How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

There's an old fuel oil tank underground in the yard. Is it a problem?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

If you see two pipes sticking out of the ground in the yard that look like the picture above, then an abandoned fuel oil tank lurks in the ground below. There may still be a functional fuel oil fired furnace in the Gainesville area, but we haven’t seen one in a long time; natural gas and electricity provide heat nowadays.

   The top pipe in the photo is the filler pipe, and sometimes a hinged cover flap sits on top of it, but here it has gone missing; and the bottom pipe (with the mushroom cap) is the vent. They are easy to miss, especially in an overgrown yard, and we once found the pipes the hard way--by tripping over one of them.

   The bad news about an old in-ground fuel oil tank is that it may have been abandoned while still holding oil, and the subsequent rust-through of the tank shell would allow contamination of the soil in the immediate area. Also, even an empty tank represents a risk: when it eventually rusts-through and structurally fails, the soil will collapse in around it. We recommend that you ask the seller for documentation that the tank has been properly decommissioned, or removal of the tank and testing of soil by a qualified professional service.

   Good news is that residential oil tanks are not governed by Federal or Florida  environmental protection agencies. Their statutes cover commercial tanks only. So there is no bureaucracy to deal with, unless a significant contamination is found.

   In Gainesville and Alachua County, however, the local Department of Environmental Protection’s Household Waste Collection Center offers free testing of abandoned residential fuel oil tanks to determine if they still contain any oil. Also, if oil still remains in a tank, they will remove and recycle it at no charge to the homeowner. You can call them at (352) 334-0440 for more information on the program. 

    You must first sign a form that allows county employees to enter your property before they can provide the service. Alachua County’s homeowner program does not determine if any contamination of the soil has occurred and does not safely decommission the tank by cleaning and filling it with sand, or removing it.

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Here’s links to a collection of our blog posts about SAFETY:

• What is the best place to install carbon monoxide alarms (CO detectors) in a house? 

Does a home inspector check for lead paint?

• Why is it important to use "cabinet screws" to mount the upper cabinets in the kitchen?

• Is the door between an attached garage and the house required to have a closer (self-closing device)?

• Can the smoke sensors in a home security/fire alarm system replace the smoke alarms required by the building code?

• Should I get a lightning rod system to protect my house? 

• What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

• What is aging in place? 

• How do I safely remove a dead rodent (rat, mouse or squirrel) from the attic?

• Does pushing the test button on a smoke alarm test the smoke sensor device inside? 

• What is the minimum height of a ceiling fan above the floor?

• Should a smoke alarm be installed in the kitchen? 

• Why is a double cylinder deadbolt lock on an exterior door a safety hazard?

• Why are rubber washing machine hoses a safety risk?

• What can I do to avoid kitchen accidents and injuries?

• Where are smoke alarms required to be located? 

• Are carbon monoxide alarms required to be installed in homes in Florida?

• Are old vinyl tile floors dangerous?  

• How can I use safety checks to limit my tenant liability for a rental house?

• Do you inspect for trip hazards around the home? 

• When should I replace my smoke alarms?

• Why is an anti-tip device now required behind the range? 

• What are the hazards to avoid when going into an attic? 

What are the warning signs of a dangerous deck?

    Visit our MOLD, LEAD AND OTHER CONTAMINANTS and SAFETY pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.  

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