Buyer Beware- Why You Need to Make Oil Tank Detection a Part of The Inspection Process1
March 15, 2023

Buyer Beware: Why You Need to Make Oil Tank Detection a Part of The Inspection Process

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There’s a lot that goes into finding the perfect home. In competitive markets like Vancouver, the house hunting and buying process can be physically and emotionally exhausting. When you find a property you love, it’s tempting to jump in both feet first without doing your due diligence.  

Unfortunately, too many new home buyers find out the hard way that looks can be deceiving. Even if a home appears to be in great condition, there can be problems lurking below the surface, including a hidden oil tank.  

Before natural gas and electric heating took over, oil-fed furnaces were the primary heating source for many Vancouver area homes – and to help conserve space, this oil was generally stored in underground oil tanks. However, even after transitioning to other heating sources, many of these oil tanks remain underground. Over time, these metal tanks deteriorate, increasing the risk of leaks and spills, which can have serious environmental, health, and financial consequences for homeowners.  

To avoid the potential repercussions of an oil leak and the cost of soil remediation, home buyers of at-risk properties (homes built before 1980) should request oil tank detection in addition to a standard home inspection before closing a real estate transition to ensure that the property is safe. 

What is Oil Tank Detection?

Oil tank detection is the process of locating and identifying the presence of an oil storage tank on a property. It is a necessary process that helps homeowners, property buyers, and other concerned parties mitigate the potential risks and hazards associated with oil tanks.  

 There are several different methods used for oil tank detection, including:  

  • Visual inspection: The simplest method of oil tank detection is a visual inspection of the property, looking for signs of an oil tank, such as fill pipes, vent pipes, and fuel lines. The homeowner or a professional inspector can conduct a visual inspection. However, a visual inspection alone may not be enough to satisfy insurance companies or mortgage lenders.  
  • Ground penetrating radar (GPR): GPR is a non-destructive method of detecting buried objects, including oil tanks. GPR uses electromagnetic waves to detect changes in the subsurface, which can indicate the presence of an oil tank. GPR is highly accurate and can be used to detect oil tanks in a variety of soil types. 
  • Metal detectors: Metal detectors can be used to detect the presence of metal objects, including oil tanks. This method is relatively simple and inexpensive but less accurate than GPR. 
  • Soil testing: Soil testing can detect the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons in the soil, indicating the presence of an oil tank. This method involves taking soil samples and testing them for the presence of contaminants. 
  • Records search: A records search may tell you if an oil tank was ever installed on a property or if one has been removed. While useful, a record search alone may not always be enough, as records may not be complete or lost over time. 

What To Do If an Oil Tank Is Detected 

If an oil tank is detected, it is vital to take action to mitigate the risks. As a potential homebuyer, this may involve requesting the seller have the tank removed in addition to any remediation work that might be required before closing. If you are a seller, it would be prudent to have oil tank detection completed before listing to avoid added costs and delays in the sale of your home.