How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
How can I tell if I have a buried fuel oil tank?
Saturday, April 18, 2020
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 few functional fuel oil fired furnaces still in use in Florida, 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 can 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.
The 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. Tanks can be removed or filled with sand after removal of any remaining fuel out, and there are contractors that specialize in tank remediation.
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