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How to Know When Your Heating Oil Tank Needs to Be Replaced

In the U.S., there are about 5.5 million homeowners who rely on heating oil to stay warm during the winter. If you’re one of them, you may be wondering how long your oil tank will last before it needs to be replaced, or what you need to keep an eye out for if you have an aging oil tank. Be on the lookout for these signs that can let you know when you should replace your oil tank.

How Long Does an Oil Tank Last?

On average, a fuel oil tank lasts 15-20 years, although some can last longer with the proper maintenance. However, the Maryland Department of the Environment recommends that homeowners plan to replace their oil tank approximately every 15 years to get ahead of the problems associated with an aging fuel oil tank. If you’ve been diligent about maintaining your tank, you may get some extra time out of it, but in general, it’s best to replace the tank before it becomes a problem.

An aging oil tank can damage your furnace, or it can leak oil into the ground. Both of these scenarios have the potential to cost a lot of money to fix and, in the case of an oil leak, it may cause damage to the environment as well.

If you know how old your fuel oil tank is, it’s fairly easy to monitor the tank and plan for replacement at the appropriate time. But, in many cases, fuel oil tanks last longer than the average time a family will spend living in a home. That means some homeowners don’t know how old their oil tank is because it came with the house when they bought it.

If you aren’t sure about your oil tank’s age, the best thing to do is schedule a tank inspection. Having the tank inspected by an experienced professional will give you a good idea of how old the tank is and detect potential problems before they happen. You may want to go ahead and replace an aging oil tank even if there’s no evidence that it’s leaking or causing other problems with the heating system. Waiting until a tank fails is somewhat of a gamble and could cost you a lot of money later on.

Age, however, isn’t the only determining factor when it comes to oil tank replacement. An oil tank that’s not protected from the elements is especially vulnerable to wear and tear. Additionally, if the oil tank is not properly maintained, then it will likely have problems long before it reaches the estimated end of its lifespan.

How Do I Know If I Need a New Heating Oil Tank?

You can just decide to keep an eye on the tank and hope you spot a small problem before it becomes a big one. But the best way to determine if your oil tank needs to be replaced is to schedule an inspection with a fuel oil company. An experienced technician can spot potential problems that the average homeowner may miss, such as interior rust or small cracks that can become big leaks. They can also recommend any repairs that might be needed to keep the tank in prime condition. An oil tank technician can also identify a tank that needs to be replaced.

If you’re purchasing a home that relies on fuel oil for heat, have the home’s oil tank inspected, even if you believe it’s relatively new. The previous homeowner may not have been forthcoming about problems with the tank. They also may not have kept up with maintenance. An inspection will help you budget for repairs down the road, as well as give you an estimate of how much longer your current tank will be able to function efficiently.

Signs That Your Oil Tank Needs to Be Repaired or Replaced

If you suspect your oil tank isn’t operating the way it should, you’ll likely want to schedule an inspection with an experienced technician. Oil tanks do usually give off some clues, though, that things aren’t as they should be. Regularly checking for these signs can help you detect a small problem before it becomes a big one.

1. Rust

Rust is a big issue for a heating system that runs on fuel oil. Rust inside a fuel tank can clog the fuel lines and filter, preventing your heating system from operating properly. One or two spots outside of the tank may be an indication that there’s more inside. Dents on the outside of the tank can also indicate a more serious problem on the inside.

2. Location

If your tank is above ground and in an area that gets the brunt of winter’s snow and ice, there’s a greater chance it’s been weakened or damaged by the elements. Having it checked by a professional on a regular basis is important to address problems early. Also, consider building a shelter to shield it from the elements, or have the tank moved to another spot on your property where it won’t be directly exposed to harsh weather.

3. Wet Spots

If you spot liquid on the tank itself or the ground below it, there’s a good chance the tank is leaking. An oil tank with a leak isn’t just an environmental hazard — it can also cost you a lot of money in wasted fuel oil. If you see any wet spots in close proximity to your fuel tank, schedule a tank check as soon as possible.

