Burn Properties Of Common Fuels

Some ways to provide automatic heat to a home include electric resistance, geothermal, solar, heat pump, natural gas, propane, and heating oil.  In areas where the outdoor temperatures and the electricity rates aren’t severe, heat pumps may have the lowest life cycle cost; especially if the ductwork can be eliminated.  For this post though, we will compare burning properties of natural gas, propane, and fuel oil.

The video below (includes a link within it if you want to see propane) shows different fuels being tested in order to determine how easily they burn.   Many people are surprised when they find out that jet fuel extinguishes a lighted match.  The higher flash points of diesel fuel and fuel oil make it safe enough for tank storage in enclosed spaces like basements.

Even though fuel oil must be placarded as “flammable” when more than 1000 pounds (roughly 140 gallons) are transported according to D.O.T. regulations, it may really be a combustible liquid when it is classified according to its flash point.  Years ago, if a loading facility was strictly fuel oil, it was common for oil truck drivers to smoke a cigarette while loading his truck.

Even though fuel oil and diesel fuel are basically the same thing, one of them burned a little and the other did not.  The only difference between the two fuels I can come up with is that fuel oil does not need a cetane rating on its MSDS.

Natural gas was not tested in the video above.  As far as its burning properties are concerned, it is the most dangerous of the three.  If fuel oil or diesel fuel leaks a little, the worst thing that can happen is contamination of the surrounding area.  Leaks are expensive to clean up for sure but its vapors will not ignite with a spark or match when in confined spaces unless it is really hot.

After watching the videos, you should understand why why you may have seen an oil tank close to an oil burner but never a propane tank next to a propane/natural gas burner.  This also illustrates why fuel oil explosions in the news are usually misclassified but a two second search would turn up plenty of (natural) gas explosions.  It makes you wonder why it is so rare to see gas to oil conversion marketing campaigns.


Are All Swimming Pools Closed Yet?

With energy prices (especially heating oil) considerably lower than a couple of years ago and daytime temperatures in the 60’s on Long Island well into November this year, there actually may be a few outdoor pools that are still open.

The pool heater pictured here is is an oil fired Teledyne Laars that is no longer being produced where replacement parts are hard to come by.  It is close enough to the building to benefit from a heat exchanger piped as a zone off a boiler as referenced in the last post.

When a pool heater like this or the boiler in a home need replacing, it makes sense to think  of the pool as part of the house system and install a boiler that does everything.  A low water content, low idle loss boiler such as a System 2000, or a Biasi B-10 properly installed and sized for the pool would heat the house and the pool for less money than two separate boilers as explained in the last post.

Both of these boilers are fuel neutral; which mean they are designed to burn heating oil or natural gas.  Flexibility is good.  Which fuel is better?  I’ll get to that next time.

Summer Heating

Unless we are looking to heat a swimming pool, heating is not foremost on too many minds.  From what I have seen, most homeowners that can afford to heat their pools have a central heating system for their house and a separate pool heater for their pool.  Did you know that one boiler can do both?

How does a boiler heat a swimming pool?  Essentially, the pool would be a separate zone piped to a heat exchanger where boiler water would flow through one end and pool water through the other end.  It would be ideal if the pool filter and exposed piping were located next to the house on the same wall as the boiler.

The main advantages of using one boiler are these:

  1. There would not be a separate pool heater exposed to the elements.  Pool heaters that are not properly winterized last only a few years.  Even with proper care, pool heaters located outdoors rarely last as long as boilers located indoors.
  2. Less maintenance is required.  There is only one burner and one fuel line to worry about.  Freeze ups from improper winterizing would not be as costly since the heating unit is inside.   

The main disadvantages are these:

  1.  With an average sized house, the boiler would likely take two to three times longer to heat up the pool than a separately installed pool heater sized for the pool.  Once the pool is up to temperature, the undersized boiler would probably be able to maintain it for most of the swimming season.  Covering the pool would help when no one is using it.
  2. If the pool filter and piping are located away from the house, long piping runs from the pool to the house could diminish the versatility gains of having one unit.  If 200 feet of piping needs to be installed, there would be a long payback for the installation and some heat would be lost through the piping.

Let’s say that a guy needs to install a pool heater.  His boiler is 20 years old and inefficient.  Should he replace his boiler with one that is the right size for the pool even though it is way more than he needs for the house?  It depends.  A lot of fuel is wasted because heating systems are over-sized. The biggest reason is what is referred to as “idle loss”.  When there is no heating load, heat is lost in a variety of ways.  If a boiler maintains a certain temperature, the burner will run numerous times per day just to keep the boiler warm.  That fuel is wasted the same way as if a car were left running all day just so the person wouldn’t have to start it when he needed to go somewhere.  If idle losses are negligible, one heating unit might make sense for him.   More on that next time.

Shhh! Electric Resistance Water Heaters Are Still Allowed

Electric water heaters are the second most common, the least expensive to buy, the easiest to install, and have efficiency ratings of 90% and higher.  So you may ask, “what’s the problem?”  For an explanation, here is an excerpt from the  American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

More U.S. households use natural gas to heat water than any other fuel source, and about 40% use electricity.  A small percentage use propane or heating oil. Typical water heaters in the U.S. are electric resistance or atmospheric natural gas tank water heaters.  Electric water heaters typically have Energy Factors (efficiency ratings) of about 0.9, while gas ones will be rated about 0.6.


The energy factor is based on site energy use, which is the amount of energy your water heater uses. However, it takes about three times as much source energy (this includes the energy needed to generate and distribute a fuel) to deliver a unit of electricity to the site as gas, since only about 1/3 of the fuel energy that enters the power plant reaches the house. The rest is lost due to inefficiency at the power plant and the power lines. Therefore, an electric water heater that appears to be 50% “better” than a gas one (0.9 Energy Factor versus 0.6 Energy Factor) actually uses much more source energy than the average gas water heater.



