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11 Warning Signs Your Aboveground Storage Tank Needs Help

So you did the right thing. You yanked that underground tank out of the ground, made sure you're doing your part to keep the environment clean and green, and had an aboveground tank installed.

Good on you!

Now that you have an aboveground tank, potential problems are easier to keep an eye out for, and easier to fix if they arise.

Here are 11 things to watch out for with your new aboveground tank.


1) Are the tank legs unstable or on a precarious foundation?

When we install a new aboveground tank, we always make sure it is secure and level. But if your aboveground tank is older, or was installed by someone else, it may be a little shaky. Those little tank legs are holding a lot, between the weight of the tank itself and the weight of the fuel that's in it. The last thing you want is a full tank to come toppling over, spilling all that fuel you just paid for either all over your basement or all over your yard. Little unstable legs can mean a BIG mess.

2) Are there any signs of rust, weeps, wet spots, or excessive dents on the tank's surface?

All of these signs point to a deterioration of the tank itself. If any of these are observed, there is a chance the tank will have to be replaced. If the tank doesn't get replaced, and these signs get worse, your tank could leak. And yes, even aboveground tanks can leak!

3) Are there any irregularities or bumps along the bottom of the tank?

Run your hand along the underside of the tank. It should be nice and smooth. If you can feel bumps or dimples, it could be a first sign that your tank is starting to erode from the inside. These bumps and dimples, given enough time, can turn into holes in the bottom of your tank. It should be pretty clear that holes in the bottom of your tank is NOT something you want.

4) Are there any drips or signs of leakage around the filter or valves?

Any tank, whether underground or aboveground, should be sealed except for the designated vent pipes. Oil should go into the fill pipe, hang out inside the tank, and leave via the piping that goes from your tank to your furnace. That's it. If you're noticing drips or leaks anywhere on your tank, it means something somewhere need to either be tightened or replaced. A drip now could mean a full blow leak or spill later.

5) Do the oil lines between the tank and the furnace run either under concrete or aboveground without being encased in protective tubing?

The lines that go from your tank to your furnace are actually pretty fragile. Usually constructed of copper, its not difficult to crimp, bend, or even break the lines if they are bare. In cases where the lines run along the floor or behind other equipment (like washers or dryers) these lines should have a protective casing to act as a buffer between them and the outside world.

6) Is there danger of snow or ice falling on the tank?

If the weather outside is frightful, then your tank may not be so delightful. While snow and ice can look beautiful, wet heavy snow accumulating on the top of your tank could be putting undue stress on it. And if snow or ice falls onto the top of your tank from, say, the roof of your house, that force could either break off the fill, product, or vent lines, or even puncture your tank!

7) 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.

8) 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.

9) 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.

10) Is the fuel-level gauge cracked, stuck, or frozen? Or are there signs of oil around it?

If your tank is inside, this is really just to ensure that your gauge is working properly. Being accurately aware of how much oil you have is key to monitoring how much fuel you're using, when you should get more, and how much more you will need. If your tank is outside, it means all these thing and then some. If the gauge is cracked or broken on a tank that is stored outside, there is a chance of water creeping in through the cracks and making its way into your tank. Water in your tank can both speed up the deterioration/ erosion of your tank as well as get water into your heating system, both bad things.

11) Are you using more oil than normal?

This is a telltale sign that something may be wrong with your 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 out. You can take a look at your tank and see if there are pools or leaks. If there are, its time to replace that tank.


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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