As a homeowner, you face problems that are potentially dangerous. On Long Island, fire, wind damage, floods, and even hurricanes can damage many parts of your home. But one area you may not have considered is the problem of a leaking oil tank. Depending on whether your oil tank is located inside or outside, the size of the leak and how long it’s been taking place, there is the potential not only for dramatic pollution problems, but some serious costs as well.
What Is an Oil Tank Leak?
Heating oil industry experts estimate about 6 million homes in the United States rely on oil heating. Residential gas tanks normally come in several sizes: 275, 290, 500 or 1,000 gallons. These oil tanks are either inside the home, outside above ground next to the home, or are buried outside in the front or back yards with fuel lines that lead into the furnace.
A leak in an above ground storage tank, or AST, presents in several key ways. First, there is the odor. Even a small cap full of fuel oil has an extremely pungent odor. If you notice a strong oil smell in your home or outside near the tank, you should immediately visually inspect your oil tank and look for signs of oil leakage on the floor or ground.
Leaks in outdoor, buried oil tanks provide a greater challenge to detect. Outdoor fuel tanks are made from steel that will react chemically with surrounding soil over the years, causing small pinhole-sized openings to develop. An outdoor fuel tank can be leaking for years without you ever noticing it. It is more than likely that you won’t notice the fuel bill rising, or when regular fuel delivery doesn’t seem to last quite as long as it did in the past. Only when these things become significantly noticeable will you begin to suspect that there could be an issue with the oil tank.
How Do You Know If Your Oil Tank Is Leaking?
Your response to a leaking oil tank depends on the location of the tank. You’ll need to handle an indoor leak using different methods than an outdoor leak. But once you’ve detected a leak, whether indoors or outdoors, you must deal with it immediately.
Indoor oil tank leak:
It is relatively easy to detect an indoor oil tank leak. If you smell oil and you see it on the floor near or beneath the tank during a visual inspection, you know you have a leak.
Outdoor oil tank leak:
If your neighbor’s well or water supply becomes contaminated, there is an oil tank leak affecting the water table. If your home is the closest to your neighbor’s house, and their tank is OK, there is a good chance yours is leaking.
If you begin construction on a swimming pool or an addition to your home, and the unearthed soil has a strong oil smell, there is a good chance you have an oil leak.
If you have a sump pump in your home, you should check the water in the pump regularly for signs of oil contamination. Since oil is less dense than water, it will always flow to the top. Any heating oil in the water sample means, in all likelihood, your oil tank is leaking.
How to Fix a Leaking Oil Tank
As we noted above, what to do if an oil tank is leaking depends on the location of the tank.
Indoor oil tank leak:
- Notify the fire department: If you smell oil, contact your local fire officials immediately. Oil is combustible, and they need to know there is a potential fire problem.
- Ventilate the area: Immediately open your windows and set up fans to blow any odors outdoors.
- Close off the area to the leak: Until fire officials arrive, don’t let anyone near the leak.
- Protect your family: If the leak is large, possible health risks result from exposure to oil vapors, including headaches, dizziness, loss of coordination, euphoria, nausea and disorientation. These symptoms may even be worse with long-term exposure. Think about moving your family to a relative’s home or a hotel for a day or two while the cleanup is taking place. This advice is especially important if you have children or elderly relatives living in your home.
- Contact an oil cleanup contractor: You are going to need to repair your furnace, or even possibly replace it. This job is not a do-it-yourself project. Professionals will know how to clean up the spill area, repair the tank if possible or advise you on a replacement if needed.
- Contact your insurance company: Many homeowner’s policies will contain provisions for possible oil spills. You should check your policy as soon as possible, and if you have an old oil tank, think about adding protection against oil spills if it is not already in your policy.
Outdoor oil tank leak:
Outdoor leaks pose an infinitely more significant problem than indoor leaks.
Take a soil sample. Contact an environmental expert to do a soil sample from the ground above and around your oil tank. It is probably the most reliable way to determine if an oil tank is leaking.
Once you have done that, there are many other factors that go into how to best handle a leak in a tank that is out of doors. Our best advice is to call us, and we can quickly and accurately assess the situation, and explain the best way to proceed.
Can I Prevent Oil Tank Leaks?
Whether or not you’ve ever had an oil fuel leak, you can take steps to prevent it from happening for the first time or keep it from happening again.
- Place all the fuel oil lines that run from the tank to the furnace under concrete or put them in protective tubing. This step will help eliminate any accidental damage to your fuel lines.
- Make sure all the pipe connections are clean and tight. Another common reason for fuel oil spills is loose connections between sections of few oil pipes.
- Keep an eye on your fuel usage. It’s a good idea to monitor it and compare it to past years. If your oil fuel deliveries don’t seem to be lasting quite as long as they once did, it’s time to investigate.
- Regularly monitor the condition of the fuel tank and the lines. While it is certainly more difficult to monitor an underground oil fuel tank, you need to keep an eye on the age of the tank. If you know your tank is around 20 years old, it’s time to think about replacing it.
- Monitor ASTs regularly. You should check the stability of the legs to make sure they haven’t buckled after years of use. Also, check the ground or the flooring around your above ground tank.
- Install spill and overfill devices on ASTs: These devices prevent spills and overflow when heating oil is delivered. They are easy to install, and an excellent way to ensure no heating oil leaches into the ground.
- Schedule regular maintenance. And by regular, we mean at least yearly — certainly before the start of any season that’s going to require you to heat your home. Maintenance is the best way you can prevent an oil spill or leak. Regular maintenance also helps your furnace operate at peak efficiency, which means you’ll get more heat for less money.
When we come out to perform a regular maintenance service call on your oil tank, we can also inspect your heater, and insure it is in proper working condition. Our winters can be cold, and we don’t want to see you without adequate heat.