How to Prime an Oil Burner Pump (DIY)

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We ran out of oil for our furnace last week, which I have since discovered is not a good thing. I knew we were getting low, but with oil at $3.85 a gallon, I was trying to nurse it along to the end of the heating season. Obviously we didn’t make it. When we first ran out, I thought we could get by without heat and fill up the tank later when prices are lower. But after a couple nights with the house temperature dropping into the fifties, I quickly changed my mind.

I called some local oil companies to get a delivery of 20-25 gallons just to get us to the end of the season. No go. Every company had a 100-gallon minimum for delivery, and no one was budging. However, a couple of the companies told me that diesel is actually the same fuel as home heating oil. So I filled up two five gallon containers of diesel at the local gas station and poured them into the tank through the outside fill line. The furnace still wouldn’t start.

I did some poking around online and found out why it is not good to let your tank run dry. First of all, you suck all the sludge from the bottom of your oil tank into your oil lines, filters, strainer and nozzle. And secondly, you usually lose your prime. Well, I didn’t know what to do about the first problem, and I am not much of a fix-it-man, but I did some more searching online for how to prime the oil burner pump. Here are the basic DIY (Do It Yourself) instructions:

First, make sure that your thermostat is turned on. Then, 1) turn off your furnace, 2) open the bleeder valve on the fuel pump, 3) turn the furnace back on, 4) allow air, oil and sludge to escape from the bleeder valve until you get a solid flow of oil (be sure to catch the escaping oil in some kind of container), 5) close the bleeder valve, 6) repeat the whole procedure if the furnace still does not start.

I found a couple articles explaining this procedure in detail, but the best one by far was this one at WikiHow: How to Restart a Furnace After Running out of Oil. The other articles instructed me to hold a container under the valve when you opened it to catch the oil that would come spurting out. But this WikiHow article gave me the best tip of all — run a short section of 1/4″ nylon tubing from the bleeder valve to the container. I picked up a two-foot section of nylon tubing at the hardware store for 80 cents and went home to bleed the fuel line and prime the pump. The tubing worked perfectly and prevented a huge mess of oil everywhere.

The instructions online told me this was about a five minute procedure. I multiply estimated times for projects by a factor of six, so I guessed it would take me about half an hour to get this done. And it did! But the furnace is running again, and we now have heat to warm up the house in the morning. I would refer you to the WikHow article referenced above for complete instructions, but here are some helpful hints I learned along the way:

  1. Don’t let your tank run dry.
  2. You can substitute diesel for home heating oil in a pinch. (Five gallons of fuel will give you about five hours of running use.)
  3. The bleeder valve is located on the side of the fuel pump, pointing down diagonally, usually at the 4 or 8 o’clock position. It most likely takes a 3/8 inch wrench.
  4. Run 1/4″ clear nylon tubing (1/4″ inside measurement; 3/8″ outside measurement) from the bleeder valve to the catch container to prevent a mess. Clear tubing will allow you to see when you get a good flow of oil going from the pump.
  5. You may have to repeat the procedure several times to get the prime going. I didn’t get any oil flowing until the sixth try.
  6. If your reset button is in lockout mode (mine was), you will have to press and hold it for about 40 seconds in order to reset it.
  7. You can take the oil you capture in the container and pour it back into your tank.

If you came to this article looking for information, I hope that helps. I am not very good at this stuff, so I am guessing if I could get my oil pump primed and running again, so can you!

Click here for more Helpful Hints.


  1. Jeff says:

    Come on Ray, why didn’t you just open the windows and let some of that Al Gore Global Warmair in?

  2. Barrie says:

    Gee Ray, You are a man of many talents. Glad your efforts were rewarded with success.

  3. Ray Fowler says:

    Jeff – If I had known Al was in the neighborhood, I just might have!

    Barrie – The funny thing is (there’s always an irony, right?) that right after I fixed it, the outside temperature jumped up into the seventies. It even broke eighty today! Oh well, at least it is fixed for next year.

  4. john from Jersey says:

    very good info MANY thanks
    just what I needed

  5. Ray Fowler says:

    John from Jersey – Glad to help out. May your house be warm tonight.

  6. Ms. Sevil from LI says:

    I also let oil run out, twice in fact. Having a professional prime the burner is costly. My burner is out now but the tank is 5/8 full.
    I had called a company called US Chimney to clean the flue this morning. Instead of a clean chimney I got a $2400 estimate for a supposedly much needed liner. Once they left the burner had stopped working and the reset button was in the lock out mode.

    Encouraged by the instructions you have outlined I was going to attempt to prime the pump myself but I figured I’d try the easy fix first. I put to use what learned; I pressed the reset button for 40 seconds – Motor turned on the 4th try.

    Many, many thanks to you.

  7. Ray Fowler says:

    Ms. Sevil – Woo hoo! That is great! I am so glad you were able to get it going again yourself. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Debbie says:

    I just put $900 of oil in my tank after I unknowingly let it run out….hey at that price I’m sure it wont be the last time. My heater wouldn’t ignite…no more money left to call a repair man!!!!I read your blog, and followed your directions to prime the boiler. WOW! I did it!
    I want to thank you..God Bless You for sharing your knowledge without expecting anything back. That is rare. Thank -You

  9. Ray Fowler says:

    Debbie – Good for you! It is a great feeling of accomplishment when we attempt something unfamiliar and actually succeed. I am glad you found the instructions helpful and glad you were able to get your burner going again.

