Oil Tank Removal Washington DC
Oxon Hill, MD
Keeping a Healthy Oil Tank
1. Legs are solid and level 2. No rust, weeps, wet spots or excessive denting 3. No drips or signs of leakage around the filter or valves 4. Oil lines are encased in a protective tubing. 5. Nothing in danger of falling from above (i.e., snow or ice) 6. Vent is open and not clogged by anything 7. Overfill whistle is unobstructed and audible when filling the tank 8. No signs of spillage around the fill pipe 9. No cracks or signs of leakage around the tank gauge
1. Legs are solid and level
2. No rust, weeps, wet spots or excessive denting
3. No drips or signs of leakage around the filter or valves
4. Oil lines are encased in a protective tubing.
5. Nothing in danger of falling from above (i.e., snow or ice)
6. Vent is open and not clogged by anything
7. Overfill whistle is unobstructed and audible when filling the tank
8. No signs of spillage around the fill pipe
9. No cracks or signs of leakage around the tank gauge
When we hear about oil spills, catastrophic accidents involving oceangoing tankers quickly come to mind. Most of us don't think much about oil spills in our homes, but David McCaskill does. McCaskill is an environmental engineer at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. In 2001, his agency responded to 573 spills at single-family homes in Maine that released a total of 39,069 gallons of oil. That's the equivalent of dumping the contents of 142 heating-oil tanks on the ground. "It really frustrates the staff to see this over and over again, new case after new case," McCaskill says.
The frustration isn't confined to Maine. From New England to the Carolinas, in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, wherever homeowners warm their houses with fuel oil or kerosene, home oil spills are a common, costly problem that can pollute groundwater and lower property values. If you heat with fuel oil or kerosene, ask yourself: Is my home next? More to the point, what can you do to keep from becoming a statistic? Quite a bit, it turns out. Most home oil spills can be prevented, the experts say.
The trick is to identify a handful of risk factors that could make your heating system vulnerable to leaks and spills, and correct those shortcomings before trouble occurs. Touring Your Tank First off, it's worth noting that rules and regulations for heating-system installations and tank placement vary from state to state and sometimes town to town. What's legal or customary in one area may be off limits elsewhere, and rules do change.
There are federal regulations for oil-burning equipment, contained in the National Fire Protection Association's Code 31. But it's best to check with your state environmental protection agency or your local fuel-oil dealer to have the latest information for your area. Having said that, everyone can benefit from a quick tank tour.
Trace the route of your fuel-delivery system, from the storage tank to the heating appliance. That's important, because several configurations are possible and potential trouble spots vary with each setup. On your tour, keep a lookout for obvious drips, leaks or wet spots. If you spot trouble, experts suggest that you call your oil dealer or state environmental agency. While many homeowners feel capable of mopping up a small leak, the fact that there is any spilled oil at all could be a sign of a bigger issue that needs professional attention. Basement Tanks Is your tank in the basement or garage? Outside next to the house? Underground? Basement tanks are common in many areas. Often they feed a boiler or furnace through copper tubing run under a concrete cellar floor. Neat and out of sight, this method can cause big problems. "Cement and copper are not friends," says Mark Markarian, educational director for the New England Fuel Institute in Watertown, Mass. "And copper comes out the loser." The lime in cement can eat away at copper over time. The tubing can then leak oil under the basement slab, where detection is difficult.
In Maine, which has some of the country's strictest oil-tank installation rules, this sort of buried piping became illegal in 2000. It has to be replaced with tubing that is sheathed in a protective plastic sleeve that extends out from the basement floor. "If there's a leak," McCaskill explains, "it would run out the sleeve and go on the floor. So you'd know you have a problem." In Massachusetts, all new buried lines also have to be encapsulated.
It's also okay to run the encapsulated tubing above the ground on the floor, along the edge of a wall, for instance. That would make any tubing leak easy to detect, Markarian says. Short of digging up an existing line, Markarian suggests another approach permitted in some states: Have a burner technician install an oil safety valve on the existing line.
An OSV, as contractors sometimes call it, must sense a vacuum to work. If the pump starts pulling air through the line, which would happen with a tube leak, the valve will shut off the flow of oil to the burner. "That's the simplest way out of it," Markarian says. Aboveground Tanks Aboveground tanks installed outside the house are common in some regions. Many homeowners use them in conjunction with efficient K-1 kerosene heaters.
