The oil furnace has been, and continues to be, a common heating solution in areas which are not served by a natural gas service. To run an oil furnace requires an oil tank in which to store the oil and these tanks can be located inside or outside of the home, above ground or below.
Oil Tank Problems?
The problem with oil tanks is that many are corroding from the inside out, so damage is not readily visible until it is severe. Damage often occurs because of condensation that builds up inside the tank. Since oil is lighter than water, the water goes to the bottom of the tank and corrodes the tank wall. Once the corrosion gets severe enough to perforate the tank, oil begins to leak out.
In above ground tanks, leaks are often visible and can be identified and contained before much oil leaks out. There are no age limit restrictions on aboveground fuel oil tanks stipulated by either code or regulation requiring the tank to be replaced, provided that the tank is not leaking.
As underground fuel oil storage tanks are buried, some underground tanks have leaked, out of sight, for years without the owner realizing it. In the process creating far reaching soil contamination. Under Ontario Regulation 213/01 (The Fuel Oil Regulation) the deadline for removal of all newer tanks was Oct. 1, 2009, however the unfortunate reality is that many unknown buried oil tanks still reside on residential properties.
It is important to note that owners of underground tanks are responsible for the costs of removing them, including the cost associated with cleaning up contamination.
To remove an underground tank, you must contact a Technical Standards and Safety Authoriy (TSSA) registered contractor to perform the task. When an underground tank is removed, the soil around the tank must be assessed for possible contamination. If a spill of fuel oil is confirmed then the hired contractor will also assist you with the clean up that is required by law.
What should your home inspector tell you?
If a fuel tank is discovered or suspected, your inspector should advise you to have the tank removed and the extent of the contamination assessed prior to closing on the house so as to not get stuck with a large removal and remediation bill.
Finally, some insurance agencies will not insure a house with an old oil tank. Consult with your insurance company before closing the deal.