I work from my dark, unfinished, low ceilinged, poured concrete basement. My Zoom audio settings include a “high” background noise filter, an attempt to deaden the sound of the nearby furnace. The steps creak and the lighting is bad. My “office” needs only some finger-painted buffaloes or mastodons on the walls for the setting to be complete. Yet, working in this dungeon has saved me a few hundred thousand dollars, potentially even a million dollars or more.
I know what you’re thinking. No foregone-rent or similar cost savings calculation could possibly justify such numbers. You’d be correct. My savings windfall is linked to one particular event: The day my oil tank leaked.
First, some background. The venerable 200 gallon tank that sat in the far corner of my basement was probably original, installed when the house was built in 1950. It was long past its projected service life. While coated with a superficial layer of rust, it showed no obvious signs of excessive corrosion or imminent failure. A few years before it failed, in fact, I had asked my heating-oil provider for a tank replacement quote; he declined. Then, as often happens, more urgent house repairs captured my attention.
The smell was unmistakable. Heating oil has a distinctive odor, a smell that quickly permeates a room. I had only to turn in my desk chair to understand what was happening just a few yards away. The tank had a slow leak along one of its bottom seams. By the time I was able to position some plastic tubs to catch the drips, a pint or so of oil had already accumulated on the basement floor. Fortunately I had some Speedy Dry in the garage; it made quick work of the initial spillage.
Temporarily sealing the leak was no easy matter. Duct tape, my go-to solution, failed to stick. Bondo proved equally unsuited to a slippery surface. Ultimately, a putty and tape combination slowed the dripping enough to allow me to call in the professionals. Within hours the tank had been pumped out and left in place for later removal and replacement. It took some days for the smell to dissipate.
Had my office been somewhere else, or had I been traveling, the outcome might have been quite different. Yesterday’s Boston Globe recounts the story of a young Wareham, MA couple who didn’t realize their oil tank was leaking until 25 gallons had spilled across their basement floor. They now face a clean-up bill estimated at $185,000. That’s bad enough, but some clean ups can cost $1 million or more.
So, as I sit at my basement desk with my new double-walled, Roth oil tank behind me, I advise any homeowner with oil heat to act sooner rather than later. Replace that old tank. It may look fine but, chances are, it is corroding from the inside outward. At the very least make sure that your homeowner’s insurance includes oil leak coverage
And, consider working from your basement.
Peter has spent the past twenty-plus years as an acting/consulting CFO for a number of small businesses in a wide range of industries. Peter’s prior experience is that of a serial entrepreneur, managing various start-up and turnaround projects. He is a co-founder of Keurig.