Above ground oil tank salvaged from a construction job is being loaded for re-use in a contractor's shop (C) Daniel FriedmanOil Storage Tank Life Extension
How to Maximize the Service Life of ASTs & USTs - Secrets of a Long and Leak-proof Oil Tank Life

  • OIL TANK LIFE EXTENSION - CONTENTS: how to maximize the life expectancy of oil storage tanks. How to assure a long service life for above ground oil storage tanks ASTs and for underground storage tanks USTs. What should you do to minimize the chances of an oil tank leak, rust-out, collapse, or other damage that will require oil tank replacement?
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about typical oil storage tank life and factors that affect oil tank durability and leak risk
InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.

How to get a long life out of an oil storage tank:

This article lists things you can do to minimize the chances of an oil tank leak or failure due to rust, corrosion, or mechanical damage.

Suggestions are given for life extension of both above ground oil storage tanks and underground or buried oil storage tanks, and for aboveground tanks we discuss both indoor tanks and tanks located outside.

This article series discusses the typical life of oil storage tanks such as tanks used to store No. 2 home heating oil.

Both above-ground oil storage tank life (AST life) and underground storage tank life (UST life) and the factors that determine the life of those tanks are explained. In a discussion of maximizing oil storage tank life - that means minimizing the risk of an oil tank leak - we describe things that can shorten the life of an oil tank can be avoided or corrected.

The photo at page top shows a used ASB being salvaged from a construction job. The contractor told us he intended to use this tank to store fuel for a shop heater.

Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.

How to Increase the Life of Oil Storage Tanks

Two used oil storage tanks taking a bit of a beating (C) Daniel FriedmanReader Question: How can I protect my above ground oil tank from rust or decay ?

2015/11/10 Nancy said:

How can I protect my above ground oil tank from rust or decay ? Is there a rust proofing material to spray paint on or other method? The tank is NOT leaking now.

I have another above ground tank that seems to seep as there is odor of oil and small area of staining on the ground. Also this tank is not in use but the supply line (copper) may have oil in it. How can I recover oil in the line ? It goes underground in places.


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Thank you for the questions, Nancy. Shown here are a pair of used above ground oil storage tanks that were being removed from a construction site.

Dropping an oil tank or bashing it about during handling might not cause it to fail immediately but damage as subtle as a gouge or a bent seam may result in early rust-perforation at that location later in the oil tank's life. Here we will describe steps a home owner or oil tank installer can take to reduce the chances of an oil storage tank failure.

Steps to address small oil tank leaks above ground:

Regarding your concern for small above-ground spills that probably occurred during oil tank fill,
See OIL TANK LEAK & ODOR CAUSES if you think the leaks are occurring at fill and vent pipe connections



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Watch out: non-trivial oil tank leaks and spills must be reported and cleaned-up properly.

Steps to increase the life of an oil storage tank and to prevent oil leaks and spills

There are a number of steps that can increase the life of both above ground oil storage tanks (ASTs) and buried or underground storage tanks (USTs).

  1. Inspect the oil tank for obvious signs of leakage such as at seams and especially at the tank bottom: oil tanks fail principally from corrosion on the inside walls of the tank, near the bottom where water may reside.

    If the heating oil storage tank is old or has visual signs of damage or perforation or seeps or drips, it may already need to be replaced. This article series includes oil tank testing procedures that can determine if a tank is leaking or if it is badly-corroded inside. If it's not so corroded one can also buy tank leak insurance.

    See OIL TANK INSPECTION CHECKLIST for an easy oil tank inspection guide for above ground tanks.


  2. Remove oil tank water: for an oil tank that passes step 1, check for water in the tank and have that removed (it can be pumped out) if there is more than an inch or so. Articles in this series describe how to check for water in the tank; Small amounts of water can be dispersed using an oil tank additive.

