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Protect Yourself from the Dangers of Oil Tank Leaks and Spills

Residential heating oil tanks can leak or spill unexpected, creating significant cleanup expenses and causing harm to people, property and the environment. Leaks and spills can occur for a variety of reason including corrosion, overfilling, improper location, and improper installation and maintenance

Inspection Checklist

When inspecting your oil tank, if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, contact a registered technician, licensed installer, or heating service professional (as your province or territory requires) immediately to correct the situation.

Are the oil tank legs unstable or on a shaky foundation?
An ideal foundation is a large, concrete pad with a metal tank stand, firmly bolted down. If frost heaving or ground settling has caused your tank to move or the tank stand legs to sink, have the tank professionally leveled or the foundation addressed immediately.

Are there visible signs of condensation in your oil tank?
Water in the fuel filter is a good sign that condensation is present. As a preventative measure, keep your tank’s oil level full over the summer to lessen condensation.

Are there any signs of rust, weeping, wet spots, or dents on the exterior of the tank?
Surface Rusting may indicate corrosion and that the tank needs to be replaced. Denting or other physical damage can weaken the tank and make it susceptible to rupture and leakage. If there is an indication of internal rust, like a pinhole of a tank leak, notify a registered technician, licensed installer, or heating service professional (as you province or territory requires) immediately. Do not run your hand over rust bubbles or spots on the tank that are damp. Do not attempt to remove rust or paint or clean the sides of your tank – in a corroded tank, the slightest pressure can cause a leak. Instead, use a bright flashlight and a mirror to inspect the underside of your tank. If you see spots or surface rusting contact a registered technician, licensed installer or heating service professional (as your province or territory requires) for an inspection. In particular, if you notice a dark line along the bottom of the tank – it will look like it was done with a marker – the tank is likely on the verge of rupturing and should be replaced immediately.

Are there drips or signs of leakage around the oil filter or valves?
The filter, all fittings and valves should be inspected for rust, corrosion, and other physical defects or mechanical distress. Check for signs of leakage or weeping (a think film of oil around the joints). Ben or pinched lines, cross-threaded fittings, or weeping weld seams on the tank are all possible signs of future system failure.

Is there a danger of snow, ice, or other material falling on the tank or on the product supply line?
Oil tanks and product supply lines outside the home and below a roof slope can be subject to damage from falling ice and pitting for the dripping of water. If possible, have your product supply line professionally re-routed to avoid this hazard or employ a specifically-designed, professionally-installed protective cover. This also holds true for the oil tank itself. An oil tank in an unsafe location should be professionally relocated. If this is not possible, the tank should be protected with solid immovable barriers like steel or concrete posts anchored to the ground.

Is your tank’s vent alarm whistle silent when the tank is being filled? Are there signs of spills around the fill pipe or vent pipe?
Have your tank professionally fitted with a vent alarm whistle, so that when the tank is filling, it whistles; when it stops it signals the tank is full. Pay attention to leaks beneath the tank and from the vent fill pipes following each tank filling. The most effective way to prevent these spills is to ensure ample headspace is retained within the tank – a vent alarm whistle is that best way to insure this.

Are the fill pipe and the vent pipe clogged or restricted?
Make sure the fill and vent pipes are not obstructed. Clear all debris (i.e. snow, leaves, insect nests) away to allow the tank to vent properly and to ensure accessibility for oil delivery. All vent and fill pipes should be professionally fitted with rain or weatherproof caps to prevent water from entering into the oil tank. For vent pipes, a “U-fitting” is the preferred design. Screened vent caps can help prevent insect nest problems. Most fill pipe caps can also be locked to prevent tampering and/or theft of heating oil.

Is the oil-level gauge cracked stuck or frozen? Are there signs of oil around it?
Your oil tank should be fitted with an oil-level gauge during installation. To ensure it is working, monitor it for a few weeks during the winter-if the reading does not change, it may be broker. Broken or malfunctioning gauges should be professionally replaced or repaired. The gauge should be ideally equipped with a heavy steel gauge protector to prevent damage. As gauges are subject to malfunctioning, as mentioned, it is recommended that a vent alarm whistle also be installed as a backup.

Are you detecting any odor from your oil tank?
There should be no odour from a properly installed tank.