Domestic Heating Oil - Getting a Good Deal and Other Tips


The information below is given in good faith, subject to the terms of the website's Disclaimer of Liability.

The first part of the page deals with oil prices and what you can do to ensure you buy at a competitive rate. The second part of the page has some guidance and tips for those new to oil-fired boilers.

A Constantly Changing and Competitive Market

We are all familiar with the fact that the price of oil in world markets is constantly changing. Heating oil distributors buy their stocks in this market so their prices too are constantly changing, sometimes on a daily basis.

In recent years there has been considerable consolidation among heating oil distributors which makes the market less competitive than it used to be. At least six distributors in North East Essex are now all owned by Certas Energy and three other distributors are now part of Watson Fuels. However, there is still sufficient competition to make it very worthwhile seeking competitive quotes each time before placing an order. I regularly find the difference between the most expensive quote and the cheapest quote for 1,000 litres is around £40. Read on to find how you can save money by getting a competitive quote each time before you order.

Specification

It is vitally important to identify the correct type of fuel oil for your boiler. Make sure you clearly specify this when seeking quotes and placing orders. Most domestic oil-fired boilers are set up for 28 Seconds Burning Oil, also described as Kerosene C2 (BS 2869#C2), Regular Burning Oil (RBO), Home or Domestic Heating Oil.

Quantity Discounts

Whenever possible place an order for at least 900 litres (approx 198 imperial gallons). The price break-point has been reduced by most distributors from 1,000 to 900 litres and there are worthwhile savings to be made by ordering at least this quantity. The price does drop again for 2,000 litres or more but the additional savings are much less. Unless you already have a large tank and the quoted price is exceptionally good, the benefits of ordering 2,000 litres or more are debatable.

If your tank is sound but not large enough to take 900+ litre top ups, the quantity discounts will probably not justify installing a larger tank.

Getting Competitive Quotes

The key to getting a good deal is to seek competitive quotes from several distributors EACH TIME before you place an order.

I have regularly found that a supplier who offers the best price on one occasion may be among the most expensive next time around. There is no consistent pattern. That is why I telephone round each time and do not subscribe to a budget plan or top-up delivery scheme.

With a little preparation getting several quotes does not take long. I use the table shown below which has the specification and telephone numbers readily to hand and spaces for entering the quotations obtained. Most of the calls are at local rate or free and with a business-like approach it doesn't take long to work through the list. If you live in the Colchester area you can print out and use the form below. It is suggested you keep your chart up to date by checking possible suppliers and their telephone numbers from time to time. If you have Excel spreadsheet software installed on your computer, you can download a Excel spreadsheet version of the following form - see bottom of page for details.

Local Retail Distributors and Quotation Form

Date of Quotations: ___________________________________

Specification: Please quote for 28 Seconds Burning Oil for delivery to Colchester CO2 area at your 900 litre rate.

SupplierTelephonePre-VAT per litre900 litres + 5% VAT
A D FUEL OILS01206-865875  
ADVANCE FUELS (Certas)0800-998-1950  
BILLERICAY FUEL SERVICES01268-710310  
BLACKWATER FUELS01621-868868  
BUTLER FUELS (Certas)01206-205382  
CASTLE LIQUID FUELS (Watson)01371-850172  
CPL PETROLEUM (Certas)0845-602-1106  
CPS PETROLEUM0800-783-3332  
EMO OIL (Certas)0800-685-685  
GOFF (Colchester office)01206-761861  
HARDY CRASKE (Watson)01473-211212  
LINTON FUEL OILS (Watson)01375-383650  
PACE FUELCARE (Certas)01376-312413  
SOUTHERN COUNTIES FUEL (Certas)0845-600-4006  

NOTES:
(i) Goff Petroleum have some useful information on heating oil and oil-fired boilers on their website at www.goffpetroleum.co.uk . Another website with useful information is that of Billericay Fuel Services (BFS) at www.bfs.uk.com
(ii) CERTAS: Six of the above distributors (marked '(Certas)' above) are part of Certas Energy UK. The Certas name is a rebranding (in September 2013) of what was GB Oils. Quotes from Certas companies tend to be either identical or very close. Concerns have been raised in the past about some of GB Oils's/Certas's business practices and its dominant position in the domestic heating oil market.
(iii) WATSON: Three of the above distributors, Castle Liquid Fuels, Hardy Craske and Linton Fuel Oils, are now part of Watson Fuels and appear to operate a policy of not competing against each other. In 2014 Watson Fuels was acquired by World Fuel Services, an American company based in Miami.

Prices as at 14th November 2017

Quotes obtained on 4th November ranged from 48p (Linton Fuel Oils) to 43.79p (Goff Petroleum) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £504.00 to £459.80, a variance of £44.20.

