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Photo of oil spill from home heating tank attached courtesy of NYSDEC
Photo of oil spill from home heating tank attached courtesy of NYSDEC

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


Mon, Oct 16th 2023 03:45 pm

Property owners advised to put safety first and utilize assistance program opportunities

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation advises homeowners and landlords to put safety first when preparing for home heating needs this fall and winter.

DEC reminds property owners to avoid connecting occupied buildings to wells producing natural gas, because doing so can be dangerous and potentially deadly. DEC also encourages property owners who 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.

In addition, with the expectation of rising supply and delivery costs, DEC urges residents to take steps now to utilize programs designed to save consumers energy and money.

“New Yorkers are encouraged to plan ahead and prepare to ensure a safe and warm home this winter season,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “Property owners using oil for heat should inspect fuel storage tanks for leaks and spills before receiving shipments for the heating season and be extra cautious if connecting to a home-use well. Annual inspections and simple precautions can help prevent leaks and spills and protect people, property and the environment.”

Natural Gas Safety

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, 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.

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.

DEC offers tips on environmentally friendly home heating safety and a checklist covering many issues for home heating oil tanks in this month’s Living the Green Life webpage, offering both prevention and response guidance about fuel spills. 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.

Help for Homeowners

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.

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