Key Concerns About Oil Tank Management

June 12, 2006
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John Levey, president of Oilheat Associates (Wantagh, N.Y.) had a lot to say about proper installation and maintenance of oil tanks.
HARTFORD, Conn. - John Levey knows a little about oil tanks. The president of Oilheat Associates, Wantagh, N.Y., spoke with attendees at the 53rd Annual National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM) Convention and Trade Show on the topic of oil tank management. The panel discussion included Mike Hatch of Boston Environmental, Portsmouth, N.H., and David Lodding of Lincoln Laboratory, Leicester, Mass.

Levey asked his audience for a show of hands if they felt that oil tanks were the Achilles' heel of the oil heating industry. About two-thirds answered yes. Levey's answer was yes and no. "If the tanks are properly installed and maintained, they are incredibly safe," he commented.

The problem is that the oil heating business needs oil tanks to survive. Yet poor installation reduces the life of an oil tank and poorly maintained systems continue to give the industry a bad name.

He noted that too many times businesses are anxious to make the delivery and collect the money rather than address the problems of a poorly installed or maintained tank. Levey said that service technicians who see obvious problems need to alert their managers and the company should say, "No, we are not going to fill your tank."

The problem should stop with the owners and managers and they need to alert the customers.

"The Achilles' heel is those of us who fail to address the problem of oil tanks," said Levey. "Business owners would rather sell the oil than face a potential [spill] lawsuit."

He also said that during equipment replacements or change outs, technicians or installers should also recommend changing the oil tank too. If workers talk with customers and find out why they need their tank filled, they may learn about problems that can be corrected. Levey said that techs shouldn't put a bandage on any problem; they should fix the problem.

"We are at a crossroads," he said. "Are we going to make the choice ourselves or let insurance companies or legislators make the choices for us?"

ANALYZING THE PROBLEM

Hatch began his presentation by telling attendees that they needed to be proactive rather than reactive. They shouldn't have to wait for a problem with a faulty oil tank to happen before taking action.

He recommended inspecting oil tanks using ultrasonic waves. The analysis of the data can determine which tanks need to be replaced, even if there is presently no leak in the tank. Having the necessary information for a homeowner to make the correct decision goes a long way to the future of oil heating in the home and the marketability of the home.

"If an inspection shows a clean bill of health [good oil tank], at a real estate closing, there is a good chance that the home buyer will use this data to maintain their current heating system," noted Hatch. "The chance of the buyer switching over to other methods of heating are nil.

"The key, from a marketing perspective, is relationship building with real estate, mortgage, and insurance companies. Because it is important that oil heat remains oil heat."

He added that inspectors want to work with contractors to ensure the best possible oil tank inspections.

TREATING THE PROBLEM

Lodding told meeting attendees that one of the main problems of faulty oil tanks is the same one that has existed for over 50 years: water. He said the only real way to solve the problem is to treat the water in the tank.

The chemical reaction between water and oil sets up electrolysis within the tank, which causes pitting in the wall. Lodding said pitting is more of a problem than corrosion.

He recommended developing a tank monitoring program and keeping all records of the program in a database at a secure Website where workers can access the information when analyzing a tank.

"Customers need to know how to treat the real problem - sludge and water in the bottom of the tank," Lodding said. "But most of all, companies need to establish "no fill" guidelines. All of the education is useless if techs continue to fill the tanks."

For more information on companies mentioned in this article, visit www.oilheatassociates.com, www.bostonenv.com, or www.lincolnlaboratory.com.

Publication date: 06/12/2006

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