  10. natefmx says:

    thank you much i am a HVAC contractor but i dont work on those terrible dirty things but i recently moved into a house that has one and at leaste for this winter had to make it work and yes even being a professional i had the same problem i am glad to have looked at your site

  11. Ray Fowler says:

    natefmx – Glad it worked out for you. Keep warm!

  12. bob graham says:

    You saved me and my marriage ! ( a good thing i think) Ran out of fuel, bled air , then label says ” light flashing .5 seconds = press reset for lockout /// light flashing 2 seconds (my case ) recycle.” What the heck was recycle …only one reset button called oil company and was told there might be another very tiny reset button on the motor itself …never found one. Had instictively held rest button longer but never the 40 seconds.
    thank you.

  13. bob graham says:

    I just got my furnace going …left a comment … only then noticed the web site that helped me was not a furnace company from my google search but from a Christian minister’s support site. Are you related to a Tom Fowler who lived close to Huntington Beach ca. in the early 80’s ? He was a retired engineer who did handyman work often for free to needy people.

  14. Ray Fowler says:

    bob – Hey, I’m always glad to save a marriage! I’m glad you found the article helpful. I don’t know why they don’t print the 40-second recycle instructions right on the lockout switch. I am sure it would save a lot of people a lot of trouble.

    And yes, this probably is a strange article to find on a pastor’s website, but I try to post all sorts of things of interest as I come across them. I don’t know Tom Fowler, but I used to live in Burbank, California from 1984-1988.

    Thanks for stopping by! – Ray

  15. Mike of NE says:

    Thank you so much for posting this information in an easy to read manner, with some additional useful tips.

    It worked perfectly for me. My wife will be enjoying a warm shower again very soon. πŸ™‚

    One key thing to note in the order of steps that I missed the first time is to leave the bleeder valve open when pressing the reset button, and then once you have a good stream, you may need to hit reset one more time after closing the bleeder valve if it cuts out before you can get it closed.

  16. Ray Fowler says:

    Mike – Thanks for the clarification on leaving the bleeder valve open when pressing the reset button. Very important.

  17. J Mac says:

    Here it was, New Year’s Eve as I sat beside my wife in front of the TV watching the Canada/U.S. Junior Hockey game saying – “It must be getting very cold outside, I can feel it in the house”. I got up to check the thermostat and it was a few degrees lower than I normally set it and I couldn’t hear the furnace. Oh oh!

    Four or five years ago, we were forced by the insurance company to replace the oil tank, which was probably 50-plus years old. There were no problems but that is their way to make sure there are even fewer oil spill problems, especially with a 200 gallon tank that was in the basement. So we changed it but we decided to install the tank outdoors just in case the insurance company decided 5 years down the road to force us to move the tank outside.

    We are in Northern Ontario, Canada and it sometimes gets quite cold and this creates other problems for an outdoor tank – like water in the bottom of the oil tank.

    This same problem happened a couple of years ago and it turned out that the line was frozen and oil was not getting to the burner. My wife watched the mechanic pour boiling water on the outside line from the bottom of the tank to thaw it out. Eventually the repairman got it going but we weren’t sure what he did after thawing the line.

    So during last night’s game I was boiling water and pouring it as best I could on the exposed oil line outside. After a few pours I cracked open the line in the basement between the filter and the pump and I was getting oil but no ignition. I set up some electric heaters around the house and went to bed after seeing watching count the ball down.

    As soon as I awoke, which was around 4 am I went online to look for a solution because the last time this happened it cost around $100. Today is a holiday so I expected that it might be $200 or more this time around.

    I found this site along with Wikihow and eHow with this solution and I decided to be brave and take a shot at it. I didn’t have a rubber hose but I had an old piece of extension cord that I cut into about a 15″ piece. I then pulled out the insides and cleaned it out, then tried it on the bleeder screw. The old rubber was very stiff and it almost fit but in order to get it to fit better I heated the end of the hose in boiling water and then slipped it over the nipple. I had already loosened and then snugged the bleed screw back up by hand. I had an empty paint pail and I was ready for action.

    I looked inside the combustion chamber previously to make sure there was no oil laying in there, I made sure the thermostat was set higher than the room temperature and I made sure I knew how to shut the burner motor off in case anything went wrong. I was alone doing thise so there couldn’t be any mistakes.

    Now the moment of truth … I hit the reset button while I opened the bleed screw. Air and oil came out of the hose into the paint can, coughing and sputtering a bit at first and then it began to flow smoothly and evenly. Once the flow was good, I carefully closed the bleed screw and once it was closed the burner lit and I was back in business!!

    I know this is a long-winded response but I had to share my satisfaction at saving probably $200 on this repair bill. And I would especially like to thank Ray Fowler and people like him, who have taken the time to put helpful articles like this one on the net for all to benefit from.

    Thank you Ray Fowler and I hope you and your family have a great New Year. And a Happy New Year to all. I hope 2009 ends better than 2008 did for some people!!

  18. Ray Fowler says:

    J Mac – It is responses like yours that make it all worthwhile. And I am very impressed at your ingenuity in using an old extension chord for a rubber hose. Now that is truly Do-It-Yourself! All the best to you and yours for the New Year.

  19. Dale says:

    Thanks a million man! That worked like a charm

  20. Jim says:

    The 40 second hold on the reset button saved me a Service call. It hit -20 here last night and pipe froze, house dropped to 48 before we realized what was going on. Called 2 places for service and went outside with a hairdryer for an hour( 7a.m. 4 degrees)to try to thaw the line. wouldn’t reset. Broke out the propane torch. 2 hours of heating lines and trying to bleed. Still locked out. Really wanted the service guys to show up! Finally, typed frozen lines in the search engine and you popped up. held the button for 40 seconds and presto!!! Thank you sooooooo much for posting this info. Also had the pleasure of turning one of the repair guys away 15 minutes after reading this article.

