Avoid Spills By Removing Your Fuel Oil Tank

Written by Timothy M. Gorman
Updated July 11, 2014
A member replaced a leaking oil tank with this new unit. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Paul K. of Plympton, Massachusetts)

Even supposedly empty fuel oil tanks are a risk for oil leaks and spills. Remove them to avoid costly cleanup.

Even when a fuel oil tank has been pumped, about 5-10 gallons of sludge and oil will remain in the tank after pumping, says Gorman. (Photo courtesy of Timothy Gorman Contractor)

Though less common now due to the rise in availability of natural gas, many homes still use fuel oil for heat. But even homes that have converted to other heating methods often have aging oil furnaces and boilers on their property. Even if you aren’t actively using your oil tank, you should consider having it removed to eliminate the risk of hazardous spills or leaks.

Why should I remove my oil tank?

An unused oil tank has an inherent danger of spilling or leaking oil, which leaves the homeowner viable for a hazardous material cleanup. Besides the risk of tank failure, you may be ready to get rid of your old tank because there is a noticeable odor of oil, the tank is in a location that can be used for another purpose or the tank is just plain ugly and unsightly. These are all good reasons to remove a heating oil tank, but none of them are as important as preventing an oil spill and costly clean up.

How can my unused oil tank fail?

Both aboveground and belowground oil tanks are vented to the atmosphere and this results in exposed portions of the interior of the tank collecting moisture from humidity, which can rust the tank from the inside out. Worse than that, as the tank gets older and collects more moisture, the moisture can condense into water droplets and sink to the bottom of the tank, rusting the portion of the tank that is under the stored oil, and causing a tank failure.

When this occurs, a hole opens up and oil spills from the tank requiring an expensive cleanup and emergency tank removal. This danger is still present even when a tank has been pumped. Unless a deliberate effort has been made to removal all of the oil and sludge in the tank, about 5-10 gallons of sludge and oil will remain in the tank after pumping.

How do I remove an oil tank?

Oil tank removal is not really that difficult. Usually it can be accomplished in a few hours and if the proper precautions are taken, it can be done without the risk of spilling oil during the process. It is important to hire a qualified contractor for the delicate work, so ask these questions when choosing a contractor to remove your oil tank.

1. Is the contractor licensed, registered and insured?

The first and most important piece of information about a contractor is making sure they are registered or licensed and that they have appropriate insurance for the job.

2. Has the contractor removed oil tanks in the past?

Just hiring a contractor to remove the tank isn't good enough since this job requires handling oil that the US government classifies as a hazardous material. The contractor will need to have appropriate equipment and knowledge to remove the tank safely, ensure no oil is spilled and properly dispose of the oil. A qualified tank removal contractor will have the required equipment and experience to make the removal go smoothly and safely.

3. Is a permit required?

Many municipalities have a permit for removing oil tanks. Charges vary, but typically cost under $100. Obtaining the permit is very important as it ensures you are using a registered and insured contractor and it gives you the proper documentation that the tank has been removed, which can be important later if you try to sell your home or even now for discounts on your home insurance.

Some insurance companies may offer you a lower premium once the tank is removed, and providing a copy of the cleared permit should suffice as evidence for them that the tank was removed properly. A Letter of Closure stating that the tank has been properly removed and that no oil contamination exists may be provided by the contractor as well.

4. Will the oil tank removal be complete?

A complete job would include pumping the oil, cutting the tank into pieces that can be safely removed, removing and disposing of the oil sludge, and removing associated oil fill and vent pipes from the wall to prevent future accidental oil deliveries. Underground tanks may require soil sampling to prove contamination has not occurred.

Removing an oil tank before there is a problem is always the least expensive and removing an oil tank is the only way to ensure oil is not spilled in the future. So be sure to consider protecting your family and saving yourself money in the future by getting your oil tank out now.

About this Experts Contributor: Timothy Gorman is a contractor in Philadelphia, PA who specializes in oil tank removal. Since 2003, Timothy Gorman has provided oil tank and heating system removal, furnace improvements and much more.

As of July 11, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.