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8 Simple Ways to Check the Health of Your Underground Storage Tank

We always encourage homeowners that have an underground tank to get it out as soon as possible. We also know that it can be a pricey process (especially if the tank has already leaked oil into your soil).

Below is a list of items you can keep an eye on until you're ready to yank that tank. But remember, LOOK, don’t touch. Leave the service and maintenance to the professionals (that's us). And keep in mind, many of these items mean a leak could already be in process! Ideally, get that tank out BEFORE you see these signs.


1) Are you using more oil than normal?

This is a telltale sign that something's not right with your underground tank. If you are using more oil than normal, there a chance that your tank has a hole and the unaccounted for fuel is leaking into your soil. This means this tank needs to come out NOW!

2) Is your tank taking on water—a rise in water level greater than 1/2” for an 8- to 12- hour period? (Your can test this yourself using water-find paste, or give Optima a call and our technicians can check for you.) *

If you find that you have water in your tank, there's a chance it has seeped in through cracks and holes that have formed from the tank rusting and corroding. If water can seep in, then oil can seep out. This is another sign that tank's gotta GO!

3) Are there petroleum odors in your basement? *

If your basement starts smelling more like a diesel truck stop and less like a basement, there may be something wrong. Your underground tank is equipped with a vent line, which allows fumes to escape safely. An odor means the vapor has either seeped out of the tank or backed up from a clogged vent line and made its way into your home. Not only is this a sign that there could be something wrong with the tank and lines, it can be extremely dangerous for the occupants of the building. Remember, if you smell something, say something.

4) Are there signs of oil sheens in nearby streams, wetlands, or drainage ditches? *

This one could be caused by a few things. An observable sheen in a nearby body of water means that there was some sort of leak somewhere, whether it be from a neighbor messily changing the oil in their car, a nearby gas station, or even your underground tank. However, no matter where the sheen came from, this means the groundwater has been impacted somewhere near you and should be reported to the DEC ASAP.

5) Are there signs of distressed (withered) vegetation over or down the slope of the tank? *

Plants need pretty specific conditions to happily grow. Moisture, pH, sunlight...they all have to be in balance for plants to flourish. If you have plants on or near the location of your underground tank that suddenly start withering or dying, this means something has changed. Vapors or oil in the soil can have dire effects on the plants on the surface. Unhappy vegetation could mean an unhappy tank.

6) Is the tank vent clogged or restricted because of ice, snow, or insect nests? (Screened vents can be used to prevent insect nest problems.)

While this might not result in an oil spill, this one is just good housekeeping. Making sure the vent is clear of debris will prevent fumes from backing up into the tank and potentially into your home. A little cleaning can go a long way for the life of your tank.

7) Is the overfill whistle silent when the tank is being filled?

All storage tanks should be equipped with a whistle alarm, at a minimum, to audibly inform you that the tank is being filled. This is a safety mechanism to help protect you from your tank getting overfilled. If an overfill does occur, it can result in oil spilling out through the vent and onto your lawn. This is another way your oil can get into your soil, and would still result in the need for a spill cleanup. Check with your heating oil delivery person to make sure the overfill whistle is working properly.

8) Are there signs of spills around the fill pipe or the vent pipe?

This follows along with the overfill whistle. Even with a functional alarm, mistakes can and do happen. You can look around the vent or fill pipe to see if you have any signs of a spill in those areas. Again, check with your delivery person after they are done filling your tank. Whether a spill comes from an overflow or a leak in the tank, it needs to be taken care of.

* This condition requires notification of the DEC on the spill hotline : 1-800-457-7362


We've put together a checklist that you can print out and use. Its a good idea to check on these items at least once a month. The earlier a problem is detected, the sooner it can be addressed.

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