Heating Oil Storage – What Every Home Owner Should Know – The BASICS!

There are millions of Underground Storage Tanks (UST’s) located throughout the country and the vast majority of these UST’s are used as the primary source of heating fuel in many of our homes.   Heating oil is widely used for residential consumption because it is readily available and an efficient fuel for heat generation.  In many areas, either propane tanks or underground oil tanks are the only means to store the fuel necessary to provide the essential heat for a home.    However, if you’re heating oil storage system is not properly managed and maintained, problems can, and in many cases, will arise.

There are certain common signs that might indicate a potential problem is brewing with your Underground Storage Tank.  Any of the following conditions listed below, may be cause for concern.

  • The burner won’t fire because there might be water in the tank or an air leak.
  • You notice an increase in fuel consumption, but don’t recall any need for additional heat or hot water
  • You see an oily sheen on the water around your property after a heavy rain.
  • There is an odor in your basement, especially after a rain.

An undetected problem can become very costly; and, at a minimum, you should have your tank tested.  The following three types of typical tests are used to determine if your tank might be a concern.

  1. The most cost effective way to test your tank, as part of your maintenance program, is to regularly check the tank (or have fuel merchant do) with a measuring stick and water paste to identify if any water intrusion had occurred.   This is the least expensive test and should be done at least quarterly.
  2. Another option is an acoustical tightness test.  During this test the tank is isolated from your heating system and then a gentle vacuum is pulled on the tank.  A technician listens for any noise.    If a whistle is heard, it is a potential indication of an above product level leak in the tank.  If a bubble is heard, it is typically an indication of a below product level leak.   No noise is a good sign.
  3. Soil Borings are another commonly used test.  This method can be more expensive if samples need to be sent to a laboratory or drilling equipment is necessary to collect samples.   Soil samples are collected from several locations around the perimeter of the tank.  Samples can be field screened using hand held devices but often require submission to third party testing labs.

If your tank testing supports that there are no current reasons to be concerned GREAT! Then mark that on your UST maintenance program schedule and perform the same tests at regularly scheduled intervals as suggested.  However, if the tank testing suggests that there may be reason for concern, you should respond promptly.

Currently there are insurance companies that specialize in writing policies to insure residential underground heating oil storage tanks, as well as some homeowner policies, that offer special insurance for oil tanks.   However, in all cases you must have insurance in place prior to discovery of a potential oil leak.  Most, if not all, insurance companies require a tank test prior to underwriting the policy and some even require an annual test to renew the policy.  Should a leak occur, most insurance programs will cover the vast majority of the costs associated with the cleanup as well as the regulatory required reporting.   Some of the insurance carriers also have a voluntary removal and replacement program after one or more years of coverage.

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