Surprise! This was the scene at our house yesterday:
Allow me to explain. We decided to test the soil around our home’s underground oil tank (we have oil heat) a few weeks back to assure any interested buyer that it’s in tip top shape. Much to our horror, it wasn’t. Soil tests came back indicating that we had a small leak. We felt like somebody punched us in the face. Here we are with our rain barrel and our compost bin along with all of our energy star appliances and our cloth diapers in an effort to be green while our oil tank has been oozing nastiness underground without our knowledge. Shudder.
Luckily we learned that it’s something that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality feels so strongly about fixing that they actually offer a credit to homeowners in our situation, so we only had to pay a $500 deductible for the removal of the old leaky underground tank (and the gross oil-riddled soil around it – hence the excavator pictured above) while the government covers the rest of the usually-around-$2,000 project. Nice right? But we did have to kick in about $1300 to install a new above ground tank (which will never secretly leak since it’ll be visible instead of buried). The good news is that it’s kind of like we’re paying it forward since we’re leaving a new tank for our home’s next owners and our new house actually also just got a new above ground tank (so we’ll inherit one that’s just as new and shiny). Ain’t she pretty all tucked quietly behind our azalea bushes?
Especially when you compare her to ol’ Rusty. They estimated that our tank was about 30 years old after unearthing it. Here’s hoping 30 is kinder to me when I hit it next year.
The funny thing is that as gross as that sucker looks, they could only find this dime-sized hole at the bottom (though they said others might be too dirt-clogged to see).
The good news of the whole oil-leakage incident is that since oil doesn’t move very much through compacted dirt like ours, it’s not believed to have traveled very far underground. So the Virginia DEQ just requires the removal of the tank and a bit of surrounding soil to rectify the situation. Okay, maybe a “bit of soil” is an understatement. This was the hole they dug:
They had to dig up two azalea bushes to make that hole but luckily the process didn’t disturb the driveway or any large trees. And they replanted the pristinely removed azaleas after filling the gorge with gravel and topsoil (though they were the first to say that they make no guarantees about their future survival). Cross your fingers, I guess?
Even though it’s bittersweet to have sunk money into unsinking this leaky tank for our buyers (yay environment, boo spending) we’re definitely comforted by the fact that we’re getting a new shiny tank at our new house (how funny is it that the current owners ran into a similar situation with their underground tank and just upgraded to an above ground version too?). So I guess we could call it good house karma paying off. If you can count following government orders as karma.
Have you guys had oil issues? Or other appallingly ungreen discoveries in general? Nothing like a little unplanned spending around the holidays to get your blood pumping.
Psst- Holy amazingness. Check out this sweet DIY play kitchen that was made from an old TV unit over on BabyCenter.
Amanda Brown says
You are such lovely people, most would just not care and leave it for someone else to worry about :) yay!
this happened to my parents when i was in college. the leak was detected by a neighbor who was digging on my parents’ property (she claims she didn’t know where the line was, but she was a good 15 feet over it) to create a “water feature.” My parents’ oil tank had slowly leaked (they never noticed a rapid change in oil usage, so it was estimated at less than 1 gallon per 10 years) into the soil. The DEP in Mass came out and we had to hire an environmentalist, the crew to remove all the contaminated dirt, the tank removal, etc… and rebut a claim from the neighbor about toxins leaking into her property. In the end: $30k estimated, $10k spent. The neighbor (who moved) had filed suit against my parents for contaminating “her yard” (which was ours); a land survey ($200) favored us :)
Wow- that sounds like a nightmare! So glad we have the government initiative to come in handy for things like this around here!
nice Pepsi ad- 1st photo :)
I thought the same thing. Haha. I guess when you’re doing hard labor sometimes a Pepsi hits the spot.
Whoa! I deal with this all the time at work (I’m an environmental engineer). I’m glad you’re such responsible homeowners and caught the problem early, before it became a BIG spill.
