Getting to the Bottom of Residential Heating Fuel Oil Consumption

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Photo by Jeff Fisher
ACEP researcher Alana Vilagi demonstrates the flow meter test bench in the Design Lab.

Do you know how much heating fuel oil you use to keep your home warm?

It is surprisingly challenging to monitor and collect data on heating fuel oil use at the residential level. That is because many in-line flow meters are intended for commercial or industrial applications with flow rates greater than one gallon per hour and do not have data-logging capabilities.

To address this challenge, a team of ACEP researchers are now exploring residential energy consumption data collection. With funding from the Office of Naval Research ARCTIC program, Alana Vilagi, Baxter Bond and Jeremy VanderMeer have set to work to build a test bench for the flow meters.

Vilagi first created a test bench to emulate the operation of a Toyostove, a commonly used fuel-oil vented heater in Alaska, and is currently evaluating the accuracy of several in-line low-flow meters in ACEP’s Design Lab to determine whether they are suitable for residential applications. Bond programed an Arduino Uno microcontroller to control fuel pump operations, which imitates a Toyostove operating in high-, medium- and low-burn settings. This level of control allows researchers to compare the volumetric flow rate delivered by the heater’s fuel pump with the in-line flow meter measurements.

The next step is to develop a data logger, which is a difficult task familiar to those who work with sensors. Ideally, data will be stored locally on the device in addition to being transmitted to the cloud or a server. As the cellular network and internet reliability in Alaska communities can be unstable, especially outside of the Railbelt region, ensuring redundancy in data collection is essential to weather the unpredictable nature of Northern fieldwork.

This ARCTIC program research effort is sponsored by the Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research under ONR award number N00014-22-1-2049.