Prices as at 3rd February 2017

Quotes obtained on 3rd February ranged from 44.7p (Billericay Farm Services) to 42.9p (Blackwater Fuels) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £469.35 to £450.45, a variance of £18.90.

Prices as at 19th April 2016

Quotes obtained on 19th April ranged from 31p (A D Fuel Oils) to 29.4p (Linton Fuel Oils) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £325.50 to £308.70, a variance of £16.80.

Prices as at 4th November 2015

With the substantial fall in oil prices on world markets, and the exceptionally mild autumn weather, fuel oil distributors appear to be rather keener than usual for one's business. The difference between top and bottom quotes for 1,000 litres was much less than I can ever recall. Quotes obtained on 4th November ranged from 32.5p (A D Fuel Oils) to 30.25p (Linton Fuel Oils) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £341.25 to £317.62, a variance of £23.63.

Prices as at 2nd February 2015

Quotes obtained on 2nd February ranged from 44.95p (CPL Petroleum - a Certas Energy company) to 37.00p (A D Fuel Oils) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £471.98 to £388.50, a variance of £83.48. The enormous difference between the top and bottom quotes underlines the importance of obtaining quotes from different distributors. The CPL price was 21.5% more expensive than that of A D Fuel Oils.

Prices as at 11th April 2014

Quotes obtained on 11th April ranged from 55.95p (Advance Fuels) to 51.90p (Linton Fuel Oils) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £587.48 to £544.95, a variance of £42.53.

Prices as at 11th November 2013

Quotes obtained on 11th November ranged from 61.50p (Advance Fuels) to 54.00p (Linton Fuel Oils) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £645.75 to £567.00, a variance of £78.75. This variance underlines the importance of ringing round for alternative quotes before placing an order.

Prices as at 22nd January 2013

Quotes obtained on 22nd January ranged from 69.95p (Total Butler) to 63.90p (Blackwater Fuels) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £734.48 to £670.95, a variance of £63.53.

Total Butler, which gave the highest quote, is part of GB Oils which also controls CPL Petroleum, EMO, Pace Fuelcare and Southern Counties Fuels. GB Oils has acquired a growing number of fuel distributors and now controls almost a third of the UK home heating oil market which is not healthy for effective competition.

Prices as at 11th May 2012

Quotes obtained on 11th May ranged from 59.95p (CPS Petroleum) to 56.30p (Billericay Fuel Services) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £629.48 to £591.15, a variance of £38.33.

Prices as at 2nd December 2011

Quotes obtained on 2nd December ranged from 61.98p (Pace Fuelcare) to 57.20p (Goff Petroleum) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £650.79 to £600.60, a variance of £50.19.

Prices as at 9th March 2011

A local friend obtained quotes for heating oil on 9th March 2011 as follows: Total Butler @ 55.84p, Goff @ 57.85p and EMO @ 60.20p per litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £632.10 to £586.32, a variance of £45.78.

Prices as at 12th January 2011

In mid to late-December 2010 many distributors were quoting around 74p per litre, and in some parts of the country well over £1 a litre. Blatant profiteering as wholesale oil prices had not risen by anything like a percentage which could justify such a price hike. Thankfully, prices had eased somewhat by the time quotes were obtained on 12th January. These ranged from 63.00p (Linton Fuel Oils) to 57.00p (EMO) a litre before VAT at the 1,000 litre rate. The VAT inclusive price for 1,000 litres ranged from £661.50 to £598.50, a variance of £63.00.

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New to an Oil-Fired System?

The following guidance, tips and hints for those new to an oil-fired heating are based on 20+ years personal experience of owning and operating an oil-fired boiler. As before, my website Disclaimer applies.

Boiler Servicing

It really is worth having an oil-fired boiler serviced regularly by a competent boiler engineer. This is one area where the old adage "if it ain't broke don't fix it" is not the best advice. Good reasons for having your boiler regularly serviced include the following:

How often? Assuming you are burning 28 Seconds Burning Oil and your boiler is in reasonably good condition, once a year should be quite sufficient. If your boiler is set up to burn a heavier grade of fuel oil it may be necessary to have the atomiser nozzle and other items checked twice a year, but seek advice.

When? Try to arrange for your annual service to be carried out between the beginning of June and the end of August. Your boiler engineer will be under less pressure during these months and better able to agree a date and time most convenient to you. Also your boiler will then be in peak condition, ready for the start of the heating season. For reasons which are explained later, arranging an early morning appointment has advantages.

Can I do it myself? Unless you are a trained boiler engineer with all the right equipment, the short answer is 'no'. For example, part of the service involves using a gas analyser to check combustion efficiency and adjusting the air settings. Unless you have this expensive instrument, know the relevant readings to be achieved and how to make the correct adjustments, the boiler cannot be set up to operate at its greatest efficiency. If not correctly adjusted it may also produce unpleasant and possibly dangerous fumes.

