What to do after running out of heating oil

Oil heat can keep your home and family comfortably warm throughout the cold months of the year. If you've set up automatic fuel deliveries, your heating needs are all taken care of quickly and easily, right? Perhaps not.

An unseasonably cold winter can empty your oil tank before the next delivery date, perhaps at a time when your already-stretched budget doesn't allow for an emergency delivery. You can take measures to keep everyone safe and reasonablly warm until the fuel truck arrives.


If you've run out of heating oil, you have several decisions to make. If you run out in the middle of the night and the outside temperature is not too low, you may be able to take some measures that will save money for an expensive call to your supplier. However, running out of oil at the beginning of a cold weekend could mean a dangerous time for you and your family. Making that expensive call may be your only option.

Short-Term Solutions

Your fireplace or woodstove can be your best friend at a time like this. Build a nice fire and circulate the warm air by using a household fan to blow it into adjacent rooms. Close the doors to areas that don't need to be heated. Acting promptly will keep your house from becoming an icebox and will heat up much faster when you do get a fuel delivery. Try to keep family and pets together in the same room, both to benefit from the fire and to take advantage of body heat.

As a short-term solution, space heaters can keep selected areas warm. Ceramic and oil-filled electric heaters are fine for smaller rooms, especially if you keep the doors partially or fully closed. Alternatively, kerosene space heaters will work very well. Families who camp may have a catalytic tent heater in their camping equipment. Do not leave any of these heaters unattended for long periods of time, though.

You also have another option. If you have a few five-gallon plastic gas cans in the garage, take them to the nearest petrol station that sells diesel fuel, buy 10 gallons, and then dump it into your home heating-oil tank. Diesel fuel is a more highly refined form of the same fuel you use to heat your home. It's generally a little more expensive than heating fuel but you may save money by not having to get a fuel delivery outside of normal business hours.


After getting a fuel delivery or if you have opted to use diesel fuel as a short-term heating solution, you may have to bleed your heating system. You may be able to do this yourself, but if you're not sure how to do it, a heating system specialist should be called. Running out of heating oil sometimes causes the furnace to take in some sludge from the bottom of the tank, fouling the filter and preventing the system from firing properly.