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I have a furnace problem...

and not your average, run-of-the-mill furnace problem, either!
  [vote for,

A few weeks ago, we moved into a new house across town. This house is heated by an oil furnace with a 220 gal. tank. I've never lived in a place with an oil furnace before, and know less than nothing about them. When I got there, I did find the guage that clearly said "emty" (that's really how it's spelled). So I called the landlord, and he said I should call a company out to service the tank and get the furnace running for me.

So I called out a company, and shelled out 300.00 for 100 gallons of diesel fuel oil for the furnace, which is in the basement, and paid an additional 30.00 service charge to have the technician check everything out and make sure it was good to go and get it started for us. So he checked the air filter, bled the air out of the line, and got it started.

5 minutes after the tech left, I smelled fumes coming from the vents. So I walked downstairs to the basement to see where it was coming from, and noticed that the floor of said basement was covered in approximately 1.5 standard inches of red dyed diesel oil. Along with ALL of my stuff that was stored in the basement in absorbent corrugated boxes. And the antique furniture. And did I mention that since we just moved in we hadn't signed up for renter's insurance yet?

After the fire department's HAZMAT unit 'mitigated the hazard' by dumping 30 bags of Absorball (or something that sounded like that when the fire chief explained the situation to me) on the basement floor, they deduced that the incident could have been prevented had the drain plug that goes in the bottom of the oil tank been in the bottom of the oil tank.

Now I don't know if this exists, and I'm typing this on my smartphone from the motel room that American Red Cross was kind enough to put us up in for the next few days so I'm not really in a mood to do much research now (I hope I can be forgiven for my sour mood) but here's my idea:

A fucking indicator at the FILL PIPE that would tell a service technician when the DRAIN PLUG is not properly inserted.

Either that, or a federally madated law that says they have to CHECK the DRAIN PLUG on the tank BEFORE attempting to put 100 gallons IN said tank, punishable by slow and PAINFUL torture.

21 Quest, Oct 24 2009

what to do http://www.extensio...sources/DD6620.html
hope this is of some help - just did a quick search [xenzag, Oct 24 2009]

How to get rid of diesel fuel smell http://www.ehow.com...sel-fuel-smell.html
Passing this on [nineteenthly, Oct 24 2009]

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       [+] for the idea and sympathy for your situation. This stuff emits a very strong odour, and the really bad news is that it lasts a long time, and I mean many months. (personal experience) Be prepared.

       If the two valves were linked mechanically, the filler could not be opened if the drain was also left open.
xenzag, Oct 24 2009

       Yeah... the cleanup crew warned us about the smell. I'm thinking of investing in a few *cases* of Febreeze when they tell us it's safe to move back in, which hopefully won't be more than 2-3 days. I'm hoping that because they got there so fast the smell won't have had a chance to settle in very deep, at least upstairs. All the sheetrock and woodwork in the basement has to be removed and replaced, though... I'm sure that'll take time for the landlords to get around to. Probably a good thing it wasn't finished yet. Thanks for the sympathy, though. Normally I don't take it very well, but in this case I'll take what I can get :-)


       By the way, does anyone know why this doesn't already exist? Xenzag, I'm curious to know what kind of experience you had. This can't be the first time in the history of oil furnaces that this has happened... could it? I mean, could it really be the first? Because if it's not the first... THEN WHY THE F*** HAVEN'T THEY DONE SOMETHING ABOUT IT!? God, where's Lewis Black when you need him?
21 Quest, Oct 24 2009

       My mother's boiler, which is outside in a small bunker attached to the rear wall of her living room, leaked out some oil when the guy was bleeding it. A very small spill - less than a pint... but it soaked into the separating brick wall and took several months for the smell to dissipate.... a nasty stinging odour.
xenzag, Oct 24 2009

       Who left the bone? Idiot.
xenzag, Oct 24 2009

       I would imagine if your technician is stupid enough to pour 100l of sticky black tar into a tank with a hole in the bottom, any number of warning lights or sounds are unlikely to have the desired effect.
Better solution is get the technician to pay for the damage, and don't use 'cowboy' tradesmen in future.
MikeOliver, Oct 24 2009

       I'm so sorry 21, having grown up with feul oil, I can sympathize about the smell. only up side is it is cheapest way to heat a house.
dentworth, Oct 24 2009

       You have my sympathy. I suppose the only upside i can see here is that it seems to be quite a cheap way to heat a house.