How do I find a good boiler engineer? Some engineers are employed by oil companies and distributors. If you contact one of these businesses for service or repair you will probably get whichever member of staff is allocated at the time - good or bad. Large companies charge large company prices because they have large company overheads. Large companies will push you hard to sign up to an annual maintenance contract or insurance scheme. Large companies are not noted for looking after individual customers - you are only one of hundreds or thousands of customers. Other engineers are employed by firms of heating engineers or plumbers. If it is a small family business with a good local reputation this is one possibility. My favoured choice is the self-employed, one man business, boiler engineer. He has low overheads and can offer competitive rates. Running his own business he tends to have initiative and be well motivated. As a one man business your custom is important to him - he knows that putting bread and butter on the table for him and his family depends on looking after you. He can also operate more flexibly - he doesn't have to work to big company policies and rules. Yellow Pages is a lottery - personal recommendations are what you must look for. Find out from other people in the area who provides a good, competent and competitively priced service. In my experience finding a good self-employed boiler engineer is definitely the way to go.

How long does a service take? Provided there are no problems, an annual service usually takes not more than an hour or an hour and a half.

Preparing for a service. The evening before, make sure the area around the boiler is clear so that the engineer has good access and space to work. Keep the boiler on until 20 or 30 minutes after the last bath has been run. Then turn the boiler off so that it does not fire up next morning. With a morning appointment and a well-insulated hot water tank, you should have sufficient hot water to see you through until the service has been done. Your engineer will appreciate not having to work on and in a very hot boiler and risk injuring himself.

What's involved in a service? The combustion chamber of the boiler will be opened up, the baffle plates removed, and the interior scraped and vacuumed to remove any deposits which have built up over the previous year. The flue to the chimney should also be checked for deposits and obstructions such as bird nest debris which may have come down. The burner unit will be withdrawn from the boiler and the atomising nozzle replaced with a new one. Items such as ignition components and the fuel pump will be checked before the boiler is fired up. The final part of the operation is analysing the combustion gases and adjusting the air supply setting to ensure full combustion of the fuel for maximum efficiency. This is essential to achieve the most economical running. While the engineer is with you it is suggested you also ask him to quickly check over the condition of your oil tank.

How much will it cost? Expect to pay an independent boiler engineer about £60 to £75, including the cost of a new nozzle and VAT, but check the charge before you commit yourself.

What Can Go Wrong with Oil-Fired Boilers

There are a relatively limited number of things to go wrong with an oil-fired boiler. That being said, it can occasionally prove quite difficult, even for an experienced engineer, to track down the cause of an intermittent fault such as frequent lock-outs. My engineer adopts the very sensible diagnostic approach of only changing one component at a time until the problem is traced, and only charges for those replacement components which are proved to be necessary.

Faults may be due to a relatively cheap component such as a capacitor. More expensive components, around the £70 to £100 mark, which can fail are transformers, fuel pumps and control boxes. It is rare for more than one component to fail at a time .

One has to question the cost of repairs quoted by companies trying to frighten people into signing up for relatively expensive annual maintenance contracts. For some people the security of a fixed price annual contract is important. However, it should be remembered that insurance and maintenance contracts usually have various exclusions and conditions hidden in the small print. Also, such contracts offer good profit margins for their providers which is why they promote them so actively - and at the end of the day it is the customer who pays. If you can keep a little money in the bank for a rainy day and live with the occasional unexpected bill, the likelihood is that it will be significantly cheaper in the longer term to pay as you go and not tie yourself into such a contract.

Heating System Water Treatment

Check that the water in your central heating system has been treated with a good quality treatment such as Fernox MB-1. This prevents corrosion and the formation and build up of sludge in radiators and the bottom of the boiler. It can also improve the service life of the circulation pump. Failure to use water treatment can lead to expensive problems such as leaking radiators and the need to replace them, and reduce the life of the boiler itself. If you do decide to add a treatment yourself, make very sure it is added to the small central heating header tank in your loft, not the larger cold water tank - you don't want to poison yourself and the family!

Oil Tank Care and Maintenance

Your oil tank needs a little care and maintenance as well as your boiler - but thankfully not very much.

Steel Tank or Plastic Tank? Some years ago I was led to believe that a plastic tank was better than a steel tank because with a plastic tank there was no problem of corrosion (i.e. rusting). Since then it has come to my notice that a large number of plastic tanks have failed, with splits or cracking. There is a good reason why one of the best known plastic tank manufacturers has reduced its ten year guarantee to just two years! There now appears to be a consensus that it is worth paying a little more for a good quality steel tank when one's tank needs replacing.

