Home Hazards: Proper Removal of Residential Underground Storage Tanks

Real Estate Agent with Juliana Vallee Real Estate Group

You might not know it, but some greaser, hippie or flapper’s well-heated home could be your worst nightmare. Many homeowners between the 1920s and 1960s used oil heat and had oil tanks buried very close to their homes. Like swing and psychedelic rock, these tanks had a limited lifespan (an average of 20 to 25 years). Unlike music of this time period, however, old underground oil tanks can be hazardous to your safety as well as the safety of your community. These tanks can potentially leak hazardous materials. Being so, New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services recommend you remove old oil tanks in accordance with the British Columbia Fire Code if there is one found on your property.

Don’t know whether or not you’ve got an oil tank buried by the swing set? That big cast iron pipe jutting out of the ground is a pretty good indication. If you don’t see any visible signs of a buried tank, you can hire an oil tank contractor to search your property with a metal detector. You can also contact New Westminster Fire and Rescue Service for information from their property database (which may or may not be complete.)

                  Unfortunately, you won’t win a prize for discovering an oil tank buried by the dog house. You will, however, need to get that tank off your property pronto. The best way (actually the only legal way) to do this is to hire a registered professional engineer. Before hiring an engineer, however, you need to be sure that the contractor:

1 Understands the BC Fire Code and Environmental Management Act regulations dealing with oil spills and oil tank removal

2 Is reputable and knows what he or she is talking about

3 Has Worksafe BC coverage

4 Is insured and licensed to operate in New Westminster

5 Has obtained a permit from the Fire Department

6 Provides you with a written contract detailing work to be performed, along with a cost estimate

`While the contractor is busy excavating and disposing of the tank and piping, you should be watching the process from a safe distance (i.e. far enough away where you can’t give him or her a high-five.) Also, make sure to record any problems encountered and take notes and photos to document the work.

After the tank is removed, a comprehensive soil test will be conducted by a testing lab. During this time, you should be observing and obtaining written observations from people on-site, including the contractor, no matter how smoothly the process seems to be going (or how much one of the lab techs reminds you of your uncle Bob.)

In the event of a spill/contamination, you must contact the local fire department as well as the BC Ministry of Environment. All soil suspected of contamination must be also be separated from clean soil. It’d be a good idea to consult with your insurance agent to make sure you’re covered in the event of an oil spill or leak, as most agencies don’t cover underground tank leakage.

The work’s not over once the work’s over however. Your contractor must submit a final report to New Westminster Fire & Rescue, including shipping records, an accurate site plan, notes, color photos and other pertinent info. You should keep all notes, contamination measurement results, documentation of clean-up work and other important information safely stored, as you might need to produce this info if you sell your property, renew your home insurance, obtain financing or file a claim. It’s also cool to have if you’re just really into the heating history of New Westminster.

For more information, contact Public Safety & Prevention at 604-519-1004. Permit applications are available at Glenbrook Fire Hall or online at

If your home was built between the 1920’s and 1960’s, make the effort and find out if there’s a hazardous storage bank buried under your yard. Don’t suffer just because some family in 1947 felt the need to stay warm. Get your property checked out and you’ll sleep easier at night. 

Carla Harbert
Full Time REALTOR in Ohio - Brunswick, OH
RE/MAX Omega, Brunswick Ohio

And in our area, there are homes that were forced to attach to the new public sewer system, eliminating their septic system. The old septic is required to be crushed and/or removed - but who really makes sure this is done? Especially if it a huge project? Underground storage tanks & septic tanks have proper ways of being removed, so beware!

May 29, 2012 09:08 AM