  21. Ray Fowler says:

    Dale – Glad it worked for you!

    Jim – Great story. I don’t envy you standing outside with a hairdryer at 7am in 4 degree weather. I’m glad you got the furnace to reset before the service guys showed up.

  22. Dani says:

    Hi Ray,

    With money tight, I kept putting off ordering more oil, and then foolishly ran out the other night. Thankfully I have good friends, who loaned our family some space heaters to get through the night. But, when I couldn’t get the furnace going the next AM after the oil was delivered, I was confused. My husband had already left for work and thought I’d try and find something online before calling a repair man. I stumbled across this article and from your directions I was able to find the bleeder valve and voila! As a woman, it felt downright empowering to be able to get it running again on my own. (Plus, it did assuage some guilt of having gotten in this position in the first place).
    Thanks so much!

  23. Ray Fowler says:

    Dani – You’re welcome! Isn’t it a great feeling fixing something yourself? And that reminds me. My oil tank is getting low. I better order some before I have to follow my own instructions all over again!

  24. Brijesh Shah says:

    Thanks a lot to Ray. This article was very helpful. Saved lots of money and on top of that we have heat in our house.


  25. Ray Fowler says:

    Brijesh – You’re welcome!

  26. Robin says:

    I just moved to the east coast for the first time, and had never even heard of an oil furnace much less seen one. This morning I received my second oil delivery of the year, and nothing. No heat. I called the company and they quoted me $150 to come fix it. More from an absolute lack of ability rather than unwillingness to pay, I went on the hunt for information. I found your site. An hour later, lo and behold, the girl who didn’t know oil heat from a hole in the ground now has a toasty warm apartment! THANK YOU so much for this great information!

  27. Ray Fowler says:

    Robin – Yet another oil burner success story! Thanks for sharing. (And welcome East – sorry about the snow!)

  28. Harry says:

    I have an oil furnace and on the burner cover it says Mectron 3 and the name Riello. I let it run or of oil by mistake as it is only used when I need to bump up the heat in my tool barn/shed. I have oil and lots of “spark” but I can not get it to ignite. If you have any info as to why I would appreciate it. I am burning mostly diesel fuel with a little kerosene mixed in. I have the burner out and I can see what it is doing when it is trying to fire. I am aware of the hazards but it was the only way I could see what the unit was doing. Fire fighters are probably the worst for taking changes. πŸ™‚

  29. Ray Fowler says:

    Harry – I wish I knew. Did you try to prime the pump as in the instructions above? Does anyone else have any ideas?

  30. Harry says:

    Thanks for the reply. I do have good flow out the end as I have it set up to fire outside the furnace so I can watch it. The oil sprays nicely in a cloud and I can see the spark being “blown” by the spray of the oil. I would have thought that the spark would have ignited the oil spray but it just cuts off after a few seconds of spraying the oil while the ignition is sparking.

  31. Ray Fowler says:

    I’m stumped. Anybody?

  32. Rob says:

    Harry, it sounds as tho your oil nozzle may be clogged and not spraying in the correct pattern to ignite. Also for those wondering about the 40 sec reset lockout. This was put there intentionally to keep homeowners from hitting the reset too many times. Hitting the reset multiple times is not a problem if your oil pump isn’t primed, but if it is and you’re spraying oil into the furnace and it isn’t igniting (seperate problem all together) you could create quite a hazardous situation if the furnace did actually ignite after hitting the reset 3-4 times. Great guide for priming an oil pump tho, as a hvac contractor i wish everyone were able to do this themselves! We do not like giving out hefty repair bills no more than anyone likes to pay them.

  33. Ray Fowler says:

    Rob – Thanks for sharing your input on this. I am glad to hear that you guys really don’t like giving us those big repair bills!

  34. Lauren says:

    I woke up on Sunday morning to a freezing house. After investigation, I found out that my oil tank gauge is stuck at 1/2 tank; however my oil was long gone. Went w/out heat until today-Wed.(oil was delivered on Tues.). Thank you for this website because I certainly did not want the expense of calling someone to get the heat back on. I got the 3/8 wrench, tubing, and container and at this very moment the temperature has climbed from 53 degrees to 67 degrees and counting!!!

    Thanks bunches

  35. Ray Fowler says:

    That’s awesome, Lauren. Thanks for sharing!

  36. Kevin says:

    Hi. My oil burner stopped working 10 days ago. I assumed, as in the past, that it was time to change the filter, which I did. I also changed the nozzle. Could not get the burner to oil. I have 22″ of oil (as measured with a dip stick) in an underground oil tank where full is approx 46 inches. It has not been that cold out. Approx 30 & 40’s F. I tried to prime and prime and still nothing. I replaced oil pump and coupling (motor to pump) thinking this could be it. The coupling was a tad worn but still very much functional. Still could not get oil. Motor is working great. Tried over and over again to bleed/prime system and does not work. I have a two line system. Been working great for 20 years. I then disconnected oil “in” line and hooked up air pressure line to blow line out in case something was plugged in it. I then hooked up a shop vac to the line to try to get oil and could not get any. I am not sure how much suction is required to get the oil flowing. Perhaps a shop vac would not even do it. I don’t know. When I ran [new] pump with inlet line disconnected, the suction seemed low (based up putting my finger by the port) to me but then again I don’t know what normal suction feels like. Anyhow, everything seems to be working correctly except I get no oil. Any suggestions or help?

