Frequently Asked Questions


Q: What should I do if my heating system doesn’t work?

A: If your heating system isn’t working, contact Needham Oil & Air immediately for all your heating equipment repair guide needs.

When a service technician arrives, let him know everything you did to the system before he begins working on it. You should also let him know if anything out of the ordinary happened, like an unusual noise, a strange smell or smoke.

In many cases, this will help the technician find the problem—and get your heat back on again—faster.

Q: How does a furnace work?

A: Heat is generated by burning oil inside the furnace. This happens in the combustion chamber, which gets very hot. Air absorbs this heat in the furnace’s heat exchanger. Next, the blower sends the heated air through a system of ducts, and warm air circulates through the home.

Q: How does a boiler differ from a furnace?

A: The basic heating principle is the same. The difference is that a boiler heats water instead of air. A circulator pumps the hot water through a system of pipes, distributing the water to radiators, baseboards or air handlers throughout the home. Some boilers are designed to create steam, which circulates by means of a system of pipes. The pipes are connected to steam radiators throughout the home.

Q: What is a cracked heat exchanger?

A: The heat exchanger is the main component of your furnace. If the heat exchanger has a crack or a rust hole, combustion fumes (including carbon monoxide) can contaminate the air in your home. This is a potentially deadly situation and should be addressed IMMEDIATELY. A cracked heat exchanger is not a simple furnace repair; in fact, it usually requires replacing the entire furnace. If you suspect that you might have a cracked heat exchanger or a carbon monoxide problem caused by your furnace, turn the system off immediately. Then contact us right away for service.

Q: On mild winter days my furnace runs in short blasts and my home alternates from being too hot to being too cold. How can I fix this?

A: Installing a new furnace with a variable-speed motor is a good solution. These “smart” motors automatically adjust airflow volume and speed based on your home’s temperature requirements.

There will be fewer on/off cycles, smaller temperature swings, consistent even heat and lower fuel bills.

Q: I hear a lot of talk about high-efficiency heating systems. How do you determine a heating system’s efficiency?

A: There are two indicators of efficiency. 1. Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). All heating equipment manufactured after 1980 is required to have a label indicating its AFUE. The AFUE ratio is a measurement of a heating system’s seasonal efficiency, taking into account how well the system performs over an entire season of starts and stops. Modern heating systems range in efficiency from 81% – 95%. If your system’s AFUE is lower than this range, talk to us about your replacement options.

2. Combustion efficiency. When we tune up your heating system, we do a combustion efficiency test that tells us how well your burner is converting oil into heat. If your combustion efficiency is below 78, you may want to evaluate your upgrade options, which could include an oil burner retrofit. A new burner will burn the fuel/air mixture in a cleaner, more controlled manner, resulting in lower heating costs and less combustion bi-products going out of your chimney.

Q: Is there anything you can do about the smell of heating oil?

A: Yes! As long as your heating system is working properly, you should not smell oil in your home. If you do, it means something is WRONG! A heating oil smell could come from a leak, combustion or burner troubles, heat exchanger failure or exhaust system problems. Contact us and we’ll come over to correct the problem. If you have a leak, we’ll remove the oil and help get the smell out of your home. If you ever smell oil coming from your vents, call us immediately. That’s an indication of a faulty furnace that may be releasing dangerous gases in your home.

Water Heaters

Q: What can I do to maintain my water heater?

A: You’ll get longer life from your water heater and prevent breakdowns if you follow these simple guidelines:

  • Every three months, drain a gallon of water from the tank. Do it every month if you have hard water. This reduces the amount of sediment collecting in the bottom of the tank, which can make the burner or heating coils work harder.
  • Every year have your water heater inspected by a service technician to keep it in peak operating condition.

Replace or Repair

Q: How do I know if it is more cost-efficient to repair my old heating system or replace it?

A: If you’re like many people, the frustration of an equipment breakdown can make it tempting to solve the problem with a quick fix that doesn’t cost you a lot of money. That way you can get on with your busy life in relative comfort. BUT, while a quick fix may be the least expensive solution in the short run, it may not give you the most value in the long run.

It’s a fact of life: Older heating and air conditioning systems are more likely to break down. That means a bigger chance of emergency service calls and repairs—and paying for them. Worse, a heating system breakdown could mean extensive damage to your home. (No heat on a cold winter day can cause your pipes to freeze.)

There’s also an ongoing cost factor. Repairing an old system can only restore it to something less than its original level of efficiency. After you’ve recovered from the furnace repair bill and the frustration of a system breakdown, you’ll still be battling high energy bills. What’s more, even a system that doesn’t break down loses efficiency as it ages. A 15-year-old home heating system doesn’t operate anywhere near the efficiency it had when it was new!

Plus, when compared with modern, technologically advanced equipment, 15-year-old heating and cooling systems are considered inefficient by today’s standards. The average homeowner can save up to 40% on heating and cooling costs with new high-efficiency equipment. Here are some rules of thumb to help you decide whether to replace or repair.

Replace your system if:

  • it is more than 10 years old and only in average condition.
  • it does not keep you as comfortable as you would like.
  • it breaks down frequently.
  • it is burning too much fuel.
  • you will be living in your home for at least five more years.

