Leading and award-winning loss assessor, Aspray, is warning southwest homeowners – a relatively large proportion of whom heat their homes with oil– to take extreme caution to avoid oil leaks and spillages during autumn and winter and to get the right insurance in place.
With many rural homes being off the gas grid, the use of oil as a heat source is commonplace in many villages. What many may not realise is that an unnoticed oil leak from an overground or underground tank can easily result in a five or six-figure insurance claim. Should environmental contamination occur to water courses or groundwater, the cost of clean-up can result in a much bigger bill for the homeowner to pick up.
Aspray says rule one for an oil tank owner is to check they have an insurance policy that covers their oil tank, and any resulting spillages and clean-ups, and which would also compensate their neighbours, if the oil damaged their property too. Aspray’s role in insurance claims is to represent the policyholder, not the insurer, so it liaises with the insurer’s loss adjuster in many cases where that loss adjuster may seek to suggest that an insurance policy will not cover certain elements of a claim. Having the right cover in the first place, is the first step towards arguing the insurer is taking too harsh a view of the situation and policy wording.
Having bought insurance to cover them, the homeowner needs to exercise great care over their oil tank, remembering that prevention is better than cure and that regular inspection and being aware of any damage that has occurred, or which might emerge, is vital.
Autumn and winter are key times for such damage to occur. One reason is the increase in deliveries at this time of year. A tank could potentially be damaged during a delivery, but more likely is the fact that a tank could be overfilled, if the filling is not supervised by the homeowner or an alarm fitted to denote that a remote tank is full. Additionally, a cracked plastic oil tank may only seep once oil is filled to a level above the crack and issues may not, therefore, have been evident during summer months.
Sun damage can also damage plastic oil tanks, causing them to bleach and weaken weight-bearing pressure points. Again, the outcomes of this issue may only become evident in autumn.
Violent weather, flooding and snow can put additional pressures on tanks, causing physical damage or putting strains on a tank that cause it to bulge, become misshapen and crack. Additional rainfall can also cause issues for tanks with badly fitted lids, with rain entering the oil and encouraging the growth of bacteria and sludge that can clog filters, lines and injectors.
Theft of heating oil is also easier during shorter and darker days and theft can also be accompanied by spillages and tank damage. Theft of oil from rural second homes and rental cottages can be a particular issue at this time of year.
As soon as a seepage or spillage is detected, the homeowner needs to act fast, minimising the damage as far as possible, and contacting all relevant authorities. Calling Aspray, at the same time as notifying the insurer of an issue, means that Aspray can support the homeowner from day one, liaising on their behalf and striving for their just entitlement from their insurance. If Aspray’s vetted contractors are used to manage the repairs, this typically costs the homeowner nothing.
Such repairs can be extensive, if oil has seeped into brickwork and damaged a property’s foundations or membrane. This is not an easy situation to sort out, in terms of a claim, and may well lead to the homeowner having to move out.
Aspray Director, Andrea Loasby, says: “Anyone spotting damage to an oil tank needs to take immediate action, making a remedial attempt to block a slit or contain seepage, in line with the guidance available online, until experts can address the issue. We work with specialists in this field, so as well as getting a loss assessor on site to assist you with your insurance claim, one call to us will also give you access to people who can help you with the oil clean-up itself. Prompt action can prevent a problem becoming a nightmare, if an oil tank issue does emerge despite your best efforts to prevent it.
“Having a well-managed insurance claim can also mean that you do not suffer unexpected expenses further down the line, due to damage that was not included within the claim and should help prevent you suffering a loss due to not being given your full policy entitlement. This is why homeowners turn to Aspray, as we analyse things to the letter and always strive for a rightful claims settlement.”
Aspray’s claims service generates a 96% satisfaction rate from property owners and its property reinstatement a 98% satisfaction rate (across randomly selected claims analysed). With the majority of customers getting this for free, when using Aspray’s vetted contractors, it is a huge boost for any homeowner that has suffered a property loss. To contact Aspray about an oil spillage claim, or any form of buildings insurance claim, from a washing machine flood or internal leak, to fire, flood, weather or vehicle impact damage and vandalism, call 0800 077 6705 or visit www.aspray.com for more information.
