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Photo of an oil spill from a home heating tank courtesy of NYSDEC.
Photo of an oil spill from a home heating tank courtesy of NYSDEC.

DEC reminds homeowners & landlords to prioritize safety with home heating this fall, winter


Wed, Oct 19th 2022 09:00 am

Property owners advised to never connect occupied structures to wells; inspect oil fuel tanks and equipment for leaks and spills

Submitted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation advised homeowners and landlords to put safety first when preparing for home heating needs this fall and winter. DEC reminded property owners to avoid connecting occupied buildings to wells producing natural gas, because doing so can be dangerous and potentially deadly. In addition, DEC encouraged property owners that use oil for heat to inspect fuel storage tanks for potential leaks or spills before receiving shipments of fuel oil for the upcoming heating season.

“Prioritizing safety this heating season is critically important to protect yourself, your loved ones, and property, and our environment,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “Heating costs are expected to rise this winter, and supply disruptions are possible; but the potential costs of tempting fate through risky and unsafe fuel connections, and neglecting maintenance of heating units, is incalculably higher. DEC urges homeowners and landlords to use safe practices to protect themselves and others.”

State Fire Administrator James Cable said, “Heating equipment, including those fueled by natural gas or oil, is among the leading causes of home fires nationally and in New York state. This is the time of year to have natural gas, fuel oil, or wood-burning appliances and fireplaces inspected before the colder months arrive. Remember to keep all combustible materials such as curtains, blankets, clothing and furniture away from portable space heaters, and make sure to turn off those heaters before leaving a room or going to bed. Above all, make sure you have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms in your home.”

Natural Gas Safety

DEC issued this warning following last October’s fatal home explosion in Allegany County where natural gas piped from an unplugged “home-use well” caused an explosion and destroyed the home. Home-use wells are often located on or nearby private properties, and may be connected by property owners via piping to appliances, furnaces or other ignition sources.

The danger is that natural gas produced by a gas or oil well is odorless and difficult or impossible for a person to detect. While the primary component of natural gas is methane, other gases like propane and butane may also be present in addition to water, because the gas is raw and untreated. This may result in improper and erratic combustion in appliances. The risk of an explosion due to natural gas build-up in a home is substantially greater if that gas is not provided by a utility.

If a home-use well is connected to a house or other structure:

√ Contact a plumber licensed to work on gas lines and have the fuel source switched to utility natural gas or consider another fuel or heating appliance;

√ Natural gas directly from a well is odorless and colorless, meaning it may build up to explosive levels without detection. Install methane detection alarms in any closed space where methane may accumulate;

√ Commercial gas suppliers always add the odorant mercaptan to natural gas before it is delivered for use. Consider adding mercaptan to natural gas from a home use well so that it can be more easily detected; and

√ Contact DEC if the well is not registered in DEC’s database. Owning and operating an oil or gas well comes with regulatory responsibilities aimed at protecting the environment. New York is actively plugging oil and gas wells throughout the state for which there is no registered operator.

For questions and additional information about “home-use wells,” contact DEC at 518-402-8056 or [email protected]. Also, visit DEC’s website for photos and additional details at: https://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/1532.html.

Fuel Oil Safety

DEC also reminds home and property owners to inspect heating fuel oil storage tanks for leaks or spills before ordering and receiving fuel oil.

More than 2 million homes in New York are heated by fuel oil. Each year, the DEC spills hotline receives hundreds of reports of fuel oil spills from home heating oil tanks. These spills result in basement contamination, damage to basement contents, contamination of groundwater, wells and soils, and expensive cleanups rarely covered by homeowner's insurance.

Annual inspections can prevent leaks and spills and protect property, public health, and the environment. Homeowners are advised to look for the following concerns and contact their fuel oil service provider if they see any of the items from the lists below.

For above-ground heating fuel oils storage tanks, look for:

√ Bent, rusty or wobbly tank legs or tank located on an unstable foundation;

√ Signs of rust, weeps, wet spots or many dents on the tank's surface;

√ Drips or any signs of leaks around the oil filter or valves;

√ Fuel oil lines not covered in a protective casing – even if under concrete;

√ Overhanging eaves where snow and ice could fall onto the tank;

√ Stains on the ground or strong oil odor around the tank;

√ Browning, dying or loss of vegetation around the tank;

√ Silent overfill whistle while tank is being filled – ask fuel delivery person;

√ Fully or partially blocked tank vent from snow, ice or insect nests;

√ Signs of spills around fill pipe or vent pipe;

√ Improperly sized vent pipes – ask fuel delivery person; and

√ Cracked, stuck or frozen fuel level gauges or signs of fuel around them.

For underground heating fuel oils storage tanks, look for:

√ Water in the tank – ask fuel delivery person to check;

√ Oil or oil sheen in your basement sump or French drain;

√ Silent overfill whistle while tank is being filled – ask fuel delivery person;

√ Fully or partially blocked tank vent from snow, ice or insect nests;

√ Signs of spills around fill pipe or vent pipe;

√ Well water has strange tastes or smells;

√ Complaints from neighbors of fuel oil smells; and

√ Using more than normal amount of fuel.

Fuel oil spills or leaks should be reported to the DEC spills hotline at 1-800-457-7362. For more information on home heating oil tank stewardship, visit the “Underground Heating Oil Tanks: A Homeowner's Guide” webpage on DEC's website.

More Help for Homeowners

Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced state actions to prepare New Yorkers for rising global energy costs and supply issues expected this winter. In addition, New Yorkers can take the following steps in their homes to help protect against higher energy costs, including: apply for the Home Energy Assistance Program, with applications starting on Nov. 1; be more energy efficient to lower energy usage; receive a customized list of energy-related assistance in the state; sign up for Community Solar; get a free energy audit; join a clean heating and cooling campaign; know your rights and protections regarding utility services; and consider bill payment options, among other steps. Learn more at https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-hochul-announces-actions-prepare-new-yorkers-rising-global-energy-costs-winter.

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