Repair your system if:

  • it is less than 10 years old and in good condition.
  • your heating and cooling costs have been acceptable.
  • you’re pleased with your level of comfort.
  • its performance is reliable.
  • you will be moving within the next five years.
  • it is still under warranty.

Air Conditioning

Q: What does SEER stand for?

A: SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and it indicates the efficiency of air conditioning systems. The higher the SEER number, the more cooling you get per unit of energy. As of January 2006, only units with a SEER of 13 or higher can be sold in the United States. Today’s cooling units are up to 40% more efficient than those made as recently as 10 years ago.

Q: Is it OK to “mix and match” air conditioning components of different efficiencies? Just because my outside condensor unit is on its way out, does it mean I have to replace my indoor unit as well?

A: It’s never a good idea to mix and match a/c components with different SEERs. You might save money initially by replacing only your outdoor unit with a SEER of 13 or higher (minimum required by January 2006 mandate) SEER compressors and hooking it up to your 10- or 12-SEER system. However, it doesn’t make sense in the long run. It’s like buying a brand-new stereo set and hooking it up to your old antiquated speakers. By pairing components with different SEERS, you’re just not going to get your money’s worth in terms of comfort and efficiency. You’re better off paying a little extra up front because you’ll be saving a lot more over time.

At Needham oil & Air we have the expertise to help you choose the right efficiency system for your home.

Q: My home has a forced-air furnace but no air conditioning. Can I add central air?

A: You bet! We can mount a cooling coil on top of the furnace and install a condensing unit outside. If you’re ready for a new furnace installation, we can recommend energy efficient units that incorporate A/C.

Q: My home does NOT have forced-air heating and there is no ductwork. Can I still get central air conditioning?

A: Absolutely! Today’s simple ductless air conditioning options make it possible to install a quiet, efficient air conditioning system in your home even if it doesn’t have ductwork. Ductless air conditioning systems consist of one or more indoor air distribution units linked by refrigeration lines to an outdoor compressor. These flexible “refrigeration lines” can be positioned inside your walls and ceilings with a minimum of inconvenience. Installing ductless air conditioning costs a little more than standard central air conditioning systems but much less than the cost of installing ductwork and a central air conditioner.

Q: Why does it cost so much to run an air conditioning system?

A: Air conditioners run on electricity and electricity is the most expensive energy source. Converting fuels like coal or natural gas into electricity is inherently inefficient. What’s more, much of the original electricity generated at the power plant is lost during transmission over power lines. So, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, by the time it reaches your home, electricity is only 33% efficient on average.

Q: Do I really need a tune-up for my air conditioning system?

A: An air conditioning tune-up and inspection will help catch service problems before they get you hot under the collar. Many breakdowns occur on the hottest day of the year — because that’s when your a/c is under the most stress. And because a tune-up ensures that your system will run at peak efficiency, you’ll lower your electric bills. A system that’s running efficiently can save you as much as 10% on your cooling costs. So give us a call to schedule your annual tune-up!


Q: Do you provide 24-hour service?

A: Absolutely! Every day of the year.

Q: How long do customers have to wait for emergency service?

A: Usually three hours or less.

Q: Do you use your own installation specialists or do you hire subcontractors?

A: We use only our own certified factory-trained technicians to install new heating and air conditioning systems. We never hire subcontractors. Our technicians are the most highly trained in the industry.

Q: How long does it take to get an estimate on a new heating or air conditioning system?

A: Usually it’s only a matter of one day. We can come out to your home at your convenience. To recommend the right size system for you, we do a lot of calculations. One thing we look at is heat loss, or the amount of heat your home loses in the winter. This is just one way we figure how much Btu “power” your home’s heating system needs.

Q: Approximately how long does it take you to complete an installation of a heating system?

A: Most of our installations are done in one day though every job is different and some take longer than others.

Q: Is annual maintenance necessary?

A: Yes! Heating and air conditioning systems operate for months on end and need regular maintenance—just like your car. Without the regular maintenance of a tune-up, you lose efficiency and money.

Annual tune-ups keep your system working at peak efficiency and give our technicians a chance to catch minor problems and signs of wear before they turn into major trouble down the road. An annual tune-up also protects your family by helping prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by ensuring your chimney is drafting properly.

In addition, regular maintenance can extend the life of your equipment.

Q: How do I know what size heating or air conditioning system to install?

A: The experts at Needham Oil & Air will be happy to come to your home and calculate your heating and cooling “loads.” They will then be able to recommend a system that is the correct size and model to meet your home’s requirements. Please contact us for more details.

Q: I’ve been buying my oil from someone who sells cheap oil in the area but who doesn’t do equipment service. If I lose my heat, can you help me?

A: As much as we would like to help, our first priority is always to take care of our own customers. Providing our customers with fast, high-quality service (especially in an emergency) is what we are all about. We can’t do this if our technicians are chasing calls at all points on the compass to take care of our competitors’ customers because our competitors can’t. If you buy your fuel from us, however, it will create an obligation on our part to provide you with quality service.

©2019 Needham Oil & Air, 355R Chestnut Street, Needham, MA 02492
Email: Phone: 781-400-7334
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