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Residential Home Heating Oil

Residential heating oil tanks are tanks that store fuel oil to provide space heating on a property used primarily for dwelling purposes. Heating oil tanks may be located aboveground (outside or in the basement) or underground (buried) on a property. Whether a heating oil tank is aboveground or underground, spills or leaks of heating oil can potentially occur during the tank's lifetime. When released indoors, heating oil can damage both a home and its contents and cause health problems. When released to the environment, heating oil can pollute drinking water supplies, contaminate soils and expose the tank owner to liability if neighboring properties are affected by the release. Heating oil releases can also be expensive to clean up. But with proper tank management, spills and leaks can be avoided.

This webpage has been created to help homeowners with aboveground or underground home heating oil tanks, municipalities and elected officials looking for information to help constituents, as well as heating oil distributors. 


The best way to minimize the adverse effects and costs of heating oil releases is to prevent them from occurring. Routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs are the keys to prevention. Self-inspection checklists for both aboveground and underground heating oil tanks are available in DEP fact sheet, Tips for Residential Heating Oil Tank Owners, and pamphlet, Helpful Tips for Heating Oil Tanks, to help you determine if your tank needs attention.

Tank owners should make certain that the home address is clearly visible and the tank's fill line is clearly marked when heating oil is delivered. If you cannot be home when heating oil is delivered, mark the fill pipe with a red flag or marker and inform your heating oil distributor of its location.

If a spill or leak does occur from your tank, prompt action to stop, contain and clean up the released heating oil can greatly reduce or eliminate adverse impacts to property, health, and the environment. Information to help homeowners respond to a heating oil release is available in DEP booklet, Home Heating Oil Releases. Please contact your regional DEP office for further assistance. Many local fire departments, heating oil distributors or spill response professionals can respond with materials to help contain the heating oil release and recover any free-standing heating oil. Find out who provides this type of assistance in the local area and have emergency contact numbers handy in the event of a release.

Owners of underground heating oil tanks should consider the following tips when planning to decommission and remove the underground tank from the property:

  • Contact at least two reputable environmental professionals and obtain written quotes for the tank removal and contaminated soil cleanup, if necessary. Request the same information from each contractor so the quotes may be compared.
  • The person performing the excavation is required to contact PA OneCall (8-1-1 or 800-242-1776) to mark underground utilities prior to digging.
  • After the tank is removed, make sure it is inspected for any holes or signs of corrosion, and look for indications of a leak, like staining or vapors in the excavation.
  • If any contamination is observed or suspected, notify your regional DEP office. DEP will provide information on proper response and sampling procedures.
  • Ensure the fill pipe and vent line have been removed or grouted to prevent accidental delivery of heating oil. Notify the last known delivery company that the tank has been removed.

Funds are available to help homeowners with environmental cleanup costs due to releases of heating oil from underground tanks. Visit the Underground Heating Oil Tank Cleanup Reimbursement Program webpage for eligibility information and application forms.

Heating Oil Distributors 

To prevent heating oil releases from occurring during delivery, DEP recommends that heating oil distributors always check and confirm the address of the house/tank to which the heating oil delivery is being made. In addition, when fueling a heating oil tank, always remember to remain with the tank while fueling, and listen for the whistle from the vent. If the vent is not whistling, or whistling seems faint, STOP immediately.

In the event a release occurs during delivery, DEP recommends the following:

  • Notify the regional DEP office and the municipality immediately!
  • For minor releases of heating oil, use absorbent materials commonly found in commercially available spill kits to soak up the released oil.
  • Absorbents should be disposed of as soon as they become saturated. Double-bag saturated materials, and seal the bags before properly disposing of them. Contact the local trash hauler for questions about proper disposal of heating oil saturated materials.
  • If soil is impacted, the contaminated soil should be removed and disposed of. Sampling should be performed to verify all contaminated soil has been removed.
  • Prevent heating oil from entering any drains, sewers, manways or waterways. Note and report any discharges.

Print this reminder card to keep in your delivery vehicle: Helpful Tips for Heating Oil Distributors