Do You Have an Underground Oil Tank?Author:
Five Things Every Homeowner Should Know:
All unprotected steel oil tanks will eventually leak. Most manufacturers estimate the life expectancy of unprotected steel tanks to range from eight (8) to twelve (12) years. If the age of your oil tank is outside that range, there is a distinct possibility that it is leaking. The only way to be sure is to have your oil tank tested. Oil tank testing can help to determine whether there is an immediate need to have your tank removed.
Clean up costs for a leaking oil tank may exceed the value of your property. In many cases the damage from a leaking oil tank is minimal and does not require cleanup. However, in some instances where the tank has been leaking for years, or has suffered a catastrophic failure, the damage can be quite extensive. And sometimes the tank itself is in contact with the ground water table resulting in contamination of the ground water. Residential soil and ground water remediation projects can cost upwards of $100,000 or more, and can take years to complete.
If your house is for sale, a leaking tank may make it unmarketable or diminish its value. Many homeowners have lost the buyers in a pending sale of their property as a result of the discovery of an underground tank, especially those found to be leaking. Realtors today are aware of the potential pitfalls of underground oil tanks. Additionally, many home inspectors are savvy about the oil tank issue as well. Often, a property transaction will be delayed or even killed by the presence of an oil tank. Many lenders will refuse to offer mortgages for properties where an underground oil tank is present until after the tank has been removed and any contamination has been remediated. It is important to keep in mind when selling or purchasing a home that oil tank removal may be a condition for the transaction to proceed.
Unqualified tank testing or tank removal contractors may create a larger problem. Improper testing or removal procedures by unqualified firms can cause tanks to rupture and allow oil to get into the soil and ground water. When choosing a tank testing or tank removal contractor, it is very important to verify that the company is licensed for the particular work to be done. Most states provide a list of approved contractors. Remember that, ultimately, the burden of compliance lies with you, and you could be held liable for any damages caused to the environment by the actions of unqualified contractors.
Clean up costs may be covered by your homeowner's insurance. In many cases, part, or all, of the costs for cleanup can be covered by your homeowner's insurance policy. While the details of what constitutes a covered claim vary from carrier to carrier, typically you can obtain coverage under the Third Party Liability clause of your policy. Common triggers for this coverage are contamination of soils on neighboring properties or contamination of ground water. If your tank leaked, you should contact your homeowner's insurance carrier immediately to find out if there will be coverage. Many times they will appoint a consultant to conduct an investigation to determine whether they can offer coverage. They may even point you in the direction of a qualified and approved insurance restoration contractor.
Remember, it is best to remain vigilant about the condition of your oil tank, and to be proactive about upgrading to an aboveground storage tank system, or even some other form of heating for your home. Spending a little bit of money now can save you thousands down the road.
The author formerly worked for 13 years as an environmental consultant and project manager. He now serves as the Corporate Communications & Marketing Director for Active Environmental Technologies in Mount Holly, New Jersey.