Magnetic Tank Patches: What Are They And How Long Can They Contain An Oil Tank Leak?

If you are one of the 7.7 million homeowners to have an oil furnace, you probably dread having to replace the tank. While it doesn't happen all that often, tanks can get small leaks that are not so devastating that you need to replace them immediately but are significant enough that you are losing oil and risk contaminating your property.

With a tank that is full -- or at least, a quarter or more full -- draining it yourself and assessing the leak is unlikely to be an option. You may have started to research different ways of repairing oil tanks yourself, or you may have already consulted with a heating professional, and have heard about a magnetic tank patch. What are these and what situations can they be used in? 

What is a Magnetic Tank Patch?

Designed to be used only for temporary repairs of minor leaks, magnetic tank patches look like a piece of foam rubber attached to a strong magnet. They are usually about the size of a quarter and can easily be attached to the tank to cover a small leak. They can be used in situations where welding a new plate to the existing tank or replacing the tank are impractical in the short term.

How Long Can a Magnetic Tank Patch Be Used?

Magnetic tank patches are a short-term fix for the homeowner who doesn't want to drain a tank of oil before having it replaced or repaired. They should be used for only a short time -- think days or weeks, not months. To be safe, use them under the direction of a heating professional.

What are the Dangers of Using a Magnetic Tank Patch?

You may decide to use a magnetic patch to cover a hole larger than should be contained, or for a longer period of time. Using a patch like this is a risk, because if the leak becomes larger, it can contaminate the soil around the tank. Spilling even a couple of gallons can prove costly due to clean-up requirements. 

In addition, spilled heating oil -- also called fuel oil 2 -- can damage the environment, animals and human health. It's not highly toxic, but much like gasoline, the fumes can cause headaches, throat and eye irritation, dizziness and, with long-term exposure, kidney and liver damage.

What's the Best Way to Prevent Tank Leaks in the First Place?

To properly maintain your home oil tank, you should have a professional inspect it regularly. Often a good time for this is just before your tank is filled in the summer months; you can check for leaks or problems while the tank is still empty and easier to move or patch.

In addition, you should adhere to life expectancy estimates for your type of tank. Don't try to get extra years out of an older tank, as this increases the likelihood of developing a leak and having an emergency to deal with. You should replace your tanks:

  • Every 15 years for an underground tank made of unprotected steel
  • Every 30 years for an underground tank made of fiberglass or protected steel
  • Every 25 years for an above-ground tank, as long as it is in good condition

Talk to your heating or HVAC professional about what type of maintenance is recommended for your home heating oil tank and whether a leak can be temporarily patched. A local expert (such as one from Bay State Fuel Oil Inc) can also answer questions about replacing the tank or converting to a different type of home heating option.