The failures of oil tanks, used for home heating, are on the rise. Why? Coal use to be the dominant means of home heating prior to oil. Coal was also the fuel used by industries to produce heat and steam. But during the 1930’s, fuel oil for furnaces started to become more commonplace as the coal units were converted. Today, a fuel oil storage tank is at least 80 years old and those installed during the building boom of the 1950’s & 1960’s would be approaching 70 years in age. That means they’re likely in need of replacement. Even tanks 25 years old or younger may need replacement too. This has become a very big issue for homeowners but the same holds true for farmers and other property owners too…and it’s not just oil tanks, it’s all fuel storage tanks.
The problem? — Many of the oil tanks are corroding from the inside out, where the failure is not readily visible. This often occurs from condensation that builds up inside the tank. Since oil is lighter than water, the water goes to the bottom of the tank where they rust / corrode. The first sign of a bad tank could be an odour of oil in the air. There might be rust or corrosion where the legs are welded to the tank. It could be the fuel filter that begins to leak or nozzle plugging that could be a symptom. If they do leak, an oil spill in your basement can be a smelly and messy clean up. If it finds its way into a sump pump or floor drain though, it will undoubtedly make it a very expensive clean up, especially if it gets into wells or ground water systems. If it’s an outside storage tank, where rust and corrosion are more common, a spill can contaminate the soil or make its way into nearby streams or rivers. Buried oil tanks are even a greater problem.
Monitoring and regular inspections of existing fuel storage tanks is a must. Replacement of existing tanks with corrosion resistant ones or ensuring the tanks are located within confinement areas is another possible solution. You can purchase a sensor for your oil tank that will alarm you when it begins to leak.
Some Canadian insurance companies are restricting / limiting coverage or not providing coverage at all to homeowners with fuel storage tanks.
Did you know? — If you own a fuel tank on your property you have a legal responsibility to properly maintain it and to clean up any spills or leaks that may occur. Compensation resulting from damage to your property (or anyone else’s for that matter) as a result of an oil spill can be costly and you likely are not be fully covered for it under your homeowners’ insurance policy. In fact, Now some Canadian insurance companies are restricting / limiting coverage or not providing coverage at all to homeowners with fuel storage tanks.
How can you reduce your chances of an oil spill?
- Have new tanks installed by a registered contractor. Inspecting it regularly can help you avoid the problems associated with oil spills and leakage. Homeowners are required to ensure their tanks are approved, that is, that they fulfill minimum requirements to avoid tank failure. All basement and aboveground tanks should be accessible for inspection.
- For existing basement and above-ground tanks (a) inspect your tank for leaks at least once every year (b) replace your tank if it is more than 30 years old or if you are unsure of its age (c) empty any unused tanks.
- For existing underground tanks it is recommended that you replace your underground tank with an above-ground tank to allow for easier detection of problems. If your tank is underground (a) hire a registered contractor to inspect your tank for leaks at least once a year (b) empty unused tanks (c) if your underground tank has not been used for two or more years or you no longer intend to use it, you are legally required to remove it and also remove any contaminated soil.