Cleaning up oil leaks from home heating systems can be very expensive. The average cost can range between $20,000 and $50,000, with some cleanups costing significantly more. Here are some ways to save money, help prevent leaks and spills, and protect the environment.

For all heating oil systems:

  • Annually:
    • Inspect for leaks. Look at the tank, fuel delivery line, valves, piping, and fittings.
    • Have your oil company:
      • Clean the furnace and repair or replace damaged parts. A well-maintained furnace means lower fuel bills and cleaner emissions.
      • Install an oil safety valve or replace the fuel delivery line with one encased in a protective sleeve. These are inexpensive upgrades. Contact the fire department to determine if a permit is required for this work.
  • Each fall, inspect the vent pipe to ensure that it is free of obstructions and that an audible signal (whistle) is on the vent. Oil company personnel listen for the whistle to help avoid overfills, a common source of spills.
  • At least every 10 years, have the oil tank cleaned out. Over time, water (from condensation) and sludge can cause corrosion resulting in leaks.
  • When appropriate:
    • Remove abandoned fill and vent pipes immediately.
    • Clearly mark the location of the tank's fill pipe.
    • Consider upgrading to a modern, fuel-efficient furnace.

For underground tanks:

  • Determine if the underground storage tank is made of steel (common) or fiberglass (rare). Most steel underground storage tanks will last approximately 10 to 20 years. If the tank is older than that or the age is unknown, replace it with an above-ground storage tank. Locate your new tank under a shelter, or inside a basement or garage, to prevent rust, corrosion, or damage.

For outdoor above-ground tanks:

  • Ask your oil company to inspect the stability of the above-ground tank. A full 275-gallon tank weighs more than 2,000 pounds! They have metal legs and should sit on a concrete pad. If the legs become loose or the pad cracks, the tank can fall over and rupture.
  • Replace an outdoor above-ground storage tank that has been uncovered for 10 years or longer. These tanks rust from the inside out, so cleaning or painting the outside does not usually prolong their life.
  • Protect the tank from the weather, such as falling snow and ice, and prevent ruptures by tree limbs.

For indoor above-ground tanks:

  • Inspect indoor above-ground storage tanks for signs of pitting and corrosion, particularly at the bottom of the tank. Tanks primarily rust from the inside out, so if signs of aging are present, replace the tank. Indoor tanks do not last more than about 30 years, and often their lifespan is much shorter.
  • Consider placing a plastic heating oil tray or pan under the tank. This makes it easier to keep the tank area clean and help identify and contain small leaks.

If your oil company offers to perform a "tightness test," ask if this could cause a problem. Generally, these tests should NOT be performed on older residential heating oil systems. Because of the pressure used during a tightness test, older equipment can fail, causing a leak or spill. If you have a tank, fuel delivery line, valves, piping, and fittings on which it is inadvisable to perform a tightness test because of age or condition, then it is probably better to replace the equipment that is causing the concern.

If you suspect an oil leak or spill, immediately contact your oil company and fire department for assistance. Leaks or spills of 10 gallons or more must be reported to DEP within 2 hours. To report a leak or spill, call DEP (within 2 hours) and the fire department.

MassDEP's 24-hour statewide emergency response number is 888-304-1133.