       I have a nagging, faint memory of someone in the last couple of days in the "real" world talking about oil furnaces and seeming to know a lot about them. I wonder if they could help.

       Best of luck anyway. Sounds horrible. If it's any consolation, a couple of years back we had dead mice in our walls and they stank the place out, but after a few weeks we couldn't smell them any more, though everyone else could. Maybe that'll happen to you.
nineteenthly, Oct 24 2009

       We use a natual gas-fired boiler. I just had to replace mine because last spring a technician came out to replace the gas regulator and 24 hours later the damn thing blew up, rupturing the water tank.

       Cost me $4000. I hope you have better luck getting compensated for your trouble.
phoenix, Oct 24 2009

       As i think i've mentioned before on here, we heat our house with junk mail and scraps of wood and it works fine. It's free, but also illegal, but having no money i don't see myself as having a choice.
nineteenthly, Oct 24 2009

       That is bad luck. Perhaps, the only way to get rid of the smell is to burn it...
Ling, Oct 24 2009

       interesting link nineteenthly, I wonder about ammonia and vinegar mixed as a odor stopper, might make you never smell anything ever again!
dentworth, Oct 24 2009

       It's from someone else who passed it on. I posted it without reading it.
nineteenthly, Oct 24 2009

       Dude. Your tank is inside your house? The only drain valve that most oil based heaters have is an air bleed to clear the line. Unless the previous owner of the home was both foolish and stingy and drained the tank before they left this plug would never be completely removed.
WcW, Oct 24 2009

       I was thinking the same thing at first, WCW. After all was said and done yesterday, however, I *suspect* it was the current landlord. You know how car dealerships siphon the fuel out of the vehicles they get on the lot... when he showed up to talk to the fire chief, as the property owner, he didn't say a single word to me. He was very tight-lipped and could barely look me in the eye. I've also done some more thinking about the way it happened, and don't think the plug was completely missing, just loosely installed. If it was missing, the technician and I would've noticed it when we went down to start it up. I watched his every move, hoping to learn how it was done for next time, that's how I know he never actually checked the tank. I think the plug was just so loose it held for a few minutes then popped off as soon as he left. I started smelling fumes upstairs as soon as I got back up.
21 Quest, Oct 24 2009

       Someone just gave this advice (which is not mine, but he tends to know what he's saying in this area):

       It rather depends on the surface if it is an absorbant material like carpets or soft furnishings probably the best thing to do is discard them, Desil oil will come out of clothes with a was in convetional washing powder (which is strong in detergent- the traditional solvent for oils.) If it is into the wooden floor boards, open the windows and let the smell disperse naturally, the oil component on the wood will have a preserving property for the wod. On ceramics you can just clean it off with a houshold detergent, on concrete lots of detergent and hard scrubbing. Diesel oil is hazardous, it can cause cancer with long term exposure, over an industrial working life, especially if your clothes are not washed frequently enough. However alcohol is a poison and we drink it, and I would clean your diesel up any day rather than take up smoking which is far far more hazardous. I tend to have some grasp of these things after 38 years at a working class industrial job.

       By the way, this bloke's Welsh, hence the spelling i suspect.
nineteenthly, Oct 24 2009

       Sympathies, 21Q. Much as I despise the litiginous society, I'd probably try to sue someone for reckless endangermenting.
MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 24 2009

       //the oil component on the wood will have a preserving property for the wod// That occurred to me too; one (tiny) upside is that the diesel may protect the woodwork from borers, termites and damp.

       You'll need to be careful cleaning the antique furniture. The oil itself shouldn't harm the finishes, but some cleaning solvents (especially alcohols and acetone) will damage French polish and lacquer.

       Good luck.
spidermother, Oct 24 2009

       I wondered about that... I have a nice oak bookcase that the oil seeped under and got the bottom of wet. Do you think it'll be salvageable after direct contact?
21 Quest, Oct 24 2009

       Oak should be fine, but if it was one of those newer press board jobs it would have soaked it up like a sponge.   