  37. Ray Fowler says:

    Kevin – I wish I could help you, but I don’t really know anything about this stuff. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

  38. krishnan says:

    I read your post. I did just exactly as mentioned. It took me only 10 minutes and it worked like a charm. thanks a lot Ray!

  39. Ray Fowler says:

    krishnan – Wow, only ten minutes? You must be better at this stuff than the rest of us. Glad the post was helpful to you!

  40. tom connolly says:

    Ray, Thank you. I was intimidated but found you respondants experiences the stuff to stiffen the spine ( may take a few times, don’t give up etc).Now I have heat and hot water.God bless you and your posters.You have a warm spot in the hearts of some in the State of Maine.

  41. Beth says:

    That works!!! Thanks

  42. ed says:

    lucky it was not a ignition problem could have burnt the house down

  43. Ray Fowler says:

    Ed – Don’t leave us hanging, tell us more. Is there a hidden danger in one of the steps above, if so what should we be looking for? I don’t want anyone to do anything foolish, but I don’t want people to be afraid to fix something if they can fix it.

  44. ed says:

    you should be looking for a trained service person. A person with 2 mill. insurance and a truck with 5 thousand dollars of stock and equipment. On call 24/7 willing to spend min.2 hrs any time of day or night to drive to your cold house to rip you off for 100 bucks.A fter reading about auto workers wages i am looking for a better job lol lol . joking a side oil burners are sneaky they stop for a number of reasons. even tec. in canada dont like working on them they are safe but must be understood. picture this,a person thinks they ran out of oil,but are just very low,adds 10 gal and starts to bleed, burner ignition is not working it wont start ,so they keep trying 10 to 15 times ,oil is sprayed into chamber for say 45 sec. each time. the oil will leak thru to floor of furnace. On the 16 time the transformer will ignight. oil vapour has gone up the chimney and soaked everthing there is more fire than you know what to do with. the best is yet to come, now the fan wants to come on. pic. this the heat exchanger is on fire .the inside of the furnace is on fire .the chimney is on are now going to get your duct work cleaned with fire get the pic. not to scare peps .but this did happen to me.I just got there on his last try to start the burner the chimney lite up like a roman candle, very nice,igot the fire out in real damage. soot everwere. cust had no insurance. whole house had to be cleaned even tooth brushes note. i felt so bad i did not charge the next time i come to your house at 2am with knowledge,tools,parts,insurance,to rip you off for 100 think about it . this is not intended to scare peps.oil is safe. Gas in our cars fill then every day no problem. why would peps smoke while filling up .We even have notices posted. thanks for letting me rag onbut this started many years ago .the co i worked for would not let the oil drivers start the burner for fear of liability ed

  45. Ray Fowler says:

    Ed – Thank you for taking the time to give us some more details of what could go wrong. It is some pretty scary stuff.

    I take it you are an oil burner tech, and I hope you didn’t take the comments here as people saying that techs are ripping them off when they charge $100 for a service call. That is a pretty standard fee for any type of call to a home nowadays. However, it is still an expense that people would like to avoid if they can do it themselves.

    Thanks for giving us amateurs some words of caution when we try this stuff by ourselves. And all the best with your business!

  46. Sandee B says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Furnace shut down yesterday, which means no hot water also. Called our service tech, still waiting for a call back and it is now 4:30 Friday afternoon. With 1/2 tank of oil, it would appear I had a clogged filter. Changed out the filter, and then followed your instructions on starting the boiler. Had to bleed the lines twice. But on the second try after the 40 second reset you put in the instructions off she roared. Am I smiling? You bet. Saved myself a 100 dollar service call with a 2 dollar filter and 15 minutes of my time. Not a bad deal. Next I would like to know how to change the nozzle and I think I am all ready to do all my own furnace upkeep, and the heck with Ed the Service Tech on the previous comment. It is nearly summer. I watched my tech do precisely the same things I did, including sitting and waiting for the smoke to die down when the furnace came on. I was assured that would stop by the tech who serviced the furnace in December. It did then and it did now. What I would like to know from Ed what is it he would do so differently?

  47. Ray Fowler says:

    Sandee – Congrats on getting your furnace up and working again. It sure feels great to do something yourself and save some money in the process.

    I wouldn’t dismiss Ed too quickly. I appreciate him taking the time to share with us the cautions that he did. And I am guessing there will be times when my furnace needs repair beyond priming the pump, and then I will be very glad for the Eds out there who have the training and experience I lack.

    Thanks for commenting and all the best!

  48. Wilson says:

    This is a great write-up. The internet has empowered us all with the wealth of knowledge to tackle many tasks we would never attempt to do in the past. This is no exception. However, don’t lose sight of the saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Do take the effort to understand the basic principles and dangers of the device you are working on. Oil burners require fuel, air, and ignition for combustion. This write-up addresses the specific condition of fuel starvation as a result of air in the fuel system commonly caused by running the oil tank dry and is not a cure all for every oil burner issue. Unlike water, fire and electricity are far more dangerous. Be careful, be sensible… know your limits. This is not to scare anybody but a reminder of the potential danger. I’m not a professional… just a well rounded DIYer.

  49. Ray Fowler says:

    Wilson – Thanks for your words of wisdom!