Tips and Advice for Handling Oil Tanks and Seepages
Spotting and preventing issues
- Don’t leave your tank out of sight and out of mind. Regularly inspect the area around an overground tank for signs of spillage or seepage and check the tank structure and shape. Look for any cracks or splits in a plastic tank and check a metal tank for signs of corrosion, especially at the base. Try to carry out checks once a week and include pipes, hoses at the boiler end, and connections.
- If you have an underground tank, be extra cautious if you can smell the odour of oil around your property or where the tank is based.
- Regularly monitor your oil usage and be wary if you suddenly appear to be using more than normal. Oil could be seeping out of the tank and causing your supply to go down faster than usual.
- Make sure you do not leave the tank’s sight gauge and delivery valves open and always check these for any signs of damage.
- Never buy more oil than you can store in a safe manner.
- Have your boiler and tank serviced annually by OFTEC technicians and make sure this service includes pipework.
- Always supervise your oil deliveries.
- Never allow your tank to be overfilled.
- Make sure that, if you store over 3500 litres of oil, you comply with the law and use a bund to prevent leakage. There is nothing to stop you using a bunded tank for lower amounts and a plastic-bunded tank could help prevent issues, giving you a tank within a ‘holding tank’.
- Test an underground tanks every 3-5 years, unless it is over 20 years old. At that stage, it will be coming to the end of its life and should be tested every year.
- If you have an unused underground tank, consider having it removed it completely or otherwise get an expert to clean it out. If not, it will still contain some oil that could be washed out by water, causing an issue for you.
- Make sure an expert installs any new tank and that it is situated on an even base. An uneven base could cause the plastic to stretch, spilt or crack.
- Take every precaution to prevent rainwater entering the tank.
- If moving the tank to another location, make sure you will be complying with Building Regulations and have a required assessment carried out beforehand by an Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) registered technician, to make sure environmental and fire risks have been considered. Get an expert to pump out the tank before you attempt to move it.
- Wherever possible, make sure your tank is 10 metres away from any water course such as a pond, stream, river, ditch or lake and 50 metres away from any borehole.
What to do if an Issue Occurs with Your Oil Tank
- Switch off the oil supply at the tank
- Attempt to find the source of the issue and also work out how much oil may have been lost.
- To prevent oil spreading and getting into drains or water courses, use sand, earth, or even cat litter, to try to contain it.
- If a split or hole is spotted in a metal tank, you could try applying sealant as a temporary measure. If a split appears in a plastic tank, rub a bar of soft soap into that split.
- Do not try to wash the oil away with buckets of water or hose pipe.
- Do not apply detergents to the oil.
- If the oil has affected other items around it, lift those off the ground and try to stand them on containers that will keep the oil inside them. These items can then be disposed of, with expert help.
- If you feel the spillage is less than 5 litres in total, dig up the affected patch of ground and dispose of the soil correctly. Here, this is probably going to be no more than a few buckets of soil, with no more evidence of oil thereafter. If you need to, ring your insurance company and report a claim. If you know you could benefit from help in handling such a claim, call Aspray on 0800 077 6705.
- If you believe the issue is more serious than just a few buckets of contaminated soil, you need to report it to the local council, as groundwater may be contaminated. Any inkling that this has occurred, or that drains, rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, estuaries or coastal waters could have been affected, should lead to a call to the Environment Agency, on 0800 807060, as a matter of urgency.
You will need to notify your insurer, to get a claim underway and hopefully have the cost of hiring specialist clean-up contractors covered. This is likely to become a complex claim, however, and expert assistance in handling it would most probably be advantageous. Call Aspray on 0800 077 6705, to get someone in your corner during the claims and repairs process and to make sure that all avenues of possible further damage are explored.
- If you believe water supplies are affected, do not drink any water and warn your neighbours.
- Once all authorities and experts are notified, let them take over and advise what action is required. Work with your Aspray loss assessor as your point of liaison with the authorities and they will handle all on your behalf, helping to remove that burden from your shoulders, whilst keeping you fully informed. They can be with you right through the process, from your first phone call, until your property is fully reinstated.