Some power plants are still coal fired which aren’t exactly as clean as natural gas or oil.  When source energy is considered, Electric Resistance water heaters are only about half as efficient as gas and oil fired water heaters.  These water heaters are used every day in all sorts of climates.  If “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” is being caused by mankind’s inefficient energy use and pollution, why not be consistent and ban them like incandescent light bulbs?


There have been too many useful products that have been phased out already because of politically motivated science.  With the incandescent bulb, any energy that is not used as light winds up as heat.  This is good inside a home in winter but not so good for stage lighting.  Let people decide for themselves based on their own needs or wants and not on junk science.


Am I complaining?  No!   So does the common electric water waste more energy than the common lightbulb?  My guess would be Yes.  Don’t tell the powers that be because they create enough mischief on their own.


Some Fuel Regulations Do More Harm Than Good

There have been many regulations imposed on people for the expressed purpose of protecting the environment and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Some regulations make sense but others seem to have made matters worse.

Among the regulations that have done more damage than good are requirements to add MTBE and ethanol to gasoline. MTBE was bad news for groundwater and has since been banned. Ethanol contains sugar which attracts water and makes the fuel corrosive which is not good for engines. Landscapers and boaters hate the stuff because of the damage caused to small engines by the short usable life. Vehicle owners that fill up with 15 percent ethanol (E15) risk voiding their warranties and will get fewer miles per gallon in their car due to the lower BTU content of ethanol. Vehicles using E85 will get about 30% fewer miles per gallon than if the gas tank was filled with straight gasoline.  The price of ethanol and other bio-fuels would be higher than straight gasoline or diesel were it not for the heavy subsidies offered by various government entities.

Do “Clean Fuels” Give Us A Break?

If you have not filed your taxes yet and use heating oil to heat your house in New York state, you may want to look at form IT-241.  New York offers a “Clean Heating Fuel Credit” for up to 20 percent bio-fuel use in the heating oil used to heat your home or business.  If you live in Suffolk County, you most likely have been getting 5% bio-fuel (B5) in your heating oil.  Depending on the ingredients of the bio, the fuel has between 85 and 93 percent of the BTU’s as regular heating oil.  At least one large heating oil dealer is delivering 10 percent bio-fuel (B10) in their fuel oil even though Underwriters Laboratory (UL) has only approved up to B5 for oil burner components.  Below is a sample chart with the tax credit savings of Bio-Heat compared with the extra cost because of its lower BTU content.  Keep in mind that bio-fuels could cause breakdowns due to its increased thickness at lower temperatures; especially if the oil is in an outside tank.

Heating Oil With 10 Percent Bio Vs. Straight Heating Oil

B10 BTU’s per gallon


ULS Heating Oil BTU’s per gallon


Gallons Delivered 2013


Heat Equivalent Gallons


Average Price Paid Per Gallon

$ 4.126

$ 4.126

2013 B10 Heating Oil Cost


Using Conventional Heating Oil


New York IT-241 Clean Fuel Credit

$ 84.87

Savings over 10% Bio Fuel

$ 35.02

Total Heating Oil Cost



Actual Tax Credit Savings

$ 49.85

 Lately, I have been hearing that homeowners who are inquiring about biofuels do not want it delivered to their oil tanks.  Maybe the $50 savings isn’t worth it.

Can We Afford To Be Ignorant About Money?


We should all be familiar with the passage in Deuteronomy that demands full and just weight. Every Israelite who acted unjustly according to this law was an abomination to God. Since we know from 1st Timothy that the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, we can expect evil rulers to try to attain power through unjust money.


If people rise to power through deviousness and deceit, it would seem that ignorance would make their jobs easier. Rulers with forked tongues can get people to swallow lies that make them work unwittingly for them and against themselves. After all, how many people would willingly support rulers who they knew were robbing them?


The United States Constitution grants power to Congress to coin money, to regulate its value, and to fix the standard of weights and measures. The vast majority of the Constitutional Convention delegates were opposed to unbacked paper currency due to their recent Revolutionary War experience with inflation. Delaware delegate George Read equated paper money with the Mark of the Beast.


The Coinage Act of 1792 stipulated that one dollar equals 371.25 grains (about 77% of a troy ounce) of pure silver. The reason for this was to mimic the Spanish Milled Dollar, which was the money in the colonies at the time.  If a U.S. Mint person was convicted of fraud or embezzlement concerning the money they were responsible for, the penalty was death! Obviously, the founders thought there would be no more serious a breech to the Constitution than this.


At the June 2009 silver spot price and coining costs, one dollar as defined by the Coinage Act of 1792 (0.77 troy ounce silver coin) would cost about 15.33 Federal Reserve Note dollars. When the U.S. Constitution was written, that was the common understanding of the term “Dollar”.  Is it a surprise that rulers and bankers changed the meaning of the word for their benefit?

The Coinage Act pegged gold at 15 times the silver price. ($15.00)  It would have made more sense to have gold fluctuate or float with the markets to avoid controversy.


Our currency used to be redeemable for gold or silver. Compare this certificate to the “money” in our wallets.

Unbacked money makes it easier for rulers to wreak havoc because they don’t have to honestly tell the people what their schemes will cost. It is easier to get the Federal Reserve to make entries on a computer to “pay” for things than to confront people with tax increases. The inflation scheme forces people to have to put “money” into banks to try to maintain purchasing power. CD interest is usually not greater than the inflation rate. If we hide our “money” in handkerchiefs ,  it will actually lose value and eventually become worthless.



“Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes her laws.” Mayer Amschel Rothschild