Home in Maine with outdoor oil storage tank (C) Daniel FriedmanHeat Tapes on Oil Tank Fuel Lines
Use of heating cables & insulation to avoid jelling or waxing can avoid loss of heat

  • HEAT TAPES on OIL TANK PIPING - CONTENTS: fire hazards from using heat tapes on home home heating oil piping to avoid jelling and loss of heat. Wrapping heating oil piping in insulation and installing a heating cable or heat tape might reduce the chances of freezing water or waxing heating oil leading to loss of heat in cold weather. But there are fire hazards to consider as well.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about leaks or installation problems in heating oil piping for oil-fired heating equipment & water heaters

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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. Shown at page top: a Maine home with an outdoor oil storage tank in winter. I like that the oil tank is located at the house gable end, not under dripping roof eaves, but the tank has fallen against the house, and if you click to enlarge the image you'll see some chimney worries too.

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Heat Tape Fire Hazards on Heating Oil Storage Tanks or Piping May Be a Fire Hazard

Oil tank exposed outdoors, heat tapes (C) Daniel Friedman Heat tape on heating oil line (C) D Friedman

As we cited at OIL TANK INSPECTION & TROUBLESHOOTING, outside above ground heating oil storage tanks in cold climates are exposed to jelling (waxing) 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.

[Click to enlarge any image]

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.

Oil tank with heat tapes and snow cover (C) Daniel Friedman Oil tank with heat tapes and snow cover (C) Daniel Friedman

Above we see the same Hyde Park New York oil storage tank photographed in winter. You'll see the insulation and heat tapes installed in an effort to avoid loss of heat due to waxing of the heating oil. This tank is also discussed

Readers should also
see HEAT TAPES & CABLES for ROOF 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.

As Ryan Duffy points out, connecting the heat tape to a GFCI-protected circuit can substantially reduce the risk of heat tape fires. However if the GFCI-protected heat tape circuit trips-off during typical current leakage conditions and without drawing attention of the building occupants, the risk of freeze damaged piping, leaks, water damage, and mold damage will be increased.

The US CPSC recommended in 1994 that HUD consider dropping its no-GFCI-on-Heat-Tape-Circuit provision, and that heat tape powering electrical circuits be be protected with a GFCI device in the electrical panel rather than at the electrical receptacle or "outlet".

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.]

Heat tapes and insulation in a failed effort to avoid loss of heat due to heating oil waxing - New York (C) Daniel Friedman

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.

Question: how to get the heating oil line flowing after hurricane & flood damage

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


When an oil fired water heater has been flooded, such as by hurricane Irene, there are a number of concerns that need to be addressed. You have taken two obvious steps by changing parts (motor and oil filter) but I can add a few suggestions that might help:

Oil lines can become blocked with sludge, silt, mud, even water if the lines are open to the flooding environment. Normally an oil line between the oil tank and oil burner, say at a water heater, is always full of fuel oil, and sealed against oil leaks out and air leaks in to the piping system. So dirt or water from outside the system would not easily enter the piping system.

But if the oil tank itself were flooded you might have water and mud or silt and dirt on the tank bottom - if your oil line feeds from the tank bottom all of that crud would enter the oil line. So a further check of the condition of the oil tank is in order.

A buried oil tank should, like the oil piping, be sealed against outside water entry (though in times of area flooding a partially empty oil tank might float-up and break lines or cause leaks).

An above ground oil tank should be ok IF flood waters never rose high enough to enter the oil tank vent or fill piping.

If your oil tank itself checks out as not contaminated with water and dirt, and provided we are sure that the oil burner assembly was itself entirely replaced and that the oil pump (fuel unit) is working properly, and if you are unable to draw oil from the tank, the usual step employed by the service tech is to use a CO2 gas cartridge and special "gun" assembly that connects to the oil line and attempts to "blow out" an obstruction.

If you are unable to make the line usable following that procedure, and provided we remain convinced that the line is the culprit, I'd have the service company run a new fuel line between the oil tank and the burner.

I'd also be sure the service tech was following proper procedure for bleeding air out of the oil piping during service restoration.



Continue reading at HEATING OIL CLOUD WAX GEL POINT or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Also see Testing Receptacles GFCIs AFCIs


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