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Leak in copper oil pipe embedded in concrete

pperlman Member Posts: 1
I have an old house with a cooper oil pipe embedded approx. 3" below the concrete floor running from the above ground oil tank to the burner, It's approx 8"-10'. Subsequently I learned we have a serious oil leak that occurred in the copper pipe. The oil went into the ground and not up through the concrete basement floor. Only after the oil company did a backflow test did they determine the leak. I really feel the oil company is at fault as they had a responsibility to inform the home owner of the potential hazard of copper pipes embedded in concrete. Knowing the issues back in the day when radiant heating was the craze, copper pipes were found to cause leaking in the concrete. From what I have been reading, the copper pipe should have allowance for "lateral thermal expansion" and/or the pipe in another tube for added protection. So i'm looking for any articles or back up on this being a problem. Any info is appreciated.


  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 6,565
    It sounds like you bought an old house with an old and less than ideal copper oil tube which has failed. You had the house inspected and decided to buy it in this condition.

    Now that the house you bought has sprung an expensive oil leak, you are looking blame the oil company because they have delivered oil and perhaps serviced your boiler? Am I missing something? Did the oil company install the tubing under your slab? Did they break the tube or drill a hole in it? You own the tank, tubing and boiler, correct?

    Unless your oil company claimed to have x-ray vision and gave you a written guarantee that it was good to go, I am not sure what you are thinking....
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 3,918
    It's your home and your responsibility. And if the leak is substantial then it's the oil company's responsibility to inform the EPA so I hope your homeowners insurance is paid up. If there's any recourse at all it's with the home inspector.
    Or lack of full disclosure from the seller if they knew, which would be hard to prove.
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 4,969
    Code does require an oil safety valve to prevent this very situation in a gravity supplied system. The legal question is going to be are you in a location where this may or may not have been grandfathered in. Or was any oil service tech/company who saw this required to immediately notify you of it and recommend a replacement.

    For example, if you were in MA, the oil line would've been replaced with a jacketed oil line and an OSV. A form would've been filled out and sent to the AHJ Fire Marshall.

    Also, if your home was inspected by a license home inspector and/or any local officials, they also 'should have known' (infamous legal jargon).

    So sadly for the incompetents in the industry, your attorney will be able to get you what you need.

    Also, the oil company's insurance company should be notified as they will have something to say too, and obviously would be brought into any legal action.

    I've had 2 fairly serious ones.
    -Delivery to auto fill house who removed oil tank, left fill/vent, switched to gas and didn't notify anyone.
    -Oil line froze cracked outside, but oil ran down foundation and onto basement floor.
    Both cases I called the insurance company immediately.

    First one, insurance paid to remedy. 11 gallons of oil, $45000.
    The second one the homeowner was on the hook because if the oil tank was in the basement, they would've covered it, but outside the home, they were suppose to get a supplemental insurance for it and didn't. Even though the oil was in the basement, they had to clean it up themselves.

    Best, cheapest, fastest remedy is to call the oil company and ask them to call their insurance company to clean it up. If they refuse, tell them you'll have to get a lawyer. If they are smart they will realize your way is going to cost them 10x the price over having them do it themselves or thru their insurance.

    Most large oil companies are self insured up to $1 mil just for these types of issues to avoid using their insurance company and driving up their rates. Also they can move fast (as they should with oil spills) before it becomes a major expensive mess.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,849
    The oil company had, in my view, no responsibility to inform you or anyone else of the possible hazard of a leak in a copper pipe in a slab. The possibility is not specialized knowledge, as you have pointed out. Should the home inspector have found it? Perhaps, unless it was concealed damage -- and only if was both evident and present at the time, which might be a little hard to prove.

    This will, almost inevitably, land in court. I would very strongly recommend that you involve your homeowner's insurance company -- and their lawyers -- immediately and not take a "do it yourself" approach on this. Why? Because lawyers are expensive, and your and your insurance company's job is difficult: you or they will have to demonstrate negligence on the part of the other parties; under the law, you are responsible for the cleanup unless you can prove someone else was actually negligent.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,002
    Had a similar incident. How does an oil safety valve work?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,849

    Seems to me, though, that it would only operate if it were at the tank and if the whole arrangement was such that the oil line to the burner was under a vacuum. I can see it preventing a significant leak -- such as a ruptured line -- but not a small leak, such as a pinhole.

    Comments? Experience? I'm curious!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 4,969
    edited July 2019
    Because of the fuel pump cut off (and solenoids) oil lines stay purged. Otherwise, you'd have to bleed it everytime you needed it to run, especially on a lift job. Which is why some people like 2 pipe systems, but I don't and think they could lead to disaster.

    Oil safety valve only works on the portion of the fuel delivery system that is delivered by gravity. It's pulled open by the vacuum of the fuel pump, otherwise it's closed. Any leak downstream and it would (should) close preventing the tank from emptying. They serve no purpose on a lift job.

    They are also used as a PRV when you have a tank much higher than the burner and the static inlet pressure on the fuel unit (measured with a gauge) is over 3 psi (to protect the seals)

    So how would you know you had a leak? Well on a single line system, your fuel pump would get air bound (via a vacuum leak) and the burner would shut off on safety. Nothing is leaking because when running you're pulling a vacuum (with air in this case), and when you're not running, the valve is shut, holding the oil in suspension (finger over the straw).
    A proper diagnosis of a vacuum leak on the oil line would confirm your oil line is damaged.

    Of course you do have some leakage, but not gallons, or hundreds of gallons.

    The only problem is the manufacturer want's them installed after the fuel filter(s) for obvious reasons. So from your tank to the valve is unprotected on a gravity system, and from the OSV to the burner is protected.

    From the article you linked:
    Homeowners must do their part. Every property owner of a one to four family residence must either replace his oil line in a non-metallic sleeve, or upgrade the line through the use of an oil safety valve. If the entire tank and line are below the pump nothing (lift job) has to be done, but those jobs are very rare.

    I referenced MA and oil lines in my first post.

    No one knows more about fuel pumps and all things oil burners than George.
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,008
    as far as I know MA. requires an OSV or a jacketed line if the oil line is concealed (under concrete for example). If the oil line is exposed (overhead for example) nothing is required.

    But as not many still know MA scrapped it's oil code in January of 2015? and adopted NFPA 31. Not sure what they want. The Governor wanted to save money and have the state adopt national codes instead of writing their own.

    MA never put out any information about this which still pisses me off. I found out only by calling the State Fire Marshall on a ruling.

    Last I knew many schools in MA. were still teaching the old MA. Code because they had never been told
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