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How to Change Your Home Heating Oil Filter

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that heating and cooling account for over half of all energy utilized in the average household. In fact, more energy and money is spent on heating your home than on any other process – usually comprising approximately 42 percent of your energy bill. With so much invested in your home heating system, it only makes sense that you would want to take good care of it.

The majority of people in the United States heat their homes with boilers or furnaces. However, in most homes, a furnace is used to provide heat, whether powered by electricity, natural gas, propane, or home heating oil. But what is the difference in how a furnace and a boiler heat a home?

When a furnace is used to heat a home, the heated air is passed through a system of ducts that come off of the heating unit and can run through the attic, the crawlspaces, the walls, the ceilings or the floors. The heated air is then introduced into the home through registers in the ceilings, walls and/or floors. A boiler works differently than a furnace. It heats water to supply steam or hot water which can be dispersed through baseboards, radiators or radiant floor systems.

Oil-fired furnaces and boilers are often used in areas like the Northeast, where natural gas availability is limited. In fact, in 2013, the Northeast consumed 87 percent of the nation’s heating oil, about 3.2 billion gallons. This is significant when you consider that only about 8 percent of households in the U.S. were heating with oil at the time.

However, newer blends of home heating oil and biodiesel have become available and are, in fact, renewable energy sources due to their nature. These biodiesel blends produce less pollution than their counterparts. Furthermore, an oil-fired furnace will likely last you 30 or more years, which is at least twice the lifespan of a gas furnace.

Oil-fired furnaces and boilers work differently than electric or gas models. The heating oil leaves the oil tank, is forced by the blower into the combustion chamber where an electric spark will ignite it. There it becomes the fuel source that powers the furnace or boiler. However, with oil-fired furnaces and boilers alike, you must keep your extra oil in storage tanks outdoors.

Both oil-fired furnaces and oil-fired boilers have oil filters that must be cleaned or replaced on a regular basis to keep your unit running efficiently. The oil filter is a critical part of your system as it prevents particles, such as dirt, from getting into your boiler or furnace and causing clogs or other damage to your unit. If you let your filter get dirty and full of sludge, your boiler or furnace is not going to work properly; and, this could cost you, not only in energy dollars but in expensive repairs as well.

Below you will find the procedures for changing or cleaning your oil filter yourself. Keep in mind that these are only guidelines and your manufacturer’s information should be followed if there is any discrepancy. You may also want to check the manufacturer’s information to see if you have a permanent/reusable filter or a disposable one.

How to Change Your Home Heating Oil Filter

Begin by familiarizing yourself with your oil-fired furnace or boiler. You will need to know the location of the following parts

  • The circuit breaker that controls the electricity going to the furnace or boiler
  • The oil shut-off valve
  • The oil filter canister
  • The center bolt that holds the oil filter housing in place (unless yours is a screw on type canister)
  • The filter bleeder screw
  • The pump strainer (if you have one)

Next you will need to collect some supplies.

  • A filter cartridge package (buy the same type of filter cartridge as you are replacing – the package should have a replacement gasket for the filter housing as well as washers for the center bolt and bleeder screw)
  • The correct wrenches to open and tighten the center bolt and bleeder screw
  • A drip pan, bucket or something similar to catch any heating oil that may fall as you work
  • Something to put the old filter and heating oil in for proper disposal
  • Gloves you can work in
  • Lint-free rag
  • Old toothbrush or other small soft bristle brush
  • Kerosene
  • A new pump strainer and gasket (if your furnace has a pump strainer)
  • An appropriate basin or bowl to pour the kerosene into for use
  • Something to pour the used kerosene into for proper disposal (be sure it’s an approved container and that you label it)

Now you can begin to change your home heating oil filter, whether it is on an oil-fired boiler or an oil-fired furnace.

