A turn-of-the-century oil delivery truck.
LANCASTER, Pa. - It started as an opportunity to shoot photos of antique oil delivery trucks for a calendar. Then it mushroomed into a meeting of oil heat professionals, centered on interactive technical and business discussions, moderated by industry professionals.

The meeting, billed as the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM) Oil Heat Retreat, was attended by a few dozen members of the oil heat trade, including manufacturers, distributors, and contractors. Guest speakers and instructors included Dan Holohan, The NEWS' John R. Hall, Alan Mercurio, and Eugene Silberstein.

Antique oil trucks were photographed during the retreat and will appear on a 2007 calendar. Proceeds will go to support the efforts of Oil Heat Cares, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals and organizations with replacements of oil heat equipment (www.oilheatcares.com).


Some of the leading names in the oil heat trade conducted a panel discussion revolving around issues facing the trade in 2006. Dr. Tom Butcher of Brookhaven Laboratories, Robert Hedden of the Oil Heating Manufacturers Association, and John Levy of Oil Heat Associates were the panelists.

Butcher began the discussion by talking about the efficiency of integrated systems and how much customers can really save by replacing their old equipment with these systems.

"Manufacturers are doing great things with controls and efficiency," he said. Butcher added that one way to gauge efficiency is to compare the performance of various systems. Brookhaven Laboratories compared five units and found that efficiency ratings varied from 78.4 percent to 92 percent.

"We figured out energy use throughout the year by computing efficiency, idle loss, oversize, day heat load, domestic hot water use, oil prices, and location factor (where equipment is located)," he said.

Butcher noted that using this same data, an increase in efficiency from 80 percent to 88 percent resulted in a 9 percent reduction in energy usage. He also said that using the same 88 percent efficiency rating and lowering idle loss (when energy source is being stored) resulted in a 22.5 percent reduction in energy usage.

"We have to be able to show customers hard numbers about what they are saving," he said. "Customers need to know that we are doing these studies - to show them we care."

Hedden asked the seminar attendees if they felt customers preferred a higher return on their investment or a bigger payback. "We can give both numbers," he said. "But, for example, we are worried that showing a six year payback would be too long since the average homeowner moves every five years."

One audience member suggested that the trade start making oil heat "cool" and questioned whether it was important to show numbers or sell emotion.

"The wake-up call for us is what happened this spring with oil prices so high," Hedden said. "If we can't sell efficiency now we are never going to sell it."

The panel members also talked about technician training and how important it is to maintain a professional image by appearance and knowledge. If a technician does not have the knowledge to perform his or her work correctly, is it their fault?

"We are firing service technicians for making mistakes," said Levy. "We should be firing their bosses. Many of them aren't trained correctly and just don't know any better."

Levy suggested that instead of berating workers about things they have done wrong, it is better to find things they have done right and praise them for their efforts.

Publication date: 10/09/2006