Water in your oil tank is always a cause for concern because it can damage your heater. How can you tell if water managed to make its way to your oil tank and how do you get rid of it?
Burch Oil, Southern Maryland’s choice for heating services, explains in this post.
How to Tell If There’s Water Inside Your Oil Tank
Peering into your oil tank won’t tell you much—oil is less dense than water and therefore always rises over water. If there is water in your tank, it’s always at the bottom.
One way of detecting the presence of water in your oil tank is to use water-finding paste. Usually, the manufacturer of the oil tank will have specific instructions about the kind of water-finding paste you should use. Apply the paste to the bottom of a probing stick and lower it until it hits the bottom of the tank. If there is water, the paste will turn yellow or red.
In most cases, however, water contamination in the oil tank remains undetected for a long period of time. By the time, issues with your heater start to appear, it’s already too late to mitigate damage. That’s why it’s important that you have your tank properly maintained and periodically inspected for water by a professional contractor from a heating services company.
The Usual Culprits
Homeowners mistakenly assume there’s no way for water to infiltrate their oil tank because it’s a sealed unit. What many overlook is the fact moisture is a major component of the atmosphere and is present even in tightly sealed tanks. Not to mention oil tanks aren’t impenetrable. As such, there’s always a risk water can infiltrate your oil tank. The usual sources of water contamination in oil tanks are condensation and rainwater.
How Condensation Forms Inside Your Tank
In general, there’s a higher risk of water contaminating your oil tank through condensation in spring and summer, when the weather’s hot and humid. As the weather becomes warmer, your tank’s internal temperature becomes cooler than the outside temperature. If moist air cools down in your tank, droplets might start to form on the inner walls. Condensation forms when cold water makes contact with a warm surface. Since water is heavier and denser than most fuels, it’ll eventually settle at the bottom of the tank.
How Rainwater Can Infiltrate Your Oil Tank
If your oil tank isn’t well-maintained or suffered extensive damage, rainwater can make its way inside. The usual entry points for rainwater are damaged vents, corroded seals, cracks in the tank, and ill-fitting filler caps.
Is It Possible for Water to Get Into Your Tank While It’s Being Refilled?
A lot of homeowners have this concern. However, as long as you get oil from a reputable supplier, there’s no need to worry about your fuel or oil tank or heating equipment being contaminated with water.
How Water in Your Oil Tank Can Cause Problems
What’s the worst that could happen if the water isn’t immediately removed from your tank? Quite a few, actually. Some issues you might encounter are:
- Rust – Rust or iron oxide can start to form when water makes contact with iron and steel surfaces. Left unattended, abrasive rust particulates can damage your heater.
- Abrasion – Since water has lower viscosity than fuel, it provides less lubricating cushion against moving parts, which can cause abrasion.
- Corrosion – The water at the bottom of your tank might combine with bacteria and sediments to form sludge. Left unattended, the sludge can corrode the bottom of the oil tank, causing a host of problems for your heater.
- Ice blockages – When temperatures drop below zero in winter, the water at the bottom of the tank freezes, causing blockages in fuel filters and expanding pre-existing cracks.
How to Remove Water From the Oil Tank
The method for removing water from your oil tank and heating equipment depends on the kind of material the tank’s made of. If you have a metal tank installed, there’s a sludge valve at the base of the tank that you can use to drain water-contaminated fuel. This won’t get rid of all the water, but it is a helpful stop-gap measure until a professional contractor can inspect your tank and heating equipment.
Important note: Make sure to dispose of the water-contaminated fuel properly—oil can damage the environment if it manages to seep into the ground or it’s disposed of through waterways. Ask your local government about the guidelines on water-contaminated oil.
What if you have a plastic tank installed? Plastic tanks don’t have a sludge valve, which is why water needs to be pumped out manually if water managed to make its way to your tank. This method won’t be able to completely remove all of the water in your oil tank. That’s why it’s best to let a professional contractor from a heating and AC services company drain your oil tank. To completely remove water from your tank, a contractor will need to flush the pipes and change the fuel filters.
Alternatively, a contractor might recommend fuel polishing. Water is removed from contaminated fuel using a series of special filters. A contractor then cleans the tank to remove remaining contaminants and pumps back into your oil tank after being polished.
How to Prevent Your Oil Tank From Being Contaminated
How can you prevent rainwater from infiltrating your oil tank?
- Buy fuel from a trusted source – This ensures the fuel delivered to your home is free from any contamination.
- Secure the lids – This might seem like a no brainer, but it’d be a good idea to occasionally check if the lid on the heating tank is shut tight.
- Trim overhanging trees – Rain droplets could drip from the branches and into the heating tank.
- Schedule routine inspections – Your heating oil tank should be routinely inspected by a contractor, ideally before winter.
- Store your tank in a secure location – Exposure to the elements, particularly, can hasten the corrosion process and possibly allow water to infiltrate your heating tank. To reduce the risk of corrosion, the metal heating tank should be kept in a secure location where water or snow won’t be able to easily reach your tank.
- Check for bulges – Another warning sign you should keep an eye out for is bulges in your exterior. Bulges indicate that the tank’s exterior walls aren’t as durable as they used to be.
- Replace your heating tank – If your heating tank is more than 15 years old, it may need to be replaced soon.
How to Tell If Your Heating Tank Needs to Be Replaced
By keeping an eye out for signs of aging, chipped paint, cracks, and corrosion in your tank and pipeworks. Common warning signs include:
- Wet spots – Keep an eye out for wet spots underneath the tank or on its surface.
- Uneven legs – Unstable legs are usually a sign of a faulty installation. To make sure your heating tank is installed properly, only experienced contractors should handle their installation.
- Oil runs – This is a sign of a leak. If you notice leaking oil near your tank, have a contractor inspect it as soon as possible.
- Oil Inefficiency – If you notice that your tank is running out of oil faster than usual, it’d be a good idea to have a contractor inspect it for leaks.
Burch Oil, family-owned and -operated company, has been providing heating and cooling as well as AC services to local residents since 1928. For inquiries, call us at (301) 373-2131 or fill out this form.