How an oil leak can impact your property and health – and what you can do about it

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In Ireland, most householders rely on home heating oil to keep our homes warm during the colder months. Yet few realise the impact an oil leak can have not only on their home, but also on their health.

When an oil leak is discovered at home, this is called escape of oil.

Escape of oil can be caused by a split or damaged oil tank or a leaking oil-fired boiler, and is considered a serious event that requires urgent attention from a specialist to assess the leak and the damage it has caused.

Unfortunately, oil leaks can often go undetected and silently cause damage for some time before they are discovered.

That is why if you suspect an oil leak, you should have it investigated as soon as possible.

What damage can a home heating oil leak cause?

An oil leak can cause extensive damage right throughout your property.

It can kill grass and plants in your garden, contaminate your drinking water supply, damage the stone or brickwork on your home and subject householders to toxic fumes that can damage their health.

An oil leak can also flow through drains and affect septic tanks and sewerage works, and pollute neighbouring properties, underground water courses and nearby rivers and streams.

In some cases, the damage can be extensive and take years and significant sums to remedy. In 2019, a Dalkey resident was awarded €54,000 in damages by the High Court as a result of a home heating oil leak from her neighbour’s oil tank. The oil leak had caused such damage to her home that she was forced to find alternative accommodation for more than two years.  

Can an oil leak have a negative effect on health?

Typically, home heating oil is very safe when used according to instructions.

However, oil does contain certain chemicals, and if you are exposed to them, they can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches and even respiratory issues, depending on the amount of chemical you are exposed to, and for how long.

In 2018, a Co. Limerick family settled five different actions at the High Court over toxic fumes caused by an alleged oil spill on their estate. Family members suffered significant respiratory issues over a period of four to five years, with one child suffering a partially collapsed lung. The settlement was estimated to be in the six figures.

How to prevent an oil leak at your home

An oil leak can be very costly. Not only can an oil leak cost you hundreds in lost oil each year it can cause thousands in damage to a property’s subfloor and substructure, outdoor areas, to neighbouring properties, the local environment and to your health.

There are a number of actions you can take to help prevent an oil leak at your home, including:

  • ensuring the oil tank is installed correctly with a horizontal support
  • regularly checking your oil tank for cracking, dents, scratches or other defects
  • refilling your oil tank before it runs dry to avoid accumulating grit that can cause damage to piping
  • purchasing quality oil from a reputable oil supplier; low grade fuel can damage your pipes and result in a leak.

One of the key actions you can take is to have your oil-fired boiler serviced by an RGI (Registered Gas Installer) who can not only help keep your system operating efficiently and safely, but check your oil-fired boiler and tank for potential oil leaks. It is recommended an oil-fired boiler and other oil-fired appliances are serviced every 12 months.

How can you tell if you have a home heating oil leak?

There are a number of factors that may indicate an oil leak at your property. For example, you might:

  • smell oil in your home or garden
  • see oil or oil stains near your oil tank or oil burner
  • see damaged plants or grass around the oil tank
  • see a split, dent or puncture on the oil tank’s surface

What should you do if you suspect an oil leak?

If you suspect you have an oil leak, it is vital you act quickly to prevent further damage to your home, the environment and your health.

In the event of an oil leak:

  • try to find the source of the leak
  • turn off your supply and arrange a competent professional to empty your tank if necessary
  • NEVER try to hose the spill away as this can cause even further damage to the environment PLUS can impact your insurance claim
  • instead, use dirt, sand and other commercial grade products designed to prevent the home heating oil from entering drains and septic systems
  • open your windows and doors to maximise ventilation in your home
  • call your plumber to arrange for the leak to be repaired and if necessary, contact an engineer to repair or replace your oil tank and/or supply pipes.

Importantly, if you think you have an insurance claim, phone CMG first for claims advice before you call your insurance company.

How can CMG help with a claim for escape of oil?

CMG is Ireland’s largest independent loss assessing company and our loss assessors have decades of experience in managing claims for escape of oil.

The first step in the claim process is to determine the cost of soil remediation. We can arrange a remediation expert to carry out a site survey and soil test at your property.

Once an assessment has been carried out, we can prepare all your claim paperwork and submit it on your behalf to your insurer.

Escape of oil claims can be complex and we have in-depth knowledge of the process, insurers’ requirements and insurance policy wording. That means we can relieve you of the burden of managing your claim and liaise with your insurer to achieve the maximum settlement possible under your policy.

To find out more about escape of oil or for help to lodge a claim at your property, please call us now on 1850 28 1850 (ROI) or 028 8224 9015 (NI), or visit our website at claimmanagementgroup.com/escape-of-oil .

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