Get the facts on heating with oil

If you heat your home with oil, you should be aware of the environmental damage and health hazards that oil leaks can cause. In fact, just one litre of oil can contaminate one million litres of drinking water. The main causes of oil tank leaks and spills are:

  • Internal corrosion
  • Improper installation
  • Improper refuelling
  • Breaks in the fuel lines

The valve and fuel lines must be protected from physical damage caused by objects such as ice and snow. Oil tanks should not be installed under a deck or stairs; along with not being easily accessible for inspection, they may be subject to moisture from the structure above.

As a homeowner, you may be responsible for the cost of any cleanup or environmental contamination caused by leaks or spills from your oil tank or installation. Even a relatively small leak can require digging up your property and even your neighbour’s yard to remove contaminated soil, including the soil around and under your foundation. Your province may require you to report the spill to the Ministry or Department of Environment.

Preventing oil leaks

In most cases, spills and leaks are preventable with the right precautions. Take the following steps to keep your oil tank safe from leaks and spills.

  • Replace your old tank. Have a professionally trained installer replace the tank if there is any visible rust, flaking or damage. Always choose a new, ULC-approved tank, never a used or rebuilt one. Verify that your installer is insured for any environmental damage they may cause, especially if they are removing your old tank.
  • Ask your oil supplier about double walled, stainless steel or fibreglass tanks. They may cost a bit more initially, but generally last much longer than regular single-walled tanks. Secondary containment units are also available and should be able to hold 110% of the contents of the tank.
  • The tank should be set on a solid non-combustible base to provide stable support. Poured concrete slabs or reinforced concrete patio stones are preferable.
  • Locate the tank at least 100 feet from any open water source; 30 feet from a drilled well (100 ft in NFLD), drainage ditch, storm drain, manhole cover, or septic bed; and at least five feet from your property line.
  • The tank must be easily accessible for inspection, but also protected from the damage of everyday activities. There should be a clear space of 18 inches on one end and one side, and two inches on the remaining end and side.
  • Interior oil tanks must be at least two feet from any fuel-fired appliances (furnace, hot water heater etc.) unless there is a non-combustible wall between the tank and the appliance.
  • Ensure the inside fuel line runs along a wall, not in a high-traffic area, and do not install fuel lines beneath poured concrete.
  • The supply line from an end outlet valve should have a horizontal loop or slack in the line to accommodate ground or earth movement caused by frost.
  • Install a concrete barrier to prevent damage caused by vehicle impact if the tank is located near a driveway or where vehicles can come in contact with it.
  • Interior tanks are preferable to exterior tanks as there is less exposure to ice and snow, and ground or earth movement caused by frost.
  • Have your furnace and tank professionally inspected and serviced at least once a year. Ensure they change the filter and remove sludge and water from the tank lines.
  • Check for the smell of oil after each fuel delivery, which is the most likely time for a spill to occur.
  • Keep the tank close to full during the summer to minimize condensation inside the tank, which can lead to rust damage.

If you are unsure if your tank or installation is safe, contact a qualified heating technician to inspect your system. We encourage you to examine the options related to oil heat and replace high-risk oil tanks with tanks that are designed to withstand corrosion, be less likely to fail, and carry extensive manufacturer warranties against both internal and external corrosion.