Monday, December 21, 2009

Substitute fuels

I just poured 10 gallons of diesel fuel into heating oil tank. Why did I do such a thing and is it safe?

Out here in the woods, the heating oil guy only comes around one day a week. It was yesterday, so I have to wait most of a week before he comes around again. I could pay an extra delivery fee to have them come early, but that's serious money. Instead, I decided to run the furnace on diesel fuel until next week. I'll probably add another 10 gallons to be sure. It all depends on the temperature and how much wood I decide to burn.

Diesel fuel and #2 heating oil are almost the same stuff. They are dyed differed colors. Heating oil has a red tint while road diesel is sort of a blue/green color. Diesel fuel burns just fine in an oil furnace. It's legal to do so. However, it's not legal to burn heating oil in a diesel car or truck that's run on the roads. Road diesel has a road tax added that heating oil doesn't have. Not only that, road diesel has additives for cold weather operation. A vehicle running on heating oil would run fine in warm weather, but not so good in cold. (besides being illegal.)

Knowing that diesel burns in a furnace saves me a special delivery fee. People burn diesel in their furnaces for other reasons. Right now a minimum delivery is 125 gallons. At today's prices, that's over $300. Some people can never scrape that much money together in one pile. Times are tough. However, they can pick up $30 of diesel every few days.

In some locations off-road diesel is available. It's cheaper than on-road as it doesn't have the road tax. It's designed to be used in things like farm tractors that never hit the highway. Don't get caught putting the off-road diesel nozzle in your car or truck. States take that kind of violation seriously. My rural gas station is sometimes staked out by agents of the DOT to catch people using the untaxed fuel on the road. Fines are high.

Is it safe? If you use proper transfer containers, and observe basic fuel safety rules, sure, it's safe. I use 5 gallon containers that are marked for diesel use. You don't want to confuse gas and diesel, as that could be dangerous or cause damage to machinery. A good solid funnel comes in handy to prevent spillage.

For a while last winter, road diesel was actually cheaper than heating oil. That's not supposed to happen, but sometimes weird things occur in the market. A lot of people around here started buying diesel in 5 gallon cans to heat their homes.

I understand handling 5 gallon cans of fuel is a lot more work than having the delivery truck guy just pump it in. Sometimes, however, there are darn good reasons for doing it yourself. At any rate, it's good to know it's possible.

One side note. In warm weather, diesel motors run fairly well with a mixture of diesel and vegetable oil. You can easily do 10 - 20% without much worry. Some have gone as high as 50/50, but that's asking for trouble, in my opinion. Do not try to cut heating oil with vegetable oil. Oil furnaces have a very low tolerance for that sort of thing and will shut down abruptly. Then an exasperated furnace repairman will be very angry with you. At least that's been my experience. Hey, it was an experiment. Even failed experiments yield important data.


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