Buried Oil Tanks

Oil tanks were commonly used in the past to provide fuel for oil furnaces, heating houses. They are sometimes still used, particularly in rural areas where natural gas is not readily available. In the 70s and earlier, it was a common practice to bury oil tanks in yards to save space. These tanks were often abandoned when upgrading to modern heating systems. Below, I will discuss how big of a problem buried oil tanks can be, possible signs of an oil tank on a property, and what to do if you have one.


The primary issue with abandoned oil tanks is the oil that may be left inside. Removing a tank can be quite costly, often in the thousands of dollars. If left unremoved, the tank can rust and create holes in your yard or hidden areas that could collapse. Worse than that is if the tank is deserted with oil still inside. The tanks can hold anywhere from 300 gallons of oil to over 1000, posing an environmental and legal disaster. New homeowners or previous owners can be held accountable for bad oil leakages, which have been known to result in costs reaching tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. In extreme cases, oil leakages have affected waterways, resulting in costs exceeding a million dollars.

As a home inspector, unless the house is newer than the 70s (in the Okanagan area) and clearly would not have supported an oil tank (for example, if it uses baseboards and has no heating vents), I will recommend confirming that there is no hidden oil tank on the property. Additionally, I will look for signs that suggest the possibility of a buried oil tank. Signs may include:


  • An above-ground oil tank or remnants of one, as an above-ground oil tank could have replaced a previously buried one.
  • Deserted copper lines coming out of the slab, which were used to pump oil to the furnace.
  • Oil warranties or service logs sometimes left on mechanical room walls.
  • Pipes/vents coming out of the ground around the exterior of the house, as oil tanks typically have a curved pipe for venting and a straight one for filling.

So, what do you do if you have an oil tank, and better yet, how do you confirm if you have one? First, if you are recommended to find out if there is one, you should start by checking with the seller if they have any documentation proving that there is no buried tank on the property. If they are unable to confirm this, then an oil tank scanning service should be contacted to confirm its absence. The service is not exceptionally expensive, as they make most of their profits on removal, and they use devices that can be used above ground. If found, the sooner it is dealt with, the better, and it will benefit both buyers and sellers to have it removed as soon as possible. It is advisable for the buyer to ensure removal before completing the transaction of the home.

2 thoughts on “Buried Oil Tanks”

  1. We switched to natural gas from oil here in Port Hope Ontario around 2010.
    The people who installed the new furnace were able to remove what remained of the oil which was a free perk. Removing the tank from inside the house was a nominal fee which gave them a return for the scrap metal. A lucrative sideline business I’d say.

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