Heating Oil Spill & Smell

jemcdonaldDecember 10, 2012

So here is my issue. Currently under contract to purchase a home which is owned by a trust, home is currently vacant. Home was poorly secured and someone entered, stole heating oil, and spilled alot on the floor.

Oil was spilled on a tile vinyl basement floor on concrete. It was cleaned up by an oil company but the home has remained closed for 2 months during the close process and the smell still remains and is very strong.

Since it is trust owned seller wont remediate. Should i continue with purchase? Is it possible to get rid of the oil smell? Anyone have similar issues?

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I would not buy the home until the oil is satisfactorily cleaned up. Nobody else is going to buy it either in that condition. Let some pros remiediate this!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 1:50PM
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Circus Peanut

You need a professional remediation company -- the same type that gets rid of asbestos. If the spill is big enough (and it needn't be very big), the EPA strictly regulates how it gets cleaned.

If you're under contract, it strikes me that the seller has a legal obligation to deliver the house as promised in condition promised, no? (But ask an actual real estate lawyer what your options are!)

I spilled kerosene on our concrete basement floor and was able to get virtually all the smell up by sprinkling cat litter liberally on it (a non-clay type). Let sit for a few days, sweep into trash, then repeat with pure baking soda. Get those huge boxes and pour it an inch thick over the spill area. Vacuum the soda after a few days. I've also heard that grain alcohol will help eliminate the odor.

But in your case, honestly, it really should be the seller to arrange this because they so poorly secured the place. Around here, the seller is legally required to carry homeowner's insurance on the property until the title is transferred (for just such rare occasions!) That should cover the remediation.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 1:29AM
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Did the oil soak into the vinyl floor or the concrete? Was the vinyl flooring removed?

When you say they cleaned it up, what exactly did they do?

If the source is basically gone but the odor still lingers, that should be easier to clean up, perhaps w/o professional help. The cat litter idea is a good one, or activated charcoal will be even better. Perhaps they could bring in some plug-in active air filters, either with carbon filters or the ionic type that destroys the contaminants.

If the stuff soaked into the vinyl or the concrete below, it may not come out for a LONG time. You may have to remove the vinyl and replace it. It's hard to tell without seeing it.

Depending on your state, the EPA may not be involved at all and these things may be handled at the state level. Regardless, it may not even be a regulated release. If the oil hasn't left the house, it has not actually been released to soil or groundwater, so the regulators may have no interest whatsoever.

That does not mean the stuff is not a health hazard, and I would insist that the sellers take care of this problem before buying. There should be something in the contract about conditions changing at the property prior to purchase.

As far as hiring an env. remediation company, that doesn't sound necessary for a minor indoor spill. I would think a commercial cleaning company like Servicemaster that takes care of small disasters like this would be a good place to start if you can convince the sellers to take care of it. Those guys know how to deal with different types of odor causing chemicals.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 1:51PM
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Thanks for input. Issue with the seller is that the property is owned by a trust and is current insolvent. The only reason the bank hasnt foreclosed is the existence of our sales contract. With a couple weeks until close any sort of delay to try and negotiate a cleanup could lead to a foreclosure. Thus I am trying to figure out if this is something I could tackle and remediate.

The oil was less than 10 gallons and was cleaned up by the oil company with a type of powder agent. It did soak into the vinyl tiles and I plan on removing those and the drywall in the area (we are remodeling whole house). The issue that was really concerning was the overwhelming smell that blew through the entire house. I hope if i remove the source or contain it to the small area i could find something to rid the rest of the house of the odor.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 10:30AM
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Here's the thing, if the spill isn't properly cleaned up and CERTIFIED, you may have problems when you go to sell. Please contact your state EPA, and find out what the regulations are on this kind of situation.

We bought a house that had an outside oil tank removed years ago. We had to require testing and a certification from the sellers that the ground was clean. And we've been told to guard that paper with our lives because we WILL NOT be able to sell without it.

Do not buy with the understanding that it's okay, and you'll do the work--you could find down the road that you've made an extremely expensive mistake.

You are, however, going to have to research the rules, regs and laws for YOUR state and community--and then hope that they don't change over the years to come. Good luck.

And don't forget--the seller's finances/foreclosure issues are NOT your responsibility--your safety and future financial solvency are the only things you should be concerned about at this point. Don't make exceptions or concessions when those things could cost you hundreds of thousands of $$$ down the road.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:27AM
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Azzalea, that makes sense in your case if there is an underground tank. However, there are some facts here that should put jem more at ease. 10 gals of oil INSIDE the basement is generally not considered a release to the environment. If the tank is inside the basement, it is not even considered an underground tank, so is less likely to be regulated. In my state neither the tank or the indoor spill is regulated (YMMV, so it doesn't hurt to check, that's good advice). Finally, such a spill would never cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up.

If the state has no requirements for cleanup oversight and approval in this case, then it's between you and the seller as to who does the work and who pays for it and how, and that's it.

I am reasonably confident that the odor will dissipate with removal of the source and airing out the house and/or using adsorbents like activated charcoal.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 3:52PM
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Good advice around. The property actually did have an underground tank which the seller had removed and certified by the DEP & town fire marshall. We also had an environmental cleanup company come in to give us their input. They echoed what toxcrusadr said and seemed to think the cleanup would require removing the tiles & drywall in the area and the odor would eventually dissapate once the property was properly ventilated. based on size of spill & location there werent any significant enviornmental implications.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 6:48PM
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Glad to hear it, that's good news! So, can we assume a move is in your future? :-D

    Bookmark   December 27, 2012 at 6:22PM
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Closed on home, working on the smell now! coffee grounds, white vinegar, and ventalation is working well on residual odors. Still working on source though.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 10:51AM
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Jemcdonald, just wondering what progress you made on getting the smell from the heating oil out of your home. Did you ever get rid of it?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2015 at 2:23PM
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Boy, some of the recommendations on here can really be scary!!

Google "Oil Eating Microbes" as there are many different manufactures of this product. If done properly, not only will it get rid of oil stains on concrete but will also eliminate the smell.

You may need to re-clean and retreat the area two or three times but your nose should be a good indicator. Just a few drops of oil can leave an odor behind indefinitely so the cleaning process needs to be thorough. This is hard a$$h01e$ and elbows work and requires some serious labor.

Please note, oil spills tend to migrate through cracks and gaps in the concrete into the soil below. If this happened, you will likely need to break up that area of concrete and remove the contaminated soil.

This post was edited by mepop on Tue, Jan 20, 15 at 13:14

    Bookmark   January 20, 2015 at 1:08PM
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Oil eating microbes is an interesting idea - for a source area. However, since the house sat vacant for some time, the volatile hydrocarbons diffused throughout the house and may have partitioned somewhat into carpet, walls, floors, plastic counter tops, etc. My advice was to remove any remaining source and then treat the air until the smell was gone.

I'd be interested in what part of the thread you found scary. No fair dropping that without specifying!

Not to mention it would be nice to know how the thing actually turned out. :-]

    Bookmark   January 22, 2015 at 4:22PM
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If its bare concrete go to a lumber yard buy a bag of Portland cement and sprinkle it into the oily concrete. Let it sit for a few minutes then broom it off. Experiment with the technique.. Repeat as needed. Also easily restores the concrete color on oil stained garage floors. Don't know if it will help reduce the smell or not.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2015 at 11:34PM
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