Winter is coming: is your oil tank ‘winter ready’?

Winter is coming: is your oil tank ‘winter ready’?

Winter is coming and, already, the dire warnings of the worst winter in decades have hit the headlines – ‘BRITAIN is on alert for what is feared could be the coldest and most savage winter in decades blanketing the UK in deep snow beyond Christmas and into 2020’*. Us Brits love to talk about the weather!

So, is your oil tank ‘winter ready’? In this post, we’ll cover:

1.       Getting your oil tank serviced

2.       Regular checks you can make to your oil tank

3.       Not running out of oil

4.       Replacing your tank

5.       Insuring your tank


  1. Getting your oil tank serviced

The annual boiler & Aga service has been in the diary since the last visit, but for households that have oil heating, what about your oil tank? Often a tank is tucked out of sight and out of mind, but it’s just as important, if not more important, than your boiler and Aga, particularly in the winter.

If your tank is not up to scratch, it is likely that your heating won’t be either. You could face a large clean-up bill, and even a fine, in the event that it leaks or fails and causes environmental damage. If you use an OFTEC (Oil Fired Technical Association) registered oil technician or company to carry out your oil boiler service, they should, as part of this service, also carry out an inspection of your tank. Make a point of asking that they do and to check whether there is any water in your tank at the same time. They should also clean or change the oil tank filter.

An oil tank is designed to keep oil in and water out. If water does get in, it can cause expensive damage to your tank, supply pipework and your boiler or Aga. Blocked or frozen pipes, and hairline cracks in tanks, can be caused to split. Also, if water finds its way into the integral ‘bund’ in your tank, it can cause it to fail; oil floats on water and will be first out if it overflows.

There are many ways that water can get into a tank: via faulty fittings such as sight-gauges, caps that are left open after a delivery, or missing or poorly fitting lids. Condensation can also be a cause, particularly during the hot days and cold nights of summer.

Any water recovered from a tank or spent materials used to soak up the water should be disposed of as hazardous waste. Contact your local council for advice about where the nearest disposal site is.

Any problems or concerns that the technician reports to you after your annual service should be promptly acted upon.

To find your nearest OFTEC Registered Technician, you can follow this link –

  1. Regular checks you can make to your oil tank

Experts say that one of the most effective ways of keeping your tank safe is to check it at least monthly for signs of any leaks, cracks or whitening in plastic, or blistering, rust or bulging in steel. You should also be aware of the types of issues that can occur.

Any plants that cover your tank or base should be removed as they can cause and mask tank damage and cause issues with oil deliveries. In addition, remove fallen leaves from tank vents and fittings to prevent clogging and malfunction. Always make sure that any external masonry bund is kept clear of debris and that it doesn’t have any holes or cracks that oil could escape through.

Another tip is to keep a note of your average oil usage, either manually or via an oil monitoring device. Check your tank for a leak if your usage goes up for no apparent reason. Get it looked at quickly by an expert if you can’t see anything and your oil usage remains abnormal: you may have a leak.

Unusual die-back in your garden around the tank or above and around the pipe run is another warning sign.

If you have a leak, the oil will find a pathway to run through. Often this can be other pipe runs e.g. alongside water or waste pipes.

Oil shouldn’t smell if it is where it should be i.e. in your tank. If you can smell oil, either inside your home or externally, it could be a sign that you have a leak and you should get it checked out. Your water service pipes may have been contaminated and should be checked out immediately if your water smells or tastes of oil. If it is found that your water supply has been contaminated, you will need to immediately report the incident to your local water supplier.

Winter often brings with it severe weather and extra peril for your tank. The weight of snow on top of your tank can cause damage and should be carefully removed with a brush. Lag exposed pipework to prevent freezing.

High winds can cause objects such as branches and debris to strike your tank. Look out for any large scratches, loose fittings or damp patches, any of which could be a sign that your tank has been damaged and is leaking.

Talk to a tank expert about how best to secure your tank from damage or floating away (believe us, it happens) if you live in an area that is susceptible to high winds or flooding. You might need a tank strap fitted to keep yours safe.

  1. Not running out of oil

We recommend not leaving it to the last minute to order your oil and risking running out when you need it most. As well as the inconvenience of being without heating, sludge often builds up at the bottom of tanks and can get pulled through when the oil in your tank gets low. This can cause expensive damage to your boiler or Aga.

While the price of oil is important, and there are lots of different oil distribution companies vying for your custom, it is also important to use an oil distributor that will provide you with a reliable service and that operates to good safety standards. The UK & Ireland Fuel Distributors Association (UKIFDA) operates a Code of Practice and Customer Charter, which outlines the level of service you can expect from your fuel distributor. To find your nearest UKIFDA Member, click here .

Good oil delivery drivers can be invaluable by being reliable and pointing out problems with tanks and the supply pipework. If they point out an issue, you should act on their advice.

There are occasions when an oil delivery driver encounters an unsafe tank and is unable to deliver oil to it. If this happens to you, view it as a blessing rather than a curse. The driver is acting prudently to save you from an expensive and disruptive clean up, and to protect the environment.

  1. Does your oil tank need replacing?

As with all things, oil tanks have a shelf life. They come with warranties, generally for periods of between 1 year (single skin) and 10 years (integrally bunded), but these are often only valid if the tank has been installed in accordance with regulations by a registered Competent Person, such as an OFTEC oil technician. The tank then needs to be inspected annually by a similarly qualified person with the inspection recorded.

If you have a plastic, single-skin tank, or if your tank is out of warranty, then ask an OFTEC registered tank specialist when you should replace it: don’t wait until it fails.

  1. Check that you have adequate insurance in place

Last, but not least, don’t wait until you have an incident to find out what insurance cover you have in place for emergency response and environmental clean-up. We have prepared a list of important questions that you can use to check your existing cover with your household insurers now. This list is free to download here.

Judy Hadden
19th November 2019

* Daily Express

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