Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Don't waste money: Use waste oil

October 11, 2010

Bracing yourself for those high heating bills this winter? Or maybe you’ve already felt the impact of higher fuel prices when heating your shop.

You don’t have to brace yourself or fear next year’s high fuel prices if you utilize your used or waste oil resources.

By burning the waste oil you generate in a hot air heater or boiler you can save money at your lube shop and stay warmer.

How it works
The oil you are draining out of the vehicles you service can also heat your shop. Every gallon of waste oil has 140,000 British Thermal Unit’s (BTU) of heat, equal to 140-cubic-feet of natural gas.

The chart below shows what a gallon of waste oil is worth compared to conventional heating:

1 gallon of waste oil=

1.55 gallons propane
56 cu. feet propane
140 cu. feet natural gas
16.3 lbs dry wood
1.06 gallon kerosene
1.13 gallon gasoline

The savings
With gas and oil prices especially high this year, heating a business can become costly.

However, a lube owner can lower his or her outrageous gas or electrical bills, eliminate on-going contracts for hauling waste oil away and most importantly, not have to worry about being caught under the “cradle-to-grave” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) liability many years later by burning their waste oil.

Every day in every state, thousands of dollars are collected for EPA Superfund sites, charging upwards of $100 per gallon back to the original waste generator.

With no set time limit on this practice and no relief in sight; read your current waste-oil-hauling contract carefully to avoid future surprises.

Environmental outlook
The environmental benefits of used oil heaters are another factor that can help sell the idea.

The oil storage tanks are above ground, which reduces the environmental risk. The owner is also not transporting the oil, so it is not exposed to the environment and the risk of a spill is minimal.

The surrounding community will also favor a business owner who is looking out for the environment, which will help build a strong reputation for the lube business.

As energy costs continue to rise and communities become increasingly environmentally conscious, lube owners may one day see this equipment become a standard feature at oil-change facilities.

Choosing a waste oil heater
So how do you go about finding a waste oil heater? There are many different makes and models on the market for an owner to choose from.

Fast lube operators should carefully critique their options before deciding on a heater or furnace.

Step 1: Consider a company that is a member of UOMA.

The Used Oil Management Association (UOMA) was formed by manufacturers of waste oil heaters, furnaces and boilers. UOMA members must follow the association’s bylaws and must keep up-to-date with the latest regulations about burning waste oil.

While the EPA does not approve all types of equipment for burning waste oil, all units manufactured by UOMA members meet the guidelines set forth by the EPA in 40CFR, part 279.23.

Step 2: Look for safety listings.

Units should be approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) under code 296A, or by the Canadian-UL (C-UL) and Canadian Standards Association (CSA) listings for Canada.

Other testing agencies may be recognized by the National Fire Protection or by local codes.

Step 3: Determine an appropriate size.

The necessary size of a heater can be determined by either the amount of BTU’s needed or by the amount of waste oil generated by the facility.

It is not practical to purchase a large heater that meets the facility’s BTU needs but requires more oil than your business produces to run it.

Most manufacturers also recommend a back-up source of heat in case you run out of oil.

Step 4: Determine service and maintenance options.

Service after the sale is very important. A waste oil heater is like any other piece of equipment in the fast lube shop and requires a regular maintenance schedule.

Maintenance on heaters varies with the style of heater selected. Some companies have a network of distributors and companies that sell factory direct.

It should be determined prior to purchase whether you want to fix any problems that may occur or if you’d prefer to call a distributor to diagnose and fix the problem.


Mason Smith has been in the waste oil industry for nine years and is currently the corporate sales manager for Firelake Manufacturing, Dassel, MN; manufacturers of waste oil heaters and boilers.