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Oil Burners

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Definition

OIL BURNERS ignite the fuel oil and air mixture feeding a furnace or boiler.

Range, complexity of burner technologies
designed to improve fuel efficiency

1. Image of a modern gas or light oil burner

1. Power Flame’s modern gas or light oil burner. Click the image for more information.


Burners are heating technologies that use air/oxygen supplied and integrated with the combustion of a fuel oil or gas. Over the past century, their technologies have continually changed for different fuels and applications, along with the variations and choices in design. They still consist of a head that distributes and directs the flame, a body where gases are passed to the head, and a valve assembly where the proportions of the gas/air mix and volume are controlled. The types of burner technologies include:

  • Atmospheric, gas-only burners that often use high-pressure, liquefied petroleum gas (LP) instead of reticulated natural gas.
  • Nozzle mixing burners mix the gas and air only when discharged from the burner port.
  • Surface mix burners mix the gases at the time of ignition and produce a safer, quieter and more efficient flame.
  • Premix burners use a machined mixing-set and forced air from a blower or compressor. Open premix burners use a steel or cast iron retention-tip. Sealed premix burners use a return intake (RI) castable tunnel or a multiport (MP) tip-mounted into the furnace wall.
  • Radiant or infrared (IR) burners provide heat from a hot, glowing surface that radiates IR energy.
  • Vortex burners can completely incinerate not only fuel gas or oil, but also waste gas or waste oil without leaving any unburnt carbon.

Atomizing is the most important feature to consider when selecting burners. Atomizing burners feature:
  • External-mix steam or steam-assisted pressure-jet atomizers at high outputs and blast atomization at low outputs.
  • Internal-mix steam atomizers have a burner lance that consists of two centric tubes, a one-piece nozzle, and a sealing nut. Steam is supplied through the centre tube and fuel oil through the outer tube.
  • Rotary-cup atomizers are driven at high speeds (about 500 rpm) by an electric motor and heavy-duty belt drive.
  • Low-pressure air atomizers use the primary airflow to force the fuel to rotate.
  • Pressure-jet atomizers use supply-pressure energy to atomize fuel into a spray of finely-dispersed droplets. If adequate fuel pressure is supplied, extremely good combustion results can be achieved.

This wide range of burners is designed to give your boiler, furnace, stove, fireplace, and other applications, for example, good heat output, efficiencies and visual appeal.

Factually Speaking

In More studies in early petroleum history, R.J. Forbes reports, the Astrakan, possibly the first residential oil burner, was used in houses in Russia before 1860. A Russian named Spakowski refined the technology, producing the first nozzle-type oil burner ten years later.

Early central automated heating machinery
needed understanding from homeowners

1. Image of an oil burner, circa 1926

1. The Leiman Bros oil burner, circa 1926.
Click the image for more information.


With central automated home heating would come new noises, aromas, and awareness that something different was going on in the basement. This oil burner by Leiman Bros would be representative of those of the early 20th century, to be found in the homes of well-to-do Canadians.

Including an electric motor, also new for the times, pumps, and a myriad valves and fittings, this burner was mounted on a cast iron tank, supported by four pipe legs. It would be connected by pipes to a firing head mounted on the fire door of the furnace.

While great progress had been made moving toward automated central heating, there was still much more to be done. Oil pump shaft seals would leak fuel oil producing pungent odours throughout the house. The seal on this machine would require constant lubrication, supplied by oil from the self-contained tank under the pump. When the oil ran out a whistle would blow, calling an attendant to add more oil — please.

Crude machines in the home, such as this, represented a major step on the way to automated central heating — machines that operated without the touch of human hand — well almost.

Section Gallery

2. Image of a Leiman fuel oil pump3. Image of an early fuel oil pump that required constant attention

Factually Speaking

A program on the PBS network, Forgotten Inventors, reported that trial and error was the manner in which Amanda Jones came up with an oil burner for furnaces. She patented the device in 1880.

Low pressure oil-atomizing burner:
Early step to automated central heating

1. Image of a 1930s fuel oil pump

1. A state of the art fuel oil pump assembly of
the early 1930s. Click the image for more
information.


By the early 1930s the Canadian automated heating industry was progressing well beyond simple, gravity feed, vaporizing oil-heating equipment. Having developed mechanical, low pressure atomizing machinery, it was ready to move on to more efficient, cleaner and more reliable oil atomizing methods, to be found in the pressure-atomizing “gun”-style technology of the period.

Starting in the mid-1920s, Fess Oil Burners of Canada (later the John Wood Company, Toronto) became an acknowledged leader in the automated home heating industry in Canada. The Fess “J” series of oil burners would be representative of a new generation of highly innovative equipment, taking advantage of emerging engineering know-how and the elite consumer markets in the 1930s.

With new eye-catching industrial styling, polished brass components, and high-gloss black-green enamel finish, the “J,” was targeted at the hearts and minds of Canada”s well-to-do homeowner. It was a superb example of what had become possible, given the advances in oil-atomizing technology, metallurgy, manufacturing, and the fabrication methods of the day.