  50. Gerald says:

    wow! Is all i can say…..there is nothing to it. Ray you are the man. After making a service call and waiting for awhile i decided to take action myself. o be honest i didn’t know i was out of oil completely, but after filling the oil tank and getting nothing. I knew there was something wrong but just didnt know what it was. But after reading your post, i started priming on my own. HEAT is on….and i am a happy camper. THANKS RAY

  51. Ray Fowler says:

    Gerald – Thanks for sharing, and I’m glad the instructions worked for you.

  52. Ben Latocki says:

    Thanks! I was able to bleed my system, and it fired right up. You saved me a service call for sure.

  53. john says:

    Lots of good info; I have had to prime an enpty tank before but this time I am afraid it might be something more.
    I opened the bleeder valve and held down the button but all I get is a little air. I have done this fifteen times, Could it be something else?
    My wife and I scrached up enough money to buy 100 gals we
    will not be able to pay a service call

  54. Sia says:

    Just another thank you. My Dad and I were able to read through your expert instructions and the furnace is up and running. So.. thank you from a single Mom with her own house and a Dad who is getting way too old and exhausted to try to figure out a fix for everything that goes wrong around here. You made it easy and saved us tons of grief and money. Hugs!


  55. Ray Fowler says:

    John – Sorry, but I don’t know what else it might be.

    Sia – Glad you were able to get your furnace running again. Keep warm this winter!

  56. ree says:

    last year found your site and it was awesome. now its winter and I immediately remembered your site. once again it worked.thanks so much

  57. Ray Fowler says:

    Ree – What, you ran out of oil again? πŸ™‚ Just kidding. Stay warm, and I hope you have a wonderful winter.

  58. Holly Rusk says:

    Thanks for the tip, oil burner shut down, Husband replaced filter, couldn’t get furnace to reset, your tip of holding it down worked, and we are heating back up now!!! Thanks so much, God Bless and Happy Holidays!!! Holly πŸ™‚

  59. Dave says:

    Ray thanks for the 40 sec advice. It saved me $$ as I was about to call in the service man.

  60. Steve says:

    Ran out of oil because the landlord forgot to call. :/ Had the Oil Co. come and put oil in the tank the morning after Christmas during a snow storm. On the phone they said the oil delivery guy would most likely have to prime the burner in order to get it running.. That was news to him! He didn’t know how to get it running and said a tech would have to come.

    So, instead of calling an emergency tech to come out in a snow storm I found this page. What the heck did I do before the internets?! πŸ˜‰ Well, after a few tries at priming it still didn’t start. However, after the 50 second reset switch method I, my gf, my cats and fish are very warm and happy once again. Thank you!

    A question: When priming I could not get more than a drip of oil every second or two. Shouldn’t I have been able to get a good stream of oil to come out?

  61. Mike says:

    THANK YOU!!!!! I ran out of fuel and could not get them to deliver…..went down to fuel station and got 10 gallons of diesel….did as you instructed…warm house,girlfriend and weekend saved….still thinking of how much I just saved…..Portland is in need of affordable oil tech…

    thank you….

  62. Mary anne says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. They were the most helpful directions I found on the internet. I have never primed my own heater, always paid the oil company. The directions are right on. Thank you again.

  63. Donyale says:

    Thank you!! Your advice you right on, I was able to fix it myself, a woman, lol and it saved me alot of money. Thanks again for your help!

  64. JIm B says:

    Thanks for the instructions. This was even easier than I thought. I was done in less than 5 minutes. Last time this happened I called a heating company and they charged me 150 dollars. Thanks so much!

  65. Ray Fowler says:

    Holly, Dave, Steve, Mike, Mary anne, Donyale and Jim B. – I am glad you found the instructions helpful and were able to get your burners going again. All the best for a safe and warm winter!!

  66. Lesley says:

    Thanks so much for the 40 second rule. Mine was at lockout also after I let the tank run out. I had oil delivered and figured I could prime myself. I kept pushing the reset but nothing them read your article and held for 40 seconds. Now is working great. Many Thanks!!!

  67. Ray Fowler says:

    Hi Lesley, glad it worked for you – keep warm!

  68. Kevin says:

    Hi Ray,
    Thank you for the info on how to prime an oil burner, if we went by the oil furnace company it would have cost $35.00 that my wife and I do not have at the moment to pay them to prime our furnace.

  69. Ray Fowler says:

    Kevin – I’m glad you found the info helpful.

  70. Shawn says:

    Ray, thanks from yet another delinquent simian who chose to cross fingers and hope rather than check the tank indicator. We got some oil today after being out for a few days and my wife is even talking to me again! I’m kidding, she’s not but at least it’s warmer! πŸ™‚

  71. Ray Fowler says:

    Shawn – Been there my friend, along with shivering wife.

  72. Chris says:

    Our oil ran out, and my mother genrously offered to purchase 150 gallons for us (we have a 9 month old). So, they put that in today and the gentleman showed me the re-set button and told me to try it after the oil had setteld for an our. I have pressed re-set numerous times. Even pressed it for 45 seconds. The unit seems to start up and run for about a minute (or a little less) and then stops. I don’t see a flame at all. I have bled the fuel line…there does not seem to be any air and the oil comes through looking nice and clean. We really want to avoid a service call…we avoided getting the oil ourselves precisely because we cannot afford it!!!!

    Any suggestions?

  73. Ray Fowler says:

    Chris – I wish I could help you, but it sounds like you have an additional issue beyond what this article addresses. I hope you find your solution without having to pay for a service call.

