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Photo guide to clues of buried or abandoned oil tanks:
This is a photo guide to visual clues spotted indoors or outdoors which can assist in the location of abandoned or buried oil tanks or the detection of
evidence that an underground (or even an above ground) oil tank is or was in use at a property.
The article and photographs used to show the reader ways to find buried oil tanks include examples of clues leading to the discovery of
"nearly hidden" buried or underground oil tanks which were found at residential properties and which avoided very costly surprises later for the new owner.
Underground oil storage tanks, or UST's, whether still present or previously removed, involve a risk of costly oil leaks and soil contamination which may need to be addressed.
Here are some investigation methods that any home buyer, owner, or home inspector can apply to reduce these risks by looking for evidence that a buried oil tank is or was at a property.
SIGNS OF BURIED OIL TANKS- A Photo Guide to Visual Clues for Finding Buried Oil Storage Tanks - Part 2, Indoor Clues
How to find buried oil tanks: Evidence that a buried fuel storage tank exists at a property may be direct and visually obvious,
or the evidence may be subtle.
Often a series of small observations, individually not apparently very important, can add up to an increased probability that a buried fuel storage tank is or was at a property.
While environmental investigators and oil tank test companies may use magnetic scanners or even ground
scanning radar to locate buried steel tanks, an astute visual inspection can often discover the presence or probable presence of a buried fuel storage tank at a property, thus suggesting that
further testing is definitely in order. Here are some clues to the possible current or past presence of a buried tank at a property.
Photographs of Indoor Clues for Detecting Buried Oil Tanks
Unexplained oil stains on building foundation walls at any location might indicate that a leaky oil tank is or was outside the building near that location.
At the home where we saw this oil stain on the foundation wall of a crawl space, further investigation found that an oil tank had been leaking and had been abandoned just outside this wall.
Abandoned heating oil lines in floors in a building may be present at or near existing oil-fired equipment, or may be at or near the previous location of such equipment.
Look for a pair of flexible copper fuel lines protruding into the basement or crawl space wall, perhaps cut off, bent-over, and crimped. The oil pipes shown in our photo at left were smashed flat and left in place on a basement floor.
Abandoned heating oil lines at foundation walls Here is an easy to spot pair of oil lines abandoned at a basement wall. Sometimes they're not nearly so obvious.
Evidence of under-slab oil piping now abandoned: Even where no oil pipes themselves are visible, look patches or cuts in a basement or crawl space floor slab where oil lines may have been routed under the slab, or look for a small patch in the upper or even lower portion of a basement or crawl space wall in a location where logically one might have expected to see fuel lines entering the building.
Our photo at left shows a basement slab cut in an older home in Portland Maine. The slab was poured, then later opened to route lines from an oil tank under the floor over to a heating boiler. At the time of our inspection the old boiler had been removed and a new boiler and oil tank were found in the basement. New oil lines from the oil tank to boiler passed nowhere near this floor cut. But further exploration found remains of abandoned oil supply piping.
Presence of antiquated oil storage tank fuel-level gauges such as we show at above-left can also indicate that oil tanks have been in use at a property for a long time. An old fuel level gauge mounted on a basement wall is a sure indicator that an oil storage tank has been buried outside of the building. You may also find abandoned heating oil filters and less commonly you may find that an indoor lift pump (above right) was added to bring oil from an outdoor buried tank into the building's oil-fired heating equipment. The right hand photo shows a Teesdale automatic oil pump which was used for this purpose.
Footprints of old heating equipment and even oil stains on a basement or crawl space floor may indicate that previously oil-fired equipment was present even if it is no longer at the site.
Records at local oil delivery companies who serve the neighborhood may indicate a history of deliveries to the site. Records of previous building inspections may also indicate this possibility.
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sealing damage from leaky oil tanks
(Apr 23, 2014) Kim said:
Considering a purchase. Abandoned tank found under the driveway of 1928 house. The basement wall closest to tank has painted, peeling paint. Other walls do not. Concerned the tank leaked, penetrated the foundation walls. Tank will be removed. Can the walls be cleaned and sealed?
FIrst, it sounds as if the buried oil tank close to the home may also have created a cavity that directed surface runoff or roof spillage against the foundation - those conditions need to be addressed.
Second, before painting the foundation walls you need to understand the properties of the stain thereon. If it's actually a stain from a heating oil leak, and if it's large in area then the leak was substantial and any painting needs to wait until the tank and contaminated soils have been removed.
It may be possible to select and oil-compatible primer and paint that will adhere to concrete block after some preliminary cleaning with a detergent and thorough drying.
Send along photos or reports or other details (see our CONTACT link) and I can comment further.
Question: do I need a soil test for a tank that was properly abandoned in place?
