Oil furnace users warned to be on lookout for leaks

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No one able to pinpoint the exact problem

TRURO – An increase in leaky seals this winter is prompting a warning for homeowners to keep a close eye on their oil furnaces.

Jack Falconer, of Falconer’s Burner Service, displays a defective hydraulic air jack rod from an oil furnace that he recently replaced after a seal in the unit shown above began leaking. He and other burner repair technicians say they are seeing an increased number of defective seals this winter.

“There’s been a pile of them the last three or four months,” said Jack Falconer, of Falconer’s Burner Service in Harmony, regarding the number of repairs he has made this winter.

“There’s some weeks I replace or take off about six of those hydraulic jacks,” he said, of an oil-pump component on the furnace where the leaks sometimes occur. And Falconer said that is at least double what he normally sees.

“It’s got to be the oil,” he said, regarding the cause. I’m kind of thinking the seals are getting worn some and whatever they are putting in (the oil) is just enough to take them out.”

In past years, the fuel for Nova Scotia furnaces came from Imperial Oil’s crude oil refinery in Dartmouth. Imperial Oil closed the refinery last September, however, and the oil now comes from other sources.

Falconer said he believes the out-sourced oil contains some type of additive, such as a percentage of bio-fuel, that is causing the seals in furnace pumps or related components to soften to the point where they begin leaking.

And even if he goes out to service a furnace, there is really no way to predict if or when a unit may fail, he said, and generally the only way a homeowner knows there is a problem is when they detect the odour of oil, after it has begun to leak.

“You can’t do nothing, really. Keep an eye on it. As far as the pump, if it’s not leaking when you are there you can’t tell people to put a new pump on.”

If caught in time, the leak may result in no more than a bit of oil film on the floor. Left undetected, however, and it soon could become a serious problem, Falconer said.

“There has been some where there was a fair mess, not a spill by no means,” he said. “But if somebody went away for a week or two and had nobody checking … and it started leaking, they could have a hell of a mess.”

David Cameron of D & T Heating and Plumbing Ltd., in Brookfield, said he has replaced upwards of 50 oil furnace pumps this winter because of leaky seals.

“I don’t have an actual figure. It seems we’re going through quite a few more (than other winters),” he said. “I’m buying more of them and I’m having a harder time getting them.

“But I never kept track of them before.”

And like Falconer, Cameron said he can’t pinpoint what is causing the problem.

“It could be the oil, some of it could be attributed to the colder, longer winter, everything running more. It could be a combination of the both of them, who knows,” he said.

“I contacted one of the major oil companies and I asked them about it … and what they told me is that the oil they get meets all the required specifications.”

A spokesperson for Imperial Oil did not return a call for comment on Wednesday. However, Steve Wilson, chairman of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Oil Heat Association, said Imperial has been in touch with his office regarding the issues.

“We have, I guess, heard anecdotally of an increase this year,” he said. “At this point it’s still a little unclear what it may be fully attributable to, because obviously it’s been a more severe winter than normal.”

Wilson said he has been told that proper furnace maintenance should be able to detect if seals are becoming worn but he has also heard references to the concerns about the oil being the source of the problem.

But Wilson said the information he has received from Imperial is that the furnace oil is meeting all specifications, both when it arrives and leaves their facility.

“It’s not something we’re actively working with them on,” he said, adding, however, that Imperial has informed him that it has shipped some of the defective pumps to its laboratory in Sarnia in an effort to detect out the problem.

“It’s unclear at this point, at least to what I’ve heard, what is actually causing it,” he said.

hsullivan@trurodaily.com

Twitter: @tdnharry

 

Organizations: Imperial Oil, Burner Service, D T Heating and Plumbing Canadian Oil Heat Association

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Dartmouth, Brookfield Sarnia

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