    Water in the tank is a significant contributor to tank internal corrosion. See OIL TANK WATER DETECTION

    and then
  3. Remove oil tank sludge: significant levels of sludge in an oil storage tank can lead to clogs in the oil piping or failures at the oil filter or oil burner, leading thus to loss of heat. Small amounts of sludge can be handled by dispersants and by increasing the oil filter size and capacity.

    Sludge removal services can clean sludge from large commercial oil storage tanks.

    However sludge removal from residential oil storage tanks usually plays second fiddle to tank replacement. See OIL TANK SLUDGE

  4. Paint above-ground oil tanks: after removing water, the tank can be cleaned and painted on all sides with a rust-inhibiting paint.

    At your hardware or paint supplier you'll find paints that are intended for metal surfaces and that are rust inhibiting. You will need to clean the tank surfaces to remove oil from filling or seepage at the tank piping connections and then the tank will need to be dry.

    Spray-painting is easiest but the paint job will be better if you use a brush to work paint into rough surfaces such as at welds and seams.

Oil tank under the roof eaves and held up by a concrete block (C) Daniel Friedman Oil tank with heat tapes and snow cover (C) Daniel Friedman

  1. Protect above ground oil tanks from water: protect outdoor tanks from roof runoff if the tank is close to the building and be sure that the tank is properly and securely supported above the ground, i.e. the tank should not be in contact with the soil.

    The outdoor above ground oil tank shown above is suffering from several ASTAAs - (Above Ground Storage Tank Anxiety Attacks) including exposure to roof spillage from the gutters overhead (note the area of siding that has darkened from water splashing off of the tank top), no protective painting other than the factory primer, collapsing oil tank legs (note the concrete block holding the tank from tipping over and itself forming a wear and corrosion spot near the tank bottom), and outdoor use in a cold climate (Hyde Park, New York) where waxing and jellling may lead to loss of heat (the owner has installed heat tapes on the oil line).

    At above right we see the same oil storage tank photographed during winter several years earlier. Snow cover over the oil tank filler risks additional water leaks into the tank added to the water provided by roof spillage.


    and also


    If you are considering an installation similar to the oil tank above, also see HEAT TAPES on OIL TANK PIPING
  2. Protect oil tanks from mechanical damage: building codes require that an indoor oil storage tank in a garage be protected from impact by vehicles in the garage, typically by a vertical pipe or an embedded pylon.

    It would be smart to prevent oil delivery trucks or other heavy vehicles from driving over or close to buried oil tanks or oil tank piping as soil pressures and disturbance may damage the tank or its piping and thus cause leaks of oil out or water into the tank.

    Mark the UST location and install above-ground pylons to keep vehicles at least ten feet away if your UST is in a location where it could be driven-over. Additional protection of underground storage tanks from mechanical damage includes steps taken during tank installation to properly set and bed the tank and to avoid big rocks or sharp objects in the tank backfill.


  3. Protect underground oil tanks from water: keep roof spillage and surface runoff away from buried oil tank locations. I've seen basement water entry that mapped specifically to an oil tank buried close to the foundation wall outside.

    Because the back-fill around buried oil tank will normally be less dense than surrounding soils, surface runoff or roof drainage that finds that spot will tend to direct water into the tank excavation where water not only adds to tank corrosion but may find its way into a nearby building. See BURIED OIL TANK WATER ENTRY
  4. Protect underground oil tanks from corrosion: underground oil storage tanks, particularly those in contact with corrosive soils, can receive additional protection by connection to a sacrificial anode.

  5. Install oil tank over-fill prevention devices and spillage or leak detectors for the oil storage tank: these devices may be required by local laws depending on where you live. Depending on where you live overfill prevention devices may be referred to by a trade name (SpillStop) or by the more technical term drop tube shutoff valve.

    Photographs below. SpillStop Automatic overfill prevention valve, Kingspan Environmental, including offices throughout Europe. Kingspan provides other oil control and spill prevention or detection devices including SonicSignalman, WatchmanAlarm, and WatchmanSonic.

