What To Do If Your Oil Tank Is Leaking

For the approximately six million American householders who use oil heating, understanding exactly what to do if your tank is compromised will save stress, time, and money.

Remember that your course of action will be determined by the type and size of your oil tank. Indoor and outdoor oil tanks will require different approaches, as will above ground tanks (ASTs) and buried tanks.

Although prevention is better than cure, when you have already identified that your oil tank is leaking, here is what you should do.

First, identify the leak, and determine its extent

In above ground tanks, indoor or outdoor, your first clue that you are dealing with a leak will be the smell of oil, and you may be able to see it when you inspect your tank.

It is much easier to identify leaks and determine their extent in above ground tanks, as they are easily accessible and visible.

It's slightly trickier with buried tanks. When these leak, discovering the breach may require close attention to slight increases in fuel bills or an unexplained change in the amount of fuel a household consumes. For these reasons, an underground leak can go unnoticed for years.

If you are suspicious, check the sump pump in your home; because oil rises, leaked heating oil should be identifiable in the water.

If you have an indoor tank

Be mindful of fire risk and the potential health risk of fumes. To minimize risks, ventilate your home, especially the area around the tank itself.

Don’t go near the tank or try to repair it yourself. You should contact a professional to do this for you. Oil clean-up contractors will be able to fix the leak and deal with the problem, so ask one to help you as soon as possible.

If your leak is severe, consider moving out for a few days until the problem can be addressed.

Finally, when your leak has been dealt with, contact your home insurance provider, as they will likely be able to help with the costs you have incurred.

If you have an outdoor tank

Your leak will be more expensive to fix, so minimize the damage by acting quickly.

Report the leak to the authorities. Oil leaching into the soil can be hazardous to the environment, so local authorities need to assess this and keep track of it.

Samples may need to be taken from the soil around your tank. If your tank was buried, this process will be more involved. You can hire someone to take soil samples for you.

Contact state certified removers to deal with your tank. When the tank has been removed and replaced, the removers will clean up your garden or yard.

Contact your home insurance providers to claim some or all of your costs back.

Remember to follow up with authorities about your oil leak. If they give you a 'No Further Action' letter, keep it safe with your home documents as you might need it to prove that your oil leak was dealt with in an environmentally responsible way, for example, if you want to move home in the future.

Preventing future leaks

To save yourself hassle, remember these steps, which minimize the risk of oil tank leaks.

Remove oil tanks when switching to a different heating source

It’s always a good idea to deal with unused and old oil tanks as soon as possible. If you don’t, you will simply be delaying the problem and increasing the price you’ll pay later on. Old tanks will corrode and leach into the soil, and this becomes more likely the longer they are there. If you don’t want to pay to remove an old tank, consider removing the fuel from it, and sealing it with cement or sand.

Protect and insulate fuel oil lines

Paying attention to fuel oil lines will reduce your risk of leaks. Make a habit of checking them and consider fitting new insulation on them periodically.

Don’t put your tank out of mind just because it’s out of sight

Even if your tank isn’t buried, you probably don’t see it much. It might be in the basement, or in a distant corner of your yard. The lack of proximity to their tanks can cause householders to forget about them entirely. Make a mental note to regularly inspect your tanks.

Schedule regular maintenance, at least once a year

This is sensible not just for prevention, but also because it will save you money on your heating bills.

Check your heating bills and fuel consumption for unexplained irregularities

Being familiar with how much you usually spend and consume will help you identify leaks.

Consider installing a spill and overflow device on your AST

This will go a long way to preventing future oil leaks.

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