Dispatch from Canada: Code Changes Are Expected to Reduce Spills, Leaks

Changes to the minimum oil heat installation standard in Canada, known as CSA B139, are designed to reduce heating oil leaks and spills, thereby decreasing environmental damage, reports Michael Freill.

Understandably, such occurrences negatively effect the homeowner and have been a stain on the oil heat industry’s reputation. Freill writes:

The insurance industry has, in general, been responsible for clean-up costs, which sometimes spiral out of control. The insurance industry once threatened to walk away from the oil heat industry unless the industry acted to reverse the increasing trend of oil heat system failures.

Since 2000, some provincial governments have collected data on failures. The Insurance Bureau of Canada conducted a detailed study of claims from 2008-2011. Armed with the results of these efforts, the CSA B139 technical committees came up with solutions to common failures, which were combined with innovations from tank and equipment manufacturers to strengthen the oil heat installation standards for homes and buildings.

The latest version of the standard, known as CSA B139-16, was adopted by most provincial governments as of 2018. It raises the bar for installation of oil heat equipment. This is a win/win for insurance companies, homeowners, the environment and the oil heat industry.

Outdoor tanks were a problem, the collected data showed.

The Insurance Bureau paid out $78.6 million for 663 oil heat failure claims between 2008 and 2011. In the study, only 94 claims (15 %) came from in-home installations. Essentially 85% of the system failures came from outside installations. The outside tank system failures resulted in 90% of the claim costs. These facts are still more startling considering that outside tank installations make up 10-50% of total installations depending on the province. Since not everyone can locate their tank indoors, the updated code sets standards for outside installations.

No single-wall steel tank can be installed outside. Tanks must, at minimum, be double-bottomed, with interstitial monitoring (if constructed of steel), double-walled, or fiberglass.

The second most common failure in outside tank systems was associated with copper lines at the end or bottom of the tank. The new code prohibits such setups for any outside tank. Options are a single-line top outlet (with copper tube) or you can come off the bottom or end of the tank with a minimum 1¼-inch, standard-weight steel pipe (schedule 40) or a flexible stainless-steel line. Most installs are utilizing the top outlet copper line with a deaerator indoors down at the burner. If the top outlet line gets cut for any reason the tank will not drain its contents. Note: the top outlet line must be routed from the top of the tank directly and horizontally to the building and fastened before traveling either down or through the wall or foundation.

The third requirement for outside installations covers the tank’s foundations. Gone are the days of installing a few bricks or patio stones under the tank legs. Detailed foundation drawings are part of the new CSA B139 code which outlines minimum requirements.

Inside oil system installations were found to perform much better, but they were not immune to failures and leaks. Changes adopted for these installations are designed to make inside systems safer.

Overfills continue to happen, despite best efforts to have a “no whistle, no fill” policy. With the introduction of ductless heat pumps for supplementary heating, relying on degree-day data for delivery scheduling has been a challenge. New requirements for filling have been adopted and now a secondary system in combination with the whistle must be incorporated. Options for the secondary system include an outside gauge, electronic pump shutdown (utilized in Europe), or a containment tray. The containment tray under the tank is the most common choice as it also is designed to protect from leaks where lines connect to tanks, from filters, or from the tanks themselves.

The new code also requires that a containment device be attached to filters installed indoors. There are specific requirements for this containment device, and in many cases, they are installed at the burner in case of a burner seal leak. The statistics show filters are a common area for fitting or seal leakage. Filters must also be non-corrosive.

As older, vulnerable storage systems are replaced or upgraded in accordance with the new installation standard, the risk of failures causing environmental damage should be significantly reduced in Canada.


Michael Freill, a professional engineer, is the owner of Mark 1 Engineering Ltd., a company in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, that specializes in leak detection and containment equipment for the oil heat and hydronic industries.

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