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Home Inspection finds a buried oil tank.

Jul 21, 2021 11:03:09 AM / by david sulock posted in OIl Tank Sweeps, tank sweep, gpr tank swep, foam filling oil tank, gpr tank sweeps, gpr tank scan

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What  happens when a home inspection finds a possible underground oil tank?

A common request our office receives regarding a tank sweeps.

"Hello, I'm selling my home and we suspect that the buyer did a tank sweep with a metal detector vs GPR. They supposedly think they found a tank on the property. We do not see any evidence of a tank, nor was one disclosed by the previous owner (who bought the home in the 70s, house is 80 years old). Is it possible that this 'tank' is just a gutter drain pipe, part of our sprinkler system and/or rubble backfill such as a chunk of concrete sidewalk with rebar or metal containing soil? If so, would a GPR scan be conclusive? Thanks."

This is a common situation we get from property owners who are told they have a buried oil tank.   The owner has the question regarding if the meta detector is reliable.    Here are some common talking points...
  1. The property owner is unclear how the suspect tank was found.  Was it found with a Metal detector, or  Ground Penetrating Radar or both? (both GPR and a metal detector would be best) The solution would be having the owner receive a copy of the Tank Sweep Report so they would have a baseline regarding what they found and where. Yes, every professional service should come with a report, no report, then question how professional the service was.
  2. The property is over 70 years old, so while the owner has no knowledge that there was an oil tank, they also have no documentation that there was not an oil tank. A 70 year old property most likely had oil heat at one point in time as oil was very popular in the past and other fuel sources such as natural gas was not commonly available or financially appealing until the 1970's.
  3. The tank scan found a buried object, presumably metal. If only a metal detector was utilized, you can't say 100% if the metal found is a tank as metal detectors detect metal and properties have all sort of buried metal. Metal can be in the soil naturally, you could have buried debris, buried metal pipes or surface metal (like a fence) that distracted the metal detector and have a false buried metallic signature reading. Happens all the time. A metal detector on a sandy beach is great it will find buried metal, likely a bottle cap, but people hope for coins or expensive jewelry. People paying a couple hundred dollars for someone to use an $800 metal detector to find a tank are also helpful.
Call Curren TodayThe photo below was where a metal detector thought there was a tank.  There was no tank, just soils with a metallic signature.

tank home inspection

The guy in shorts, is using a $900.00 metal detector and found a suspect tank in the front yard.

metal detector tank scan

When you scan for a tank, the more expensive the equipment the better.   GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) costs tens of thousands of dollars because it has the technology to do the job.

best oil tank sweep with gpr

 Effective Oil Tank Scan or Oil Tank Sweeps like on commercial sites would use GPR as it will                            provide a signal (image) of buried objects.

buried oil tank found via GPR

The signal above shows the underground oil tank. 

Purchasers of commercial properties are more aware of the liability associated with leaking USTs (Hundreds of thousands of dollars) compared to a residential home buyers (Homeowners think a few thousand dollars is a lot.) So on the commercial side of real estate tank sweeps are completed with GPR, not metal detectors. Most environmental consultants that perform tanks weeps will use GPR and discount the cost for residential sites. Nobody wants to see someone buy a house and find a $50,0000 cleanup is required.

What if a buyer finds a suspect tank?

This is a really hard question because it relies so much on the quality of the tank sweep.    If they used GPR, if the property is likely to have had an oil tank (older the home, the more likely) and if the buried anomaly has the signature of a tank.  Well then you have to excavate and confirm that object is an oil tank.

Who pays for the oil tank removal?

Owner will pay 98% of the time as finding a hidden oil tank is a defect that needs to be addressed.

Do they have buried oil tanks at the beach (shore)?

If the home wanted heat, then yes homes along the coast and on islands had buried oil tanks.  Oil was king up until the late 1970's in New Jersey.  The photo below is of a home we scanned on a barrier island.  Many older beach houses eventually converted to natural gas, as gas could also  fuel the stove, dryer,  hot water heater etc.   After conversion to gas, it was not uncommon that the tank was just left in the ground.  So short answer beach houses had oil tanks.

