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High Country Real Estate: Underground Storage Tanks

By Rick Goodwin, REALTOR, Blue Ridge Realty & Investments, LLC

Human beings have been living in houses since before they were human beings. Well, let me clarify. There is archaeological evidence of house constructions by a proto-human species from a site in Tanzania known as Oldupai Gorge from 1.8 million years ago. That is approximately a million and a half years prior to the appearance of modern humans. And in those 1.8 million years, the first central heating system was not invented until 1919. Well, aside from a rudimentary system used around 1300 BC in palaces in Turkey and Rome employing raised floors with fires at one end, passing heated air and combustion gases beneath the raised floor to heat the room. There were varying riffs on this used in palaces and monasteries throughout the Dark and Middle Ages, but none were truly effective “central’ heating and none accessible for everyone.

These days, one of the minimum standards for a home is central heating. As a matter of fact, it is a requirement in order for a home to be financed. There are several different forms centra; heating can take; it can be an HVAC unit such as a Heat Pump or other electric type system. Or it can be a type of system that relies on fuel, such as fuel oil, propane or kerosene.

These types of systems require a storage tank for the fuel on the premises to be connected to the system. The fuel tanks can be purchased by the homeowner or leased from the fuel provider. There are generally some installation fees when a tank is placed.

Some storage tanks are above ground and some are underground. Most homeowners prefer an underground storage tank (UST) for aesthetic reasons. 

According to Blue Ridge Energy for a UST 10 feet is the magic number: 

The following must be at least 10 feet from  any exterior source of ignition, air intakes for mechanical vents, or direct vent appliance openings:  relief valve, filling connection, and liquid fixed maximum level gauge vent connection at the container. Plus  no part of  the underground storage tank can be less than 10 ft from an important building or (buildable) property line.

When purchasing or selling a home, questions about fuel tanks are on the Offer to Purchase and Contract, Residential Property Disclosure, and Exclusive Right to Sell Listing Agreement. This information helps everyone understand the current state and use of any fuel tanks on the property. There are even questions regarding fuel providers and refill schedules, which are, of course, enormously helpful to purchasers. 

Then there are the occasions when a fuel heating system has been converted to electricity or other public utility and the tank is no longer used. What happens then? The tank owner is advised to empty all remaining fuel from the tank to limit the chances of ground contamination. Once the fuel has been removed, the tank should then be filled with a solid, inert material such as sand. Tanks should never be filled with water. 

While removal of an old, unused tank is not required, it can sometimes deter new buyers from purchasing when it comes time to sell the property, so many owners choose to remove old heating oil tanks. In order to do this, the first step is to contact the local fire inspector’s office as many such offices regulate USTs in the state of North Carolina. If no signs of contamination are evident, removal can proceed as planned. 

However, if  contamination is discovered the local/regional NC Division of Waste Management for Underground Storage Tank Section should be contacted before proceeding. There is a great amount of helpful information and FAQs at North Carolina’s Waste Management’s Section on USTs.  There is also a very helpful flowchart  determining the steps if contamination is suspected.

Central heat is one of the best perks of the modern age certainly worth keeping our environment healthy for!