50 year old oil tank threatens family home

Throughout the UK you’ll find quaint little villages so removed from urban life that the government have forgotten to connect the residents to the mains gas grid. Inhabitants of these villages rely on alternative sources of energy for heating, mainly heating oil (usually kerosene) but sometimes LPG or electricity.

Family homes and business premises powered by oil tanks are common in these villages and often the tanks don’t comply with modern oil storage regulations and can be a major hazard. This is something Mark from little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire discovered after moving into a house fitted with a 600 gallon steel tank. The oil tank was about 50 years old and installed in an outside recess within the house (as pictured below).

The old steel oil tank which has been replaced by UPVC windows with a view onto the surrounding fields.

Regulation renovation

At the time of installation this would have been an ideal location – concealed by a cavity within the house and very close to the oil boiler. Fast forward around 50 years and the tank is a huge hazard. With only limited visibility there’s no way of assessing the condition of the entire tank meaning cracks and splits could form and develop without the homeowner becoming aware. This problem was also compounded as the tank only had a single layer or ‘skin’. Single skin oil tanks are currently being phased out as they pose a much greater threat to the environment than bunded oil tanks which have a secondary containment able to contain leaks and spills from the primary tank.

The old steel oil tank extracted onto a wooden base Mark constructed. The tank was in surprisingly good condition considering its age.

Currently, oil storage regulations in England only require a domestic tank to be bunded if its capacity is above 3,500 litres. However, due to the environmental and financial implications of an oil leak, we would always recommend installing a bunded tank. Additionally, these regulations are expected to become more strict following regulation changes in Wales which require new installations for tank able to hold over 200 litres to be bunded.

Danger, danger! high joules

Due to the risk to the property and the tank’s incompliance with modern regulations, Mark’s installers from Home Counties Heating recommended removing the tank. An undetected crack in the tank could result in hundreds of litres leaking into the house’s foundations. Mark was advised that a leak of this magnitude would probably result in digging out the entire base and levelling the house in the process. As well as leaving Mark without a home, the costs of fines, cleanup fees and the remedial work would probably be well into six figures.

1150 litre Slimline Fire Protected Oil Tank

With the old heating oil tank removed the challenge was finding a new tank and installing it in a location which did not compromise the layout and view of the garden. Under building regulations, conventional oil tanks require a minimum distance of 1.8m from non fire-rated buildings and 0.76m from non fire-rated boundaries. This makes hiding an oil tank very difficult as illustrated below.

Fire separation distances for a conventional oil tank

However, Tuffa Tanks have provided an innovative solution – an oil tank factory-fitted with a fire resistant material offering 30 minute fire protection. The system has been thoroughly and independently fire tested and meet the functional requirements of building control. They act as an alternative form of compliance when compared to conventional fire barriers and can be installed adjacent to building and boundaries, and signed off under Competent Persons Schemes such as APHC.

Home Counties recommended Tuffa Tanks as the only manufacturer of both plastic and steel integrally fire rated oil tanks. Mark explained why the alternative options were undesirable.

The alternative to a tuffa tank would have been to choose another site or construct a fire break wall or metal barrier. We would probably have done this rather than use another site. One alternative site would probably have been beyond or at the outer limit of a tankers reach. The other alternative would be visually unattractive in an open part of the garden. – Mark

Tuffa tank hidden away by the side of the garage

The result

With the new bunded and fire protected oil tank installed the risk of spillage has been vastly diminished. The new tank is situated in an unobtrusive location which actually makes the tank more accessible and much easier to fill. Now that the heating is sorted Mark has moved onto his next job renovating the bathroom while the family pets bask in the warmth.

For more tips, information, advice and industry insights covering everything from the basic question “what is heating oil?” to the money-saving “how can I get the best price for heating oil?” check out An Expert Guide to Heating Oil Storage. You can also view our Expert Guide to Fire Rated Oil Tanks to see how fire protection can benefit you.

If you require any advice on heating oil tanks and fire protection contact our Sales Support team by completing the enquiry form below or dialling  01889 567700.

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