Home oil tank leaks a growing problem

Hundreds of homeowners in the Ottawa region are losing their homes — and, in some cases, their savings — because of leaking oil tanks.

Hundreds of homeowners in the Ottawa region are losing their homes — and, in some cases, their savings — because of leaking oil tanks.

Residential oil furnaces have long been used to heat homes in the area, but several of the aging tanks have failed in recent years — contaminating the surrounding properties, and leaving people without their homes and a pricey mess to clean up.

Nancy Command recently watched as her family home for four generations was ripped to pieces.

"I'm watching my home be destroyed and it's heartbreaking, and I can't understand how I could be so naive about this tank that sat in my yard," she said.

A few months ago, the heat in Command's home stopped working. She learned her oil-heating tank had a leak and the oil inside had seeped into the ground, contaminating her property.

That left her with a massive spill, expected to cost more than $1 million to clean up. Command has liability insurance so the clean up expenses will be covered, but she expects to pay more than $100,000 in additional costs.

The company hired to clean up the mess says they see hundreds of residential oil spills like this every year, and many homeowners find out the hard way they're not properly insured. 

"Not all policies actually have a liability portion or an environmental component to cover a loss like this," said Cam Monk with DL Services. "A lot of people wouldn't be able to afford to clean this up."

Command said the incident was a big shock.

"If this can cause me to lose my home, financially ruin me, pollute that much drinking water — why are we not hearing about it?" she said.

The Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) is the provincial body responsible for regulating oil tank heating systems. However, the TSSA has no restriction on how old the tanks can be, and they only need to be inspected every 10 years. The TSSA says the responsibility falls to the homeowner and their oil distributor.

"They are responsible for maintaining their equipment and their systems on an annual basis," said TSSA spokesperson Bernadette Celis.

In the absence of tougher regulations, many insurance companies refuse to cover homes with oil tanks. Others are tied up in dozens of lawsuits with desperate homeowners. Command plans to take legal action against her oil distributor, but even if she wins her home will be lost.

"For me to lose my little log home is a heartbreak," she said. "And I had no idea that my oil tank could take away my home."