If you are buying an older home or rural property (such as a cottage) it is important to ensure that there is not an underground oil tank on the property or that it has been removed by having a thorough home inspection conducted. You can mention the possibility of a fuel tank on the property to the inspector, or hire a fuel tank inspector.
If propane or natural gas are not or were not available for heating the home at the time it was built, it is likely that it initially used oil heating. If a fuel tank is not visible on the property, the fuel tank may be buried underground.
The latest deadline for removal or upgrade of an underground tank system was October 1, 2009. This deadline was for underground fuel tanks that were installed less than nine years ago, and underground fuel tanks installed earlier were supposed to be removed between 2006 and 2008, depending on the age of the tank or date of original installation.
It is going to be quite costly to have one of these tanks removed from the property as required by law, so inspecting before you buy is key. In that case, the seller can deal with the fuel tank themselves or knock down the asking price accordingly. The underground fuel tank must first be removed, disposed of properly, and then the surrounding soil tested for contamination. Contaminated soil is akin to a miniature oil spill on your property, and also must be dealt with by professionals. This total cost can run up to a couple thousand dollars and is even more problematic than some realize: The Insurance Bureau of Canada will not insure a home that has an exterior oil tank older than 15 years or an interior tank older than 20.
If the fuel tank is not abandoned and is still functional, it will need to be inspected and registered with the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) if not already. Registration is free, but inspections can run at about $150 per hour. Fuel suppliers are supposed to inspect every tank they bring fuel to, but if the tank is no longer used, no one is inspecting it. All abandoned fuel tanks are at risk of leaking and should be removed by a professional who is TSSA-certified.
For more information from Home Inspection experts and Consulting Engineers CarsonDunlop, read their post on fuel tanks on the Muddy York Blog here.