       Pressboard... you mean that cheap stuff that Wal-Mart furniture is made of? God no, I don't go cheap on things like that. I'm just glad the landlord is actually being quite helpful so far. He's already given me a partial refund check for the remainder of this month's rent, and I'm taking taking back the security deposit I paid to rent an apartment for the month or so until the house is restored to a liveable state, which the contractors he hired estimate may take 3-4 weeks. They're replacing all the carpeting, all the wood and drywall in the basement, and as much of the insulation as they can because the fumes have already seeped into the walls. I went back today to catalogue the property damage and could barely breathe.
21 Quest, Oct 24 2009

       Real wood may even welcome it; I wouldn't use any solvents to clean it off; maybe an oil-based wood cleaner if it stains.

       Nice way to get the basement all to yourself <wink wink>
FlyingToaster, Oct 25 2009

       My condolences and sadly I have no solutions for the smell. As for the idea, it seems like a pump fitting that fits over the inlet tightly and senses air volume escaping to match fuel volume entering. This would work as a low pressure pressure test on the tank and should spot both missing drain plugs and rusted leaking tanks.

       As you could probably use some humor, I have a short related story.

       I used to be part owner in a 24' fishing boat and got a call on a Saturday when I didn't go down to find that one of my moron co-owners had pumped 20 gallons of gas thru a fishing rod holder (it had a plastic cap on it!) into the bilge of the boat. He should have known better as he was a truck mechanic, and we figure he was only a gallon or two short of attaining Darwin status when the non-fuel rated bilge pumps kicked on. A system similar to the one I mentioned would have saved us and you a lot of trouble.

       Best of luck.
MisterQED, Oct 25 2009

       Sounds bad. I once spilt a 2.5 litre tin of oil-based gloss paint on the bathroom floor, and that was bad enough... Assuming that your basement is going to be full of fumes for a while after the oil has been cleaned up, will it then be safe to light your furnace or do you risk a large explosion?
hippo, Oct 25 2009

       That's shit. What a heap-load of unnecessary stress. I've just switched to an oil heating system for the first time. I'm used to having a gas boiler (furnace) inside, but on this little island they put both the tanks and the boilers outside for exactly the reasons that you've described - kerosene can be pretty icky. Hope most of your stuff survives.
wagster, Oct 25 2009

       [wags] and during the winter you just have somebody skate over with refill tanks, eh?

       [19thly] why is your wood/junkmail burning illegal ?
FlyingToaster, Oct 25 2009

       Another possible solution would be to pressure test the fuel tank, before it's first fill up.

       Pump in some air, test the pressure, wait a few minutes, and see if the pressure is the same. If there's a leak in the system, or an open drain plug, the air pressure will go down quickly. If the air pressure remain the same, then the tank is safe to fill.

       The amount of pumped needn't be much. Calculate the total weight of the fuel, divide by the area of a horizontal cross section of the tank, to get the approximate pressure the fuel will apply to the bottom of the tank. Pump air in to get this much pressure, and if it holds, then so will the tank.
goldbb, Oct 25 2009

       [FT], i live in a smokeless zone and to be honest what i'm doing is also mildly immoral. I'm contributing to air pollution by burning wood.
nineteenthly, Oct 25 2009

       [marked-for-deletion] I have a bit of a problem.
po, Oct 25 2009


       Mate, that blows. If only you'd had insurance, you coulda lost all those Picasso's and faberge' eggs in a "freak fire". [nudge, nudge wink wink].

       Diesel's such lurvely stuff. Ever tried siphoning diesel? I mean petrol tastes bad, for all of about 10 seconds and it's gone. Diesel in your mouth will ruin your whole day. Imagine a whole basement full. Ugh.

