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OIL STORAGE TANKS
ABANDONING OIL TANKS
AGE of OIL TANK
ANODES & DIP TUBES on WATER HEATERS
BURIED OIL TANK (UST) GUIDE
BURIED OIL TANKS, FINDING
COMBUSTION PRODUCTS & IAQ
DEFINITION of HEATING & COOLING TERMS
DIAGNOSE & FIX HEATING PROBLEMS-BOILER
DIAGNOSE & FIX HEATING PROBLEMS-FURNACE
DIRECTORY of OIL TANK EXPERTS
FILTERS, OIL on HEATING EQUIPMENT
FIRE SAFETY CONTROLS
FLOATING UP OIL STORAGE or SEPTIC TANKS
FLOODED HEATING EQUIPMENT REPAIR
FLOODED WATER HEATER REPAIR
FUEL OIL TYPES & CHARACTERISTICS
FUEL UNIT, HEATING OIL PUMPS
GALVANIC SCALE & METAL CORROSION
GAUGES ON HEATING EQUIPMENT
HEAT TAPES, Heat, Insulation prevent Freeze-Up
HEATING COST FUEL & BTU Cost Table
HEATING COST SAVINGS METHODS
HEATING OIL CLOUD WAX GEL POINT
HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
HEATING OIL - OLD, USEABLE?
HEATING OIL PIPING TROUBLES
HEATING OIL SHELF LIFE
HEATING OIL SLUDGE
HEATING OIL TANKS
HEATING OIL TYPES & PROPERTIES
HEATING OIL USAGE RATE
HEATING SYSTEM NOISES
HOME BUYERS GUIDE TO OIL TANKS
NOISE CONTROL for HEATING SYSTEMS
NOISES COMING FROM WATER HEATER
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS FROM HEATING SYSTEMS
OIL FILTERS on HEATING EQUIPMENT
OIL FUEL TYPES & CHARACTERISTICS
OIL FILL PIPE LEAKS
OIL SPILL CLEANUP / PREVENTION
SOOT on OIL FIRED HEATING EQUIPMENT
STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING INTERIORS
THERMAL TRACKING & HEAT LOSS
VIDEO GUIDES: Heating System Videos
VIDEO GUIDES - InspectAPedia.com
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Heat tapes used on heating oil piping lines: how to avoid loss of heat due to heating oil waxing or jelling in cold weather: are heat tapes OK to use on an oil line? Warning about fire hazards traced to some types of heat tapes used on oil lines. Problems with outdoor heating oil storage tanks & loss of building heat.
Beyond the costly problem of leaky oil piping, this document lists other important safety or oil-fired equipment operational defects in home and light commercial heating oil storage and piping systems.
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As we cited at OIL TANK INSPECTION & TROUBLESHOOTING, outside above ground heating oil storage tanks in cold climates are exposed to jelling of the heating fuel. On these systems the oil piping is sometimes fitted with a heating tape in an attempt to avoid freeze-up in the oil line itself. This is a potential fire hazard. Heat tapes should not be used on heating oil lines.
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Similar issues regarding building water entry control are discussed at Sump Pump Inspection.
Readers should also see HEAT TAPES & CABLES on Roofs for Ice Dams where we describe outdoor use of heating tapes and de-icing cables to prevent ice dam leaks into buildings.
Safety Recommendation: unless the heating tape is specifically designed for the purpose and is protected against short circuits, do not use electric heat tapes to keep fuel oil lines from plugging during cold weather. Such measures are an obvious fire hazard.
Watch out: as we explain at Heat Tape Guide, some models of heat tapes used for freeze protection can cause a building fire if the tapes are not installed according to the manufacturer's recommendations, particularly if the tape crosses over itself.
Ground fault protection was first required in the 1987 NEC for heat tapes that did not have a metal covering. In 1996/1999 the NEC expanded the requirements for GFCI protection and specified that mobile homes would have at least one heat tape receptacle.
[A significant number of heat tape-related fires occurred in mobile and manufactured homes.]
See FREEZE-PROOF A BUILDING where we describe GFCI protection on heat tape circuits powering heat tapes for manufactured and mobile homes. Similar issues regarding building water entry control are discussed at Sump Pump Inspection. Also see Testing Receptacles GFCIs AFCIs. AFCI's are discussed at AFCIs ARC FAULT CIRCUIT INTERRUPTERS.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about troubleshooting & clogged or leaky heating oil appliance piping & oil piping connections
I am having problems restarting the water heater ever since hurricane irene slammed into New Jersey and my basement flooded. We changed the motor and oil filter, but are having problems getting oil to feed through the lines I was wondering if there were suggestions. - Antoinette
Reply: Guide to How to clear or un-block a clogged heating oil line by CO2 blasting, filter changeout, or oil line replacement
Also see OIL LINE CLOGGING FIX.