Jenn L @ Peas and Crayons says
I agree with “yay environment boo spending!” =/ I had a valve leaking into my car that cost me a cool 1100 to fix… that was a rough day… at least it’s over now! woot!
I think having government regulations and/or assistance in cleaning up environmental hazards such as leaking oil tanks and leaky septic systems is a win win for everyone. We live in a rural area and our backup heating source is propane. Our tank is above ground so that it can be checked for leaks and corrosion. For aesthetics, we located it out of sight amid native rhododendrons.
Glad to hear you’ll have a brand new tank at your new home!
I’m sorry to hear about your sudden shocking expense, but better at your leisure with contractors you’ve chosen than in a rush (after an inspection) with whoever’s available.
Our last house actually had the oil tank inside the basement, which I thought was a brilliant idea. The filler and vent pipes obviously came up outside in a convenient location, so it was easy for the oil company to take care of it. The tank was safe and protected from water, dirt, rocks, and digging. It was completely sealed from the house, so it didn’t smell in the least, and we could see at a glance that there were no leaks. I’ve never heard of another inside tank – does anyone know if it’s illegal or something? Coz if we ever had oil heat again, I’d definitely want the tank inside!
Anyone know the answer for Lorna’s question! We don’t have a clue!
Wow… 2 years late I guess… but for the record, no, not illegal, very common in fact. Some local jurisdictions may have local regulations but for the most part indoor installations are fine.
When we bought our house 3 years ago, there was a decommissioned underground oil tank. We ended getting the old owners to pay half the cost of removing it, just so there wouldn’t be any problems in the future. I’m sure the new owners of your house are so glad they don’t have to deal with it!
The house we’re moving into has an old window unit (hidden behind a built in cabinet shelf thing) and you can actually see the outside trees around the unit.. wasted heating and air anyone?
Excellent karma oozing from your pores! What great home sellers you are! I love that! You don’t find that much anymore!
No leaks for us… but that is why we don’t own, I don’t want to upkeep the house! =) So we rent.. one day I will buy a house but not for a long time!
Yea for cleaning up the environment. And even though you would have done it anyway, it is nice to know you’re getting a nice new tank at your new house (which will be yours so soon!!!)
Are you guys doing a BabyCenter post today? I’m not even a mom, but I love the extra dose of YHL on Tuesdays! Just curious…
We just added the BabyCenter link at the end of this post! They were having some site changes this morning so we decided to post it this afternoon instead.
candace @ thecandace.com says
Good for you – it had to be done! I’m sorry that you got hit with that bill in the midst of moving and the holidays but it was the right thing to do!
Tiffany S. says
We went through a similar sitch when we suddenly didn’t have heat because water had entered the tank through the leak. In WA State we have an insurance program that covers this, and, fortunately, there had been no disruption of insurance through all three owners of our house. We had to decommission one tank and bury a new one (they don’t do above ground here because it never freezes). We paid nothing though the guy did say, “Do you want to pay the $11,000 this costs?” Um, hello? Seriously, how can anything cost that much? So we got lucky I feel and the rest of our soil wasn’t that contaminated (though I wouldn’t grow veggies in it).
Sounds like you did the right thing taking care of it.
I have a friend who went through this same thing, but her leak was huge and had gone into the water supply where she lived, needless to say she had a lot to pay since she damaged other people and the water, and on top of that fixing her stuff.
We live in the country with fuel oil, after hearing all these horror storys I am afraid to see what ours might be doing, our house was built in the 40s…
A few days before we closed on our house, the bank appraiser said he saw a possible buried (no longer in use) oil tank. The bank would not give us the loan unless it was removed, so the previous owner had to have it dug up and disposed of. It was in February, in Michigan so it was a huge mess. I am so thankful to that bank appraiser for saying something!! Our own home inspector didn’t catch it.
J'Anns Boutique says
Sneaky little hole! Great that your city offers a credit though.
Oil heat? Intriguing!! No such thing exists around these parts…. Is oil heat more efficient then other methods?!
