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    Oil Tanks

    Whether inside, outside or underground, oil tanks have all become an issue at house sale time. Oil tanks always accompany any type of oil burning appliance (furnace, hot water tank). If you have an oil appliance there is inevitably a tank. They can be found outside, inside a basement or underground. However, homes that have had the oil-burning appliance removed might not have had the oil tank removed, which could cause problems. Tank manufacturers and installers put the normal life expectancy of a tank at between 20-30 years, but failures have occurred in tanks as little as 10 years old.


    About Underground Tanks

    Underground tanks became an issue for homebuyers, sellers and realtors in the last 10 years. The existence of an underground tank once discovered generally results in redemption prior to ownership transfer. Underground tanks are not always obvious, but if spotted warrant further investigation. Homes built in the 1960’s and earlier could have abandoned underground tanks. Underground tanks must be rendered inert (non-polluting) once they are discontinued. Typically this means pumping out the contents and filling with gravel or sand to prevent sinkholes once the tank rusted out.
    Tanks with oil still or contaminated water in them pose a bigger problem as they have to be pumped out – the water or oil is then treated as contaminated waste and can be expensive to remove from your property safely. If oil has leeched out into the soil, this can be a major expense as the tank may have to be dug out along with the contaminated soil and sent for decontamination.


    Above-Ground Tanks – Interior and Exterior

    While far fewer above-ground tanks have leaked than underground tanks, insurance companies see them as a hazard due to the shear number of these tanks throughout the country. An informal survey of insurance companies reveals that in general, insurers will accept above-ground oil tanks up to 20 years old, but if needed the cost of removing an above ground oil tank is usually around the $100-200 range. Of course, if the tank leaked costs can skyrocket depending on the level of contamination.


    How Old Is Your Tank?

    Determining the age of a tank is difficult at best because dated identity plates were not used until 1997. From 1984-1987, some tanks were banded on the top lift loop, but other than that dating is inconclusive. In general, 6’ long tanks, tanks with a half moon or double vertical crease on the end panel and “Western Steel” stamped on them are all over 30 years old and ready for replacement. However, lack of these indicators does not necessarily mean it is newer.
    A good source of information on tank age is often found in the building records, usually at city hall. Newer tanks are installed under a building permit, so depending on the reliability of the municipal records, a new tank installation may show up there. If you can’t find the record there, you can take a reasonable guess the tank is original and may be older than the 20 years that insurers accept.
    If the tank’s age cannot be verified, insurance companies may not be interested in your business until the tank is replaced. While it might seem like a burden, replacing older oil tanks has a reasonable cost when compared to cleaning up a spill and contaminated soil. Most oil tank companies will have up-to-date information on costs involved in both replacing non-leaking and leaking tanks.
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    Asbestos is a natural mineral with unusual qualities; it is strong enough to resist high temperatures, chemical attack and wear. A poor conductor, it insulates well against heat and electricity. Asbestos crystals become long, flexible, silky fibres, so it can be made into a wide variety of forms. It can be spun into yarn, woven into cloth or braided into rope. Asbestos can also be added to materials as diverse as cotton and cement. This combination of properties makes asbestos’s performance hard to match.

    The History of Asbestos

    Asbestos has been used in hundreds if not thousands of applications and products over 4500 years. The Greeks wove it for oil lamp wicks, funeral shrouds and ceremonial tablecloths. In the 1800’s, it was used to insulate the engines, boilers and piping of the industrial revolution. From the 1930’s to the 1980’s, it was used as fire insulation and piping insulation in offices, schools and other buildings. It has also been used in transportation and appliances, typically mixed with or in other materials.

    The Dangers of Asbestos

    Asbestos use declined in the 1980’s due to awareness of the hazards associated with breathing in the fibres and a lot of the older installations of asbestos were abated. It is still used today but with advancements in technology it is better encapsulated so that the fibres don’t escape as readily. Health Canada states that asbestos only poses a health risk when fibres are released into the air that people breathe. The fibres lodge in the lungs and scar them leading to asbestosis or cancer of the lungs.
    People often put themselves at risk without even knowing it, for instance when they do repairs or renovations.
    Some common situations are:
    • Disturbing vermiculite insulation which may contain asbestos
    • Removing roof shingles or siding that contains asbestos
    • Sanding plaster that contains asbestos
    • Sanding/scraping vinyl floor tiles that contain asbestos
    • Removing old asbestos insulation from hot water tanks or boilers
    • Removing acoustical tiles that contain asbestos from ceilings
    • These are a few situations that homeowners will tackle themselves, putting themselves at risk without knowing.
    • If asbestos is suspected contact an experienced contractor to evaluate the situation. Making sure that the contractor is capable of removing the asbestos in a safe manner.
    WCB has specific regulations regarding the removal of asbestos, which Smart Choice always follows.
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    Knob and Tube Wiring

    Knob and tube wiring was the original wiring used in homes up till the 1930’s – it was replaced by Loomex on the west coast and Romex on the east coast. Extension circuits were allowed up till 1996. Identifying knob and tube wire is reasonably easy to do; typically there is the white porcelain knobs where the wire turns and white porcelain tubes where it passes through lumber or walls. Also if you have proximity electrical testers the wiring has quite a large field around it and can be detected even through drywall. The best place to see the knob and tubes are in unfinished basements or attics, with attics being the most likely place to see it.

    Should You Keep Your Knob and Tube Wiring?

    Problems start to occur when this type of wiring is modified or when the branch circuit terminations (light switches, plugs, etc) are improperly upgraded. The splices need to be done in proper junction boxes. On the east coast, there has been trouble with the protective insulation coming off the older wire (no reported problems in the west), which can be a fire hazard. Knob and tube is still electrical code-approved if electrified, but if renovations are being done then we recommend that it probably be replaced. Whenever knob and tube wiring is identified, it is always best to have a qualified electrician evaluate it and, cost permitting, replace it.
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    Aluminum Wiring

    In the late 1960s and early 1970s, copper prices were very high compared to aluminum, so contractors and electricians started using aluminum to lower their costs. Although no longer used in distribution circuits (which are the smaller wires in the home carrying electricity to the sockets and switches), aluminum wiring is still used today for certain applications. For instance, it can be found on 240 volt circuits for stoves or dryers and used as the main service entrance wire from the road to the house.

    The Dangers of Aluminum Wiring

    Aluminum’s conductivity is not as strong as copper, so contractors used thicker wire. Today your typical socket or switch is wired with 14-gauge copper, while aluminum requires a 12-gauge wire. If aluminum is connected to a fixture not designed for it or if copper and aluminum wires are connected together, then they can react with each other. This can cause the connection to fail, potentially disconnecting and overheating, sparking or even catching fire. Symptoms of this can sometimes be seen by a discoloration of the receptacle, flickering lights or the smell of hot plastic insulation.

    What to Do if You Have Aluminum Wiring

    Aluminum wiring if installed correctly will work as safely as any other type of wiring. If a home has aluminum wiring and you think that problems may exist, advice from a qualified electrician that has knowledge about aluminum wiring would be the best place to start.
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