Photograph of a in-home oil tank which is old and might be abandoned?

How to Abandon Indoor Oil Tanks
and What to Do About Already-Abandoned Indoor Oil Tanks

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How to take an oil storage tank out of service without having to remove the tank. The photo above shows a rather old indoor oil tank which is still connected to a fill and vent pipe. The tank was leaking badly enough that it may have been abandoned but left in place. If it is not in use, there are some critical steps to be taken to avoid an indoor oil spill and catastrophe, such as having the tank receive an un-wanted oil delivery that could leak into the building.

The article and photographs below give advice and example photos for the visual inspection of above ground oil tanks for leaks and damage including damaged or leaky oil storage tanks, improper oil tank piping, valves, and indoor-type oil tanks located outdoors.

Here are a some important indicators of tank condition that any home owner or home inspector can examine when an oil storage tank is visible and accessible inside or at a building.

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ABANDONED & ABANDONING INDOOR OIL TANKS - Inspecting Properties Where There are Known or Suspected Abandoned or Removed Indoor Oil Storage Tanks

Leaky indoor oili storage tank or AST (C) 2013 Daniel FriedmanHave all abandoned tank fill pipes been completely removed from the building to prevent mistaken delivery and spill into the building? Have old indoor tanks been removed or marked clearly as "Abandoned, DO NOT FILL" ?

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Warning about un-used indoor oil tanks and surprise oil deliveries

Warning about un-used oil tanks at buildings: there have been instances of accidental delivery of oil to buildings where indoor or above ground outdoor tanks remained, or worse, where the tanks were removed but the fill and vent pipe were not. In New Paltz, N.Y., S.V. reported (to the web author, DF) such a case. An indoor oil storage tank had been removed.

The fill and vent pipe remained to be removed from the house wall. The builder, in an effort to be cautious about an improper oil delivery, turned the fill pipe upside down at the house wall and even nailed plywood against the building to cover the fill pipe as the home waited for the pipe to be removed and the hole in the foundation wall filled.

A neighbor called the oil company on a very cold night, complaining of loss of heat, and fear of freezing pipes. The call resulted in a request for an emergency delivery of heating oil. Unfortunately the driver found the wrong home, pulled off the plywood, and intending to respond to an emergency on a very cold night, proceeded to pump a large volume of heating oil into the basement of the home.

The result was a very costly cleanup of the building.

If an indoor oil tank is removed or is no longer in use and is going to be removed, or even if it is going to be left in place, the fill and vent piping should be removed to prevent an accidental fill-up and a possible oil spill.

Tips for Using up the Heating Oil in an Oil Tank to be Abandoned

Presuming that a property owner has decided to switch to some other source of building heat, or to a new oil tank at a new location, how do we make the best use of the oil remaining in the old oil tank which is to be abandoned?

Also see additional visibly detectable oil tank defects listed at Home Inspection Report Language Library: Visible Defects in Oil Tank Installations, Tanks, and Heating Oil Piping.

If You are Installing a New Oil Tank to replace the old one

  • Pump old oil into a new tank: If a new heating oil tank is to be installed, the oil company can simply pump your old heating oil into the new tank.
    • Take care not to pump sludge and water: You will want the oil company to take care not to pump water or sludge from the old oil tank into the new one. That's not so difficult as the water and sludge tend to remain at the bottom of the oil tank except when they're stirred up during a fresh oil delivery. Also see OIL TANK WATER CONTAMINATION and OIL TANK SLUDGE.
    • If the sludge and water have been stirred up in an old oil tank because of an oil delivery into an empty or nearly-empty oil tank, we recommend that you turn off your oil fired heating equipment and wait an hour or two to let things settle down. If you do not let the sludge and water settle back to the tank bottom, the risk is that you'll pull these materials into the oil filter or oil burner, causing clogging and loss of heat.

If you want to abandon the Indoor Oil Tank, for example when converting to gas or electric heat

  • Use up the oil in the old tank:
    • If your oil tank piping lines come off of the top of the oil tank and are properly installed the lines won't pick up the sludge, water, and last few inches of oil in the tank. Also see OIL TANK WATER CONTAMINATION and OIL TANK SLUDGE.
    • If your oil tank piping lines come off of the bottom of the oil tank and you run it out there is the risk of pulling sludge and crud into the oil filter, oil burner, and losing heat if those components clog. If the oil burner shuts off in that manner, it'll indeed be shut off firmly until it's repaired, so don't try this if you're still depending on the oil heat to keep working (say to avoid freezing).
  • The old oil tank may still need to be pumped out if there's oil remaining in it - lest you get a messy leak and spill later;
  • You may be able to leave the old oil tank in place, but we recommend that above ground oil tanks be removed.
    • Remove the fill and vent pipes from the abandoned indoor oil tank and plug those openings to avoid smelly fumes. Leaving the old pipes in place risks an un-wanted oil delivery and possible oil leaks from the old tank, as we discussed at Warning about un-used oil tanks.
    • Notify your oil company to stop making deliveries



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