May 13, 2016
Heating oil tanks have the potential to store thousands of pounds worth of heating oil, and are often located in remote areas — this can make them an attractive target for thieves. The chance of being targeted by thieves is relatively low, but becoming a victim of heating oil theft is a costly, inconvenient and upsetting experience.
That's why the team here at Rix Petroleum have put together this guide which includes some useful tips to help protect your home from heating oil theft. You will also find some advice on what to do should you become a victim.
How heating oil is stolen
In order to steal heating oil, thieves will usually decant, syphon or pump oil from your tank into other containers. Thieves might use this oil themselves, or sell it on. There have even been reports of criminals selling stolen oil back to the victim.
Opportunistic thieves might target tanks that they spot while out and about, whereas more organised criminals use tools such as Google Maps to identify homes with oil tanks in their gardens. Another tactic used by would-be thieves is following oil delivery vehicles in order to identify homes with full tanks.
Data from police forces across England* suggests heating oil theft is most prevalent in the first three months of the year when tanks are likely to be full and the days are short. However, thefts occur year-round, so it pays to be vigilant at all times. The following graph shows the distribution of heating oil theft by month:
Choosing the right heating oil tank
When it comes to security, steel tanks offer a more robust storage solution when compared to plastic tanks. That's because plastic tanks can be easily drilled into in order to syphon off oil. Steel tanks are also heavier, and therefore more difficult to remove from your premises.
Locating your heating oil tank
When you are installing a heating oil tank, you need to find a balance between convenience, aesthetics and security while ensuring you are complying with all applicable regulations — you can find out more about the applicable regulations on the OFTEC website.
Installing your heating oil tank indoors
Probably the most secure place to locate your heating oil tank is indoors. Not only does this make it more difficult to access the tank, it also means that thieves are unlikely to know you even have one.
Placing your tank in a shed, garage or outbuilding has the added benefit of protecting it from low temperatures. That means your heating oil can burn more efficiently, and has a lower chance of freezing in the winter.
British Standards permit you to locate domestic oil storage tanks indoors as long as the tank:
- has a capacity of 3,500 litres or lower,
- has secondary containment,
- is contained alone within a one-hour fire-resistant chamber,
- is located at the lowest possible level, and
- is ventilated to the outside.
Installing your heating oil tank underground
If you cannot locate your fuel tank indoors, consider installing it underground instead. Again, this limits both accessibility and visibility. Because there is a higher risk of pollution when installing an underground storage tank (UST), you must:
Installing your heating oil tank above ground outdoors
Most heating oil tanks are stored above ground outdoors. To maximise security in this scenario, you should place your tank as far away from the road as possible. You don't want opportunistic thieves to spot your tank while driving by, nor do you want to facilitate a quick getaway.
Ideally, your heating oil tank should be visible from inside your home. The potential of being spotted is a huge deterrent for thieves. For more tips, see our section on securing your outdoor heating tank below.
Oil tank insurance
Please remember that it’s not just replacing the oil that puts you out of pocket after a theft. Criminals may damage the tank or pipes while taking the oil. They might also damage the security measures you have in place: CCTV cameras, fencing, or padlocks, for example. Plus, if any oil is spilt during the theft, you may have to pay for an environmental clean-up, which could cost thousands.
Many homeowners who use heating oil don’t realise that the vast majority of home insurance policies do not cover damage or theft of your heating oil tank or theft of heating oil. That’s why we strongly recommend taking out insurance for your oil tank and its contents.
How to secure your outdoor heating oil tank
There are a number of security measures that will help deter and catch criminals. The more you have in place, the less likely you are to be targeted.
Oil tank cages
Probably not suitable for everyone due to the amount of space they take up, but perhaps the best form of security available, an oil tank cage creates an extra physical barrier for thieves. It should fully enclose your tank while leaving enough room for maintenance and deliveries, and be bolted or concreted to the ground. Find out more about the best padlock to use below.
For added peace of mind, use a security cage in combination with an external beam alarm, which will sound if an intruder gets inside.