       Hope it all works out okay.
Custardguts, Oct 25 2009

       Po, I *did* throw an invention in there, you know. Second paragraph from the bottom, you know, the one that has the capped words "FILL PIPE" and "DRAIN PLUG"? It literally supports the rant, from the base up.
21 Quest, Oct 25 2009

       I'd place your book shelf, upright, on several layers of corrugated cardboard. Change the cardboard if it starts to get oily. I've used cardboard to clean up spilled oil from floors, too. It works quite well. Ideally, burn the oily cardboard in someone's wood fire.
spidermother, Oct 25 2009

       <smacks forehead>
Kitty litter, the odor killing kind is supposed to work.

       I hope so, 2 Fries, because it's what they dumped all over my basement floor.
21 Quest, Oct 25 2009

       There was another thing too. Sand and baking soda I think. Don't quote me on that but if all else fails...   

       Do you think flour would mix well with baking soda for this purpose?
21 Quest, Oct 25 2009

       I think I'd stick with the cat litter(bentonite clay) for awhile, then look for a commercial preparation that's designed specifically to absorb diesel.
FlyingToaster, Oct 25 2009

       I wonder what 'Crud Cutter' driveway cleaner would do for it?

       Or a combo of ivory soap and kitty litter?
RayfordSteele, Oct 26 2009

       Move out.
bungston, Oct 26 2009

       //having grown up with feul oil, I can sympathize about the smell. only up side is it is cheapest way to heat a house.//

       [Dentworth], it really depends on where you live. For my spot on the globe, natural gas and wood pellets are cheaper than oil. You also have to factor in the efficiency of the appliance. If your oil furnace is an old cast-iron octopus, your efficiency could be down to 60%.
bdag, Oct 26 2009

       [bungston] has a point, if you are still in the process of moving in - it might be better to just forget about this place and look for somewhere else - your landlord might be pleased to accept loss of a few months rent and giving you back your deposit in lieu of not getting tied up in an expensive lawsuit.
zen_tom, Oct 26 2009

       Nope. He's determined to let his insurance handle it, and isn't making a move without their say-so. It's going to court one way or another... although I did find out that my idea here would NOT have prevented the accident, and the oil company's off the hook because, after I got down on my back and wiggled my way under the tank, I saw the the drain plug was perfectly intact and tightly installed. What I found was a gaping hole in the bottom of the tank, and oil around the gauge on top of the tank. Which I think means that there was probably oil already in the tank and the gauge was faulty. If that be the case, however, then my next question is why didn't the pump shut off like the ones at petrol stations? Or was the tank structurally degraded?
21 Quest, Oct 26 2009

       If by "furnace problem" you mean "bad case of running into fucking idiots" then I get it. Move out a la Bungs.

       This is actually quite terrifying of a story. Just imagine if someone was outside the basement with a cigarette or something.
daseva, Oct 26 2009

       //Just imagine if someone was outside the basement with a cigarette or something//

       If it's really diesel, then nothing at all.
Custardguts, Oct 26 2009

       Yeah, sorry again. Sounds like water settled to the bottom and rusted the tank out. That's why I suggested a slight pressure test. Sadly I doubt those oil pump trucks have ANY of the tech that a gas pump has. I guess for the idea, I'd go with [goldbb] and ask for a pressure test before a fill.

       I'm also with [bungston], move.

       If you do stay, there are businesses who specialize in this sort of thing. My guess is that is the only way that place is going to become livable.
MisterQED, Oct 26 2009

       Good news! We're moving out. The landlord's mother-in-law, who's a realtor and handles his finances for him (I know, he's a real schmuck) has a son who's a property owner and has a house for rent across town. It's a bigger place, with a much bigger backyard for the dogs, and has a natural gas furnace fed by city lines, which I'm hoping is safer than a huge tank of oil sitting in the basement. We're transferring our deposit to him and are moving in Friday.
21 Quest, Oct 26 2009

zeno, Oct 27 2009

       //I did find the guage that clearly said "emty" (that's really how it's spelled). //
More irony.
Oh yeah, what [custardguts] said.
coprocephalous, Oct 27 2009

       A pressure test would also indicate if there is liquid already in the tank. Pump in a set volume of air for a given tank size. If the pressure is higher than it should be, you have liquid present, reading the pressure tells you accurately how far to fill. One problem, I think most fuel tanks have an over-flow/pressure relief valve.
MechE, Oct 27 2009


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