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Maintaining & Fixing Your Heating Oil Problems

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When using heating oil, you need to be careful that your tank doesn’t leak, causing harmful damage; that heating oil doesn’t become sludgy or ‘wax up’ in icy conditions making it unusable; and that your oil is safe from theft and you are able to rectify issues with suppliers.

Follow these checks and advice to keep your heating oil safe and to save you money in the long run.

Heating oil tank checks

You should have your heating oil tank serviced once a year by a technician registered with Oftec (the Oil Firing Technical Association). You can visit the Oftec website to find one in your area.

There are also some simple checks and precautions you can take yourself to ensure your tank is in a good condition:

  • Check for signs of damage, such as bulges, deep scratches, cracks, discolouration, rust or major dents.
  • Look out for any oil that has leaked out externally, particularly around pipes, valves and seams.
  • Make sure that any external protection, such as a bund (take a look at our page on heating oil tanks to find out more), isn’t filled with large amounts of water, oil, rubbish or plants.
  • Keep access to and around the tank clear, and don’t allow plants to grow near it.
  • Make sure vents, gauges and access points are closed and protected so that rainwater, insects or dirt doesn’t get into them.
  • Check gauges and alarms are working correctly, and in particular the batteries. Consult the manufacturer for advice on how to do this.
  • Keep an oil spill kit with drain blockers, leak-sealing putty and absorbent materials.
  • Make sure your tank is only filled to around 80-90% of its capacity to avoid overfilling and ensure your tank has an overfill protection device or alarm.

Heating oil leaks

Oil is toxic and harmful to the environment, including animals, plants and water sources. It is against the law to cause pollution, so any defects found should be fixed immediately by a professional. In the case of oil escaping from the tank, you should call the Environment Agency’s 24-hour incident hotline (0800 807060).

It can cost thousands to clean up an oil spill, so it’s advisable to get insurance that:

  • has a high enough liability limit to cover the cost of cleaning up your property or neighbouring land
  • covers the cost of replacing lost, leaked or stolen oil
  • covers environmental clean-up for accidental loss.

Be aware that not all insurance policies cover oil leakage.

All heating oil tanks should have the correct protection around them, such as a bund (secondary containment), according to regulation. The amount of protection varies across the UK and depending on where your tank is situated.

If you need to change your current tank, it’s important that you get one that is manufactured to Oftec standards (OFS T100 for plastic tanks or OFS T200 for steel tanks).

Water or sludge in your heating oil tank

Sludge or water in your heating oil tank can clog pipework, damage or corrode heating systems and reduce the efficiency of the oil.

Water can come from rainfall when taking delivery of new oil or due to condensation. You should take precautions to ensure any damage is fixed and openings are closed, and your delivery driver should do the same when filling your tank.

Sludge tends to build up in tanks where oil has been stored for a long period.

To detect either water or sludge, look for signs of a darkened area at the bottom of the tank, which may have been caused by erosion. You can also buy water-finding paste which you would need to attach to a long stick to put into the tank. The colour the paste turns will indicate whether water is present.

A technician can remove water and sludge and or/clean your tank, and can find the cause of any problems you’ve experienced and fix them.

Heating oil is a costly commodity, so ensure you keep it safe from theft

Heating oil theft

Heating oil can be pricey, so it can be attractive to thieves. Adding locks or lockable valves if possible will prevent theft, and in some cases is a legal requirement. Your engineer or supplier can advise you on this.

It’s also wise to shield your tank from the road so it isn’t visible, although in doing this you must ensure access to it isn’t restricted and it complies with guidelines. Ask an Oftec-registered technician for details.

You could also install motion-sensitive security lighting to alert you if there is a problem, or an alarm (costing around £80) that will react if the oil level drops suddenly – which is also useful for notifying you of an oil leak.

It is cheaper to order your heating oil in bulk, but some people prefer to order less and more often so that, if the oil is stolen, there is less to lose. One way to reduce the price when ordering a smaller amount is to join a heating oil club.

Heating oil in winter

Kerosene, the most common type of heating oil, doesn’t tend to ‘wax up’ (form crystals which stop it from flowing as easily) in cold weather until it reaches around minus 39 degrees (although check with the supplier on the type you’re getting, as this can vary). However, ice could form if water has got into your tank, so it’s advisable to have your tank serviced and check for problems just before winter.

Regularly check how much oil you have left to avoid suddenly running out in cold weather – particularly on those occasions when a supplier can’t get to you, such as during heavy snow.

Order more oil before your supply gets less than a quarter full. To avoid risks and save money, order most of your oil in summer, then simply top up in early winter before the weather gets too bad.

If you run out unexpectedly, contact your supplier. If it can’t reach you with an oil delivery it may have small supplies you can collect from a depot if you can get to it.

Barton Petroleum are renowned for their speedy and reliable service. Click Here for details of their delivery areas.

Make sure your boiler is serviced once a year by an Oftec-registered technician

Source: Which?