Does Heating Oil Freeze?

It seems like everything turns to ice at this cold time of year. If you're a homeowner with an oil furnace, you may even find yourself wondering if your home heating oil is in danger of freezing. Knowing the answer to this question, and what can be done about it, will help you keep your home warm this winter.

Does heating oil freeze?

When exposed to cold temperatures, some types of heating oil will coagulate into a gel and develop ice crystals around the filter. When this happens, the wax-like oil is too thick to pass through the heating oil filter, thus preventing the oil from moving down the line.

What can you do to prevent this problem from occurring?

There are several potential solutions to this problem. For example:

  • Insulate the pipes. Pipe insulation is available for sale in home improvement centers and hardware stores. This insulation is self-adhesive and form-fitting for easy installation. When purchasing pipe insulation, be sure that the insulation is specified for outdoor use. To prevent water penetration, use tape to seal off all cracks and seams in the insulation.
  • Move the oil filter indoors. If the oil filter is located indoors, the warmer temperatures inside will heat the oil and help keep the fuel moving.
  • Install a heat sheet on the bottom of the tank. Industrial-grade heat sheets are installed on the bottom of the tank and are used to warm the oil inside the tank. This keeps the fuel rotating and prevents it from turning into a gel. While heat sheets will do the job, they work on electricity and must be kept running in low temperatures, thus raising utility costs. If you decide to install a heat sheet, be sure to purchase a heat sheet that indicates it can be used outdoors.
  • Use heat tape. Heat tape is a cord that's designed to heat up the fuel inside the line. Heat tape works, but is believed to be a fire hazard.
  • Talk to your oil dealer. Your oil dealer can premix an additive into your home heating oil that will prevent the oil from gelling, or can supply you with an antifreeze to add to the tank. This quick fix will prevent your oil from freezing and won't require you to purchase a special heating element or move the filter on your tank.

For more information about how you can prevent your home heating oil from freezing this winter, talk to your home heating oil dealer. Your customer service representative should be able to give you suggestions and tell you about the products that they can add to your oil to prevent it from gelling up in the line.