“If it’s More Than 10 Gallons, We Need to Report It to the E.P.A.”

Last Thursday I was in my office, writing some code when Joe came to my door and said “I have bad news.” He held out his hand, which appeared to be smeared with engine grease. It was not engine grease; it was heating oil that had seeped out of the tank in our basement.

oil leak on concrete
Oil seeping out of the tank and into the floor of the basement.

With a 100+ year old house, these happen (even for magic houses). So, after sighing deeply, the first step was to call our oil delivery company. As Mass Energy Consumer Alliance members, we have been using Olde Town Oil since we moved in five years ago. In addition to delivering heating oil, they also do our yearly furnace maintenance, so it seemed the logical choice to help with this problem.

basement with old oil tank
The old tank. And yes, that is a skeleton in the corner. Why would we not have skeletons in the basement?

Brad, of Olde Town Oil, came over later that day to assess the situation. If the leak had been more serious – over 10 gallons – the E.P.A. would have had to be alerted. But because the amount of oil on the floor was minimal, that wasn’t needed in our case.

another view of the old tank
The old tank from the other direction. We cleared the are for the work crew by shoving everything into the corners of the space.

Turns out our old tank was probably 50 to 60 years old and hand made (open the image up full size and check out the diamond plate steel this monster was constructed out of)! With a quote of $3,100 to install a new tank and remove the old one, strict instructions to NOT TOUCH the old tank in case it decided to start outright disintegrating, and an appointment for Tuesday, Brad was off; leaving us to fret on our own for the weekend.

new and old oil tanks
The new tank stands beside the old tank.

Installation day started off smoothly. Permits were pulled with the city. The new tank (a 275 gallon Roth) was brought in and settled on a relatively level section of floor. The oil was transferred out of the old tank and into the new one. The old line to the furnace was cut out and a new, overhead, line was put in. Now to clean up the old tank and install the fill pipe…

old tank cut open
Pac-Man of doom.

First step of cleaning out the old tank is to cut it open. That diamond plate steel? Not easy to saw through. I wasn’t actually down in the basement watching the whole job, but I could hear most of it from the living room. It sounded like a few different saw blades were needed to gut the monster.

sludge in oil tank.
So much sludge to clean out of this ancient tank. No wonder it was leaking.

Brad called me down to take a look once they had the tank open. A think layer of sludge coated the bottom. I took a few photos and went back upstairs. But a few minutes later was called back down. The sludge? Not just old oil. Turns out there were several inches of cement at the bottom of the tank.

actually it is concrete
Oil saturated concrete in the tank. DO NOT DO THIS.

In Brad’s many years on the job, he had never encountered this. He had heard rumors that sometimes people would pour cement into a tank to stop a leak. So it may be that our tank was failing for longer than any of us realized.

The cleanup effort is now bigger than estimated. Because all that crumbling, oil saturated cement is hazardous waste. And hazardous waste disposal is priced by the pound.

You're gonna need a bigger boat
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”

So, at this point we have reached the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” portion of the adventure and reinforcements were contacted. Unlimited Removal was called in to help scrape out the tank while the Olde Town team went back to their installation work.

Buckets of cement and gloopy old oil
Buckets of cement and gloopy old oil

Oh. And also around this time the skies opened up to a torrential downpour, so anytime anyone needed to get something from the truck, they got completely soaked.

new hole for fill pipe
Vinyl siding cut away and new hole drilled for fill pipe.
new fill and vent pipes
Northeast side of the house with new fill pipe and vent installed.

Once the rain let up, holes were drilled for the new fill pipe and vent. Our old pipes had gone through the fieldstone foundation, but that’s not really done these days, so the new pipes go through the sill plate. This was also difficult to get through, but I take it as a good sign, since that is what is holding the walls of the house up.

new oil tank in basement
The new tank stands alone! So much more room in the basement with the old tank gone.

Once the old tank was removed, everything wrapped up very quickly. The various set backs added a couple extra hours onto the job and the extra hazardous waste disposal was an additional $200.

Emergency repairs are always unnerving, but you do what needs to be done. It was a stressful few days, but now we have so much more room in the basement. The new tank is more compact and in a less intrusive spot.

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