Buying a house with an oil tank – Part One – Before you buy

Buying a house with an oil tank – Part One – Before you buy

“We are moving to the Cotswolds and buying a beautiful old home with oil central heating. We’ve never used oil heating before and are particularly interested in ensuring that our oil tank is safe & compliant and that we understand what insurance we need, before we exchange contracts.

We were surprised that the Property Information Form (TA6) supplied by the vendors provided no information about the oil tank and although we had a structural survey on the property, the surveyor has simply put ‘NC’ (not checked) next to reference to the oil tank, which is not particularly helpful”…….

Buying a new home in the countryside or semi-rural location could well mean encountering oil-fired heating for the first time. Approximately 4 million homes across the UK are off the main gas grid and reliant on other forms of energy and, unless the property is fully electric, oil is the most popular choice. When looked after correctly, it is a safe, energy efficient and affordable fuel.

Knowing your tank

As with any new purchase, it is important to know what you are buying.

There are two main types of ‘above ground’ oil tanks, both are generally manufactured from plastic or steel:

Single skinned – these are oil tanks that are manufactured from a single layer of steel or plastic and provide the lowest level of protection against damage and leakage. Current oil storage/building regulations preclude the use of single skin tanks in most instances and installing a single skin tank where a bunded tank is legally required, is a serious offence.

Double skinned or twin walled tanks are manufactured from two layers of plastic or steel for added strength, but the outer ‘skin’ is not large enough to contain 110% of the inner tank volume, so are treated as a single skinned tank from a regulatory perspective. This means they are not a compliant solution where secondary containment is a requirement.

Integrally bunded (‘bunded’) – Bunded oil tanks are the safest option and consist of a tank within a tank; the outer tank is designed to hold 110% of the inner tank’s contents and all the tank’s fittings.

Underground tanks are harder to look after because you can’t see them to check for damage, leaks or spills. Any leakage that does occur goes straight into the environment and causes pollution. If your new home has one of these tanks, you should definitely get an environmental specialist in to test for a leak and any historical contamination. You should also strongly consider replacing it with an above ground, bunded alternative.

Inspecting your tank

There are environmental responsibilities and potential liabilities that come with owning a home with an oil tank, so it is particularly important to check that the oil tank complies with regional oil storage and building regulations and has been installed correctly.

If the tank is very old, current oil storage and building regulations might not have applied at the time of installation, but the liabilities in the event of an oil spill or leak from it will. This alone would be a good reason to have it replaced.

You should also check that the tank has been regularly inspected & maintained and that any remedial work identified has been carried out. Ask the vendor to provide you with any paperwork to prove this.

Asking the vendor what their average oil usage is over a 12-month period and the type of fuel used e.g. kerosene, gas oil or biofuel, is a good idea too. They may have some suggestions about which oil distribution companies to use, which will save you a job in finding your own.

Finally, get a qualified person, such as a local OFTEC* registered oil engineer, to carry out an inspection and provide you with a report on the age and condition of the oil tank and pipework. This will confirm whether the system is safe and compliant with regulations or should be replaced.

Some points that the inspection should cover include:

  • Details of the type & age of the tank. The lifespan of a tank will very much depend on type, location and how it has been installed and looked after. If a tank is 20 years old or more, it will almost certainly need to be replaced.
  • The condition of the tank & supply pipework and whether the system is compliant with oil storage/building regulations.
  • A check to ensure that there is no water inside the tank. If there is, it should be removed and disposed of as hazardous waste. Water inside a tank can be caused by condensation or ingress due to a faulty cap or sight gauge and can cause the operation of the tank to be compromised and damage your boiler.
  • Whether there is any evidence of a previous leak or spill. If there is, you should have specific tests carried out by an environmental specialist to check for existing or historical pollution.
  • Details of any underground pipework and whether it should be pressure tested to check for undetected leaks. If possible, obtain a pipe run plan to enable you to locate it easily and to make sure you don’t damage it when undertaking any future building works.
  • The condition of the base that the tank stands on and whether it adequately supports the tank and is compliant with building regulations.
  • Any environmental hazards of the site that could make an oil spill particularly hazardous, such as proximity to water, ditches or drains, or being located within a Zone 1 or 2 Groundwater Source Protection Zone.

If any issues are identified, discuss them with your solicitor and arrange for them to be rectified prior to purchase or have them factored into the contract.

In part two, we’ll look at using and looking after your oil tank when the property is yours.

*The Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) is a national organisation charged with maintaining the standards of oil engineers in the UK. OFTEC operates a government approved Competent Persons registration scheme for the installation and maintenance of heating oil tanks in England & Wales and OFTEC members are authorised to self-certify that their work complies with Building Regulations.  You can find a list of OFTEC qualified and registered engineers on the organisation’s website.

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