One of the biggest threats to your heating oil storage tanks is sludge, which is a buildup of physical contaminants that slowly accumulates over time. When it gets bad enough, the sludge can lead to filter clogs, clogs in the pipes, and the eventual loss of heat. Think of it similarly to the plugs you can get in your water lines if you don’t have them cleaned out often enough.
How Is Oil Sludge Caused?
This is a growing issue because of changes to the oil itself. If you go back a few decades, to the 1970s, the oil looked far different. It was much clearer and cleaner, with a slightly yellowish appearance, but it was definitely a clear liquid overall. In fact, it was so clear that many tanks didn’t even bother to use filters, something you could never go without today.
Today’s oil, by contrast, is thick and opaque. The yellow color has been replaced by black, and it resembles sludge almost right from the beginning. The old process of distilling the oil has been abandoned for the quick and dirty process of chilling it and then using a centrifuge. The result is pre-contaminated fuel oil that has to be filtered out, and the sludge is just the result of all of these contaminants sitting in the tank.
You can use it for a while, but eventually those contaminants are going to end up in the lines, filters and nozzles, and then you’re not going to have any oil or any heat.
There are a few solutions available to you. If you have an emergency situation and the heat has already been lost, it’s best to turn the heat off. You can then let the heating oil cool and the tank can be cleaned or replaced.
In some cases, only the clogged parts can be replaced. If there has been a line blowout, for example, the clogged line can be disconnected and a new one can be installed. The same is true for nozzles, filters and the rest. However, it’s still necessary to have the tank cleaned or the new parts are just going to be clogged quickly.
If all else fails, you may need to have the heating oil tank replaced. This often happens with very old tanks where the sludge build-up has ruined the tank and cannot be fully removed. In that case, it may be wiser to replace the tank than to keep replacing the parts.
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