How to Remove/Dispose Your Old Oil Tank

Aside from saying goodbye to exorbitantly high heating bills and wrangling oil deliveries over the phone, one of the most satisfying parts of ditching fuel oil is getting rid of the rusty 275-gallon oil tank in your basement. In addition to taking up valuable space and generally being an eyesore, those hulking storage tanks are potential environmental hazards. A leaky tank can wind up causing serious ecological damage and cost you thousands of dollars. Here is what every homeowner looking to upgrade to a cleaner, more efficient, and cost-effective heating system should know about safely disposing of those old, rusted oil storage behemoths lurking in their basements.

Underground Storage Tanks

Before reading any further, it’s important to understand the potential hazards of a buried oil tank or underground storage tank (USTs). Underground oil tanks represent a major environmental hazard and must be removed by a certified professional, and depending on where you live, often with direct supervision from the state. While the cost of excavating an underground storage tank varies depending on the degree of contamination and your local clean up standards, the EPA estimates that UST removal will run you anywhere from $10,000 to over $1 million, with an average cost of $130,000. Most states require underground storage tanks to be registered and homeowners are required to disclose their presence when selling the house. If you think your home may have one, you should reach out to a professional as soon as possible. The longer underground storage tanks remain buried the more likely they are to leak and the worse, and more expensive, those leaks will become.

Fuel oil first gained popularity with American homeowners in the 1940s. At the time, oil was pitched as a cleaner, easier, more efficient alternative to burning sooty coal. While an oil tank was certainly less of a hassle than a coal chamber, many midcentury homes opted to simply bury their oil storage underground instead of installing them in the basement. The vast majority of oil tanks buried at the time were made of pure steel which rusts when exposed to moisture underground and can get corroded by constant contact with toxic fuel oil. Fortunately for most homeowners today, the government started heavily regulating underground storage tanks in 1980 and the vast majority of fuel oil storage is aboveground, usually in basements.

Aboveground Storage Tanks

With that in mind, it’s obvious why the vast majority of homes with fuel oil heating systems have aboveground storage tanks, or ASTs. Some homes have aboveground storage tanks outside of the house, while the majority have them in the basement. By keeping your fuel oil above the board, homeowners can ostensibly see signs of corrosion or even oil leaks before they become major hazards. Some more modern tanks even come with leak detection systems, UV resistant coating, and different designs to prevent condensation that can lead to rusting.

Most aboveground storage tanks have the capacity to carry 275 gallons of oil, though some are as small as 160 gallons and as large as 400 gallons. A few states and municipalities require registering aboveground storage tanks and enforce regular inspections from a qualified professional to ensure they’re safely sealed. But for the most part, storage tanks with a capacity under 1,100 gallons aren’t regulated and it’s up to the homeowner to make sure there’s no leakage or corrosion. Regardless of the regulation, it’s a good idea to have your oil tanks inspected at least once a year. If you’re already getting your oil furnace serviced annually (which you should), it’s easy enough to ask the technician to give your tanks a once over.

Removing Storage Tanks

The average cost of removing an aboveground storage tank in New York State is around $1,300. As we’ve pointed out, fuel oil is extremely toxic, not to mention flammable, so removal should be left to the professionals. Storage tank removal should be carried out by a firm that’s permitted to work in your area, and it’s recommended that you make sure they carry pollution liability insurance. Oftentimes, it’s easiest to call your local fire department as they’re usually tasked with issuing permits and can recommend qualified contractors.

The first thing a removal contractor will do is extract the reusable oil from your tank using a special explosion proof pump. If you heat your home with oil, you know how expensive every gallon is, so instead of letting it go to waste, that oil can be filtered and reused. Some contractors will pay you for the oil or reimburse you for it by taking the value of it off of your bill.

Over time, rust, water, bacteria, and other refuse will settle into a thick sludge at the bottom of your tank. So after the salvageable oil is sucked out, the next step is cutting open the tank with a metal cutting blade and carefully cleaning out the remaining sludge inside. Sludge is usually scraped out by hand and removed to a sealed drum in buckets. That thick slurry can be recycled for use in heavy industrial capacities.

After the oil has been removed and the sludge cleaned out, the next step is to cut the pipes and remove them from the foundation. From there, the oil tank will be either further cut down or carried out whole. No matter how thoroughly the tank has been cleaned, it’s still contaminated and cannot be removed to a standard solid waste station. Qualified contractors know to haul your old storage tank to approved hazardous waste sites where it can be treated and eventually sold for scrap. 

Another Reason to Upgrade

The longer you wait to dispose of your old oil storage tanks, the bigger the risk you run of having to pay a lot more to clean up after them. Homeowners with compromised or aging tanks looking to stick with fuel oil can wind up spending as much as $3,800 to have a new tank installed! Between that and sky-high heating bills, it’s no wonder more and more homeowners are making the switch to cleaner, more efficient heating systems like geothermal.

According to TechCrunch, upgrading to a renewable geothermal heating and cooling system like Dandelion “make[s] economic sense” for homeowners still relying on fuel oil to heat their homes. Geothermal taps into renewable energy under your lawn to provide heating in the winter and hyper-efficient central AC in the summer. You can even install a Dandelion system with no money down, pay as little as $150/month, and start seeing big savings from day one.

Make the switch to Geothermal for as little as $0 down and $150/month.

To see if your home qualifies click here:

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