Tank sweeps at the beach

What if a suspect tank is found and we don't believe its a tank?

Short answer prove your opinion right and dig it up and verify its not a tank.

What is the best tank sweep?

Using Ground Penetrating Radar is the best technology for finding buried tanks at properties, period.  Can you use a metal detector to verify a GPR signal that identified a tank?  Sure, always verify the object is metal.  GPR can't penetrate metal so when a GPR sweep pings a tank, it means the radar can't penetrate the object (likely a metal tank) but there are buried concrete tanks.  Metal detectors can verify an object is metal, but a metal detector  should not be used to be your sole technology

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What happens after a tank sweep?

Feb 22, 2021 10:00:00 AM / by David C Sulock posted in OIl Tank Sweeps, tank sweeps with GPR, gpr tank sweeps

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Understand the process of a tank sweeps and what happens after a tank sweep.

The best situation regarding a tank sweep is finding a tank, therefore it can be removed and soil tested to prove that no soil remediation (cleanup) is required. what happens after a tank sweep.

A hidden or an underground oil tank is a major financial liability when buying a home, because rust never sleeps and oil leaks from the tank. Soil remediation from leaking oil tanks can easily cost into the tens of thousands of dollars.   A tank sweep of any property is always recommended unless you can document the site never had oil heat, unfortunately older homes had oil heat since it was the only option after coal use.

Should I buy a house with an underground oil tank?

An underground oil tank can make a home harder to sell or worth less to a potential buyer, how does a $32,000.00 oil tank cleanup ding the value of a home? A known oil tank can also increase the chances of complications with getting to the closing table and the home sold. Mortgage lenders are wary of buried oil tanks and may refuse to lend on a home with an underground tank.

oil tank leaks

What is the life expectancy of an underground oil tank?

The average life of a UST is about 20 years (if you bought a middle of the road tank today, that is your warranty. However, with the tank buried, other factors will influence the lifespan of underground tanks, including the gauge of its steel, geology, corrosivity of the soils, etc. 

FACT:  most tanks were used past their design life expectancy and left in the ground unused past their life expectancy as well.

Photo Mar 13, 10 37 24 AM

How do you manage the liability with an oil tank?

The liability of an oil tank pertains to leaks that occur and the state mandated cleanup of the oil leaks.   The best situation regarding a tank sweep is finding a tank so it can be removed and tested to prove that no cleanup is required.

What happens if the tank sweep does not find a tank but points to a tank being removed?

This is not your best scenario because now you do not know if the tank leaked or where the tank was located. Clearly not finding a tank means your investigative work is not complete, because you do not know if the tank leaked.   Tank sweeps cannot find removed tanks, so you are tasked with historical research on who removed the tank. Bottom line you have to make an effort to find where the tank was located.   Sometimes owners get a conscience  and will admit that a tank was removed, they just did not think that knowledge was relevant at that time. Sometimes a tank sweep can point to a likely area of where the tank was located.

We had a case where an owner removed their own tank in the backyard without a permit.   They eventually were going to sell the home and did not want the tank as an issue. The final cleanup was around $40,000.00. Someone admitting to a bad thing is not common, but we do see it happen.

 tank leak costs

Sometimes we can find the tank grave, other times we have to do a grid of soil borings in the suspected area to try and find the tank grave and to test soil. Testing a removed tank excavtion

Tank sweeps that point to a removed tank will lead to soil testing in the area of the removed tank, unless of course a report exists of the tank removal with testing and a clear statement that the tank did not leak. Best case you find no contamination, worst you find contamination, which is reportable to the state and further work would be necessary.

Be aware there have been many tanks that were removed, that leaked and were not cleaned up. Owner hoped no one will look or test the area.  If you don't have  a report that includes laboratory data saying the tank did not leak, you don't have what you need to remove the liability of the tank.

Need to learn more about tank sweeps? Click here. 

 

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