  1.  Whenever you work on an appliance of any sort, you should turn off the power to that unit at the breaker box. Do so before you begin to change your home heating oil filter.
  2.  If you are going to change the filter on an oil-fired boiler, wait until the boiler cools down before you attempt to do so.
  3.  Turn off the supply of oil flowing to the filter with the oil shut-off valve.
  4.  Locate the oil filter canister.
  5.  Place your drip pan, bucket, or other method to catch oil beneath the oil filter canister. Keeping the floor clean in this way will not only mean less work for you, but will also help you in detecting any possible leaks later on.
  6.  Put on your protective gloves. Home heating oil is a fuel and you’ll want to protect your skin.
  7.  There are two ways for the oil filter housing to be attached to its top. It will either be held on by a center bolt, or it will just unscrew from the top piece. If it has a center bolt, hold the larger, bottom piece of the filter  housing while you remove the bolt so the filter housing doesn’t fall. There may be oil and/or sludge in the bottom. Otherwise, simply unscrew the filter housing.
  8.  Remove the oil filter from the filter housing base. If it is disposable, put it in the container you set aside for disposing of it and the heating oil. If it is re-usable, set it aside for cleaning.
  9.  Pour any heating oil that may have collected in the filter housing base into your bucket or pan.
  10.  You may find that oil, sludge, dirt and other debris has built up in the bottom of the filter housing base. Take your old soft toothbrush or lint free cloth and clean out the filter housing base, being careful to clean the edges as well. Don’t forget to clean out the top and its edges also. The new gasket will seal the filter housing base and top together when you close it again, so it needs to be clean for a good seal.
  11.  If you have a permanent/reusable filter, soak it in kerosene for a few minutes, then use your soft bristle brush to get it clean – you may use the same method for cleaning really dirty oil filter canisters.
  12.   For disposable oil filters, replace the old filter with the new cartridge in the reverse of the manner in which you removed it. Replace the old fiber washer under the mounting bolt with the new one that came with your  filter cartridge package. Place the new gasket between the filter housing base and the top and tighten the mounting bolt, or screw the bottom of the housing into place if it’s the screw type.
  13.   Now you will need to bleed the air out of the filter you have just replaced, whether it’s a new one, or the one you just cleaned. Open and remove the filter bleeder screw you located earlier. You will hear the air leaving the filter area through the bleeder port. When you are getting a solid stream of oil coming out of the bleeder port, replace the fiber washer, replace the filter bleeder screw and tighten it down. Clean the area thoroughly with your cloth.

Oil-fired furnaces sometimes have a pump strainer found where the filtered oil goes into the burner at the point where the oil supply line comes to an end. You will likely want to clean the pump strainer at the same time as you change or clean your oil filter to properly service your unit. Here’s how to do it.

  1.  Lift off the pump strainer’s cover and pull out the strainer. It will be made of wire mesh.
  2.  Soak the pump strainer in kerosene for a few minutes and then use your soft bristled brush or toothbrush to clean it. Be careful, you can damage it.
  3.  Look for damage to the strainer as you clean it. If you see any, replace it with the new one you obtained.
  4.  Put the strainer back in its housing and replace the old gasket with the new one you bought. Close the pump strainer’s cover.

Now to finish up. Turn the electricity back on at the breaker box. You will want to look over the system to make sure there isn’t any oil leaking from anywhere. Once you are satisfied that all is in order, you’re done. All that’s left is the clean-up.

How to Properly Dispose of Old Home Heating Oil and Oil Filters

Since home heating oil is considered to be a hazardous waste, here are some ideas for how to properly dispose of it:

  • Check with your town or county. There may be free pickup available for such substances.
  • Contact your local department of public works to ask how to properly dispose of your used home heating oil and filters.
  • Be sure to keep the used heating oil in a closed jug or other appropriate, clean container and label it. Don’t mix it with other oils.
  • Always wear gloves when working with home heating oil and used oil filters.
  • Use funnels that are made specifically to be used with oil.

How to Properly Dispose of used Kerosene

Kerosene is considered to be a household hazardous waste. As such, it must also be handled with care. Never pour kerosene down the drain or into the sewer. This can seriously harm the environment.

One way to find a safe place to have your kerosene recycled is to use the Earth911 Recycling Search tool to look for a recycling center in your area. Failing that, you can inquire at your local service stations to see if they will take the kerosene and dispose of it for you. If not, they may know of other options for you since many such stations must dispose of other types of hazardous materials, such as motor oil. Another place to look is on your local municipality’s website to determine how household hazardous waste is handled in your locality.

Once you’ve determined where to take your used kerosene, here’s how to handle it: Pour it into a clean container and label it “kerosene.” Never mix it with other liquids, especially gasoline. Not only is it a bad idea to mix fuels together, but many places won’t take kerosene that has been mixed with other substances.

How often do I need to Change my Heating Oil Filter

How often to change your heating oil filter is a matter of some importance. At a minimum, you should change it at the beginning of the cold season, before you actually use your oil-fired furnace or boiler for the first time, and then once more about halfway through the season. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your oil filter, however, to make sure you don’t need to change it more often than that.

Now that you know how to change your home heating oil filter, it won’t seem like such a chore. The benefits to you are certainly worth the effort you put into it. Not only will your oil-fired furnace or boiler work more efficiently, making you and your family more comfortable during the cold winter season, but you will save on your energy bills as well. And, a well-cared for oil-fired home heating unit will have a much longer working life, giving you peace of mind.

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