What people in this area like about it is that it heats up the house fast, so it doesn’t take a lot of time to get things warm. We’ve had it for nearly five years and really like it – except for the obvious oil heat fiasco and the fact that oil isn’t exactly cheap these days. Maybe someday we’ll get a system that runs on corn or something. For now we’ll settle for our programmable thermostat (which saves some loot and keeps the house from getting too warm or too cold, which is far less efficient than keeping things regulated).
No environmental issues lately, but some serious pre-Christmas spending. Sunday morning our car wouldn’t start. I figured it the the starter or the coil, not cool but not too big of a deal. We had to have it towed to the shop, thank goodness for the AAA gift membership received last year. Turns out is was the gas pump… $800 plus the cost of new brakes (which we anticipated) = a very un-merry total. Bah humbug.
Andrea of Care to Eat says
You are really lucky. I’m a RE Agent here in Oregon and the gov’t does NOT help with that at all! I had a Seller this year who had to pay almost $15,000 to fix the contamination it was that bad. You guys got off easy! :)
Wow! Good for you taking care of that and not dumping it on the next owners! As the SECOND owners of a house built in 1951 we are always finding things that are…less than green. We just discovered that the exhaust fan in the kitchen (which no longer works) was open to the outside! Not exactly energy efficient. We’ve temporarily sealed it shut until we can close it up more permanently. We also replaced the old mercury-containing thermostat with a new programmable one (thanks to your blog post about it!). Next up we have to figure out a safe way to deal with the asbestos tile in the basement!
My dad’s oil tank is in his basement and is at least 50 years old. A few years ago the line going from the tank to the furnace corroded through and he had a bit of an oil spill in the cellar. Lucky for him, he’s good friends with the oil man and barters services with him all the time, so he was able to get it cleaned up and a new line installed with very little hassle and cost.
Wow, not the kind of excitment you want when you’re trying to move out!
When we moved into our place there was an oddly placed bush in the back yard. I went to go dig it up and the shovel hit metal. Low and behold there were two pipes sticking out of the ground. After many months of ignoring it, I tracked down the right person at our county’s EPA department and he came out *for free* to check the tank. It turns out that, like many other houses in our town, our house used to have oil for heating but changed to another form over the years. The tank had been drained and capped. We simply recut the pipes even lower (several inches into the dirt), recapped them, and buried them. Now we’re just waiting for the grass to regrow over it. The only cost involved was my husband buying a new tool (I forget the name) to cut the pipes lower after we found out the tank was safe.
A useful tidbit of information – the EPA guy said that the life expectancy of tanks like ours is 40 years, meaning the tanks that are exposed to the elements, completely ignored, and no protective coatings are expected to last 40 years. Ours is buried and has a protective layer of tar, so it probably has a few decades left before it deteriorates to the point of making a sinkhole in our yard.
This is fairly common, especially in houses of this age in the Richmond area. The issue usually surfaces as part of the home inspection and the state requires an environmental inspection. And then there are subsidies to do the clean up. The results of the labwork indicate what level of correction is needed. For both the house we sold, and the one we bought, all that was required was a removal of the fill pipe, and a concrete patch to seal up the opening. It most often happens when houses change hands.
I just hate the idea of sellers doing the bare minimum, so I applaud you for your hard work (and your hard earned cash) going into a project like this. We are in our first home and have found a number of problems that ought to have been fixed by the previous owner. I’m not any one to wish ill to another person, but if karma is real, he’s not going to be in a very good place. Fortunately, we have natural gas (ha!) so no oil issues here. Here’s hoping that your family has many years of care-free heating!
I just discovered how un-green in-sink garbage disposals can be :( I’ll have to get out of the habit of using mine! here is just one of many articles on the subject
Wow- never knew that!
I don’t have an answer for Lorna, but my tank is in my basement. I wonder if it is supposed to be there?