  74. Ray,
    So glad I found this web-site. Am a senior citizen and ran out of oil and had it filled Thursday and furnace would not come on after hitting the re-set button several times. I do remember once the oil man had to do it for me and I also knew about bleeding the line but was not quite sure how to do it as I do have limited vision and after reading much here just went down to my basement and held the re-set for the 40 second and then released it and the furnace came on. Your site was very valuable to me and so glad I found it. Thank you so much and God Bless you for the help you give to people.
    Furnace is now running and I just heard the fan come on so we should warm up pretty quickly now. Incidentally oil here in Portland, OR was 3.66 a gallon and I am sure going much higher. And I do have five little rescues here but we were not freezing but were cold and not very comfortable. Thank you so much again for this valuable information.

  75. Greg Diggs says:

    I followed the recommendations listed above and it worked like a charm (your gonna love this stuff when your done)I closed the bleeder valve after each cycle of the oil burner and about 7 bleeds in we had a steady flow (a lot of stop and starts with the flow)!

  76. Jenna says:

    I know this is an old post, but I wanted to say thank you so much! Unfortunately my bleed line is bigger than the 1/4 inch rubber tube, so we just used beer bottles to catch the oil. Only needed to hit the reset once to get a steady stream, the furnace started as I was tightening the bleed line and now we have hot water!

  77. Jose says:

    Thanks for the help. I forgot it was 40 seconds and not 15. I guess after all this rain { 1 week worth } my underground tank has water in it and now I’m in the process of bleeding all the water out. Perhaps it will take me 2hrs :{

  78. Lynn says:

    I too ran out of oil & got diesel to hold us over, but the furnace would not turn on. I pressed the reset button, tried bleeding the valve but nothing happened. I thought my only hope was to call a repairman & spend more money we don’t have. Then I came across your post about holding the reset button down for 40 seconds. It took two tries but then oil started spitting out and the furnace turned on after two tries. I’m so excited & relieved right now!!! Thanks for sharing your story & helping me (and clearly many others!)God bless.

  79. Nick says:

    Worked perfect, took 5min, if that. Thanks!!!

  80. jeff says:

    Thanks for the tips, i’ll leave one in return. Home heating oil, deisel, and kero are all the same thing. Diesel has a dye in it to indicate road taxes have been paid. Kero is cheaper, since ur not paying the road tax.

  81. allen says:

    Me too, me too. I ran out of oil. money’s tight. used 5 gals of diesel to hold over. No fire! Phone call to my diy buddy who said the nozzle is probably clogged. I took off the motor. Probably not a great idea. Got the nozzle off. Even worse idea. really nasty dirty. I used dish soap and hot water and a needle threader wire from my wife’s sewing box to clean out nozzle. I blew a soap bubble through the nozzle, so I knew it was open. [Don’t try this at home, I am a professional . . . idiot] Reinstalled tried to run it with no luck. I was sunk. Called the oil people. You’ll need a “prime and start”. Cost $150 I wondered if there was a diy blog about priming a furnace. Went upstairs. thought that if it wasn’t rocket science, I’d give it a shot. I went to the internet and found your article. I helped my buddy bleed brakes so I knew something about it. Great instructions every body. But the bleeder looks just like the nit on the brake cylinder. At first I thought it was a grease zert.
    1st bleed: dirty black fuel oil Like italian dressing. second: cloudy red; third: foamy oil from the air pocket that came from the space before new oil; 4th time clean clear fuel and before the motor shut off on its own, when I closed the bleed screw with the tube still connected, the furnace turned on immediately.
    the “blood” from the bleed was so nasty, I decided not to save it.

    I agree. If it would have been more complicated, I would have paid someone else to do it. I’ll still have a professional come for the annual service contract.
    Thanks a bunch including all the extra notes and ideas.

  82. Ben says:

    Geez, the “temperatures dropped to the 50’s and we quickly changed our mind”! Wow! It must be nice, lol! Here in Maine, if it’s in the 50’s we don’t even turn the heat on!

  83. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for the tip! Nice to see that many years later this post is still providing a lot of value.

    Took 3 o4 tries to get mine bled well. I have new found respect for my oil repair guy. He usually gets it right away and in about 8 oz of oil!

  84. Sean says:

    Thanks Ray it was so easy I really feel stupid that I paid for a service call the first time we ran out you saved us $127.00

    God Bless

  85. Sean says:

    by the way that’s my wife not me in the Pic.

  86. Brandon says:


    Thank you so much for your thorough breakdown of what to do! I am a first time home buyer with a 2.5 year old son and this did the trick! We ran out of oil yesterday afternoon, and I put some OTR Diesel in to get us going (It was sunday and monday is a holiday, so we’ll be on diesel for a couple of days). I couldn’t get it to fire but I knew fuel was in the lines. I work as an HVAC sales person, but I know so very little about oil.. it’s not something my company sells. Point being, I know what rate the service tech’s comnpanies charge per hour and it’s a travesty what companies charge (the techs deserve good money for coming out in the middle of the night, don’t get me wrong.. companies gouge homeowners and don’t pay tech what they truly deserve). I’d much rather be able to fix my furnace on my own, and with your help I’ve done it! Thank you so much!

  87. Eddie says:

    Life saver is the best way I can describe it.thankyou so much.

  88. Chad says:

    Thank you SOOOO much for this helpful solution. It worked perfectly the very first time! Lesson learned, it won’t happen again…. Thank you!

