April 15, 2011 — New York City's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has proposed a new rule that would prohibit the use of fuel oil grade Nos. 4 and 6 in heat and hot water boilers and burners in the five boroughs. It was discussed at a public hearing on February 28 and, according to DEP spokesperson Mercedes Padilla, comments from that session are being evaluated. Once that review is completed, and if there are no "substantial changes," the city will publish the rule and 30 days later, it will become effective.
Now what do we do?
Step one: Don't panic. You have several options, and you have a fair amount of time to think about which one to choose. And perhaps more important, whatever you decide to do, you may be able to do it in stages over a few years.
This is the essence of the proposed changes, as reported by the city government in a press statement: "Effective immediately, any newly installed boilers will be required to only burn low sulfur No. 2 oil, natural gas, or the equivalent from an emissions standpoint... All boilers will be required to switch from No. 6 oil to the new low sulfur No. 4 heating oil by 2015, or to an equivalent cleaner fuel. It is estimated that converting a boiler that typically burns No. 6 oil to one that can accommodate low sulfur No. 4 oil will cost roughly $10,000... Existing boilers that have not been replaced by 2030 must be modified to meet the equivalent emissions of burning low sulfur No. 2 oil or natural gas."
As you can see, there is no big rush (unless you are installing a new boiler). You have until 2015 to switch from No. 6 to No. 4, and until 2030 to switch from No. 4 to No. 2. Or, of course, you can switch to gas. Let’s look at the options.
Options for No. 6 Oil Users
• Convert to No. 4 Oil. As your annual burner tune-up approaches, use up as much of the No. 6 oil as remains in your oil tank as possible (without sucking the sludge at the bottom of the tank into the burner), clean out the tank (this is optional), disable the sidearm oil preheater, and start using No. 4 oil.
During the annual burner tune-up, adjust the settings to burn No. 4 oil as cleanly and efficiently as possible. A few minor changes may be needed to the oil pump and the oil lines.
Despite what the city says, it will not necessarily cost $10,000 to convert a No. 6 burner to No. 4 operation. Depending on the final form of the regulations, it may not cost much at all.
• Convert to Dual-Fuel. Use up the No. 6 oil and clean the tank as above, start using No. 2 oil, and convert to gas/oil ("interruptible gas" or "dual-fuel") operation. Depending on the type of burner you have now, this could cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
• Convert to Gas-Only. Use up the No. 6 oil as above, decommission the oil tank according to regulations, and convert to gas-only ("firm gas") operation. Again, depending on the burner you now have, the cost will vary, but will probably be substantial.
Options for No. 4 Oil Users
• Convert to No. 2 Oil. Follow the same sequence as for converting from No. 6 to No. 4, except that there will be no need to disable a sidearm preheater (because there won't be one). Use up as much of the No. 4 oil remaining in your oil tank as possible (again, without sucking up the sludge), clean out the tank, and start using No. 2 oil.
During the annual burner tune-up, adjust the settings to burn No. 2 oil as cleanly and efficiently as possible, which, by the way, is quite clean and quite efficient. It should cost less to convert a No. 4 burner to No. 2 operation than a No. 6 burner to No. 4 operation.
• Convert to Dual-Fuel. Follow the same sequence as for converting from No. 6 to dual fuel. Again, use up the No. 4 oil and clean the tank as above, start using No 2 oil, and convert to gas/oil operation. Depending on the type of burner you have now and several other factors, this could cost a lot of money.
• Convert to Gas-Only. As above with No. 6 oil, use up the No. 4 oil as above, decommission the tank according to regulations, and convert to firm gas operation. Again, depending on the burner you now have, the cost will vary, but will be substantial.
What Type of Burner Do You Have?
An astoundingly large proportion of heavy oil burners in the New York City metropolitan area are manufactured by one company — Industrial Combustion — but the basic principle applies to any manufacturer’s burner. The most critical difference among burners, if you are considering converting to either firm or interruptible gas, is this: Can my existing burner burn gas?
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