Renovation Reality: Upgrading your Old Oil Fuel Tank

This Old House plumbing and heating professional talk about what type of system to install.


Home renovations often come with surprises and Nick and Emily Deldon were more than ready. After three years of living in their Arts and Crafts house, built in 1909, they discovered it was costing more than their mortgage payment to stay warm. During the coldest part of the winter in Arlington, Massachusetts, the Deldon’s were spending $3,000 a month on fuel deliveries. On the current season of This Old House, the Deldons home receives much need renovations with the help of Tom Silva as the general contractor.

One of the biggest projects for the Deldon’s home renovation would be converting their ancient oil-fired furnace with a more modern gas boiler. In the 1940’s, many homeowners converted their heating units to oil as an alternative to coal. Oil was marketed a clean fuel and 32 percent of houses throughout the U.S. used oil by the 1960’s.

As time passed, many homes have now converted to electric or natural gas for heat. Nick Deldon’s biggest concern with using oil was running out of fuel during the freezing cold temperatures. Not only was he throwing money into his furnace, he also needed to keep his driveway clear for deliveries. Although oil is still a popular heating fuel in the Northwest, Nick and Emily are thrilled to say goodbye.

This Old House’s plumbing and heating professional talked with the Deldons about what type of system to install. Using a more modern condensing boiler, with upgraded technology, in addition to some energy-efficient upgrades to the home could save the Deldons 50% on their fuel bills. Getting rid of the 275-gallon steel oil tank from the basement would bring even more benefits. Since oil tanks can leak around the connections, the Deldons' basement had an oily smell most of the time. These tanks also will corrode. The inside could be filled with bacteria, rust and oil particles.

Since natural gas is piped throughout the Deldons neighborhood and provides fuel through underground systems, it eliminates the worry of not being able to heat the home. Luckily for the Deldons, Tom Silva’s crew understands the intricacies of an oil furnace. Replacing and removing an oil fuel system is not a DIY project and homeowners should never try to do this on their own. Removal Specialists, a local firm in Arlington, was brought in to complete the project. With strict regulations governing how the oil tank is removed and disposed of, it is essential to call in the professionals.

There is always a risk when removing an oil furnace system and the costs of cleaning up a spill could be astronomical. Richard Tretheway, of TOH Plumbing and Heating offers this advice.

“To find a firm that’s qualified to remove oil tanks, talk to your local fire department. They issue tank-removal permits and should know which companies do good work. Then, make sure whoever you hire carries pollution-liability insurance and is OSHA-trained and certified.”

The Deldons' project was supervised by Shawn Clarke from Removal Specialists and Richard Tretheway with TOH. Crews pumped oil from the tank before removing it from the basement. In just a few hours, the tank was out and the Deldon’s had a disposal ticket proving the removal had been completed properly. The entire removal only cost $375 including the cost of the permit from the Arlington fire department.

Overall, the project was a success and the Deldons are enjoying their more energy-efficient space. The addition of sprayed insulation in the attic and walls, the new windows, and the installation of the gas-fired furnace creates a cozy atmosphere in this 1909 home. 



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