I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of our National Oil policies—-in spite of the fact that our government could afford to buy every household in the United States a brand new Prius with what “the experts” project will be the total cost of the Iraq war.
A little closer to home we deal with oil in the form of millions of underground oil storage tanks used for home heating. Many of these tanks are aging and date to the second world war. Many homes have converted to gas, leaving these old tanks in the ground where they can leak, contaminating the ground and water table.
It is very common to see the evidence of past oil heating systems in homes in the Seattle area. As an inspector I do everything I can to not miss the possibility of underground tanks. That said, missing them is not that difficult. This first picture shows a newer above ground tank. Why would one think of an underground tank if we see an above ground tank? The fact that the tank is “newer” at a home that is “older” is a hint that one should look closer. The possibility of multiple tanks is always a possibility especially in older homes. The typical vent pipe of an underground tank is visible behind the tank—making missing the underground tank very easy.
This next picture shows where supply lines from an underground tank have been cut off and then the wall was patched. Now the leaking pipes are staining the area yellow—and the characteristic smell of #2 heating oil was obvious.
Perhaps the worst evidence of a leaking oil tank that I have come across while inspecting, is a home where the oil tank had been removed in conjunction with an insurance claim that covered the underground tank. A new tank had been installed and the ground around the tank was being treated with “enzymes” which “eat” any oil that might have leached into the ground. On the inside of the foundation there were extensive yellow stains in an area under the laundry sink—and again the characteristic smell of #2 oil. (This is not “cream” colored paint—it is “oil” colored paint.)
When the tank removal company was questioned about the leaching into the foundation they immediately returned to the site where they removed the new tank, lots of dirt, and removed portions of the contaminated foundation and floor. A very costly repair to say the least. Leaks like this can be very extensive because if they are in the proximity of foundation footing drains (note the floor drain at the bottom left corner of the picture) the oil can be carried great distances from the source of the original contamination.
While the vast majority of tanks apparently don’t leak, when they do, it can be very costly to make repairs—all of which needs to be factored in to the true cost of oil. All unused underground oil tanks should be professionally removed/decommissioned as required by the local jurisdiction.
Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector
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