an explosion, there would have to be a concentrated buildup of vaporized oil. 

In addition, systems run on heating oil offer visible warning signs of danger in the event of an oil leak, such as the emission of smoke or odors. This makes it possible to neutralize the problem before it becomes a safety hazard.

Leaks and spills

If you’re installing a new home heating oil system, look out for units with a storage tank that features a built-in alarm. This is designed to minimize spills and leaks by sounding an alert if the tank is in danger of overfilling. Once your oil tank is installed, you should make regular visual inspections to check for any pools of oil that might indicate a leak.

If you do discover a leak, you should call a technician immediately to repair the leak professionally and clean up any spillage. For indoor tanks, you should try to prevent any oil from reaching the sump pump or floor drainage areas, but don't try to repair any leaks by yourself.

Is there a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning?

There is a minimal risk of carbon monoxide fumes entering your home from your oil burner, nor is the inhalation of any such fumes from domestic heating oil fatal. If you are unlucky enough to have a system malfunction, the warning signs of smoke and oily smells will alert you before any dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide can escape.

However, that isn't to say it's not dangerous. Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that has no color or odor, and is the fatal agent in the exhaust fumes from your automobile. It can occur in your heating system if the oil combustion is incomplete, but not before first producing smoke, soot or smells. 

If you see these warning signs, your system is malfunctioning and you should call immediately for professional help.

Some very rare instances of carbon monoxide poisoning have been caused by a faulty heating oil system. You should be alert to symptoms of dizziness, headaches, fatigue and nausea. If you feel any concerns about your system, consult a professional right away, and consider installing a carbon monoxide detector for extra peace of mind.

On an environmental note, many people are looking to reduce their carbon emissions, and we have a few tips about how to do that with your heating system while still maintaining safety in the home.

Preventative maintenance

Prevention is always better than cure, and to ensure that your heating oil system continues to run safely you should schedule regular preventative maintenance. This includes your personal vigilance when conducting regular inspections for leaks, dirt and debris and other visible hazards. It's also important to have an annual inspection carried out by professional engineers.

During this process, your service technician should check and verify that all the unit's built-in safety systems are functioning correctly. This usually involves carrying out a series of troubleshooting procedures to identify and rectify potential safety issues. 

An annual inspection will also require the unit to be thoroughly cleaned to get rid of the accumulated dust and debris that can build up during the year. This process may require your heating oil storage tank to be fully drained and refilled after cleaning.

Whenever you're ready to refill your tank with fresh heating oil, click here to get the best prices from your local dealers.