Removing oil tanks

A basement with three oil tanks: one containing 65 gallons of K1 and two very old tanks each containing about 50 gallons of #2 heating oil.

The kerosene was from the last heating season.  We confirmed that.  But the #2 oil was of unknown age.  Years back, when the house was converted first to natural gas and then more recently to kerosene no one had bothered to remove those.  And with good reason.

We are converting to natural gas and have no use for those fossil fuels.  More importantly, I really want them out of the house.  Our fear was that the oil had turned to sludge in the bottom of a rusting tank.  As a potential environmental hazard, my first thought was to call the local office of Clean Harbors, the massive hazardous waste company.

Their Rep was friendly but the costs were exorbitant: $350 minimum charge to pump out the tanks, plus $500 per tank to remove, clean and dispose.  Fines for improper disposal can be significant – well into the $1,000s – but they were talking $1,800 minimum.  I would not consider pouring the oil down the drain, but there was no room in the budget for an environmental disposal.

We decided to get creative.  I have heard of people turning oil tanks into a meat smoker, and we wondered if we could turn the other tanks into planters.  An odd look, but why not?  I would still have to clean out the tanks, and get the contents pumped out, but at least I would save $1,500.

The problem, however, is that oil companies only want to pump out a tank when you will buy new oil from them.  They are not in the disposal business, but that was my goal.  So we got really creative.

I bartered the Kerosene and the #2 oil with Caleb, a member of our crew.  He heats his home with Kerosene, and his oil fired furnace can burn a blend of #2 and K1.  In fact, the blend will prevent the oil from congealing in cold weather.  So he was happy to take ALL of the fuels.  And the tanks have value as scrap metal, so he wanted those as well.

So that solved the question of disposal.  Now we had to tackle pumping out the tanks.

At my local Ace hardware I found a “drill pump” that fits on an electric drill and creates suction.  $10.  It worked great, but after 25 gallons the seals wore out.  The K1 literally degraded them.  But we were half way done, so I bought another.  It worked for another 25 gallons and then burned out.  But the Kerosene tank was empty.

For the oil tanks, I decided to let gravity finish the job.  Slow, but 100% effective.

We raised each tank up on bricks and set up a brigade of 5 gallon buckets.  Nine of them, with tight fitting lids.  Caleb would haul one load home in his car, and then return the next day when I would let gravity finish the job.  To my great surprise the oil had not turned to sludge but was still a smooth flowing liquid.  Black gold, as some have called it.

With the pumping out finished, we were $350 ahead.  And Caleb was 150 gallons ahead – almost $500 in value – and a strong start on his winter heating season.

But we still had to get the tanks – now empty – out of the basement.  We had planned to use a come along, lag screwed to the door frame, and then ratchet the tanks up and out.  But our framing crew had some carpenters who were big guys and we just lifted the tanks up and out.

A simple solution.  Caleb will bring a trailer and with his brother Cain will haul the tanks home.  A clean solution and our basement is emptied of the old fossil fuels.  We couldn’t be happier.  Sometimes, barter is the way to go!

2 Comments on “Removing oil tanks”

  1. bam says:

    i am totally hooked on the narrative of this house deconstruction/reconstruction. the innovation, the wisdom, the creativity, the commitment to minimalism at its best and most beautiful is truly inspiring. and here comes my refrain: a book?????????

  2. ann says:

    well done!

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