Do I need a tank test or a soil test?

Maryland Soil Testing

So, you have an old heating oil tank at your house and you decide you want it tested, to prove its not leaking. Now what? Do I need a tank test or a soil test?

So, there are 2 ways to check if a tank is leaking. The first is a tank test. There are various test methods on the market but all of them are best suited for commercial tanks. The test could be a vacuum test or pressure test, but for the residential market we have seen false positives and false negatives with tank tests of old heating oil tanks.

Tanks last 20 years, so in the year 2020 we know that the large majority of residential customers, if they installed a new tank in the past 20 years, it would have been an aboveground tank, not an underground tank. So, unless there is documented proof of when the tank was installed, you can bet it is over 20 years old. In this case a tank test does not do any good as the tank is past its lifespan and needs replaced, not tested.

For a soil test, we hand auger down next to the center side of the tank and check the soil below where the bottom of the tank is. This is a much more reliable test of an old tank as this way we actually check the soil below the tank bottom. We can check the soil onsite with a meter but we will also send the sample to a lab for analysis.

But then there also other questions to ask:

  1. Is the tank more than 20 years old?
  2. Do you not know how old the tank is?
  3. Am I selling my house?
  4. Did the potential buyer of my house request a test?
  5. Am I buying a house with a buried oil tank?
  6. Should even be considering a test?

To answer the first question – if the tank is MORE than 20 years old we do NOT recommend a tank test OR a soil test. The tank is past its useful lifespan and needs to be replaced.

Question 2 – if you do not know how old the tank is, it is most likely more than 20 years old and a test is only putting more good money into a tank that needs replaced anyway.

Questions 3 – 5 – If you are in the middle of a real estate transaction you need to know that in most cases, the buried tank removal falls back to the SELLER to deal with. If you want to sell the house, the buyers mortgage company or home insurance company CAN prevent the buyer from going to settlement until the tank is removed. DO NOT wait until close to settlement. Get it done now. Even if the property is an “AS-IS” sale or bank owner property, buried tanks because of the possible environmental liability, or well contamination possibility are a different animal and can and should still be the sellers responsibility to pay for BEFORE settlement.

Question 6 – Probably not. Again, unless the tank is documented to be less than 20 years old then you can assume it is MUCH older than 20 years. And remember most tanks are NOT painted or coated so they are just bare metal in the ground that has been rusting for decades. So, don’t put good money into a test, put it towards the tank removal or abandonment and a new aboveground tank installation.

So, don’t put good money into a test, put it towards the tank removal or abandonment and a new aboveground tank installation.

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