Advice on checking heating oil tank

Tony Brown

With home working at its peak this winter, the UK and Ireland Fuel Distributors Association (UKIFDA) is urging the 1.5m UK households who use oil to heat their home to use this time to check out their central heating system and in particular the oil tank in their garden.

UKIFDA is part of the Oilcare campaign, a joint initiative between UK environmental regulators, trade and professional bodies and industry to develop and provide guidance for domestic, commercial and industrial users on the safe handling, storage and recovery of oils, to reduce the environmental impact of spills from poor practices in the storage, use and disposal of oils.

UKIFDA technical manager Tony Brown said: “As part of the Oilcare campaign UKIFDA wants to remind households about its aims. In doings so, we are advising consumers to think about the tank in their garden and how old the tank is as homeowners need to be aware that they are responsible for the condition of their tank.

“If you are looking to the future and thinking of decarbonising the heating in your home and transitioning from oil to liquid biofuels, this is also an ideal opportunity for you to also consider upgrading the tank in your garden and installing a bunded oil tank capable of storing biofuels, which is a tank within a leak proof area or a double skinned oil tank. A bunded tank offers an extra layer of protection for homeowners against costly accidental oil spillages, theft, and environmental concerns. When switching to a bunded tank, it is vital that you use an OFTEC registered technician for a safe installation that is building control compliant with proper control documentation.

“Importantly, a well-maintained tank will help to ensure a heating system is running at maximum efficiency, enabling consumers to save energy and reduce their fuel bills. However, there is concern that some households may put off tank inspections in an attempt to save money on a replacement and that unregistered technicians may not be checking oil tanks as part of an annual service to keep their costs competitive.

“Oil tank leaks are not only costly to you, the homeowner, but also to the environment, and it is far better to maintain your tank and make sure it stays in a safe condition than it is to deal with the outcome of a damaged tank.

“All UKIFDA members follow best practice and adhere to our strict Code of Conduct and Customer Charter with detailed tank and delivery standards so it is also important to consider who is delivering your heating oil and if they are following industry standards and have a customer focussed, tanksafe code of practice that they adhere to.

“All parties involved in the Oilcare campaign strongly recommend all heating oil customers take out an insurance policy to cover their oil tank, as most home insurance doesn’t cover heating oil tanks – and faults can be expensive. You want a policy that covers you for the loss of any oil, the cost of any environmental clean-up, and the cost of cleaning your and any neighbouring property.”

UKIFDA is also advising homeowners to carry out a thorough check of the oil tank every six months, paying particular attention to warning signs of wear and tear that include:

  • Rust
  • Splits or cracks
  • Bulging
  • Subsidence on the base. The oil tank should be placed on a stable level base that is at least 300mm bigger in all directions than the tank itself. The oil tank should sit on either a 100mm thick concrete slab or on paving slabs that are a minimum of 50mm thick, and the foundation should be appropriate for the ground conditions.
  • Gauges not working
  • An unusual oil smell
  • The position of the tank. The oil tank should be placed in accordance with building regulations, which are designed to protect homeowners from a fire if started nearby. An oil tank needs to be a minimum of 1.8metres from any openings to buildings, and if this distance is not possible then a fire barrier can be built between the tank and the hazard.
  • Foliage covering the tank. You need to clear any foliage covering the tank and make sure there is enough space for you to get around it to carry out regular checks, and space for the oil distributor to safely fill the tank.

Tony added: “Each year we receive reports from our members detailing incidences where tanks have split on filling or even days later. It’s important for people who use oil to heat their home to have their tanks checked by a qualified technician to ensure it is in the best condition and to be alert to potential problems before they happen. Losing a tank of oil could be expensive but this cost is minimal compared to the potential cost to clear up a spill.”

Paul Rose, chief executive of liquid fuels trade association OFTEC, added: “When you have your boiler serviced, your oil tank should be inspected at the same time. Your OFTEC registered engineer will check the overall condition of your tank and whether any water or condensation is present, which collects at the bottom of the tank. Your service engineer will provide a report detailing observations of the tank and any actions you need to take to prevent an oil spillage.”