Section Gallery

2. Detail of automatic oil-pressure control valves3. Detail of oil-filter screen assembly4. Photo of polished brass piping

Factually Speaking

Fess System Co. (aka Petro) was formed when Milton A. Fessler invented an oil burner to burn crude oil that was seeping out of the ground in California.

The conversion oil burner brought
automated central heating to Canadians

1. Image showing a disassembled conversion oil burner

1. The conversion oil burner and its many parts.
Click the image for more information.


In much of Canada the popularization of automated central heating would await the arrival of the high-pressure, fuel-atomizing, gun-style, conversion oil burner. This burner would emerge in the late pre–Second World War years, to move to market dominance in the 1950s to 1960s.

It was a period when most Canadians, those that already enjoyed central heating, would be hand stocking their furnace or boiler with cordwood or coal. The conversion oil burner with its long snout (firing tube) was the ultimate in creativity, innovativeness, and entrepreneurialism, responding to a pent-up market for automated heating, which seemed at the time to be bottomless.

Fess was among the acknowledged leaders in the research and development of this oil-burner style. The market boom led to a manufacturing bonanza for Canadian manufacturers, the sector's golden post–Second World War years.

2. Image of an oil atomizing, gun-style conversion oil burner

2. The oil-atomizing, gun-style conversion oil
burner. Click the image for more information.


As a result, many small start-up companies entered the oil burner conversion market, taking advantage of the readily available supply of component parts. (It was much like the explosion of the computer market, starting in the 1980s, when a myriad of entrepreneurs found themselves producing clones of IBM’s personal computer.) They would produce the needed castings, motors, pumps, fans, couplers, transformers, sundry fitments, tanks and controls required by the wave of small oil burner manufacturers, distributors and jobbers supporting the oil burner technology of the day.

Section Gallery

3. Image of an oil burner showing the smoothly curved lines of Art Deco styling4. Image shows a finely calibrated nozzle that sprays an oil mist5. Image of a high-pressure oil burner nozzle with filter screen6. Oil-air mixing diagram for a hollow ground, high-pressure oil burner nozzle7. Image of choke rings and firing assembly

8. Image of an Inglis high-pressure oil pump9. Image of a high-pressure oil spray nozzle assembly10. Image of an ignition transformer11. Image of a squirrel-cage fan

Factually Speaking

In 1893 J.S. Thurman patented a steam atomizing fuel oil nozzle.

Flame retention head oil burner:
Improved combustion efficiency

1. Diagram comparing a regular burner to a flame-retention head burner

1. Flame-retention head burners mix air and
fuel more efficiently than the cast-iron head
burners they have replaced. Click the image for
more information.


The flame retention head burner was designed long before it was marketed by oil furnace manufacturers in the late 1960s. The flame retention design resulted in a 5 to 15 percent increase in combustion efficiency (less oil consumed) and a drastic reduction in particulate emissions, both popular with customers and environmentalists.

This new burner head created a compact swirling flame zone forced into a tight ball by the higher over-fire air pressure. Heat is markedly higher forcing a more complete oil vaporization, air mixing, and combustion, resulting in a lower volume of flue gas at considerably higher temperatures. The flue gas flow through the furnace heat exchanger is slower so there is more time to transfer heat and the temperature is hotter so heat is transferred at a much higher rate. This accounts for the efficiency increase.

Improvement in the combustion chamber design also led to higher performance efficiency. Oil heat combustion chambers used to be made of heavy fire brick and did a good job of reflecting heat back into the flame, but newer vacuum-formed chambers heated up quickly due to their low mass (about 10 percent of the weight) and reflected a lot more heat back into the combustion zone. These combustion chambers are mere featherweights when compared to the old fire brick and have a fluffy appearance.

Section Gallery

2. Image of a flame-retention head burner

Factually Speaking

Coming to market in 1970, the flame-retention oil burner “increased burner combustion efficiency from 60 percent to 98 percent on conventional furnaces, taking steady-state operating efficiency to 85 percent and 88 percent,” according to a committee of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

The rotary, oil-atomizing fuel pump:
A foundation for efficient oil heating

1. Image of an early fuel oil pump

1. An early fuel oil pump marking the beginnings
of central home heating in Canada in the 1920s.
Click the image for more information.


Canadians value the fundamental stories on which their culture is based. They help us comprehend our times, who we are, how we got here, and the foundation on which we build.

Some of these stories require an appreciation and understanding of automated home heating in Canada. One example is the idea of a practical device created for atomizing fuel oil, so that it could be safely ignited and used to produce heat in the enclosed combustion chamber of a furnace or boiler. The creation and bringing to market of the rotary low-pressure fuel oil pump was another such moment in time. Involved were many innovations and much entrepreneurial inventiveness and risk taking in design and testing, and making good use of available materials and methods.

