The Danger of Home Heating Oil Leaks

oil slick in water

Do you heat with oil? Are you still using a black steel tank to store that oil? A leaking heating oil storage tank is not an issue to be taken lightly. The results could be catastrophic for you and your family.

The Cost of Cleanup & Decontamination

An oil tank leak can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up. It requires specialty personnel to clean and decontaminate the home. Fumes from heating oil (which is essentially the same as diesel fuel) are extremely dangerous and cannot be inhaled in a confined space. Even a small oil discharge causes an immense amount of fumes, so you will have to leave your home during the cleaning process.

And if your property abuts a water source, such as a stream, marshland, a river, the ocean, or your neighbor’s well water, you may end up with Department of Environmental Protection fines on top of the cost of cleanup. (Attention, folks with in-ground oil storage!)

Heating oil leaks could easily lead to bankruptcy. Most homeowners don’t carry extra insurance to cover an oil cleanup, meaning they’ll have to pay out of pocket. The cost of the cleanup could far outweigh the property’s value once the cleanup is done, leaving you with a property worth less than zero.

A Terrible Surprise

We had a claim back in 2002 where the oil truck driver filled up a basement by accident. He did not know the tank was not connected yet — it was new construction, the house was almost done, and the crew left early on Friday without hooking up the fill pipe to the oil tank. It cost over $250k to clean up… and the costs for oil decontamination have risen substantially since then.

What Should You Do?

Replace Your Tank

Black steel oil tanks are commonly used by homeowners. But they rust from the inside out, so many homeowners can’t tell the condition of their tanks, and there’s little-to-no warning if one’s about to leak or pop.

This kind of tank also has a major design flaw: its oil outlet, or nipple, is on the bottom of tank. That means if it gets damaged or knocked off, gravity takes over and WHOOSH, the oil empties into the house.

At Banas & Fickert, we high recommend Roth Double-Wall Oil Tanks over black steel tanks.

Roth oil tanks:

  • Offer greater environmental protection
  • Promise greater safety – no rusting inside or out
  • Exceed safety regulations

And unlike black steel tanks, Roth tanks have their outlets on the top. There’s no risk in the oil pouring out accidentally.

Add Coverage to Your Homeowners Policy

For a reasonable premium, you can add extra coverage to your homeowners policy to protect against potential oil leak damage. The coverage includes property cleanup costs and liability to third party for oil contamination to their water or land. Even if you do upgrade to a Roth Double-Wall Tank, we still advise you to consider this extra coverage.

Next Steps

The average home heating oil tank can last 15-30 years, but that depends on how well its maintained. Whichever kind of tank you have, you should engage an HVAC specialist for routine cleaning, maintenance, and inspections of your heating system. If you would like to learn more about adding extra coverage against oil spills to your homeowners policy, contact us to schedule a consultation.