In the 1930s, heating oil was the most economical way to fuel home furnaces. The oil was delivered to the home as needed and stored in a tank located in the basement, outside the house, or buried in the yard. Some homes are still heated with oil furnaces. Here are some things to know about underground oil tanks.

What if I’m Using an Underground Oil Tank?

Some homes still have oil heating systems in place. If your home has an underground fuel tank, check any local ordinances about underground oil tanks and have your soil tested periodically to make sure that there are no signs of a fuel leak.

How do I Know if I Have an Underground Oil Tank?

If you live in or are considering purchasing an older home, there are some ways to find out if an underground oil tank was in use.

  • The seller may have records of any oil storage tanks and locations.
  • You may see disconnected pipes or other fittings near the current furnace that were previously used for an oil furnace.
  • Your local city hall sometimes has ordinances in place and will keep records on any maintenance performed on underground oil tanks.
  • The cap on top of the tank may still be visible in the yard.
  • Metal detectors can be used to find the caps and the tanks themselves.

Should I be Concerned if I Find an Underground Tank?

An underground tank means that at some point, the home’s heating system was converted from oil to either gas or electric. Underground oil tanks themselves aren’t the problem. It’s the way that they were disconnected that may be a concern.

  • If there was any oil left in the tank, it could be seeping out and contaminating the surrounding soil.
  • The tanks can corrode over time, causing the soil above the tank to collapse.
  • Both the corrosion and the oil can contaminate groundwater.
  • Some communities will levy fines on property owners with a leaking underground oil tank.

What Should I Do if I Find One Buried in the Yard?

You’ll want to get the details about the furnace conversion process. If there aren’t any records with the home, there could be public records available on the underground oil tanks in the community. You can also hire a professional to inspect the tank. Try to find out if the tank was decommissioned.

How are Underground Oil Tanks Decommissioned?

Decommissioning is basically a method of making sure that underground oil tanks aren’t contaminating the environment or in danger of collapsing. There are four different ways it can be done.

  • Empty and clean: If the tank isn’t corroding, it is thoroughly scrubbed, making sure that all of the oil residues are removed. The tank is then resealed and left alone. The chances of a collapse are lower if the tank is chemically cleaned.
  • Polyurethane foam: The tank could also be cleaned and filled with foam. The foam would create a strong interior surface making a collapse very unlikely.
  • Cement: If the tank is located in a place where it would never need to be moved, it could be filled with cement. This is a great option for making sure the tank is safe.
  • Removal: Excavation of a fuel oil tank is an option to remove it from the property entirely.

American Dream Home Inspections provides home inspections to New Jersey. Contact us to schedule an inspection.