Internet-based technology helps take the guesswork out of your work.

It seemed like just another evening in front of the TV when my wife said, “Look at that, a car that tells you what it needs over the Internet.” Sure enough, there on the screen was a young lady showing her daughter a report from their car. Next thing you see is mother and daughter embarking on a long trip, now confident that their car is 100 percent. Made my wife ask why our cars weren't so equipped.

Wouldn't this level of confidence be a great feature of the next heating system you sell? Imagine how you could differentiate yourself from your competitors - a heating system that self diagnoses and can call for help when needed! It can be if you are installing oil heat equipment.

Trade shows are in full swing, with the National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers 53rd Annual Convention and Trade show scheduled for May 14-18 in Hartford, Conn. When you attend, watch for system monitoring devices. There will be three booths that carry exactly what you need to deliver this level of confidence to your customers. I'll keep the manufacturers anonymous to make sure you get the most out of the show.

Before we start, remember this about your customers' heating concerns. They want to know that three basic areas are being addressed:

  • Do I have enough fuel?
  • Is my burner on?
  • Is it warm enough?
So our first step is to make sure there is enough fuel to maintain uninterrupted supply. Such a simple concept. Keep the tank filled with enough fuel for the demand. But it's often not so simple since the oil tank is behind all the “stuff” basements are designed to store.

The next step is just as simple. Tell us if the burner shut off because of the reset switch. If the burner is “off on reset,” your customer typically finds out if they are home and there is no heat and no hot water. But if this happens when they're on vacation?

Finally, step three is as simple as the last two. Is the house warm enough? There are a lot of different reasons for a cold house, such as an inoperable circulator or a plugged air filter. Knowing that the house is getting too cold is a great tool to warn your customer that a problem has arisen. Now they can get you to check the house.

Same Outcome

Each of the following products has been designed to fit each manufacturer's niche. The three manufacturers have concentrations in different fields of our industry, but all have the interests of the oil heat industry in mind. Choose the one that meets your needs, and remember that each one, though delivering a similar outcome, is slightly different. It's sort of like buying a car. A sedan, minivan and convertible are all cars, just designed for different ends of the marketplace. Rest assured that all of these manufacturers have superb products based on reliable footprints. Just pick the one that compliments and supports your efforts.

The first manufacturer specializes in equipment for the oil heat industry. It was one of the first manufacturers to undertake this concept, with a product that has been refined with progressive enhancements over the years. This product addresses the three basic areas very clearly. Installation is simple; three sensing points connected to the “brains” of the system.

All of the sensors are simple and reliable switches, opening or closing the circuit at the predetermined point. This system is straightforward, with a “dialer” that typically notifies an oil company or central monitoring station, which in turn dispatches service for the customer.

A “call for help” goes out for any of the following reasons: the burner “needs to be reset,” the building temperature drops below a set point or the tank gauge mechanically reaches an established point. The mechanical tank sensing works as a “check and balance,” ensuring that the customer's oil delivery is scheduled before a “run out.” It is not dependent on weather conditions, so dripping hot water faucets or unexpected guests don't create a run out by changing the historical “K” factor; if the level drops, the switch calls for fuel.

The next two systems are from manufacturers that specialize in heating equipment and controls. Both of these systems are Web-based. Each uses proprietary programming, designed with features that compliment their individual visions.

Let's start with a manufacturer who focuses on the burner. This system is applicable to domestic oil burners, centering on the primary control. The manufacturer has developed this product as a refinement of an earlier, very reliable monitoring system. It was one of the innovators, and has a very strong track record with this product.

Quick And Easy

Installation is quick and easy. First you will install a fully featured primary control. This primary replaces the existing control and fits on a standard junction box. The primary control has an onboard microprocessor and phone dialer. It serves as the “brains and dispatcher” of the system.

Next, you will change the existing sensing eye from a cad cell to a UV sensor. This UV eye will sense precise flame attributes, giving predictive information for maintenance and service. You will receive accurate combustion efficiency percentages when the eye is coupled with a stack temperature sensor. You can program your central computer with deltas or change parameters, giving you a head start on a potential service problem.

The control has an algorithm that records very precise oil usage. Each control is programmed to download routine information to the Web site periodically. A report of fuel levels can be printed, calling out customers that are below a set percentage of fill volume. Again the weather isn't the driving force for fuel delivery. Now the oil deliveries can address those times when the painters have all the windows open on that 10-degree day.

Another feature is that the control will “call out for service” when the burner needs resetting. With this control, based within the primary control, there is no additional wiring required for this feature. There is an onboard set of alarm contacts, allowing this control to be connected to the building alarm system, giving a level of redundancy if a “has to reset” issue should arise.

Have you noticed a pattern, progressing upward in features? The next system can be installed from a simple electronic monitor, all the way to an interactive remote building control. It can call for service or your customer could call in and check on the system, changing the temperature, switching from heating to air conditioning, and many more enhancements waiting on the horizon.

Once again, this is a company that has roots in building comfort and control. This system uses a central modem, which will serve as the coordinator for each feature. The modem is programmed to download information to a dedicated server, and then the server is programmed to notify the service provider through its computer service. Alarms can be established so that multiple calls will be sent when a problem arises. This allows customers to become an active part of the process if they so choose.

The controls work on a dedicated buss, sending collected information to the modem. The inputs are building temperature, burner run cycles, flame intensity, system mode and the condition of monitored accessories, such as humidifiers or high-efficiency air filters.

An algorithm monitors fuel usage. This is incorporated in the primary control, a control that is designed for use with this system and as a direct replacement for any domestic oil burner's cad cell relay. By the way, if you are a fuel oil dealer, these algorithms predict a pretty accurate volume in actual gallons, many with a 5 percent to 10 percent level of accuracy.

Those are the control features. Now, here is the “people” side. Imagine your customers calling in for a burner efficiency report. What a great way to solidify your relationship! While they are on the phone, you have the chance to remind them of the other services you offer. How can anyone compete with such a one-on-one relationship?

Now you can prove that you have the difference your customers deserve - a 24-hour commitment to them and their oil heat needs. All the benefits of oil heat, with a renewed level of confidence and satisfaction.