The cooler days and nights of autumn are upon us and with winter around the corner, we here at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) encourage residents to inspect and assess their home heating oil tanks for potential problems before the upcoming heating season to avoid leaks or spills that can be prevented.
Whether a heating oil tank is located indoors or outdoors, aboveground or underground, spills and leaks 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 a tank owner to liability if neighboring properties are affected by the release. Heating oil releases can also be expensive to clean up and may not be covered by homeowner insurance policies.
Some helpful inspection tips and reminders on what to look for include:
- Check aboveground tanks for signs of rusting on the tank and its structural supports.
- Examine the tank's fill pipe and its feed line to the furnace for leaks.
- Look for signs that the vent line is clogged by ice, snow or debris such as spider or bee nests.
- Check the tank's fill gauge for cracks and to ensure it is not stuck or frozen.
- Observe for any drips, wet spots or other signs of leakage such as oil stains or odors near the tank that may signal a problem.
- And if possible, periodically check underground tanks for ongoing water accumulation, and monitor for abnormal, excess oil usage.
If you think your oil tank may have a problem, contact your oil company for help immediately. It's important to only enlist a professional to perform maintenance or alterations to your heating oil tank system.
Prior to receiving a heating oil delivery, make certain that your home address is clearly visible and the tank's fill pipe is accessible and clearly marked. Consider observing the delivery or ask your delivery person to verify that your tank's overfill vent whistle functions and is not silent. If you cannot be home when the heating oil is delivered, mark the fill pipe with a red flag or marker and inform your oil company of its location.
Lastly, if you have removed or are planning to remove a heating oil tank from your basement, be aware that there are numerous documented cases of heating oil being delivered through fill pipes for basement tanks that no longer exist. To avoid this costly mistake, ensure your tank's fill pipe is also removed. If the fill pipe cannot be removed, then permanently seal it at both ends and inform your oil delivery company that your tank has been removed and no future deliveries should be made to your address.
For more information on home heating oil tanks, including self-inspection checklists for aboveground and underground tanks and information to help homeowners respond to a heating oil release, visit the Home Heating Oil web page on DEP's website at