Many properties on Long Island have oil tanks on the property, and many are located underground. Installation of underground oil tanks was quite commonplace, but this practice is no longer allowed. With the environmental movement within the last 10 years, many things have changed. Steel oil tanks can rust and are no longer allowed to be buried underground.
When a leak occurs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) must be notified. They assign the property a spill number, and remediation begins. This can be a very costly process, and usually the property owner bears the cost of this cleanup, unless an insurance policy is in place that covers the tank and any leaks that may occur.
When purchasing a home in New York State, if an underground tank is located on the property, then your inspector should notify you of this. If the tank has an oil leak, you not only purchased the property and the oil tank, you have purchased the leak as well. This is why Meticulous Home Inspection recommends oil tank be checked for integrity by a licensed oil heating contractor, and if compromised, abandoned. Abandonment does not necessarily mean removal of the tank. Sand or foam is used to fill the tank after it has been evacuated of oil, and the fill and vent pipes are removed or filled with concrete so no oil can be introduced into the tank. Some municipalities will allow a tank that is composed of fiberglass to be buried, as fiberglass does not rust. However, some municipalities will still not allow a new underground oil tank no matter what type of tank it may be. Check with the local municipality regarding this issue.
Even oil tanks in the basement or crawl space can leak. Older homes that have oil tanks in the basement, crawl space or garage can eventually leak as well due to its age and other factors. Any large vessel that contains liquids like heating oil will get condensation, and then, water in it. Even the tanker truck that delivers the oil has water in the tank from condensation. The water in your oil tank separates from the oil and stays at the bottom of the tank and causes rust which can eventually cause a leak at the bottom of the tank. Oil tanks that are more than 25 years old should be replaced. Any underground oil tank found by Meticulous Home Inspection Corp. on a property will be documented and oil tank abandonment will be recommended if the integrity of the tank has been compromised.
Oil tanks that are poorly installed outside the house, such as on wood blocks in contact with the soil, will be noted in the inspection report. Oil tanks in contact with concrete walls are also not installed correctly. Steel can react with concrete and this point of contact can permit corrosion, and eventually, a leak could occur.
Another item that does not get much attention is the copper oil line from the tank to the point of use (boiler, furnace, water heater, etc). This innocent copper tube which carries the oil from the tank to the boiler, furnace or water heater can also leak, as well as the fittings under the tank, or at the boiler, furnace, or water heater. For many years it was standard practice for oil companies to embed the oil lines in concrete to protect them from damage. This is no longer done by most heating company technicians unless plastic covered copper is used. Copper can react with lime, which is present in all concrete. This reaction can cause leaks, and now most oil heating technicians install polyeythylene covered copper lines instead of regular copper lines to avoid the possibility of leaks.