Heating oil quandaries

Last spring, I called our heating oil company to inquire about the date of the next refill, explaining that we were considering getting rid of our oil furnace and didn’t want any more oil until we decided.  The nice woman on the phone had said the next refill wasn’t scheduled until September.  Imagine my surprise to come home from work one day in the middle of the summer to find one of those oil company bills on the front door informing us that they had filled the tank that day and that we should send them several hundred dollars.  I called them again.  I was politely informed that despite my previous conversation with a representative of the company, not only is the scheduled refill date subject to change whenever the company feels like it, but our contract clearly states that the automatic refill program can only be canceled by sending in a written request, and therefore we were responsible to pay for the recently delivered oil. 

So what could we do with 300 gallons of oil that we didn’t particularly want or have plans to use?  Well the oil company would buy it back for 60% of its original value and charge a $400 pumping fee, leaving us with maybe $200 out of around $1,000 we paid for the stuff.  No thanks.  I looked around to see if anyone else would take it.  No luck.  I found a couple of people who would take it for free.  I researched donating the oil, but the couple of leads I found who could pump it turned into dead ends and I gave up. 

We hadn’t actually moved forward with our plan switch to natural gas yet, so we decided the best thing to do would be to just keep using oil to heat the house for the 2010-2011 winter.  I had two concerns:

1. Would 300 gallons of oil last the whole winter?  If yes, we could wait until summer 2011 to have the new gas fireplace installed.  If no, we would have to decide whether to move up the timeline on the fireplace or use some temporary heating device.

2. Would the 60 year old furnace make it through the winter?  Now that we had canceled our automatic refill plan with the oil company, we also lost the modest furnace insurance/maintenance program that came with it.  Since we were about to toss the whole thing anyway, if it did crap out midway through the winter, we would have to figure out what to do in a hurry.  That made me nervous because I don’t like to feel rushed when making financial decisions.

On question 1, I think we can make it.  After several weeks of nagging, I finally got Matt to check the oil level in the tank by dipping a random piece of wood into it.  I guess I could have done it, but the yard is his responsibility, it was raining, etc. (i.e., I didn’t want to).  But I did my part by repeatedly asking him to do it, looking out the window and taking this terrible picture:

On question 2, we are almost there.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the previous owner’s diligent yearly inspections and maintenance will pay off and get us through March and April.  I think if we can get to May we’ll be fine.  If needed, we could rely on these two portable heating units we just got:

Did you really think I could resist inserting a dog picture?  Get used to it.

You may have already guessed a third concern I should mention - our oil tank is buried in our front yard.  We have no reason to think it’s leaking, but if by chance it is, my understanding of the law is that basically the whole front yard would have to be dug up.  There is a state insurance program where they cover the costs associated with that (which can be quite hefty), and we signed up immediately upon purchasing our house.  A neighbor down the street had her entire front lawn dug up a few months ago due to a leaking tank.  That is really an understatement because the hole was at least 12 feet deep and went from the sidewalk to underneath the foundation and from the driveway to the edge of the property, and the house (including the foundation) was on stilts.  It was a sight to behold.  There’s really nothing else we can do about that issue right now, so we’ll just keep hoping that when it comes time to decommission the tank, its non-leaking status will be confirmed.