Home Oil Tank Spills: Are you Prepared to Pay the Bill?

Leaks and spills from home-heating oil tanks are dangerous and costly. One litre of leaked oil can contaminate one million litres of drinking water. The clean-up costs related to oil spills average $250,000 – $500,000 (but the costs can be, and often are, much higher than that) and can include everything from replacing the tanks and supply lines and removing contaminated soil around your home to replacing your home’s foundation.

If there is a spill or leak of oil from your property, you could be entirely responsible for all these costs. No one needs that expense or hassle. Check with your insurance representative to find out about your coverage.

As a property owner, the oil tank and its maintenance are your responsibility. They belong to you – not the oil company. Here are things you should know about the proper storage of home-heating oil and the maintenance of the storage tanks. Remember: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Buying an oil tank

There are many oil tanks on the market today. How long any tank will last depends on many factors, including:

  • location and exposure to the elements
  • the grade of fuel used
  • maintenance of the tank
Home oil tanks generally hold about 1,000 litres and can come with plastic liners to help reduce internal corrosion, and with valves for draining water. Some tanks automatically prevent the accumulation of water by allowing condensation to be drawn off with oil entering the furnace.
Features to look for when buying a new tank include a certification by the Standards Council of Canada or the Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada; and pipe connections made of metal.

*NEVER buy a used tank. It’s almost impossible to know what you’re buying.

Installing an oil tank

The tank should be installed:

  • at least 15 metres (50 ft.) from a well;
  • on a non-combustible footing such as a concrete slab or patio stones
  • (wood weathers and rots);
  • where it can be easily inspected; and
  • away from a wall, where it would be more likely to rust. Never transfer oil from an old to a new tank; it could contaminate the new tank with water-laden sludge.

Maintaining an oil tank

  • Conduct your own regular inspections of your tank. Look for signs of corrosion such as rust or shifting.
  • If your tank is over 15 years old, you should be prepared to have it replaced. If you are uncertain about the age or condition of your tank, your fuel oil distributor can do a visual inspection.
  • Protect your tank lines from foot traffic
In the winter …

The winter presents unique stresses and strains for oil tanks.

Here are steps you can take to ensure your tank is protected:

  • Make sure your tank, the lines and the connections – and all the areas around them – are kept clear of snow and ice (your fuel oil company can provide shielding devices).
  • Clear the area around your tank after every snowfall.
  • Protect your tank from falling ice. Keep your roof clear of snow and ice that could fall on your tank.
Oil tanks and your home insurance policy

Each home is different; so, too, is every home insurance policy. Policies are tailored to the needs of the homeowner. Some insurance policies will cover the cost of cleaning up an oil spill, while others have limits on the amount that will be paid. However, if you are found to have not done all that you could to prevent the leak, the clean-up of the resulting damage could be your financial responsibility.


Article provided courtesy of Insurance Bureau of Canada

For more information contact your Broker at Stewart Morrison Insurance Brokers Ltd. or the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Consumer Information Centre at 416.362.9528 or Toll Free 1.800.387.2880