10 Ways to Avoid Heating Oil Theft
August 3, 2021
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November 12, 2018
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. This was the case for victims in Hambleton, North Yorkshire, where £250 worth of heating oil was drained from their tank in May 2020. Similarly, £1000 worth of heating oil was stolen from a storage tank at a home in Dorset in December 2019.
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. Also, the price of heating oil fluctuates, and when the cost of oil is high, heating oil becomes a more attractive asset for thieves to try and steal. However, thefts occur year-round, so it pays to be vigilant at all times.
10 Ways to Avoid Heating Oil Theft
1. Choose the right type of heating oil tank
Let’s start at the beginning. One of the best ways to avoid heating oil theft is to choose the right type of 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.
2. Locate your heating oil tank in a secure place
When choosing where your heating oil tank should be located, you need to find the balance between aesthetics, convenience, safety and security. Of course, you also need to comply with all applicable OFTEC regulations.
It’s most common for people to install their oil tank outdoors, however there are options for you to keep it indoors or even underground.
Locating your heating oil tank indoors is probably the most secure option when it comes to fuel theft. 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.
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.
If you cannot locate your fuel tank indoors, consider installing it underground instead. Again, this limits both accessibility and visibility. However, because there is a higher risk of pollution when installing an underground storage tank (UST), you must:
- comply with the government's Pollution Prevention Guidelines,
- comply with the government's Groundwater Protection Code,
- buy a tank specially designed for underground use, and
- apply for planning permission.
If storing your heating oil tank indoors or underground is not a possibility for you, there are still steps you can take to maximise security for your outdoor tank.
Firstly, 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.
Secondly, if your tank is exposed, it's a good idea to conceal it with a fence, wall, plants or trellis. Just 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.
Thirdly, if possible, install a roof over your tank. This will prevent thieves from spotting it on satellite images and targeting your home.
Fourthly, consider placing a gravel path up to and around your tank. This is a relatively easy and cost-effective tip. The gravel will create a noisy route that could spook trespassers — or even alert you to their presence.
And lastly, locate your tank in a position that is visible from inside your home. The potential of being spotted and caught is a huge deterrent for thieves. If your tank is visible from inside your home, you could also consider additional security measures so thieves think you’re at home even when you’re not. For example, you could use lightbulbs on a timer or leave the radio on when you go out.
3. Install an oil tank cage
If your tank is outdoors, there are still plenty of extra precautionary measures you can take to deter fuel theft. One of these options is an oil tank cage.
An oil tank cage is perhaps the best form of security available as it creates an extra physical barrier for thieves. The cage should fully enclose your tank while leaving enough room for maintenance and deliveries, and be bolted or concreted to the ground.
The downside of an oil tank cage is that it won’t work for everyone as it requires a large of amount of space. They’re also not the best-looking item to have in your garden!
4. Install security lighting
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.
Remember: Do not install security lighting if your tank is out of sight; this will help rather than hinder would-be thieves.
5. Install CCTV
CCTV cameras will deter thieves, as well as provide valuable evidence for insurance claims and police reports should a fuel 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.
6. Plant defensive plants
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:
7. Invest in a wireless tank alarm
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 fuel theft — or perhaps a leak.
Most level monitors utilise ultrasound to measure the volume of oil in the tank. The ultrasound transmitter communicates with a receiver in your home, ensuring you never run out of oil, but also that thieves and leaks can be instantly detected.
Generally, wireless monitors have a range of up to 200m, so are effective no matter how far your tank is located from your house.
You can use this system to double up as a deterrent, too. Just display a ‘This tank is alarmed’ sign or sticker by your tank.
Remember: Check your heating oil level regularly so you know how approximately how much you have.
8. Install a lock
Thieves often come equipped with tools, so it's worth investing in high-quality padlocks for your tank lock or cage. A padlock that isn’t robust can often be opened with a sturdy pair of bolt cutters.
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 a padlock with a CEN or BSEN 12320 Grade 6 classification, which indicates maximum security. Grade 1 indicates low security.
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.
You could also consider an external ‘arm’ lock. These external locks are designed to secure the extraction points on single skin and bunded plastic tanks. A double lock protects both the inspection hole and the fill point, making it very difficult for thieves to get access to either. These locks are easy to fit and require no drilling. In most cases, however, they do need to be secured with a top-grade padlock.
Remember: You should not lock your tank vent.
9. Add a spinning tank cap
Spinning caps are a valuable security tool as fuel owners don’t need to rely on a padlock to secure their tank.
A spinning cap utilises clever technology so that when it’s locked, it spins freely, making it all but impossible to get off. It is based on a one-piece design that eliminates torque points, meaning forced entry with a crowbar or similar tool is impossible.
10. Install a remote tank level text alert system
A wireless level monitor can only inform you of a drop in oil levels when you’re at home. However, a remote tank level text alert system can let you know when you’re on the move. This is because such systems can be set up to send a text message to multiple mobile phones when changes inside your oil tank occur, such as a sudden drop in oil level.
Of course, it goes without saying that many rural areas suffer from poor mobile reception, so best check you can receive text messages where you live before you buy!
Don’t Forget to Invest in Oil Tank Insurance
Please remember that it’s not just replacing the oil that puts you out of pocket after a theft. If your heating oil has been stolen, criminals may have also damaged 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.
What to do If Your Heating Oil is Stolen?
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 fuel 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.
If you have any further questions about enhancing your security measures to prevent heating oil theft, please 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.