Hiding your heating oil tank
Many thefts arise from opportunistic thieves spotting your tank while in the neighbourhood. If your tank is exposed, it's a good idea to conceal it with a fence, wall, plants or trellis. Make sure to leave enough room for servicing, maintenance, and oil deliveries. You must also ensure compliance with OFTEC's fire-safety recommendations, which state that your tank should be at least:
- 1.8m away from non-fire-rated eaves of a building;
- 1.8m away from a non-fire-rated building or structure, such as a shed;
- 1.8m away from openings in a fire-rated building or structure, such as a garage;
- 1.8m away from oil-fired appliance flue terminals;
- 760mm away from a non-fire-rated boundary, such as a wooden boundary fence;
- 600mm away from screening that does not form part of the boundary, such as a trellis.
If this is not possible, you'll need to install a fire protection barrier with at least 30 minutes' fire resistance. This has a minimum separation distance of 100mm.
If possible, install a roof over your tank. This will prevent thieves from spotting it on satellite images and targeting your home.
If your oil tank is visible from your home, motion-activated security lighting will startle any trespassers and could alert you to their presence. Alternatively, install dusk-till-dawn lights that ensure your tank is lit 24/7.
Do not install security lighting if your tank is out of sight: this will help rather than hinder would-be thieves.
CCTV cameras will deter thieves, as well as provide valuable evidence for insurance claims and police reports should a theft occur. When purchasing CCTV, these are three of the most important features to think about:
- Picture quality: The further away from the camera from the tank, the higher the picture quality needs to be. Plus, better quality means that there's a better chance of criminals being identified and caught.
- Night vision: Unless the area surrounding your tank is always well-lit, an infrared camera is recommended — thieves usually operate after dark.
- Memory: The amount of memory determines how long your CCTV records for before writing over the oldest files. As you may not realise a theft has taken place until a few days after the incident, a high storage capacity could be beneficial.
A lower-cost option is to install a decoy CCTV camera. Although this won't record any footage, it could help to deter would-be criminals.
Placing gravel up to and around your tank creates a noisy route that could spook trespassers — or even alert you to their presence.
Most thieves won't want to negotiate prickly plants during a theft. Not only are they painful, but they can capture blood and clothing fibres that increase the risk of being identified. Here are some effective defensive plants that you should be able to find at your local garden centre:
Usually, the inspection cap on your tank will have eyelets to enable padlocking. However, you may need to purchase specialist locking bars for other access points. Remember that you should not lock your tank vent.
Thieves often come equipped with tools, so it's worth investing in high-quality padlocks for your tank lock or cage.
Round-shackle padlocks come highly recommended because they have a close shackle that's difficult to access with bolt cutters. Plus, because the shackle is not spring-loaded, round padlocks will not unlock if the keyway barrel is drilled into.
Look for one with a CEN or BSEN 12320 Grade 6 classification, which indicates maximum security. Grade 1 indicates low security.
Some electronic oil level gauges can be linked to an alarm inside your home. If the oil level suddenly drops, the alarm will sound and alert you to the theft — or perhaps a leak.
If you'd like this system to double up as a deterrent, display a 'This tank is alarmed' sign or sticker.
What to do if your heating oil is stolen
Only call 999 to report a theft in progress. You should call 101 to report a theft that has already occurred. Find more information in the sections below.
Reporting a heating oil theft in progress
If you notice any suspicious activity, record as much evidence as possible. This might mean noting down car registrations, writing descriptions of the people, or taking photographs. Do not confront trespassers — stay inside your home until you are sure it is safe.
If you have good reason to believe that there is a theft in progress, you should call 999 and await instruction from the police.
Once you have a crime number, you should get in touch with your insurance provider.
Reporting a heating oil theft that has already occurred
If you discover that a heating oil theft has already occurred, you should call the non-emergency 101 police number and report the crime immediately.
Make sure to save any relevant CCTV recordings and pass on any other pertinent information to the police. Once you have a crime number, you should get in touch with your insurance provider.
If a thief successfully steals from your heating oil tank, it's important that you implement extra security measures to reduce the risk of being retargeted.
Do you have any questions about our heating oil theft prevention guide? Don't hesitate to get in touch.
*Based on incomplete data concerning heating oil theft incidents recorded in England, 2014. Statistics gathered through the Freedom of Information Act.