4. Unprotected Lines

If the lines connecting an oil tank to the rest of the heating system appear to be cracked or worn, they won’t be able to properly carry oil to the furnace. Besides preventing the system from operating as it should, this may also be a sign that the tank and its corresponding parts may be ready to be replaced. These pipes can also become clogged and will require a professional cleaning to function properly again.

5. Signs of Faulty Installation

One of the most common signs that your oil tank wasn’t installed correctly is unstable legs. In this situation, the tank may appear uneven and struggle to operate at full capacity. Signs of faulty installation may signal other less obvious problems inside of your fuel tank as well.

6. Broken Fuel Gauge

The fuel gauge is important because it tells you when it’s time to refill the tank. If a fuel gauge is broken, then it’s difficult to keep tabs on oil levels inside the tank, and you risk the tank running dry in the middle of the winter. Running out of heating oil is inconvenient, but it could also damage the tank and require expensive repairs to get it back to full working order again.

Should I Repair or Replace My Heating Oil Tank?

If your heating oil tank is having problems, how do you tell if the tank needs to be replaced? With a newer tank, it may be possible to repair the problem and continue to use the tank, especially if the tank is still under warranty. In some cases, such as the case of a broken gauge or a cracked line, a replacement part may be all that’s needed to return the tank to full operation.

If your tank is more than 15 years old, it’s most likely time to purchase a new tank. Rust or cracks may have rendered the tank useless and will require replacement — especially if there’s evidence that the tank is leaking oil. Paying to repair and maintain an old oil tank may cost you more over time than purchasing a new one.

1. Rust

Rust is a big issue for a heating system that runs on fuel oil. Rust inside a fuel tank can clog the fuel lines and filter, preventing your heating system from operating properly. One or two spots outside of the tank may be an indication that there’s more inside. Dents on the outside of the tank can also indicate a more serious problem on the inside.

2. Location

If your tank is above ground and in an area that gets the brunt of winter’s snow and ice, there’s a greater chance it’s been weakened or damaged by the elements. Having it checked by a professional on a regular basis is important to address problems early. Also, consider building a shelter to shield it from the elements, or have the tank moved to another spot on your property where it won’t be directly exposed to harsh weather.

3. Wet Spots

If you spot liquid on the tank itself or the ground below it, there’s a good chance the tank is leaking. An oil tank with a leak isn’t just an environmental hazard — it can also cost you a lot of money in wasted fuel oil. If you see any wet spots in close proximity to your fuel tank, schedule a tank check as soon as possible.

4. Unprotected Lines

If the lines connecting an oil tank to the rest of the heating system appear to be cracked or worn, they won’t be able to properly carry oil to the furnace. Besides preventing the system from operating as it should, this may also be a sign that the tank and its corresponding parts may be ready to be replaced. These pipes can also become clogged and will require a professional cleaning to function properly again.

5. Signs of Faulty Installation

One of the most common signs that your oil tank wasn’t installed correctly is unstable legs. In this situation, the tank may appear uneven and struggle to operate at full capacity. Signs of faulty installation may signal other less obvious problems inside of your fuel tank as well.

6. Broken Fuel Gauge

The fuel gauge is important because it tells you when it’s time to refill the tank. If a fuel gauge is broken, then it’s difficult to keep tabs on oil levels inside the tank, and you risk the tank running dry in the middle of the winter. Running out of heating oil is inconvenient, but it could also damage the tank and require expensive repairs to get it back to full working order again.

Should I Repair or Replace My Heating Oil Tank?

If your heating oil tank is having problems, how do you tell if the tank needs to be replaced? With a newer tank, it may be possible to repair the problem and continue to use the tank, especially if the tank is still under warranty. In some cases, such as the case of a broken gauge or a cracked line, a replacement part may be all that’s needed to return the tank to full operation.

If your tank is more than 15 years old, it’s most likely time to purchase a new tank. Rust or cracks may have rendered the tank useless and will require replacement — especially if there’s evidence that the tank is leaking oil. Paying to repair and maintain an old oil tank may cost you more over time than purchasing a new one.