Question: Is it normal practice to pressure test fuel lines when a new boiler has been fitted?
Is it normal practice to pressure test fuel lines when a new boiler has been fitted? We have an outdoor boiler that runs on a 2 pipe system as the storage tank is below the boiler. The lines are buried as the distance between boiler & storage is 15-20 m. We reported a vast increase in oil consumption after installation, would it be the normal course of action to then pressure test 'supply & return' lines? - Mark 5/29/12
Reply: How pressure & vacuum gauges are used on heating oil lines to check for leaks or fuel unit troubles
Mark, it is normal practice to inspect oil piping for leaks at all of its fittings & connections for leaks after a new installation, and there are indeed vacuum measurement tests (not pressure tests) that can be conducted that indicate an air leak into the oil supply line line (or oil leaks out when the fuel unit is not running).
But in my experience oil line vacuum tests are not performed as a matter of course but rather when a problem is under diagnosis, such as improper oil burner operation. And in my experience oil supply & return lines between the oil tank and the oil burner are not pressure tested. As I explain here, pressure testing those lines runs into some practical difficulties.
Similarly, a vacuum gauge installed on the heating oil supply line, often at or near the oil filter assembly, can help diagnose a leak in the supply piping itself.
Unfortunately in a two-pipe system we don't install and cannot use a similar gauge on that second line to check for leaks.
In a two-pipe oil line system, the return line is never under vacuum, only under pressure when excess oil from the fuel unit is cycling back to the oil tank. Because the exit end of that pipe is open into the oil tank, it is not and cannot be "pressure tested" without some diassembly and the fitting of a plug at the line's outlet end.
At OIL PUMP FUEL UNIT we include at Frequently Asked Questions (about fuel units) section that provides a detailed explanation of how to read a pressure gauge on the oil piping system (at the fuel unit) to diagnose a leak or similar problem at the fuel unit.
Question: How frequently do the copper oil lines leak from corrosion or other factors?
Contractor renovating my basement enclosed the fuel oil line (tank to burner) in the walls. Just after having carpet laid, I was reinstalling baseboards and my nail gun made a perfect nail hole in the hidden piping. About 2 qts. oil all sprayed out. I shut off tank valve and ran furnace to use up oil in lines. It will be a massive clean-up and I don't want to have this happen again.
How frequently do the copper lines leak from corrosion or other factors? What are the options to prevent a future leak? - Judy 4/23/12
Reply: Frequency of Heating Oil Piping Leaks by Leak Location, Type, Source, Cause
Judy, statistics on oil tank leaks are discussed at OIL TANK LEAKS & SMELLS. While those data focus on and report leaks as oil tank leaks, actually some of the leaks reported under the aegis of "oil tanks" may actually occur in the oil supply and return piping (on a two pipe system for buried tanks) or on the oil supply line from an above-ground oil tank.
But I have not found studies, reports, nor statistics on the leak occurrence rate in just heating oil piping itself. In my experience, small leaks in the oil piping system are not uncommon. But as leaks in the supply line lead to faulty oil burner operation, ultimately they lead to a diagnosis and repair. (See the previous Q&A about vacuum tests and pressure tests on oil heat piping and on fuel units respectively.)
Oil Piping Leak Report of 0.005 in New England
At OIL TANK FAILURE RATES we include a section on reports of frequency of heating oil piping leaks. You will see that studies found the leakage rate in New England in the U.S. at about five leaks per thousand customers or less, depending on the sub-area in the study.
Oil Tank Leak Report of 40% with 82% due to Oil Piping in Maryland
In a 1986 study Diane H. Heck found leaks in 40% of petroleum fuel tanks (diesel fuel or kerosene K-1, heating oil, waste oil, and gasoline tanks), (n=240). More accurately she reported a 40% leak occurrence rate in oil storage tank installations, because 82% of those leaks were traced to leaks in oil piping!
Because gasoline tanks were included in this study, several factors may lead readers to think that a higher proportion of leaks occurred in gasoline storage tanks than in heating oil or kerosene storage tanks. But as we report at OIL TANK FAILURE CAUSES that was not the case. Gasoline tanks were responsible for only 26% of all of the leaks found.
Opinion about Probable Percentage of Types of Oil Piping Leaks
My opinion based on field experience repairing heating systems and on field experience as a building inspector of several thousand buildings is that among the leaks that do occur in oil piping systems, they occur in roughly this frequency by type:
At OIL TANK PIPING & PIPING DEFECTS, we catalog the types of leaks that occur in oil piping and where they are found. We also describe steps that can be taken to protect oil piping lines from future damage, including a nail puncture such as your oil piping line suffered.
In the Technical Reviewers & References section below we include additional citations on oil piping leak detection & frequency.
Questions & answers or comments about fuel oil piping for oil-fired heating equipment & water heaters
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Technical Reviewers & References