This 10-pound “toe crushing” pump, with pressure regulator, shown here without its drive shaft was a mere four inches long, and six inches in diameter. It was crafted in forged and machined steel, with brass pressure regulator and carbon rotor blades, all finely machined to close tolerances. The pump would set new standards in engineering design, metallurgy, and manufacturing practice for the 1920s, and become a foundation stone on which the automated space heating industry would be built in Canada.

Section Gallery

2. Detail showing brass pressure-regulating adjustment screw3. Exploded view of the internal construction of an oil pump


Article Sources

Range, complexity of burner technologies designed to improve fuel efficiency

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #113).
  • Permanent Collections, McCord Museum, Montreal, Quebec.
  • Antiques Magazine, March, 1946 issue, p. 156.
  • “Heating Stoves in the Eighteenth Century”, via http://www.en.wikipedia.org.
  • Office of Energy Efficiency | L'Office de l'efficacité énergétique. http://www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca/publications/infosource/home/index.cfm.
  • “Review of gas burner.” Review of gas burner. http://www.gasburnerreviews-online.info (accessed June 20, 2011).

Early central automated heating machinery needed understanding from homeowners

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #024, HD1005L).
  • Leiman Oil Burner: Historical artifact from the HVACR Centre Canada T.H Oliver Collection Accession No. 2003-079.

Low pressure oil-atomizing burner: Early step to automated central heating

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DSCB #26, HD1005N).
  • Historical artifact from the HVACR Centre Canada T.H Oliver Collection Accession No. 2006.143.
  • Fess Oil Burners of Canada, Fess Heat Service and Installation Manual (Toronto and Montreal: n.p., undated, circa 1952).

The conversion oil burner would bring automated central heating to all Canadians

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DSCB #27, HD1005O).
  • Historical artifact from the HVACR Centre Canada T.H Oliver Collection Accession No. 2003-080.
  • Fess Oil Burners of Canada, Fess Heat Service and Installation Manual (Toronto and Montreal: n.p., undated, circa 1952).

Popularization of the conversion oil burner: A bonanza for Canadian manufacturers

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #28. HD1005P).
  • Historical artifact from the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada, T.H Oliver Collection Accession No. 2003-080.

Flame retention head oil burner: Improved combustion efficiency

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #110).
  • "Oilheat America." Oilheat America. http://www.OilHeatAmerica.com (accessed June 20, 2011).
  • Beckett Corp., via http://www.beckettcorp.com.
  • "Office of Energy Efficiency | L'Office de l'efficacité énergétique." Office of Energy Efficiency | L'Office de l'efficacité énergétique. http://www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca (accessed June 20, 2011).

The rotary, oil-atomizing fuel pump: A foundation for efficient oil heating

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DSCB #25, HD1005M).
  • Historical artifact from the HVACR Centre Canada T.H Oliver Collection Accession No. 2006.142.

SIDEBAR: More Burners

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada.

Factually Speaking

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada.
  • R.J. Forbes, More studies in early petroleum history (Netherlands:n.p.,1959), 163, via http://books.google.ca/books..
  • “Forgotten Inventors,” via www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/
  • Legislative Assembly of Ontario | Committees | Committee Transcripts | … - Related web pages http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/home.do.

Image Credits

Range, complexity of burner technologies designed to improve fuel efficiency

  • Power Flame Type C brochure, via https://data.powerflame.com/support/supportdocs/Catalog/pdf/type-c/CGO-Bulletin.pdf (detail).

Early central automated heating machinery needed understanding from homeowners

  • HHCC Historical artefact (Accession No. 2003-079), photographed by Mark Dorlandt Photography, HD1006A-4-2.
  • Ibid., 4-12.
  • Ibid., 4-29.

Low pressure oil-atomizing burner: Early step to automated central heating

  • HHCC Historical artefact (Accession No. 2006-143), photographed by Mark Dorlandt Photography, HD1006A-9-5.
  • Ibid., 9-11.
  • Ibid., 9-10.
  • Ibid., 7-48.

The conversion oil burner brought automated central heating to Canadians

  • HHCC Historical artefact (Accession No. 2003-080), photographed by Mark Dorlandt Photography, HD1006A-3-20.
  • Ibid., 3-35.1.
  • Ibid., 3-33.1.
  • Ibid., 3-43.
  • Ibid., 3-47.
  • Scanned Image File, HD1006A-3-S2.
  • HHCC Historical artefact (Accession No. 2003-080), photographed by Mark Dorlandt Photography, HD1006A-3-2.
  • Ibid., 3-33.
  • Ibid., 3-50.
  • Ibid., 3-29.
  • Ibid., 3-37.

Flame retention head oil burner: Improved combustion efficiency

  • Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) - Office of Energy Efficiency, via http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/english/.
  • Ibid.

The rotary, oil-atomizing fuel pump: A foundation for efficient oil heating

  • HHCC Historical artefact (Accession No. 2006-142), photographed by Mark Dorlandt Photography, HD1006A-10-39.
  • Ibid., 10-41.
  • Ibid.