Underground heating oil tanks can be a major issue for home buyers. Tanks that are no longer in use can be ticking time bombs for home owners. If you should ever decide to sell your home, a bank or the buyer likely will ask for an environmental assessment or the removal of an underground oil tank. Home buyers are now routinely being advised by their lawyers and home-inspection experts to exercise caution when buying a house with an underground storage tank (UST) and perhaps even insisting that the tank be removed or abandoned before sale.
The reason? It’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you plan to sell your home down the line, underground oil tanks are arguably #1 on our list of “Biggest Potential Buyer Turn-offs” because whoever buys the home takes on liability. Depending on your location, state regulations may require your oil tank be removed if it is no longer in use. New York requires all USTs be emptied, cleaned, and rid of all vapors. You can leave the tank in place once it’s cleaned, but the vent line must remain open and intact, the fill line must either be removed or plugged, and written proof must be provided, assuring that the tank was properly abandoned. However, the State of New York is a proponent for tank removal.
It is common knowledge that steel tanks can break down after 20 to 25 years, and if oil leaches out from them and seeps into the groundwater, it can poison the water in the well, contaminate any adjacent wetlands and otherwise degrade the soil around it.
Understandably, the fines are heavy. Remediation of a spill can cost tens of thousands of dollars if not more for tearing out the tank and removing all the contaminated dirt around it. The odds are that an underground tank 10 or 15 years old probably is not leaking, but you cannot know for sure without testing. It is far better to remove or “abandon” the tank properly. Removal can cost from $1000 to $5,000 depending on the size of the tank, its condition, and how easily it can be reached.
Finding buried oil tanks
Sometimes a visual inspection is all it takes to spot a buried tank. Look for a filler or vent pipe sticking out of the ground or a foundation wall. Or you might see copper pipelines coming through the wall behind the furnace or boiler. Inspection companies can use sound waves to determine where an underground tank is buried. The equipment used works like a metal detector to pinpoint a buried object.
Removal or abandonment.
If it is determined that an underground tank is present, local law dictates what can be done. The general rule is that a tank not being used should either be removed or properly abandoned. Generally, the most practical strategy is abandonment.
To determine which course to take, check online for environmental contractors in your area or contact your oil company. Get cost estimates from several contractors. They can provide you with an accurate estimate by visiting your home to determine both where your tank is located and whether there are obstacles to getting the job done. Compare services and be sure to check references. As with any substantial home improvement, get a written cost estimate and a contract that outlines the services to be performed before work begin.
Properly abandoning an oil tank involves several steps. First, your technician will make sure the tank is empty and, if not, pump out any remaining oil. Then he will excavate down to the top of the tank, cut it open and get inside the tank to clean it out. The technician inspects the tank for leaks, which if present could require removal of the tank and any contaminated soil. If no leaks are found, the tank can be filled with an inert material. Materials used can be either sand, foam, or concrete slurry, and then back-fill the hole.
In those instances where a homeowner removes a tank but has nowhere to put a replacement, burying the new tank may be the only option available. With newer tanks and modern technology, however, that does not present a problem. Fiberglass tanks and corrosion-resistant metal tanks can remain buried underground for up to 200 years without deteriorating.
All underground oil tanks have a lifespan. Whether a tank under your house will corrode and leak after 20 years, 30 years, or 40 years, the fact is, it will fail someday. The best way to be sure it won’t fail under your liability is to have it professionally removed.