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Dealing With Oil Tanks When Buying an Older Home

Underground oil tanks.?! Isn't my job exciting. Well, when I started writing this blog I was wondering how I would get material to write about. That is the good thing about this career. It's something different everyday. So I am writing about experiences that I run into and they aren't always glamourous. I can't make this stuff up, well, if I would hopefully I could come up with something better. ; )

I always recommend getting an inspection on your home. However, inspectors don't inspect oil tanks and sometimes don't even mention these in an inspection. Any house built prior to 1975 is suspected to have or have had an underground oil tank. Older "historic" homes (built pre-1950) may have been converted from a coal furnace to an oil furnace in the 1950's when fuel oil became readily available.

Many older homes still have oil heat or had oil heat at one time in the past before they converted to natural gas or electric heat. If you are buying a home that currently has oil heat, you will still be using the underground oil tank to provide fuel for your furnace. However, the home you are buying (or selling) may have an abandoned underground storage tank. Unused underground oil tanks should be decommissioned or removed to prevent oil contamination of the surrounding soil and ground water. Underground oil tanks could also corrode and collapse, creating a sink hole in the yard.

The picture above demonstrates a sink hole formed from an underground oil tank collapsing. If this tank was closer to the home it could have caused some costly structural damage.

Is there an underground oil tank?

How do you find out if your property has an underground oil tank? Many times there are obvious clues in the basement near the furnace. There may be old oil lines that have been cut, but still stick out of the wall or floor. You may also see oil staining around the furnace area or other indications that the home once had oil heat. Sometimes you may also be able to see a fill cap in your yard.

If you think there is an oil tank in the yard, but do not know where it is located, there are oil tank removal companies that can survey the yard and help you find it. If the fill/vent cap is buried, they can use a metal detector to find it. If the fill cap has been removed, a larger, more sophisticated metal detector can help find it.

Has the oil tank been decommissioned?

In certain states decommissioning has been done under permits. You can search for oil tank decommissioning permits on some state websites. Prior to 1997, permits were not required, so you would have to consult with the current homeowner for any records of the oil tank being decommissioned.

Options for decommissioning oil tanks

Discovering an abandoned oil tank on your property does not mean that it has leaked or caused environmental problems, but the potential is certainly there. Often oil tanks have been abandoned with a considerable amount of heating oil remaining in the tank, so emptying the oil and dealing with your tank now can help prevent future problems and expenses. If the tank has leaked, the Department of Ecology does have reporting requirements based on the extent of the contamination found, and owners can be responsible for cleanup of soil surrounding the tank.

Here are the options for decommissioning an underground oil tank:

  1. Complete Tank Removal – Excavating and removing the tank is the most expensive option, but allows visual inspection of the soil surrounding the tank and more accurate soil testing. This can be a major hassle if the tank is located underneath concrete patios, walkways or decks.

  2. Foam Fill – The oil tank is drained and rinsed and then is filled with polyurethane foam. The foam is inert and maintains the shape of the tank to prevent any future tank collapses.

  3. Slurry Fill – The oil tank is drained and rinsed and then is filled with a lightweight concrete slurry. This prevents future tank collapses, but if the tank ever needed to be removed, the added weight of the concrete will require a crane to lift it out of the ground.

  4. Pump/Clean/Cap – The oil tank is drained, rinsed and capped, but left empty. This is the least expensive option, but it does leave open the possibility that a tank may corrode and collapse, creating a sink hole in the yard and potentially affecting nearby structures.

The picture above demonstrates an oil tank decommissioned by foam.

Oil Tank Advice for Home Buyers and Home Sellers

Here are the key things to remember if you are selling or buying an older home that may have an oil tank:

  1. Home Sellers –If your home has an abandoned oil tank, make sure it is decommissioned before you sell the home and be prepared to provide documentation to the buyer.

  2. Home Buyers – If you suspect that a home has an abandoned oil tank, request that the seller properly decommission the tank to avoid potential future problems and expense. If you suspect that the tank may be leaking into the soil, soil tests around the tank will be needed to test for any contamination.

  3. Home owners with oil heat – Make sure you are currently registered with the Heating Oil Liability Insurance Program, which will defray cleanup costs if you have an oil tank leak in the future.

When buying an older home at this age, be cautious as this may be one of the many situations that can come up. Do not be intimidated to buy an older home as many of these homes are beautiful with character and detail. Be cautious and protect yourself from extensive unnecessary expenses. Make sure to inspect and ask the sellers to take care of issues that could impact the long term value of the home.

XOXO

Stacey Willis, Realtor

Sweet Home ~ Sweet Life

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