Are strong odors from oil heating normal?

11 posts in this topic

Hi all,

 

We're moving and have chosen a house, a Doppelhaushälfte/semi-detached house with the landlord's living space in the back. The problem is when we viewed the property there was an intense odor downstairs in our half of the cellar where the heating oil container for both halves of the house is stored. Intensity of an 8 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst.

 

I asked if this would continue to smell so bad and both the owner and my husband assured me this odor is normal around a container that stores heating oil. A week later we went back to take measurements and again the smell was all through the house, enough to make me feel dizzy and a little nauseated by the time we left. Going to the cellar is almost unbearable. We opened the windows to air it and by the end of a couple hours you could still smell the oil upstairs in the house, although not as bad as when we first entered.

 

My husband keeps telling me this is normal if the house has been unoccupied but I don't feel safe with the fumes. I've never lived in a house that heated with oil and so don't have enough experience to judge if it's a case of it standing empty too long and will dissipate with us living there, or we're about to make a huge mistake moving in there with two small children. In the summer I can open the windows most of the day and the smell won't be such an issue. It's the wintertime I'm afraid of, when we'll be trapped with the fumes.

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I have direct experience with this. My in-laws heat baseboard and domestic hot water with heating oil. They used to have a big metal tank in the basement that was replaced by two half-sized plastic ones. Then the odor problems began. It became so overpowering, I used to call it the Exxon Valdez because it smelled like bunker fuel.

 

Their eventual solution was to build a cinderblock wall around it with an access panel. Problem solved (at great expense).

 

I would venture to say that there's no immediate issue of noxious fumes or fire hazard ... but like a cord of wet firewood mouldering in the basement, hydrocarbons smell. Are your tanks plastic?

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This isn't normal - it's a sign that the tanks are old and need replacing. They're probably plastic and if there is a window in the cellar the side nearest the window is probably now very brittle from the UV exposure. Eventually, plastic tanks just let the odour through.

 

PS: There should be fire-door sealing off the oil-storage room and there shouldn't be odours in the rest of the house, so maybe the door seal needs updating too.

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You don’t say what exactly what heating system is used: If there are room radiators fed by a central oil-fired boiler, then you shouldn’t be able to smell anything other than when very close to the storage tank or filler. But if each room has a separate heater fed either by a central oil feed or from a built-in tank, then a very light smell of oil is almost unavoidable. It’s a typical background smell in many older houses/flats especially during the colder months, and a reason for the popularity of scented candles, lamps etc.

 

Of course if the smell is overpowering, then something is wrong. Otherwise, a light whiff is normal. Unless you are acutely sensitive, you will soon get used to it and ignore it.

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Hi all,

 

We're moving and have chosen a house, a Doppelhaushälfte/semi-detached house with the landlord's living space in the back. The problem is when we viewed the property there was an intense odor downstairs in our half of the cellar where the heating oil container for both halves of the house is stored. Intensity of an 8 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst.

 

I asked if this would continue to smell so bad and both the owner and my husband assured me this odor is normal around a container that stores heating oil. A week later we went back to take measurements and again the smell was all through the house, enough to make me feel dizzy and a little nauseated by the time we left. Going to the cellar is almost unbearable. We opened the windows to air it and by the end of a couple hours you could still smell the oil upstairs in the house, although not as bad as when we first entered.

 

My husband keeps telling me this is normal if the house has been unoccupied but I don't feel safe with the fumes. I've never lived in a house that heated with oil and so don't have enough experience to judge if it's a case of it standing empty too long and will dissipate with us living there, or we're about to make a huge mistake moving in there with two small children. In the summer I can open the windows most of the day and the smell won't be such an issue. It's the wintertime I'm afraid of, when we'll be trapped with the fumes.

No, it isn't normal. I have seen places with oil tank and they don't smell. In fact, you wouldn't make a difference, should it be oil or gas. So, I wouldn't move in such a place.

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I slept on it, considered all you said combined with some things I didn't relate in the first post and decided it would be a big mistake to go there.

 

- It's a really big place with a small price. Nice for us, but why? Not having enough experience with rental prices this confused me but I wasn't certain.

 

- The oil tanks (at this time unseen by us) stand behind a concrete wall in their own room, behind a fire door with a seal, and it still smells that intense so there seems to be a major problem with either leakage or the seal or both.

 

- The landlord has waived the Kaution and appears eager to get us in there, even offering to let us come a month early no charge.

 

- He stood in a living room filled with fumes, which he had already aired out before we came, lied and said this smell was normal. Your replies saying you don't notice a smell in your relatives' homes tell me otherwise. My husband's mother heats with oil and I've never noticed this smell in her house either.

 

- Everything I've found online on environmental hazard (gov.) and health dept. sites say long term exposure to heating oil fumes causes serious health problems as well as being very difficult for someone with respiratory problems, and we have a baby battling chronic bronchitis.

 

I won't go on any further than that, suffice it to say the decision is obvious. Thanks again for helping me make it.

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We have a 4400l heating oil tank in the cellar - the tank is metal and in an adjacent walled-in area next to the heating boiler & washing machines.

 

The only times we notice a slight smell of heating oil in the cellar are when:

 

  1. the tank has just been refilled with heating oil
  2. there is a howling gale from a particular direction

 

The smell never migrates up the stairway to our ground floor.

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I also had this problem once after having our tank system refilled. Turned out the cap on top of one of the tanks fill port was left off and once it was replaced there was no more odor.

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Interesting from you both, thank you, and reinforces my decision which has been a difficult one to make. We'll keep looking.

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We have oil heating as well in our house and we have ZERO odors even in the room where the oil and boiler are located.

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