(July 1, 2014) Tom said:
Is there a problem if the oil tank was abandoned properly, with a licensed company that cleaned it out, filled it with foam and filed the paper work with the county? In my town, they don't require soil testing if the tank is abandoned. When I called the County, they said there shouldn't be a concern if it was properly abandoned. What should the homeowner do if a tank was abandoned 30 years ago but may still be buried?
Basically if the tank was properly abandoned AND you have credible paperwork documenting that effort then the bank and other parties should be satisfied. If there is a buried oil storage tank that is out of use but that was never properly abandoned then some testing and abandonment are in order.
Question: could an old house have had more than one oil storage tank installed?
(July 24, 2014) Anonymous said:
Recently purchased a 1920s house with an abandoned tank under driveway. We have state certification of proper abandonment although the vent pipe and fill pipe (at some distance from each other indicating outside UST) are still visible. Those were not removed but also filled with inert material.
My question - in our basement, there are two additional pipes (both sealed) sticking out from the cement floor about two feet from the current furnace. Could these be the oil gauge, oil filter or shut off valves for the old outside tank? There was no mention of an indoor UST and the inspector seemed satisfied with the paperwork. Could an old house like mine have had TWO tanks? It was not a big house originally.
Small diameter copper lines in pairs would have been supply and return oil lines for a buried oil tank. Yes an older building could have had more than one tank.
(June 16, 2015) (mod) said:
I have a photo taken during the inspection and is said to be evidence of a possible buried oil tank. The owners say they have no knowledge of a buried tank (they've owned the house since 2009) and the town has no records of a tank. We know neither of these necessarily prove there is no tank, the house was built in 1966 so it is very possible. We would like to avoid paying $1000-$1500 especially since no one knows if there even is a tank! any pictures I've seen of lines coming through the foundation show two lines. this looks like a hose to me? here is link to the photo
Cait your link was insecure.
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Questions & answers or comments about procedurs for locating buried or abandoned-in-place heating oil storage tanks or USTs.
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 Fuel Storage] Tank Corrosion Study, U.S. EPA report on gasoline and oil tank corrosion, James H. Pim, P.E., John M. Searing, Suffolk County DOHS, 15 Horseblock Place, Farmingville Long Island, NY 11728, November 1988, for the Office of Underground Storage Tanks, U.S. EPA. ATTN: David O'Brien. The report presents a study of 500 underground storage tanks spanning 24 February 1987 and September 1 1988 and summarizes earlier reports on this same study. Tank sizes ranged from 175 gallons to 50,000 gallons, and oil tank ages ranged from two years to 70 years old. All 500 oil storage tanks were constructed of welded steel, and 12 other tanks that were other than plain steel were also examined. Summary [with minor edits for clarity by DJF]
 Thanks to Arlene Puentes for for technical edits on oil tank leak advice- 12/2005. Arlene Puentes is a licensed home inspector, educator, and building failures researcher in Kingston, NY.
 "A Case Study of a Large Scale Precision [oil or fuel] Tank Testing Program", Diane H. Heck, Tetra Tech Richardson, Newark, Delaware, web search 4/27/12, original source: http://info.ngwa.org/GWOL/pdf/870143411.PDF, copy on file as /heating/OIl Tanks UST/Tank_Test_Heck_870143411.pdf
 Fuel Oil and Oil Heat Magazine, August 1985 p.18. Fuel Oil & Oil Heating Magazine, 3621 Hill Rd., Parsippany, NJ 07054, 973-331-9545
 Standards of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, as referenced by "Domestic and Commercial Oil Burners,", Charles H. Burkhardt, 1961, 3rd Ed., McGraw Hill Book Company, p. 172
 NFPA - the National Fire Protection Association can be found online at www.nfpa.org
 "The Interim Prohibition Guidance for Design and Installation of Underground Oil Storage Tanks", U.S. EPA, EPA/530-SW-85203, Office of Underground Storage Tanks, Washington D.C.
 US EPA "How do you Properly Close a UST?" is summarized at epa.gov/OUST/fsprevnt.htm These details for temporary and permanent closing of underground oil storage tanks are provided by the US EPA as well.
 "How do you choose the right tank testing method?", Cynthia Johnson, Fuel Oil & Oil Heat Magazine, November 1995
 National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers, PO Box 380, Elmwood Park, NJ 07407
 "Homeowners Guide to Fuel Storage," Agway Energy Products, Verbank, NY, November 1990
 "Causes of Underground Corrosion", Harco Corporation, Paper HC-36, Median OH
ABOVE GROUND OIL TANK (AST) GUIDE - "Visual Inspection of Above Ground Residential Heating Oil Storage Tanks - ASTs" Advanced Home Inspection Methodology - Developing your X-Ray Vision
A Promotion Theory for Forensic Observation of Residential Construction. Discussion of methods to accumulate clues to enable
the detection of hard-to-find defects on buildings or other complex systems.
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