Besides visible cracks or leaks, a professional technician can inspect your tank for interior signs your heating oil tank needs to be replaced. When sediment and moisture become trapped inside of an oil tank, they can cause tiny holes to form in the tank, allowing oil to leak out. The average homeowner can’t see what’s going on inside of an oil tank, though, so they may not know about this problem until it’s too late. An experienced technician can help to identify what’s happening inside the tank and make recommendations for repair and potential replacement before significant leaks develop.

How to Extend the Life of Your Oil Tank

If you want to make your oil tank last for as long as possible, here are a few things you can do.

1. Regularly Inspect for Damage

Make a habit of inspecting your oil tank regularly, especially during the peak months you’re using it, typically October – March. Keep the tank clear of snow, ice, and other debris. A broom is all it takes to remove debris from the tank. Avoid using a shovel or anything hard or heavy that could damage the tank in the process. If your tank is near an overhang prone to collecting icicles, make a point to clear the icicles regularly. If left in place, the icicles can potentially fall onto the tank and damage it.

Even if your tank is located in your basement, it’s essential to inspect it regularly. Indoor tanks can still develop leaks — and if they do, it can cause a terrible smell to travel throughout your whole house. You also don’t want dust and debris to build up on and around the tank.

2. Prevent Overexposure to the Elements

Outdoor fuel tanks shouldn’t be placed out in the open without some kind of protection from the elements, but even if they are in a sheltered location, it’s still crucial that you check on it regularly. Ensure no ice or snow is building up on your tank — you don’t want to leave snow to melt and refreeze on top of your oil tank over and over again. This can cause rust, as well as damage the integrity of the tank itself. If there is any debris such as tree limbs in your oil tank’s vicinity, you’ll want to remove those as well to prevent them from potentially hitting the tank.

3. Schedule Regular Maintenance

Annual maintenance visits from an experienced technician are important to extending the life of an oil tank. Experienced technicians can identify problems homeowners may miss, and if a fuel tank needs to be replaced, they can advise you on choosing the right replacement.

Benefits of Installing a New Oil Tank

Wondering when to replace your heating oil tank? Replacing your oil tank sooner rather than later can help with the following.

1. Protecting the Environment

A tank that’s leaking oil — even a little bit — is leaking oil into the ground and can potentially cause an unfavorable environmental situation. When a leak occurs, it can cause a lot of environmental damage, and, if the leak is severe enough, it can potentially cost thousands of dollars to clean up.

2. Getting What You Really Want

When you opt to replace your tank as a preventative measure, you can take your time selecting the right tank for your home and your budget. Choosing a more efficient tank can save you money on energy costs and potentially help with your home’s resale value down the road.

3. Saving Money

When you replace a tank, you avoid costly repairs and the costly cleanup associated with oil spills. Although a new oil tank may cost more money upfront, the money you save over time avoiding spills and maintenance fees can significant. A new tank can also protect and extend the life of your furnace, as well as improve the efficiency of your heating system — resulting in lower heating costs during the winter months.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace an Oil Tank?

The cost of oil tank replacement depends on several factors, including:

  • Tank size
  • Proximity to the furnace
  • Tank type
  • Location

On average, the installation of a double-walled oil tank — which reduces the chance of corrosion and comes with a leak alarm — can range in price from around $1,000 to nearly $4,000. Why such a wide range? There may be other additional costs associated with installing a new fuel oil tank, including permit fees required by your locality, the cost of pumping leftover oil from the old tank to the new, and the threading and cutting of new lines. Some homes may not need some of these services, and installation fees can vary by location. Some companies may also charge a disposal fee to dispose of old oil, sludge, and the tank itself. To get an accurate idea of what a new tank will cost you, schedule a free estimate with the pros at Shipley Energy.

Heating Oil Tank Replacement Services

Shipley Energy offers tank replacement services for our customers in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Our selection of double-walled fuel tanks is designed to be long-lasting and durable — even in the middle of the coldest winters. Designed with environmental safety in mind, our high-quality indoor and outdoor tanks come with a 10-year limited warranty.

We’ve spent the last 90 years providing high-quality residential heating services and products to our customers. Whether you’re purchasing a new tank or looking to repair an old one, our goal is to make the process easy and help you find the right solution for your home. Check our current rates online, give us a call at 855-275-9720, or contact us online to learn more about our residential heating oil services.