  89. Craig says:

    I saw someone is this post who used the outer casing of an extension cord since they did not have a 1/4 tube, which I thought was resourceful.
    I was in the same situation but a quick scan of my basement I saw a box of old toys destined for a yard sale or the dump. On the top was a teapot, the spout fit perfectly over the bleeder valve and the curve of the spout directed the oil into the teapot without splashing.
    It would have worked nicely to pour the oil back into the fill pipe of the tank but it was so nasty I disposed of it in accordance with all local regulations.
    Looks like your “40 second” reset tip has saved many people the expense of a service call.

  90. Liz says:

    Thank you so much for this advice. I stupidly tried to wait until oil prices came down…..and ran out. Once the tank was filled I tried to re-set the lock-out with no success. I put a search in for how to prime an oil boiler after you’ve been stupid enough to let it run out and found your site πŸ™‚
    Before I bled the system I thought I’d try holding the lock-out switch for 40 seconds. It took 2 attempts but I now have a working boiler thanks to you πŸ™‚

  91. Chris W says:

    Worked like a charm. Trying to milk what oil was left for payday…NOW I will never let my heating oil run dry again.

  92. Betsy T says:

    My weekend project. Put me on the list of people who let my oil run out. Ran out last April and made it this long before filling. Was hoping 100 gallons would do the trick. It didn’t. I’m hopeful and handier then most. I can do this. I’ve been unemployed for almost 4 years. Can’t call a serviceman… that’s food on the table.. ya know? I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Last time I called for service was over $400. I thought I’d be smart and block the vents in rooms I didn’t need to heat. YOU CAN’T DO THAT WITH AN OIL FURNACE… it’s too hot, it has to exhaust, or it overheats and you break things. Silly me!

  93. Betsy T says:

    You are the master. Thank you so much! It worked, I have heat. Tubing cost $.70 including sales tax. Had to do it 3 times. At first it came out all pink and foamy… I’ve gotta think that’s oil/air mix from having air in the line. When it cleared up it ran great. So relieved knowing I need not fear the weather this year. THANK YOU! You saved me a pile of money I’m sure.

  94. Rich says:

    Quite late to the party… I’d add a few points:

    The location of the bleed valve will vary by manufacturer. Research this in advance or have your service technician show you where it is during the annual maintenance.

    Don’t add the oil back to the tank. It likely has some sludge and/or other contaminants unless you carefully washed the container first. Dispose of it in a safe manner (burning it a little at a time, outside, in a can of cotton rags is effective)

  95. Meri says:

    I did everything you said and the heater came on and ran most of the night. Around 5:30 am it stopped I went down and hit the reset button and it started but some smoke came off the motor area, I turned it off, should I bleed it again or is something else wrong?

  96. Ray Fowler says:

    I wouldn’t mess with it. It sounds like there may be something more serious going on.

  97. Molly says:

    Well, God Bless YOU!!! years later and you are still helping the inept with trivial, yet expensive DIY projects! Whew! I am a recent widow whom was blessed enough to have a truly gifted husband when it came to these little tasks that I so vainly took for granted. Now, embarking on my lonely trip through the remainder of my life, I continue to stumble my way through things like figuring out how to change a light bulb in socket that is 20 some feet in the air….and replacing the broken chain on the toilet tank so i can flush without manually pulling up the stopper….ugh! what do ya know….oil tank empty = no hot water….oil tank full = no hot water….hmmmm. Thank God I found you!! I am going home tonight to try this trick out and see if I can DIY all the way to the bank because I DIDN’T have to call the expensive furnace guy. THanks so much. I will keep you posted. πŸ™‚

  98. Molly says:

    All is well. All I had to do was prime it and press the igniter. Like a charm, it fired up the first time. Thanks so much, again. πŸ™‚

  99. Emilie says:

    Hey Ray! I tried to prime my oil tank following a few instructions online. Yours was by far the most helpful. Thanks! My house is finally warming up after two Vermont days in February without oil!

  100. Michael says:

    Hey There! I just lost my job as a computer consultant and my fiance have been trying to conserve every dollar we can. We rent a house – and the cost of rent and all utilities and to add oil? OMG – oil prices are RIDUCULOUS! So we run our oil tank down to the last gallon usually. I am pretty good with getting oil delivered right when it hits “E”, but this time, I woke up today to find that the furnace had turned off. I am a very hand guy – used to do plumbing, electrical, and carpentry work at my old house I owned. Furnace work was always left to the repair guys. But when I knew I ran dry, and had to prime the pump, I cringed at how much it would cost. Your article saved me God knows how much in a house call! Thanks for the info. Really easy to do, once tried. Once thing I was wondering is if I should have held the reset button for the 35 or so seconds before I primed it. I had to hit the reset button about 5 times to get the flow before closing the bleeder valve. Then I held it for 35 seconds, and the ignitor blaster and the puppy started. I am wondering if I had held the reset button for 35 seconds at the beginning if it would have fired up without the priming? Who knows. Regardless, your infor helped me a lot! Thanks!

  101. Shane says:

    These instructions worked perfectly for me last winter, so I forwarded this link to my brother, who just ran out today. Still cold in Pennsylvania..Thanks again for posting! The most helpful DIY that I’ve used so far!

  102. Brad says:

    Worked like a charm! Thanks, Shane!

  103. Scott says:

    Thanks Ray for the help. I too ran out after trying to conserve the 22 gallons of diesel i added myself, which the Oil Co. Sugested since their min was 100 gal ($500). After I found and opened the bleeder valve I used a plastic water bottle to capture the oil after depressing the set button. It sputtered couple times then ran solid before the reset popped up. That was actually good timing because the bottle started to get full and gave me a chance to close the bleeder screw. Ran fine for the last half hour tonight to get the house from 57 to 60 which doesn’t seem like a lot but was definitely noticeable. It will be great to wake to 65 instead of 53. Scott in Seattle

  104. George says:

    This is great, seems pretty straight forward.