    In the U.K. contact: United Kingdom Kingspan Environmental Ltd College Road North, Aston Clinton Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP22 5EW United Kingdom Tel: +44 (0) 1296 633000 Fax: +44 (0) 1296 6330

    See OIL SPILL CLEANUP / PREVENTION for details about SpillStop and drop tube shutoff valves.

Plastic oil storage tank at a farm in St. Weonards, Herefordshire, in the U.K. (C) Daniel Friedman Spill preventing drop tube shutoff valve - source, North Dakota UST Operators Training 2015

Reader Question: I've seen claims that oil storage tanks last even up to 40 years - who's right?

Oil tank float up (C) D Friedman

I refer to one of your articles on your website (OIL TANK LIFE, ABOVEGROUND), of which I am curious and very much want to know more. Are there justification to that?

Or it depends on other parameters such as weather and soil conditions? Some websites mentioned that such tank can last even up to 40 years. - M.A., PUB, Singapore National Water Agency

Reply: how long do buried oil tanks last ? ... It depends

Our InspectAPedia photo of an abandoned "buried" oil tank shown at left is an example of a buried oil storage tank that had a very long and leakproof life - until it was abandoned, forgotten, and left empty. Worse the tank had been buried alongside a waterway - a stream in Rhinebeck, NY.


This oil tank was subjected to very wet soil conditions over several decades, apparently without leaking oil into the environment. But we can't promise the same performance for all buried tanks. It depends ...

In addition to the OIL TANK LIFE, ABOVEGROUND article you cite above, that page, this page, and also OIL TANK TESTING METHODS give research on oil tank leaks and life expectancy as does the REFERENCES section of each of our oil tank articles.

Underground oil tank being transported (C) D Friedman

The oil tank in the back of the truck in the photo above is having the ride of its life. A bit of banging around seems harmless. Is it? Not necessarily.

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Thank you for the interesting oil tank life question. Indeed we can find industry sources in the U.S. and Canada that give 50 year life estimates for some types of residential oil storage tanks.

None of those tables considers site conditions or installation snafus, though plumbing connections are mentioned.

A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem or factors that might affect the life of a specific oil tank when at a specific site or oil tank, even before any actual tests for evidence of oil tank leakage. That said, here are some things to consider:

If you have reason to need an oil storage tank that is resistant to corrosion damage, take a look at some of the fiberglass and other plastic alternatives as well as (more costly) multi-walled oil storage tanks that are required in some jurisdictions and applications.

What is the Legal Definition of "... up to xxx..." Claims in Advertising?

Watch out: about "up to" claims.

Finally, whenever you see someone claiming "... up to ..." you don't really know what to make of such remarks. "Average life of an oil storage tank" is nothing like "... up to... " life. "Up to" after all, could include one single instance of an oil storage tank that was reported to be 40 or 60 or some other age. And meaningless.

Consulting with an advertising attorney in 2010 we learned that there is a legal definition of "up to" claims - at least in advertising case law. You can claim "up to" for a product if 10 percent of the product meets that standard.

So if one oil tank lasted for 40 years somewhere but another nine in the same test set all failed in the first month of service (certainly not really likely), the tank "expert" could still claim that his oil tank installations lasted "up to 40 years".

I appreciate the question and welcome reports of oil tank life from folks in other countries and environments. We are dedicated to making our information as accurate, complete, useful, and unbiased as possible: we very much welcome critique, questions, or content suggestions for our web articles. Working together and exchanging information makes us better informed than any individual can be working alone.

InspectAPedia is an independent publisher of building, environmental, and forensic inspection, diagnosis, and repair information for the public - we have no business nor financial connection with any manufacturer or service provider discussed at our website.


Continue reading at OIL TANK FAILURE RATES or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.


If your oil tank is leaking see OIL TANK LEAK ADVICE.

Or see this

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