Why is an Oil Tank Sweep Important?
From 1900 to 1945 coal was king (coal shortages were common during WWI). By the mid 1930’s oil burners had made quality and safety improvements that made oil a competitor to coal. In 1940 more than half the homes burned coal. America oil reserves and steel making prowess from WWII allowed oil to be rapidly adopted after WWII (1945).
In the 1970’s and 80’s due to natural gas shortages and price irregularities the natural gas market become deregulated. Deregulated allowed for competition and market based pricing, which meant lower prices, this drove the popularity of natural gas. So natural gas didn’t become popular until the late 1980’s.
For homes built between 1900 and 1980, oil heat was highly probable at some point in the past (in short what were your alternate choices for heat besides oil?). Construction codes didn’t address oil tank removals until the 1990’s. Environmental regulations today have strict standards for heating oil leaks from tanks in soil and groundwater. In short, an oil tank leak can make the owner of a property a polluter so to speak. On top of that the regulations view the current owner of a property as the Responsible Party (RP) for the cleanup.
Today, you could buy a house built in 1950, that used oil until say 1980, when a conversion to gas occurred. The old oil tank was literally just left in place (abandoned), since doing anything cost money. Fast forward to 2020, you are buying that home with an oil tank that hasn’t been used in decades. If you don’t add a tank sweep with GPR (ground penetrating radar) to your home purchase due diligence you are opening your self up to a responsibility and an expense with the oil tank, as when you sell someone will do a tank sweep and find the tank you never knew you had or used, which happens all the time.
Today the internet is used not just for shopping, but for education. There are homeowners that have an oil tank on their property (used or out of service), these homeowners have learned via the internet (websites like this one) of the liability of an oil tank. We find that some people will hide the evidence of the tank and hope that no one looks for an oil tank, since the home is now heated by natural gas. Do you find it hard to believe that someone would try to hide the truth? Follow this story.
Home went under contract, home inspection and all, everything but a tank sweep with GPR was performed by the purchaser of the home. One day before settlement the prospective homeowner does a walk through of the property and low and behold someone spray painted "tank" on the ground. (this is a true story. I couldn’t make things like this up).
Home was a flip, so the owner (really owner for 7 months) had no knowledge of any oil tank. Curren scanned the marked area and bingo oil tank, about ¼ full of oil. We can only speculate as to why the tank was hidden and why someone spray painted tank on the sidewalk. The general theory is a neighbor was aware of a tank at that location and also aware the owner removed evidence of the tank. Presumable the neighbor removed their tank and didn’t appreciate the neighbor not doing the right thing and removing theirs. We believe this is a likely scenario as we have seen it on other sites that we have performed tank scans/sweeps. People will park cars in driveways over tanks. People will say a tank was removed and we scan the area and find a metal object indicative of a tank.
We even have people who have removed their own tanks, we get contracted to do soil borings and soil sampling from the removed tank area. $35,000.00 later, we find that the tank did leak, the owner just thought that oil is naturally present in a removed tank excavation.
Bottom line you cannot rely on statements from a seller such as these:
There is no oil tank.
That the tank was removed
The removed tank didn’t leak.
Do you need to complete a tank sweep? Yes, if the home was built before 1980 and you can’t get 100% written documentation that natural gas was always utilized to heat the dwelling.