5. The Mechanics of Buying, Installing or Upgrading

5. The Mechanics of Buying, Installing or Upgrading

5. The Mechanics of Buying, Installing or Upgrading a System

Buying an Oil Heating System

You cannot shop for a furnace the same way you shop or a camera or a pair of shoes. There are no “furnace stores ” where the different makes and models may be examined, compared and priced. To get first-hand information on the different makes and models available, you will have to contact a number of heating firms. Ask them for the manufacturers’ illustrated sales literature on the furnaces they sell and install. You should also contact your oil supplier or a local contractor or assistance and information. If you have decided on a particular type of furnace, read the literature carefully to find out if it describes the features you are looking for –such as a high-static flame-retention head burner and a delayed-action solenoid valve, etc. Look for its efficiency rating. This should be the seasonal (AFUE) rating, not just the steady-state efficiency. Make sure you distinguish between the two types of ratings. Compare it with Table 1 on page 39.

As previously mentioned, even the best oil furnaces do not run at their maximum efficiency if they are oversized and can make your home uncomfortable. A heating contractor cannot determine the size of furnace you need just by walking through your house. Do not buy a new furnace the same size as your present one; it may be as much as three times too large.

The contractor will have to calculate the heating requirements of your house using either the fuel consumption of your present furnace over a known winter period (together with the nozzle size, the steady-state efficiency, the degree-days between oil deliveries, the amount of oil consumed over that period, and the design temperature for your region) or by making a thorough measurement and examination of your house to determine size, insulation levels and degree of tightness of the house envelope. If the contractor does not show any interest in any of the above factors, then his or her calculation of the correct size for your new furnace will be simply a “guesstimate.”

To make sure proper furnace sizing is determined, the quotation and contract should include a statement like this one: “The furnace size will be determined by a heat loss calculation using the formulas published by the Canadian Oil Heat Association; the Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada; the Canadian Standards Association; Natural Resources Canada; or other recognized organization. A copy of these calculations will be given to the homeowner. ”

It is important to hire a contractor who will install your equipment properly to ensure that it will operate efficiently. Check with your local fuel dealer or provincial/territorial heating fuel regulatory office to find out how to get in touch with a fully qualified, registered or licensed contractor. If your neighbours have had similar work done recently, ask them how satisfied they were with their contractors. If you are buying a relatively new type of furnace design, try to get the names of other homeowners who have had such equipment installed, and find out what they have to say about the appliance ’s performance and the work of the installer.

Before you decide what to buy, obtain firm, written bids from several companies on a) the cost of upgrading your existing equipment, and b) the cost of buying and installing a complete new unit, along with any other fittings and adjustments required, including changes to any ductwork or piping and a final balancing of the heat supply to the house. With these figures and a reasonable estimate of the probable annual fuel savings determined from Table 1 on page 39, you will be able to determine how long it will take to recover the cost. This is not the only factor to consider, of course, but it is certainly one of the most important.

Remember that a building permit may be required for this type of work, and the contract should state whether the installer or the homeowner is responsible or obtaining it.

Checklist For Having An Oil Heating System Installed

You should get several estimates on the work to be done. When you are comparing these estimates, cost will be an important factor, but there are other elements to consider. Some contractors are better at explaining what has to be done. Some may use higher quality components, and others may schedule the work at your convenience.

Estimates should include the following items:

  • The total cost of all necessary work.

  • An itemized list of all material and labour costs included in the bid: alteration or improvement of existing heat distribution ducts; installation of furnace and oil supply piping and ductwork; installation of water heater and vent (where applicable); installation of chimney liner and any attendant masonry work; and additional equipment such as humidifiers, air cleaners, or air conditioners.

  • A statement describing how much of any existing equipment will be used in the new system.

  • A rough diagram showing the layout of ductwork or water pipes and the location of supply piping and heating equipment.

  • A statement that clearly defines who is responsible or:

    • all necessary permits and payment of related fees
    • on-site inspections, as required
    • scheduling of all other required work
    • removal of any existing equipment that will not be used with the new system
    • all related costs, such as subcontracts with trades-people

  • A clear estimate of when the work will be completed.

  • A warranty or materials and labour.

  • A schedule and method of payment.

Ask contractors for the names of homeowners for whom they have done similar work. The Better Business Bureau will know if the contractor is a member and whether any recent complaints have been filed against him or her. Your local Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade may also be able to help.

Some dealers will also offer rental of heating equipment or lease-to-purchase plans. You may find it advantageous to participate in one of these plans rather than purchasing the equipment outright.

Do not hesitate to ask the contractor for a clear explanation of any aspect of the work before, during or after the installation of your heating system.


Billing for oil is handled in different ways, with two of the most common methods being equal billing and standard billing.

Equal billing: Your oil bill is paid in regular, equal installments, based on an estimate of your annual total consumption. Periodic adjustments are made to balance your monthly charge against your actual yearly household consumption.

Standard billing: The oil bills are paid on an as-delivered basis for oil consumed during that period.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Because modern houses are more airtight and have more powerful air-exhausting systems, there is a greater chance that combustion products – containing deadly carbon monoxide gas – will linger inside your house and build up to potentially dangerous levels. A certified carbon monoxide detector located close to fuel-fired appliances (such as furnaces, fireplaces, space heaters, wood stoves, and gas or propane refrigerators) will signal a potentially dangerous situation that must be corrected immediately.

Symptoms of low-level carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the flu–headaches, lethargy and nausea. If your carbon monoxide detector goes off and you have these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately.

If you have a conventional wood-burning fireplace, which can often leak carbon monoxide, and you plan to use it fairly often, it would be particularly wise to install a carbon monoxide detector.


 Table of Content


Source: Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) - Office of Energy Efficiency

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