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Shelf life of home heating oil: this document explains the shelf life or storage life of home heating oil (No. 2 home heating oil) and discusses what can and should be done with old heating oil found in unused or abandoned oil storage tanks.
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Separately at HEATING OIL - OLD, USEABLE? we discuss how to move or make use of old heating oil.
Proper oil storage tank abandonment requires the use of good engineering practices, including consideration of the future condition of the tank.
While the original of this article focused on commercial oil storage tanks, the concerns and steps should be examined by those abandoning residential oil tanks as well. Readers of this page should see The Oil Storage Tank Website. Uses for and handling of used lubricating oils (not heating oil) is discussed in US EPA publication Managing Used Oil.
Diesel fuel, which is basically the same as No. 2 heating oil, is said by sources we've read to have a shelf life of 18-24 months without any fuel additives having been put into the tank. (Diesel fuel is basically No. 2 heating oil PLUS some fuel additives for winter use in vehicle engines).
Additives to diesel fuel are intended to be added when the fuel is put into the tank, not years later, and they claim to preserve the fuel's octane and combustion characteristics.
How can we extend the storage life of heating oil in a tank?
IF someone had put the proper additives into the tank of home heating oil when the fuel was delivered, it could have been reliably stored and then used up to two years later. Contact your heating oil delivery company to ask their recommended products for adding to and protecting the life of heating oil.
Can a heating oil additive "restore" old heating oil and make it good to burn in our oil burner?
Can an oil additive rejuvenate old stored heating oil? It's unlikely but we'd need to ask the chemical engineers who make those products. We speculate that products intended to be added to Diesel or perhaps to heating oil are intended to be added as preservatives at the time of delivery of the oil and that they are not designed to restore or rejuvenate old heating oil.
We have found no indication that adding a diesel fuel additive, or a heating fuel additive such as 4-in-one hot™ (sludge breakup and water remover) to heating oil will "restore" the original properties of oil that has been stored for a decade.
Remember that what was in the ground for a million years was not No 2 heating oil, it was a gooey ugly sludge crud that was then refined or cooked and purified at the oil refinery.
Why does heating oil deteriorate while in storage?
What might contribute to heating oil breakdown in an oil tank?
What Can we Do with Old Unused Heating Oil
Used oils (not recovered "virgin oil") can be re-refined and used for various purposes according to the US EPA but we are doubtful that the volume of old virgin oil in a typical residential heating tank is enough to interest most large recyclers. Your heating oil company can remove and dispose of your unused heating oil, as we recommend just below.
Concluding Advice for People who Find Unused Oil in an Old Oil Storage Tank
Oil burners are tolerant of a range of oil quality, and it's possible that old heating oil would "work" in such a unit, but given the uncertainties and information we listed above, we would not risk a heat outage or an extra no-heat service call to make use of a couple of hundred gallons of heating oil. You are getting $600. or so of "free" home heating oil but you are risking $250. to $400. for a no-heat call, or a still greater expense if loss of heat leads to frozen, burst pipes in a building.
The owner of the old heating oil should call local heating oil companies to ask if they'll pump out the oil - be honest with them that it's old (give the date of last oil delivery if it is known) - lest the oil be distributed it to someone and cause a heating problem.
Removing the heating old oil avoids a future oil leak or environmental issue at the property - a potentially costly problem. It is improper to leave an abandoned oil storage tank with oil inside - the oil should have been removed and still should be removed now at this later point
Be SURE that the tank filler and vent are totally removed lest you get an un-wanted oil delivery. Don't laugh, it happens.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the shelf life of home heating oil or fuel oil
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