You were very lucky. Where I used to live, all the houses had underground tanks. When we sold we had the soil tested, as all buyers demand. It was contaminated. We lived near a stream. There were possible groundwater issues. I heard stories about garages & sections of houses having to be dug up.We had another house we had committed to buy, so I was petrified our buyers would back out & we’d have to give it up. (Fortunately, they stuck with us.) I was heavily pregnant….Yup, I was stressed out.
Thankfully we had purchased oil-tank insurance, b/c ours was tens & tens of thousands of dollars to address. (I don’t remember the actual, staggering amount.) Our state offers assistance, I believe, but without the insurance I think we would have been in serious trouble, even though our homeowners’ insurance got involved too.
What a stupid practice it was to bury these tanks. Inevitably, they will leak. When ours was lifted out, they found numerous tiny holes all over. But the good news was that the very day the tank came out, I went into labor & had my son–I guess I could finally move on to my next major task! :-)
I think all those kinds of things you did ProActive is what helped to sell your house so fast. Good Karma.
I’ve seen several in basement oil tanks in older homes in Fairfax, COunty VA. Most of these homes date back to the 50’s.
Our last house came with a new water heater because the one that was there just wasn’t working anymore. And it was replaced by a bank!
Yikes! I’m so happy that VA offered you a credit.
I grew up with oil heat in NJ, but we wouldn’t consider any home that had oil heat when we were making our first purchase. I agree that it’s warm, but we were so worried about the cost. We have gas heat now. I wish there were other options because they are all expensive. You’re right, the programmable thermostat helps.
You are very honest people. Our sellers sold us a house with several undisclosed problems that didn’t come up in the home inspection. It’s so nice to see that there are people who still care.
I assumed all oil tanks were in basements! In New England that’s all I’ve ever seen (noticed?) here.
We just spent $1400 fixing a water leak in the pipe that runs from our house to the hook up at the street. They had to dig a nice little trench up to the house, but they did a good job at not making a huge mess. Yep, I love those little holiday suprises.
When we bought our house (near West End of Richmond) there was an old oil tank underground. We had it tested and I believe it just had to be re-capped. So we have oil heat, but we installed a heat pump too. The oil kicks in when the temp hits 32. It’s pretty efficient.
My oil tank is in the basement. No one’s ever told me it’s illegal or unusual or anything (I’m in MA).
Yeah for good house karma! When we sold our house, I swear the minute after we signed the paperwork our 10 year old dishwasher began to leak. Thankfully, we got one of the “cash for appliance clunker” vouchers and replaced it for minimal beans. We just felt better knowing that we left it all in good shape.
In response to Lorna’s post – I think where your oil tank is located depends a lot on where you live. I have never lived in an area where tanks outside of the house are the norm – here in the northeast it seems that the oil tank belongs in the basement (which may have to do with the geographical trends of actually having a basement to put it in, as well as differences in weather/freezing outside of the house).
Oh my! That is quite common, thank goodness tanks are no longer stored underground!
I lived with my Grandfather in the house that he built back in 1944. He loved gardening and thought it would be a good idea to build a brick flower bed onto the front of his cape cod that matched the rest of the house…and bury the oil tank beneath it. Low and behold the tank began to leak and away went the beautiful flower bed, never to be replaced :( . He has since passed away and the new owners of the house have suprisingly sided(?) the brick and created a new flower bed that evens out the slopped front yard…
Lauren @ chezerbey says
We had an underground oil tank when we bought our house. Since we didn’t know what state it was in, we acquired tank insurance (not sure if this is available everywhere, we’re in WA state). When we finally had it removed (we were getting a new, non-oil furnace), we found an affordable company that not only did the removal, but also donated any remaining oil to a low-income household.
This was our beauty: http://chezerbey.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/tankremoval2_022207.jpg?w=400&h=533
I was surprised to see that oil tanks are still being installed, but I’m guessing it really varies depending on what region you live in. In Seattle, it’s way more expensive to heat your home with oil than with gas or electricity, but I know electricity is more expensive on the east coast and gas lines aren’t always available.
