Anyone Dealt with an “oil like smell” in the basement?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Bossi

“Dear PoPville,

Our Rowhouse has an English Basement. We have had a number of guests use it and complain of an oil-like smell. The smell is stronger towards the front by our front porch. We tried sealing that back wall, but that stopped it temporarily. I am afraid that there may be an oil tank that was not filled in completely. Has anyone had experience with something like this? Did you have to get the oil tank dug out, or filled in? If it was underneath a porch- how did they do it? Who on earth do you hire for this type of work.”

10 Comment

  • a_w

    Are you sure it’s not gas?

    • + lots. If you have service to the house, and especially if the meter is somewhere near where you smell this, please call the gas company! They wouldn’t charge to come out to test with a sniffer. Better safe than sorry.

  • The row house was probably built in the 1910’s – 1920’s, back then they treated lumber with kerosene or oil to prevent termite infestation. So all that lumber used to build the front porch was probably treated that way, that is why the smell is strongest at the front of the house. Unfortunately not much you can do about it

  • And if it’s not a gas leak …

    It is possible there is an abandoned tank on the property. You should actually be able to confirm this with the city somehow (there would need to be records of this somewhere in the history of the house). Not sure who in DCRA would have this information. And IF there is an abandoned tank on your property that it leaking inyo the soil … hoo boy. That clean up is not cheap, and once the authorities get a hold of it you will almost certainly be required to remediate it. Any hints of that could also seriously affect resale.

    • Not if you get rid of the oil tank before putting it on the market.

    • yeah be careful about investigating too much about this, because once you know there’s contamination you are required to disclose it to buyers. However, if you don’t know, you aren’t required to disclose. Just a thought.

      • Yeah, be careful. Telling the truth is so painful and the right thing to do. You don’t want a buyer to back out because you could have an environmental issue. You want to make sure you saddle them with the cost so it doesn’t come out of your pocket. You’ll need that extra money for your next purchase. Screw the buyers! I love ambiguous morals and the grey area of truth telling.

  • ah

    Is there any evidence the house was once fueled with oil? For example, marks on basement floor from a different boiler, oil pipes? In particular, is there any evidence of a hole that’s been patched up through which an oil tank may have fed an indoor boiler or through which oil could have been pumped to fill a tank inside? If not, then it’s unlikely that you have a leaking underground storage tank.

    An additional thought – if there was a tank outside and it is leaking it means that the odor is coming indirectly through contamination of water, which is penetrating the house. This means you have an additional problem, which is water penetration.

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