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Tanks for All Your Service!

Your oil storage tank gives you a level of security that you don’t get with other fuels. Just as a full pantry or gas tank let you go about your business without worry, a full storage tank means you don’t have to worry about heat or hot water. Last month we reviewed the scientific reasons to keep the tank full over the spring and summer, now let’s take a look at tank safety.

The chance of a release from your oil storage tank is very low. In fact, most indoor, aboveground tanks can have life spans of 20 years or more – but if your tank is located outside and unprotected from the elements, or buried underground, it can deteriorate sooner. In addition, factors such as the thickness and type of material used to fabricate the tank, the quality of the installation, and the condition and maintenance history of your heating system can further affect the tank.

With so many variables, it is imperative that you know the signs of a tank leak, and how to perform your own spot inspections of the tank and surrounding area.

Aboveground tanks typically store 275 gallons of oil. Underground tanks for a home will hold 290 or 500 gallons. As rare as releases are, it is even rarer for a release to occur with a gush of hundreds of gallons of oil. Most releases will be small, but can build over time. Any sign of a release should be reported to your fuel company immediately so they can implement appropriate clean up procedures and notifications. Above all else, always consult a professional at the first sign of a leak.

In general, all homeowners should check:

  • Fuel use. A sharp increase may indicate an issue, especially if the equipment is working properly and has been recently tuned up
  • That the oil/water gauge is functioning
  • For signs of spills, overfills or leakage around the filter, valves, gauge, fill pipe or vent lines
  • For problems with the operation of your heating equipment
  • For dead vegetation in or near the tank fill
  • The condition of the fill cap or vent cap, and have loose or damaged caps repaired/replaced immediately.
  • For petroleum vapors or odors in the basement or crawlspace.

Aboveground tanks can be further inspected visually:

  • Check for rust, weeps, wet spots or excessive dents on the tank surface
  • Look for signs of spills or overfills around the tank or on the floor
  • Confirm the tank support is solid/sturdy

While underground tanks can’t be given a visual inspection, there are safe and accurate testing procedures to confirm the soundness of the tanks. In addition, homeowners should be on the lookout for dead vegetation above the tank site.

Any signs of oil – odors, sheens on water, visible puddles of oil – should be reported to your heating oil provider immediately.

Homeowners can take additional precautions to protect their storage tanks and their property. New aboveground tanks can have “double wall” designs which will contain any leaks from the inner tank within the outer wall. There are also trays and pans for under the tank, or full enclosures which will protect the tank from the elements as well as containing any releases. Some companies also offer tank protection insurance plans, which will offset or cover the cost of a cleanup and/or tank replacement.

With the right care and regular inspections, your oil storage tank can give you years of safe, reliable, and worry-free use.