  105. Keith says:

    Ray, Thanks so so much for your knowledge!Let my oil tank run out over the holiday weekend. Had 244 gallons filled… And was still having a problem.. I am the worst DIY handyman in the world, yet after following your directions.. and less than 5 minutes later….. I was taking a HOT SHOWER!! Thanks for making my day… Thanks for saving me a headache and $$$…

    Greatly Appreciated!

  106. loi says:

    question: i’ve seen plumbers bleed the furnace for many years, this time my son and i did it and this was the first time i had seen a creamy looking sludge, then turned pink….why is that? anyway, after few attempts, the furnace worked.

  107. jose Sevilla says:

    If your tank is underground then it looks like your tanks has a leak and water is getting in. It happen to ours which I put up with for 2 years before installing an above ground tank. Water keep shutting off the heat every time it rained , so I placed a large tarp on the grass to limit the amount of water. Didn’t help much.

  108. Eric says:

    Skipped the priming portion, did the 40 sec reset and it worked the first time.

  109. Ella says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! After watching numerous utube videos I still could not start the furnace. After reading this it started right up. I can’t thank you enough for the clear instructions.

  110. Ray Fowler says:

    Ella – You are very welcome!

  111. Gremlin says:

    Bought my first house a couple of years ago from my inlaws….everybody on my wife’s side of the family is/was in the furnace/insulation business.

    Always lived in fear of running out of oil becuase I had no idea how to prime the furnace. Everybody said “Oh it’s easy…anybody can do it” Like anything else…it’s easy if you already know how.

    Preferred not to mess around with anything that involved flame and diesel fuel…last time we had a problem with a hot water heater my son “fixed” it and almost burned the house down.

    Now that I am one of the “Oh it’s easy” people….I feel like a hero when I get the furnace going again. Also kind of a nice feeling when the oil delivery guy asks if I need my furnace primed, and I can say “I know how….thank you for asking”

    I do have one question….the nylon tubing I have been using is starting to crack on one end….so I want to use the other end of the tube….but it really doesn’t fit that well….is there a way to stretch the tube to make it just a tiny bit wider?

  112. Martin says:

    Greetings Ray, thanks so much for posting these detailed instructions and tips. I appreciated your “you can too” statement because I’m definitely not a “handy” guy. FYI – i didn’t have vinyl tubing so ended up using one of those 32oz drink bottles you get at amusement parks (with enlarged straw still in place) and it worked like a charm. So glad you mentioned about the mess-effect if you don’t use tubing of some sort to bleed the line (saw a video online that didn’t tube, was messy!). God bless you for taking the time…and saving our family time and money. We’re in New England and right now it’s very cold here.

  113. Tom Kammerer says:

    u rock! worked like a charm and know saved at least $75 for visit; classic example of how internet is awesome…thx again

  114. Aamir Farooq says:

    I recently had replaced the ignitor on my oil hot water heater furnace. But somehow the unit died again. I trace power going in but wouldn’t run. Referenced youtibe as well as could of other blogs nothing. Stumbled on yours, wallah….second attempt with 40 seconds switch I heard the unit trying to suck oil but shuts down. Opened valve, hit the switch, waited for nice stream and wallah, heard furnace kicked it. Thanks a million for taking time out to share your knowledge and save tons of people a lot of hard earned money and grieve. Hats off for you.

  115. Erika says:

    I ruin out of fuel , my dad change filtre, spray er and filtre in puma i put disel nos it want start is like it just lepes pumping air, bleed all day what could be The problem

  116. Pat james says:

    What if I can’t find a wrench…

  117. Diane says:

    Two days ago I woke and realized the furnace was off. A month ago, I had the same problem which was caused by a frozen line, the cost of repair was over $300. This time, the problem was running out of fuel. After I pay for the oil delivery, I shuddered to think of the additional cost of another repair.Last month I had run across your article and was prepared to try fixing it myself, but was unable to loosen the valve screw, so I called a repairman. Before he found the trouble outside, he opened the valve. This time I knew I could do it, and I did. Thanks to a reader’s comment re pressing the reset button to cause the sludge to come out, I watched the clean fuel start coming out. I turned the furnace on and YES!, it fired up. This took about 15 minutes, after which I got dressed and went to work.THANK YOU RAY.

  118. Ray Fowler says:

    Diane – You’re welcome! I’m glad this 8-year-old article continues to help people who find themselves in the same situation I was in 8 years ago.

  119. Stacey says:

    Like many of the above folks, ran out of oil. Ugh. Unit didn’t restart after pressing the ‘reset’ button so attempted to bleed the line -after the second attempt, had to press the reset for about 30 seconds to get it going.. not a problem; however, bleeding at first produced slow drip, then bubbles and frothy. Attempted to restart -nothing. With future attempts to bleed, nothing coming out of the line. Unscrewed the nut about 6 times with nothing coming out -restart didn’t work. Can I keep attempting to bleed? How much is too much? Thank you!!!

  120. Even when there is oil in the tank from time to time I get no oil flow. This seems like a clunky way to fix it but it’s the best I’ve come up with and have had to do it at least a dozen times over the years: I disconnect the feed line and apply vacuum via plastic tubing until I see oil flow in my trap bottle (adapted from a bug catcher I made long ago, will try to post a photo eventually, here: Then I have to quickly reconnect the feed line which always results in a bit of mess as I have no shut-off valve.

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