When Should You Replace an Oil Tank?


Your underground oil steel tank has a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years and replacement becomes a significant risk at 20 years. Frequent monitoring of product content can assist you in determining the integrity of your tank. Corrosive soil conditions around the tank can shorten the life by causing external leaks. Look for water inside the tank as it can cause rust and eat through your tank bottom. Visual observations of the oil tank and the surrounding area can serve as further problem indicators. An expert contractor can verify a leak in the tank or piping.

Considerations Affecting Timing of Fuel Oil Tank Replacement

  • If your fuel oil tank is above ground, a periodic visual for leaks and/or rust and corrosion, especially on the bottom half of the tank where it usually occurs, is all you need. Underground tanks are hidden from view and subject to attack by corrosive soils.

    As a first step before installation, one might consider several options including several coats of rust-resistant paint, checking for corrosive soil around the tank and adding cathodic protection similar to what ships do in sea water to protect their hulls, or using a fiberglass tank impervious to corrosion.

    Once the tank is in place and placed into operation, keep a usage log with the tank recording dates and times of fills and measured readings. A calibrated dipstick can be used to measure tank content or volume. A decrease in volume during a no-use period may indicate a leak in tank and/or piping. An increase in volume may indicate water in your tank from condensation or your fill source. Water can cause internal corrosion and must be removed. It can be pumped out from the bottom of the tank.

    Do a visual around your underground tank when you update your log, noting any suspected leaks in piping, spills at the filler cap and oil seeps from tank area.

    A fuel oil leak can migrate through your soil and contaminate wells and building basements. These cleanups are expensive and justify why you should replace your tank. You may say the next time someone asks you, "When do you want to replace?", the sooner, the better before it leaks.

    It's time to take action if you are beginning to suspect from your log that fuel oil losses indeed may be occurring. Hire an expert contractor to perform soil tests to see how much, if any, product is being lost, and perform a tank tightness test using a low PSI pressure-testing or an electronic testing procedure. The test results will provide your answer.

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