Depending on where you live, your home may be heated using oil. In Atlantic Canada, for example, 42% of homes have an oil tank. Leaks and spills from oil tanks are dangerous and costly to clean up. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the average clean-up costs between $250,000 and $500,000, and it usually means replacing your oil tank and supply lines, removing contaminated soil, and even replacing your home’s foundation.
As an oil tank owner, you have to take some precautions to keep your oil tank in good condition to prevent leaks and spills. It’s also important to make sure you have the right insurance coverage to protect you against damage caused by your oil tank. Learn what kind of maintenance is required for an oil tank and find out how to get the right insurance coverage to protect you in the event of a leak or spill.
Note: There are a few different types of oil tanks. This article will apply mainly to outdoor, above-ground oil tanks. Many of the tips mentioned will also apply to indoor oil tanks.
What maintenance is required for oil tanks?
If your home has an oil tank, you’re responsible for maintaining it — not the oil company. Here are some ways you can avoid or detect potential issues that may arise with your oil tank:
- Have your oil tank inspected by a licensed professional once a year. Professional maintenance generally includes:
- Performing an overall inspection of the tank and its components
- Checking the fill and vent pipes for damage
- Changing the filter
- Testing the vent alarm, oil level gauge, and leak detection devices
- Making sure your tank and its components meet industry standards and your insurance company’s requirements
- Documenting visible issues in a report for you and your insurer (tip: keep all records of maintenance and oil delivery, as you may need them later)
- Protect your oil tank and lines. An outdoor oil tank should never be installed under a roof overhang, but it should be covered with a protective oil tank cover. Regularly inspect the area around your oil tank and make sure there are no tree branches or other types of debris that may fall on it. You can also install an oil line protector (and a gauge protector if it’s outdoors) to safeguard against foot traffic and falling debris.
- Regularly check your oil tank and its components for signs of damage. Look for cracks, dents, and rust blisters. Corrosion often occurs near the bottom of the tank — you can use a mirror and flashlight to see the bottom if it’s not easily visible. If you see an area that looks fragile, don’t push on it, as that could lead to a spill. You should check the tank’s legs for signs of damage, and make sure the leg brackets aren’t cracked or coming away from the tank. It’s also a good idea to inspect the platform beneath the tank to make sure it isn't cracking or showing other signs of damage.
- Look for signs of condensation or water in the filter. Condensation can cause corrosion or rust, which can weaken the walls of your oil tank, potentially leading to a leak. It can also lead to tank failure. You should ask your maintenance company to regularly inspect for moisture within the oil in your tank.
- Have your oil tank topped up to a safe level for the summer. This can help prevent condensation from building up in the tank.
- Pay attention to the ground below your oil tank. If you notice the surface looks darker than it should, this could mean there was a spill or leak from your tank.
- Keep your oil tank and its components clear of snow and ice. An oil tank protector should help shield your oil tank from the elements, but it’s a good idea to regularly clear your oil tank, lines, and connections — and the area around them — of any snow and ice that has built up. It’s also important to keep your roof clear of snow or ice that could fall onto your tank.
There are many different types of oil tanks, and each may have slightly different maintenance requirements. Be sure to ask a professional what specific steps you should take to maintain your own oil tank, have it inspected by a professional annually, and follow any instructions from the manufacturer.
Are oil tank leaks and oil spills covered by home insurance?
If your oil tank leaks and your property is damaged as a result, the damage may or may not be covered by your home insurance policy, depending on your coverage and your insurer’s rules. Some insurance companies automatically include oil spill coverage in their home insurance policies, while others don’t. It’s important to let your insurance company know if your home is heated using oil, as failing to disclose this could lead to a denied claim in the event of a fire or oil spill. Your insurer may ask the age and type of your oil tank, and they may also require you to provide copies of inspection reports to ensure your tank is safe. If there’s an unintentional spill from your oil tank that does damage to someone else’s property, your third-party liability coverage would likely cover the damage.
Have questions about how your oil tank may affect your home insurance coverage? Reach out to your licensed home insurance broker.
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