Attention Homeowners: New Laws Apply to Your Heating Oil Tank

If you heat your home with oil, as so many of us in New England do, you should be aware of a new Massachusetts law regarding home heating oil tanks.  The law requires certain upgrades that make leaks from your tank less likely.  This may include either a safety valve or an oil supply line with a protective sleeve.  If these features are already part of your system, and if they were installed after 1990, you may not need to take any additional steps now.  But if you don’t have one or both of these important features, we urge you to have them installed.  It’s well worth the estimated $150 to $350 the upgrade will cost, and it’s the law.

Not maintaining your oil tank can have disastrous consequences.  When it comes to oil spills, we’ve seen it all.  Oil storage tanks in people’s basements that fail catastrophically at the seams, spraying oil all over the contents of the basement.  Floodwater in basements floating oil tanks upward until the feed line breaks.  Vent lines plugged by animal nests or leaves, causing the tank to overpressurize and burst during filling.  Imagine the heartbreak of tossing the entire oil-soaked contents of your basement into a dumpster, not to mention the cost of the clean-up!

To make matters even worse, a sudden release of more than ten gallons of oil to your basement may be reportable to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), and you, as the homeowner, become liable for the cleanup.  Released oil often migrates quickly through cracks in basement floors to the soil below the house.  Cleaning up soil and groundwater impacts after an oil spill can be very costly.  MassDEP estimates typical residential oil releases cost $20,000 to $50,000 to clean up, while some sites run over $200,000.  That’s a pretty big unexpected expense to try to squeeze into your household budget.

Fortunately, the new regulations have a second part: an obligation for homeowner insurance companies to offer coverage for home heating oil spills.  Many homeowners are shocked to learn (sometimes too late) that their insurance doesn’t cover spills from their heating system.  The new coverage won’t be automatically added to your policy; you’ll need to ask for it, and pay a bit extra for the coverage.  In our opinion, it’s well worth it to avoid the nightmare scenario of a large oil spill in your basement that you end up liable for on your own nickel.  So contact your oil burner service company to see if you need an upgrade, and contact your insurance company to inquire about oil spill coverage.