Stop Cock and Filter: At one end of the tank you will find the oil feed pipe running to the boiler. This should be fitted with a cock (valve) so that the oil supply can quickly be turned off, for example when cleaning the filter or during boiler servicing. Between this shut off valve and the boiler you should have a filter. This is important. Even the very smallest particle of dirt or rust can permanently damage the precision engineered barrel and plunger of the oil pump on the boiler and/or block the very fine oil atomising jet. In each case the item will normally have to be replaced, necessitating the call out of your boiler engineer and avoidable expense. A proper filter costs only a few pounds and should prevent both these problems.

Filter Types: There are two main types of filter. One has a clear plastic bowl, with a fine nylon gauze filter inside. With this type you can check the filter without dismantling it and when necessary you can unscrew the bowl to clean the gauze filter (use heating oil for this). A potential disadvantage is the risk of leaks between the top of the clear plastic bowl and the metal body onto which it screws. My boiler engineer favours the all-metal type enclosing a paper filter element.

Sight Gauge: At the same end of the tank, where the oil feed pipe runs to the boiler, there is normally a sight gauge for you to check the oil level. At the bottom of the gauge should be another, smaller, cock or valve. Some people leave this open so that the sight gauge always gives a true reading. This is not good practice nor wise. If the cock is left open and the sight gauge gets accidently knocked or damaged, you may lose a large quantity of oil and cause considerable environmental damage. Only open the cock while you are checking the level, then close it again. However if you check the level without opening the cock you may have far less oil than you think - perhaps even an empty tank!

Oil Tank Diagram

Condensation: This, I understand, is more of an issue with steel tanks. When the temperature drops, as at night, water vapour in the atmosphere can condense on the inside of your tank. As water is heavier than oil, the condensation runs to the bottom of the tank and over a period of time builds up. Ideally the end of the tank from which the oil feed pipe runs to the boiler should be fractionally higher than the other end, as in the diagram above. The normal practice with steel tanks is to have a water drain-off cock at the opposite end to that with the oil feed pipe. The pipe with the water drain-off cock is set at the lowest possible level in the tank. About once a year a small sample should be drained off from the tank into a glass jar to see whether any water is present. If it is, the water needs to be drained off in small quantities, each draw-off being checked until a very small quantity of oil is seen floating on top. Then firmly close the cock and refit the plug or stop end, if there is one, in the end of the drain pipe. I have noticed that some plastic tanks, like mine, do not have a boss for a water drain so can only assume that condensation is not normally considered to be a problem with smaller domestic plastic tanks.

Regulations: Government regulations now cover such matters as the siting of oil tanks and requirements for the bunding (enclosing a tank within a larger tank or bund to contain accidental leaks or spillages) of larger tanks. Recommendations for the siting of domestic oil tanks are contained in British Standard BS 5410 Part 1 1997. To find what this means in practical terms I suggest you go to the publications page at www.oftec.co.uk and view leaflet TI/131 'Technical Advice on the Siting of Class 1 type Oil Storage Installations for Single Family Dwellings' (Issue 6, Jan 2005). For further information you can of course do some Google searches.

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Excel Spreadsheet Quotation Form and Calculator.

PLEASE NOTE: Downloading and use of the file "oilprice.xls" is entirely at your own risk. The file is provided 'as is' without any warranty or liability for loss, consequential or otherwise.

TO DOWNLOAD: - The file is small - only about 34KB. RIGHT click on the link to download oilprice-1000ltrs.xls, select the option to save it to disk (typically using the 'Save As' or 'Save target as' option), and save in My Documents or another folder of your choice. Alternatively it can be opened directly by left clicking on the link.

TO USE: - Open the file and telephone individual suppliers in turn (there is no need to obtain or enter a quote from every supplier for the sheet to work correctly). Enter the pre-VAT pence per litre price in the appropriate cell in column C. The VAT-inclusive price for 1,000 litres will appear automatically in column D. The calculations are based on a VAT rate of 5%. At the bottom of the sheet the highest and lowest quotes, and the difference between them, are displayed automatically.

TO RE-USE: - Delete the contents of cells C8 to C21 ONLY.
DON'T delete any of the cells C23 to C25 or D8 to D25. These contain hidden formulae which do the calculations. If you do accidently delete any of these cells, just delete the file and download it afresh from this page.
AMENDMENTS: - The contents of any of the cells A8 to A21 (suppliers names) and B8 to B21 (telephone numbers) can be changed as desired without affecting the operation of the sheet. Similarly, pre-VAT pence per litre prices can be amended and calculations will be updated automatically.

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Page updated: 26 Dec 2017 at 22:11