Before natural gas became available in 1957, many homes were heated by furnace oil. The tank feeding the furnace was stored underground and held between 300 and 1,000 gallons of oil.
Once houses were converted to natural gas, the tanks were often left buried beneath the soil and not all were emptied properly.
The containers rust and can allow oil to leach into the soil. The oil can then find its way into an older home’s perimeter drainage system and flow into the storm sump, resulting in a fuel oil odor inside the home. The oil can also run into a neighbour’s drainage system and cause the same problem.
City staff don’t inspect properties-homeowners must determine on their own whether a tank is buried on their property and have it removed. Tanks must be removed under a permit from the city’s fire prevention office. A homeowner should use a contractor to remove the tank and hire a property surveyor if necessary if no visible signs of a tank are obvious.
A fire inspector checks the site when the tank is pulled out for evidence of soil contamination. Minor contamination may require some soil removal, but the environmental protection branch orders a professional cleanup plan for major problems.
In the past, leaving the abandoned tanks in the ground and filling them with sand was standard practice. But this is not the ideal option because the sand doesn’t always fill all the voids in a tank.
Some insurance companies won’t provide insurance unless a problem tank is addressed. Even homeowners who have been “grandfathered in” by doing business at the same company for years, may be at risk of one day being asked to remove their oil tank.
In a recent case, a homeowner didn’t want to deal with the tank on his property, but the new purchaser wanted to find out whether there was a contamination problem. The homeowner agreed to allow the potential new buyer to take the tank out at his cost. It turned out the soil was badly contaminated and the purchaser backed out of the deal.
The homeowner was left with a huge hole in his back yard and substantial funds would have to be spent to clean it up. There are still legal actions pertaining to this property.
Homeowners might feel little incentive to check out their property for tanks out of fear they could face a costly removal and cleanup. However, this is a worthwhile step.
The tank could be intact today, but it could have a couple of hundred gallons of oil in it – tanks weren’t pumped out when people converted to gas. Eventually, every tank is going to start leaking at some point in time. The faster you can deal with it and get the oil out of the tank, the better. It will significantly lessen your liability in the future.
Pulling up a tank costs $2,000. Environmental consultants, who sign off on a property after analyzing five soils samples, charge about $1,500 to $2,000. Soil removal also costs more money.
Estimates of total costs run between $5,000 and $10,000.
The two main visual clues are filler pipes or vent pipes along the exterior of the home. There are often cut off over the years, making meter detection the primary means of locating a possible oil tank. Other signs can be cut-off feed lines in the basement or furnace room.
Vent lines are often a “goose-neck” style, as seen below:
An oil tank scanning/removal company should always be called, regardless of the visual findings by the home inspector. These companies utilize equipment such as ground scanners and metal detectors, and can provide a certificate stating that nothing was found. Scanning can usually be done in a short period of time (less than 1 hour), and for a nominal charge.
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Author David Fairbairn is a certified, licensed home inspector serving Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. He has been featured in the media and has contributed to "24" Newspaper, and Global TV. He has spent years working with residential and commercial building projects, and holds a Power Engineering License in BC. Why not give him a call for your next Home Inspection? Call 604 395-2795 or email email@example.com today!