Portland homes are heated in many ways. Some use electricity, some natural gas, and there are even a few homes that just use a wood stove or fireplace (not to mention Geo-thermal, heat pumps, and a variety of alternative methods!). Oil heat is not as common but it has been in use since the 1940s, heating about 10% of all homes in the United States.
Oil heating systems are different in that oil must be delivered to the property and stored for use, much like you store gasoline in your car’s gas tank. The life span on Portland heating oil tanks is about 20 years, after which they pose an environmental hazard because of leaks.
Unfortunately, once a tank is buried, it tends to be forgotten about as homes pass from owner to owner. The result is that there are tanks buried in backyards across Portland that many homeowners have no idea about. If you’re selling a home that once had oil heating, it’s your responsibility to make sure the tank is decommissioned. Buying a home in Portland? Add “check for oil tank” to the list of things you do before putting in an offer for older Portland homes.
Let the search begin! The first thing you should do is determine whether an oil tank has already been removed from the property. Sometimes, these removals are registered with the DEQ, so look up your property on their online database.
If nothing turns up, the next thing is to check to see if there were any permits issued for oil tanks on the property in question. You can do so on portlandmaps.com. However, just because there wasn’t a permit issued doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear. To be sure, look for an oil fill pipe going into your home near the foundation, usually near where the furnace is located. There will also be a small vent pipe on the side of the house, 2-8 feet above ground. If all else fails, call your local Portland real estate agent and they can recommend a professional to come out and take a look.
If you see either of these pipes, the next step is to get a “tank sweep”. A professional contractor will come in and find exactly where underground the tank is located. Once it’s dug up, they can tell you whether or not the tank has been decommissioned (the DEQ defines - and regulates – decommissioning as “taking a tank out of service by cleaning it, then removing it or filling it in place with an inert material”).
Decommissioning is required for Portland heating oil tanks that are no longer in use. Why? Leaking oil from a tank or lines leading into the tank can contaminate the soil and eventually leach into ground water. Buyers will want to be sure these issues aren’t going to crop up for them after they purchase their home.
In other words, it’s not a bad idea to get a tank sweep and decommission old heating oil tanks before your home even goes on the market. Otherwise, taking care of it later can add weeks to the closing time. Buyers, be sure to check out any oil tanks before purchasing a home. After it’s all been signed over, it can be difficult to obtain compensation for problems that occur.
Your Portland real estate agent can help you determine the best course of action. It’s one of the many reasons to have a qualified buyers’ agent or seller’s agent on your side – the more you know, the safer your home will be and the less likely you are to incur expensive repairs after you’ve purchased the Portland home of your dreams.