November 30, 2021

What to do if You Suspect an Oil Leak in Your Home

Other than checking the fuel gauge to see how much oil is left in the tank, most homeowners don’t tend to give their oil tank much attention. And what most of the 6 million homeowners using oil for heat don’t realize is that oil tanks do not last forever, and they can “spring a leak”.  To make the situation a bit scarier is the location of your tank can make a leak either easier or harder to notice.

A leak in an above ground tank is often noticed by the odor. Even just a small amount of escaped oil will have a very pungent odor. If you notice a smell, you should immediately inspect your tank and look for signs of leakage.

Outdoor and below ground tanks are becoming less and less common due to the environmental risks associated with them. An underground tank can be slowly leaking for years before it’s discovered. Often the leak is discovered when the homeowner notices a significant amount of oil being used each fill.

How to handle an indoor tank leak

  • Call the local Fire Department. Oil is combustible, so if you smell or see oil, contact the local fire department immediately.
  • Open windows and doors. Open any windows and exterior doors to ventilate the area and set up fans to blow the odor outside.
  • Secure the area. Keep everyone, including pets, away from the spill until the proper officials arrive.
  • Move to a safe place. If it’s a large leak, you may need to leave your house for an extended period of time until the health risks from exposure subside. Smelling oil vapors can lead to headaches, dizziness, loss of coordination, euphoria, nausea, and disorientation and can get worse the longer you and your family are exposed. If there are small children or elderly living in the home, it’s saver to find alternative living accommodates at least for a few days.
  • Arrange for clean-up and repair. Depending on how big the spill is, you may need to contact a remediation company to help clean up the mess. Additionally, you’ll need to have your oil tank repaired or replaced, so you should contact your oil supplier and arrange to have a service tech come out immediately. Professionals will know how to clean up the spill area, repair the tank if possible or advise you on a replacement if needed.
  • Call your insurance company. Your homeowner’s policy may cover oil spills, so check your policy and call you agent as soon as possible.

How to handle an outdoor tank leak

  • Test the soil. An environmental expert can do a soil sample to determine if the ground around the tank is contaminated with oil from a leak. It’s the most reliable way to determine a leak.
  • Contact a tank removal contractor. You will need a licensed and insured professional to remove your tank, contact a few and get quotes and references before making your hiring decision.
  • Remove the tank. The process normally takes a few hours and makes a bit of a mess because they need to dig up your yard. Unlike an indoor tank, it is impossible to repair any small leaks in a buried tank.
  • Notify the authorities. Once the contractor has removed the tank and verified the oil spill, they will contract the state authorities and report it. The state will then assign it a case number.
  • Determine the extent of the oil leak. Most likely the contractor can determine this once the tank is removed and determine what steps need to be done to remediate the soil. Additional soil samples will most likely be taken to evaluate the extend of the leak.
  • Call your insurance company. Your homeowner’s policy may cover oil spills, so check your policy and call you agent as soon as possible.
  • Finish the job. The contractor will revisit your home in a day or two with enough clean soil to fill the hole where the tank used to be. They will then perform an onsite analysis of the soil to make sure it complies with the appropriate state standards. They will clean up any mess they have made, and your backyard should look relatively the same as it did before the oil tank was removed. You’ll also need to have a new tank installed above ground.
  • File the paperwork. The contractor will then file a “No Further Action” letter with the state and give you a copy. You should store this with your home’s other relevant documents.

How to prevent oil tank leaks

There are certain steps you can take to prevent oil tank leaks and reduce your risk of exposure and clean-up and repair costs.

  • Protect your fuel lines by putting them under concrete or in protective tubing.
  • Make sure all pipe connections are tight and clean
  • Watch your fuel usage and look for any unexplained increases in usage
  • Monitor the condition of your tanks and lines for signs of age and wear
  • Schedule regular maintenance of your furnace – they also check your tank and oil filter

Have questions about your tank, its condition, or replacing it – give us a call!


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