Heating Oil Safety

If you’re new to heating your home with oil, you may have some questions about safety. After all, heating systems work by warming air or water with a controlled fire – a controlled fire that’s being intentionally lit inside your home every day, several times a day. Ok, while that sounds dramatic, ever since 1923, people throughout the U.S. have been heating their homes with heating oil. It’s safe, reliable, and efficient, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things you should be aware of.

Read on to learn more about some common consumer heating oil safety concerns.

Is heating oil flammable?

What consumers actually want to know with this question is: will my heating oil tank spontaneously catch fire and burn down the house? Well, you can relax, because the answer is “no”.

Home heating oil won’t burn in a liquid state, so your oil tank is not going to spontaneously combust. In fact, even if you lit a match and put it in the middle of your oil tank, the oil wouldn’t light; the only thing that would happen is that the match would go out. For real. But probably don’t try this at home. Your oil has to be heated to 140°F and vaporized before it will ignite.

Can my heating oil tank leak?

While not common, a leak can happen. Like all things, a heating oil storage tank can deteriorate over time. When it does, it will need to be replaced. And while buying a new oil tank is not inexpensive – an average tank will cost you about $1800 – the cost of sticking with your old tank and suffering a leak will run you $20,000 to $50,000. Not even kidding.

That’s why it’s important to take a few minutes to do a heating oil tank safety check to make sure your tank is up to snuff. Not sure how to perform a safety check? Click over to Heatable’s Heating Oil Tank Safety Check to learn how to do a 9-point oil tank safety inspection.

How do I know if I have a heating oil leak?

Take a page from your home inspector, who was on the lookout for leaks when he/she inspected your house. Here are some areas they check out:

  • Leaks or wet spots around the tank, filter, gauge, fuel-delivery line, valves, piping or fittings

  • Any signs that the tank has been patched

  • A cracked foundation or uneven tank legs

  • Oil fuel lines that don’t look so hot

  • Fuel lines that do not have a protective casing

  • Oil stains on the ground

  • A strong oil smell

  • Signs of a spill around the fill or vent pipes

  • Dying vegetation around an outside tank

  (from International Association of Certified Home Inspectors)

What happens if my heating oil tank leaks?

If you suspect you have a leak, it’s time to act. Don’t put it off, because you don’t want to deal right now. Do the following:

  • Just to be extra extra safe, turn off all sources of flames or sparks in the area. While heating oil has to be heated to 140°F and vaporized before it will catch fire, let’s not take any chances. Also, if you’re smoking, put it out. (You should do that anyway, but we digress.)

  • Open windows and ventilate the area. If you have them, close cold-air returns, heat registers, and other openings that may let the fumes move to other parts of your house.

  • Keep children and pets away from the area.

  • Call the fire department immediately.
  • Call a HVAC technician. Don't have one, then give us a call at Heatable, and we’ll point you in the right direction.

How do I know my tank is safe? 

Here's the summary of our heating oil tank safety checklist.

  1. Vent pipe: Located outside, make sure it’s not clogged with snow or other debris.

  2. Fill pipe: Make sure it’s clear and there are no signs of leakage.

  3. Tank surface: Look for rust, oil “weeps”, wet spots, or excessive dents.

  4. Tank legs: Legs should be stable and on an even foundation.

  5. Beneath the tank: Look for leaks or signs of leaks.

  6. Oil filter: Look for leaks or signs of leaks under or around the oil filter.

  7. Oil lines: Look for leaks or signs of leaks along the entire oil line.

  8. Tank gauge: Check the gauge is working.

  9. Age of tank: Confirm that your tank is less than 25 years old.

​Click over to Heatable’s Heating Oil Tank Safety Check to learn more. Or give us a call if you are unsure and we'd be happy to do a free tank inspection.

Is carbon monoxide a thing?

Yes, it is. It’s a serious thing.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can kill you. It’s produced any time you burn fuel – in cars or trucks, engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, furnaces, even gas refrigerators.

In fact, it’s a good practice to install a carbon monoxide detector in every room to keep your household safe. 

Other safety habits include:

  • Having your boiler, furnace, and any gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician each year

  • Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year

  • Never patch a vent pipe with tape. Call a professional to assess the situation

  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating

  • Make sure you have a battery-powered or battery-backup CO detector when using a generator

For more ways to prevent CO poisoning in your home, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What about heating oil and the environment?

With the advent of Ultra Low Sulfur (ULS) heating oil, heating your home with oil has become better for the environment and public health.

Really? Break that down for me.

Well, all heating oil contains a certain amount of sulfur. That sulfur content is measured in parts per million (ppm). At the refinery, heating oil goes through a process called hydrodesulphurization (a mouthful) to remove the sulfur. Traditional oil has a sulfur content of 4,000 ppm; ultra-low sulfur heating oil only has a sulfur content of 15 ppm. Talk about a dramatic decrease.

That decrease translates into good news for the environment and public health, because lower sulfur content in heating oil significantly reduces the amount of nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, and particulate matter emissions—all of which are linked to environmental and public health issues. Lowering sulfur emissions is a tremendous win.

Another win with ULS heating oil is that it makes your heating system more efficient.

Learn more about Heating Oil

Visit our Ultimate Consumer’s Guide to Heating Oil for everything you need to know about heating your home with heating oil.

Heatable’s the smart way to order heating oil.

Founded by industry veterans, we’ve been around the block (literally hundreds of thousands of times). We're based in South Portland, Maine, have our own bright “rorange” trucks, and make our own deliveries.

The Heatable website and quick order app put you in control of your heating oil purchases. You can order anywhere and at any time. Just enter your zip to see your super-low price and get started. Our technology and streamlined process allow us to offer the same low price to everyone – no negotiating necessary.

Heating oil delivery at your fingertips. Try us today!

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