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Fuel Oil Leaks: What You Need to Know

While most homeowners never encounter problems with the oil tanks used to heat their home, the reality is that spills do happen. Around 40% of accidental fuel oil spills happen in residential homes. And although generally safe, fuel oil tanks located in basements or outside of residential homes do deteriorate over time, which can lead to dangerous – and expensive – leaks.

Homeowners should not ignore the risk of fuel oil leaks – here’s what you need to know in order to keep your loved ones and your home safe from the threat of a leak in your home’s oil tank.

What is a Fuel Oil Leak?

A fuel oil leak occurs when oil escapes from an above ground or underground oil tank, leaking out onto the surrounding soil or floor, and causing contamination to the surrounding areas.

Common Causes

One of the most common causes of fuel oil leaks is the deterioration of the metal tank itself – exterior corrosion from the surrounding soil, or water and sludge inside the tank, can cause small pinholes to develop in the tank.

Other causes include falling snow or ice, corrosion to the oil tank’s legs, a leaking pump, oil filter or atomizer, an unstable base (causing the oil tank to topple) or even a vehicle impact to the outside of the tank.

Preventative Measures

There are many things you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones and your home from fuel oil leaks:

  • Make sure your oil tank is approved by the Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada (ULC)
  • Be sure to get your heating oil tank inspected every day by a licensed specialist.
  • Check your tank for dents, cracked welds, pinched lines, damaged oil level indicators or connectors, a damaged support base, rust, seepage, odours, or damp areas.
  • Consider replacing your tank if it is 15 years of age or older.
  • Place your oil tank at least 100 feet away from the nearest well.
  • Protect your tank from falling snow or ice with an ice shield.

What to Do if Your Oil Tank Leaks

If you see standing oil or oil stains around your tank, notice oily patches or stains on the ground, or smell oil around your tank, you should call your fuel oil supplier or oil burner technician so that they can thoroughly inspect your tank.

You will also want to take a few steps to prevent a fire or explosion – make sure to put out any open flames, such as candles, pit fires, furnaces, or gas logs. Shut down all appliances and equipment. Do not smoke around the area, and remove all sources of ignition.

Control odours by opening windows and doors to help ventilate the contaminated area, and shut off forced hot air heating or central air conditioning systems. To keep basement fuel oil leak odours from spreading to the upstairs living space, close the basement door and seal all cracks and gaps between walls, doors and floors with a plastic sheets – such as a plastic table cloth or shower liner.

What About Insurance?

If you notice a fuel oil leak on your property, you’ll want to contact your Desjardins Insurance claims advisor to determine next steps, and begin the claims process. If you have a home inventory, make sure it is on hand, as this is helpful to the claims process.

Most types of damage to your home is covered by your Desjardins Home Insurance plan. However, you can also add additional coverage to your plan to avoid unexpected losses caused by a fuel oil leak. To check if your fuel oil tank is eligible for this coverage, simply answer a few simple questions about your tank.

Fuel Oil Leaks: What You Need to Know

Fuel oil remains a common source of heating for Canadians that live in rural areas.