When it comes to maintaining a safe home, it's crucial to pay attention to the presence and condition of fuel storage, whether you use fuel oil or Liquefied Petroleum (LP). While fuel oil and LP are indispensable for our heating needs, they come with their own set of risks. These substances are highly flammable, and their mishandling can result in dire consequences. Imagine a scenario where a simple leak turns into an environmental hazard, or worse, a fire, putting your home and loved ones in danger. Thus, understanding the nuances of fuel storage safety is not just about compliance; it's about ensuring peace of mind and protecting your home and loved ones.

Understanding the complex laws related to residential fuel tanks can feel overwhelming. It's true that most tanks aren't governed by federal law, but don't let this lull you into a false sense of security. Local and state regulations can be just as stringent. Think of these regulations not as hurdles, but as guidelines designed to protect you, your property, and your community. As a homeowner, you bear the mantle of responsibility if a spill or leak occurs. This means you need to be proactive—identify potential risks, conduct regular checks, and respond swiftly and effectively to any issues. Remember, being informed and prepared can transform you from a reactive homeowner into a responsible guardian of your home.

Fuel tanks should be accessible and placed in a safe location. If a fuel oil tank is in a basement or crawl space, keep a minimum distance of 5’ or 10’ from the oil burner. Run the fuel line along the basement perimeter wall or bury it in the floor to avoid tripping hazards, and install a functioning fire extinguisher near any fuel oil tank or oil-burning appliance. Ensure the tank is on solid ground and properly supported. LP tanks should be securely strapped to prevent tipping. In garages, protect fuel oil tanks from being accidentally hit by a vehicle with rigid columns or bollards. Finally, watch the gauge to prevent the tank from running too low, which can lead to furnace or boiler shutdowns.

I recommend a professional inspection by a home inspector, who will check for rust, oil stains, and hidden repairs; however, monthly visual inspections by homeowners are essentially for quickly identifying leaks or rust.

Take preventive measures to help extend the lifespan of your fuel tank and preserve the safety of your home and family. Auto-fill programs can help maintain oil levels and prevent debris-related issues. Additionally, vent alarms can help the technician during the filling process and can be installed for both visible and underground tanks.

Underground tanks present unique challenges and are often forgotten due to their out-of-sight nature. When considering the purchase of a property, it's essential to exercise due diligence with respect to any existing or historical underground storage tanks. This includes inquiring about their presence and looking for physical indicators, such as protruding pipes or depressions in the land, which could suggest the presence of a tank that has potentially collapsed.

For tanks that are no longer in service, a thorough decommissioning process is imperative. This involves removing any remaining fuel and substituting it with filler material. The tank can then be filled with an inert substance or extracted from the ground entirely. This step is crucial to ensure safety and environmental protection.

Fuel Tank Outside the House

If you do find a tank that's not being used anymore, you'll need to deal with it properly. That means getting rid of any leftover fuel, packing the tank with a safe filler, and then deciding whether to fill it up with an inert substance or removing it from the ground entirely.

The typical lifespan for underground tanks ranges from 5 to 10 years. In contrast, tanks positioned in dry environments, like basements, can serve well for over 30 years, assuming conditions are favorable.

A significant factor affecting tank longevity is the presence of water, which can instigate rust and lead to corrosion. It's imperative to regularly test for water accumulation at the tank's base to get ahead of such deterioration. You can also use additives as a proactive measure that can effectively eliminate water and avert potential leaks.

For comprehensive maintenance, I recommend enlisting professional services. Professionals can conduct detailed inspections of both the tank and surrounding soil, offering solutions like water removal. This level of professional testing is indispensable for ensuring the tank's integrity over its service life.

In areas where a well near a fuel storage tank, you should conduct thorough water testing for potential fuel oil or gasoline contamination. This specialized testing is a critical measure to safeguard the quality of the water supply and should not be overlooked.

If you are a real estate agent, look for signs like terminated fuel lines or sunken ground, indicating the presence of a tank. Asking the right questions and verifying proper removal or decommissioning can prevent future issues while building trust and credibility with your client.

Fuel tank safety requires constant vigilance and a proactive approach. By understanding the intricacies of fuel storage, adhering to regulations, and maintaining your tanks, you not only ensure the safety of your home but also contribute to a safer community. Remember, a well-maintained fuel tank is more than just a compliance checkbox; it's a cornerstone of a secure and peaceful home life. Embrace this responsibility with diligence and care, and you’ll find that managing fuel tanks effectively becomes a seamless part of your home maintenance routine, offering you peace of mind in your daily life. After all, a safe home is the foundation of a happy, worry-free living environment.

Author Bio:

Josh Rogers

As a former professional home inspector and Training Specialist at WIN Home Inspection, Josh has years of experience in both performing and teaching home inspections, infrared scans, radon testing, mold testing, and more.