Yea, in-basement oil tanks are the norm here in Massachusetts. Every place I’ve lived has had one inside the basement. Maybe it’s because of the colder temperatures during the winter? The tanks are typically just located near one of the basement walls, and the oil company fills it from the pipe extending out the side of the house.
By the end of today we’ll have finished converting from oil to gas heat, and we’re getting our oil tank removed from the basement as part of the process. It’ll be nice to reclaim some basement storage space AND have a new high-efficiency system in place for the winter. (Too bad the house is currently 53 degrees until they’re done installing everything..)
A shall-remain-namless company came to install some stuff in a friend’s house the day after they closed. The tech, in all infinite wisdom, stood on the oil tank relief valve and it broke. The entire oil tank emptied causing 200k worth of damage in their finished basement.
Their foundation had to be dug up and new dirt/footings, the DEP was NOT happy. The company covered this but it’s a big reminder for everyone that even if you have an indoor oil tank or anything – be sure who you hire has good insurance!!
We got a new oil tank before we moved in, they even included all the oil (that usually isn’t the case from what I read – what did you do?)
Cait @ Hernando House says
It’s always interesting hearing about the pluses and minuses of other ways to heat&cool. Shortly after we bought our house the heat pump had to be replaced because it was leaking freon, thankfully a home warranty from the seller allowed us to replace the whole shebang for $110.
Wow – I don’t know anyone up here in NoVa with oil tanks. I thought that was just a New England thing.
The lawyer in me is curious – what do you tell people when you’re taking pictures of the work that they do? I would think they would be wary of photographs, thinking that you are taking them to use it against them in case there is any litigation.
We just snap photos of things going on at our house and no one really seems to mind! I hope it’s because they’re doing things the right way so they don’t worry about photos of their process!
Lonely Wife Project says
The joys of owning a home right?!
our oil tank is in the basement – the house was built in 2007. we had a filter leak recently and it was super easy to spot (a few drops of oil on the concrete? hey, something is wrong!)
What is this “heat” that you speak of?
What people in this area like about oil heat is that it heats up the house fast, so it doesn’t take a lot of time to get things warm. We’ve had it for nearly five years and really like it – except for the obvious oil heat fiasco and the fact that oil isn’t exactly cheap these days. Maybe someday we’ll get a system that runs on corn or something. For now we’ll settle for our programmable thermostat (which saves some loot and keeps the house from getting too warm or too cold, which is far less efficient than keeping things regulated).
We feel your pain! Last week, we were cleaning our shower in our master bathroom that was just added on seven years ago by the previous homeowners, when a tile pushed into the wall. Yeah, that shouldn’t happen! Apparently they used just sheetrock behind the tiles, so that sheetrock is falling apart and full of mildew. Now the ENTIRE shower (walls to the studs and everything) has to be ripped out and replaced. Merry Christmas to us :)! At least we’ll get the color of tile that we want!
Mike @HA says
We have hot water heat so no oil spills over here. I did spill water… gallons of it, into the basement but it was my fault after all :p I wrote the story here:
Elaine K says
Years ago when the oil company was filling our below ground tank they overfilled it and spread oil all around it. DEQ made them excavate and test the soil and made us pull the tank and replace it with an above ground one. A lot of money at the time,but it was nice when we sold the house to tell the buyer that there was no longer an underground tank.
I’ve never heard of such a thing! All of the houses here (in Oklahoma), even the older homes (for the most part), have central heat and air or floor radiators if they were built pre-1955. I didn’t know that oil heaters existed!
There’s my “something new” for today! :)
Up here in our next of the woods part of canada wwe couldnt get insurance on our new house until we replaced the oil tanks AND furnace with a natural gas burner. (read new lines into the house) Mind you the furnace was nearly 50 years old and we added central air as well. so it wasnt entirely bad and we got a large credit from the home energy audit that helped pay for it.