If the tank is installed higher than the heater burner, the fuel can be gravity fed, cutting out the need for a pump. These aboveground installations, however, are fraught with risks. One typical problem is what the Maine DEP calls tippy tanks. A tippy tank results from failure of the ground beneath the tank or the legs holding it up. Legs can rust or deteriorate, and the ground can move as it freezes and thaws.
A little movement might not seem like a big deal, until the stress cracks the fuel line and oil rushes out onto the ground. In Maine, new regulations require that vertical tanks mounted outdoors sit on a 3-inch reinforced concrete slab with a base of 6 inches of gravel or crushed rock. While you're examining an outside tank, look at the fuel filter. If you live where winter brings heavy snow, ice falling from the roof can strike the filter and cause a leak. That may sound unlikely, but one in 10 home-oil leaks in Maine are caused by this sort of physical damage. What to do? Ask your oil-burner technician for a filter protector. It fits over the filter like a small tent, shielding the system from falling ice and snow. Outdoor tanks, especially those that sit in the sun, are also at risk for condensation problems.
The tank's vent is open to the air, and as the air in the tank is alternately heated and cooled, air is drawn into the tank, causing the moisture in the air to condense into water, which sinks to the bottom of the tank. Over a period of years, the accumulated water rusts the tank from the inside, ultimately resulting in a leak. "The biggest enemy of an oil tank is condensation," says Markarian at the NEFI, which represents 1,000 oil dealers in the Northeast.
A couple of measures can help minimize condensation. Most steel tanks are black, and experts suggest painting outside tanks a light color, to reflect the sun. It's also best to fill the tank in the spring, if possible, so it doesn't sit nearly empty during the hot summer. Underground Tanks Underground tanks are harder to assess. In New Jersey, buried heating-oil tanks are common. Roger Fedak, an environmental engineer with the New Jersey DEP, says many homeowners don't realize they have a problem with the underground tank until the try to sell their house. Banks often require leak tests, and some sellers are unpleasantly surprised. "There's a steep learning curve," Fedak says. Underground tanks are built differently than a tank meant to be used above the ground. It's possible that a contractor installed a tank under your property that wasn't designed for that service, Fedak said, and these tanks rust out quickly.
In any event, you'll need help from an expert to determine the integrity of your buried tank and test for leaks or the presence of water. Start by asking your oil dealer or state environmental protection agency. Time for a New Tank? Whether your tank is above or below the ground, all metal tanks deteriorate with age. Any tank more than 25 years old is a candidate for replacement, experts say, because of the increased chance of internal corrosion. If you're replacing a tank or building a new house, you might want to consider an innovative approach: double-wall polyethylene tanks. These tanks are common in Europe and are now showing up in the United States. They feature a plastic inner tank surrounded by a galvanized steel shell.
Both layers are leak proof and the poly, of course, won't rust. There are drawbacks, Markarian notes. These tanks are two to three times the price of a typical, 275-gallon steel tank. And they are only designed for indoor installation. "We don't see a lot right now because of the expense," he says. Cost of Cleanup Speaking of expenses, some homeowners who discover oil spills might hesitate to take action. Depending on whether groundwater is contaminated, the cleanup can cost thousands of dollars. Don't let financial concerns stop you from reporting the problem to your state environmental protection agency, experts warn, because it will only get worse. In Maine, a special fund helps pay for most clean-ups.
Homeowner expenses are typically capped at a $500 deductible. Other states have grant or loan programs. In any case, also call your insurance company. Your policy may help pay for the work. Aside from inspecting and maintaining your tank and delivery lines, Markarian says, one of the most effective ways to prevent oil spills is to keep track of consumption. Oil-heat customers who are on automatic fill-up tend to have their deliveries scheduled based on their designated K factor. The K factor is a way of computing a home's rate of consumption through heating-degree days, a measure of how cold the winter is and an estimate of how many gallons are needed. It's sort of like estimating the gas mileage for your car. Oil company computers monitor the demand over time, so if demand is way out of line with the temperatures, maybe the oil is going somewhere other than through the burner. "If you see a variation in consumption," Markarian says, "that should be a red flag." n Tux Turkel is a freelance writer based in Portland, Maine.