This section is is solely designed to help answer specific questions that propane consumers commonly ask their propane dealer.
I've never used propane before. What do I expect? Who do I call?There’s a first time for everything and some people buy or rent a home that has a big propane tank in the backyard and they have no idea what to do. In truth, it’s almost exactly like natural gas or electric power with one major difference, propane power is delivered to you by a person, in a tank truck. There’s no need for concern. In fact, just view it as the gas company representative paying you a visit to check on everything and make sure your energy supply is adequate and your gas system is functioning properly. The first thing you should do is learn a little bit about propane. It’s just like electricity or natural gas – it can hurt you if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Propane – First Things First
When you venture out to the propane tank, check for a sticker or something that identifies the company servicing the tank. If there are no stickers on the tank, open the dome and see if there is anything identifying a propane gas company such as a tag, sticker or something that gives the name and number of a propane company. This will give an indication of who (or what company) is familiar with your tank and LP Gas system. Most propane companies keep records of tanks that they service by location and by the tank’s serial number. Other firsts for new propane users after inspecting the tank and based on individual situations include:
- If you rent the home, contact your landlord for information about the propane company servicing the tank.
- If you bought the home, contact the propane company servicing the tank, provided you have that information.
- If you don’t meet either of the above criteria, see Choosing a Propane Company and go from there.
- VERY IMPORTANT – When the gas delivery is made, have the driver show you what propane smells like.
Knowing what propane smells like will help you know if there is ever a leak in the LP Gas system. Don’t be overwhelmed or feel unsafe by seeing a propane tank on your property…there’s nothing to be afraid of. Contrary to first time propane user beliefs, propane tanks do not explode. Look around this site to see that propane is safe and reliable when understood and respected, just like electricity or natural gas.
Your First Propane Delivery
There are many instances where a residential propane delivery is made while the customer is not at home. This is very common and quite often the norm regarding most propane deliveries. There are several things that the propane company needs to know about your property before delivering to your home, especially if it’s a new driver or a new propane company servicing your tank. First of all, propane companies will keep a record of certain instructions you have for them but you may need to meet the driver at your home the first time a delivery is made. Remember that a propane delivery bobtail is is a big and heavy truck that doesn’t turn on a dime or go under trees and overhangs as easily as the family car can. Several things you definitely need to inform the delivering propane company of include:
- Septic Tank Location – A propane truck is heavy enough that thick concrete septic tank covers and lids are easily broken through when run over by a gas delivery truck.
- Overhead Power Lines – When a delivery is made at night, which is sometimes the case, the driver may not see low hanging overhead power lines. Also, if power lines are hidden by low hanging trees, the truck tank may hit these causing a power loss.
- Sprinkler Systems – Many yards with sprinkler systems can be damaged if a bobtail or service truck runs over any part of the irrigation system.
Some propane companies may ask that somebody be home if it’s the first time to deliver. Although it may be an inconvenience, it is strictly for the protection of your property and should be viewed as such. It will also help the homeowner acquaint themselves with the company representative as well as provide the driver with any direction they may need for future deliveries.
Common questions about propane delivery and bulk tank refuelingPropane delivery seems simple but propane customers sometimes have questions surrounding the delivery process. These questions are asked routinely of propane dealers and have common explanations involving laws, LP Gas requirements and physics.
How (or Why) did my tank percentage fall so quickly?
This question is often asked during the period immediately following the delivery, or sometimes several days later. Whether the propane tank is being filled partially or completely, the bleeder valve is always used during the delivery process. It is common for the delivery driver to write the ending percentage on the fuel ticket after the delivery which is often 80%, if the tank has been filled. Even if the face gauge reads 75% following delivery, the tank is at 80% because the bleeder valve indicates the actual propane liquid level (above 80%) in the tank, not the face (dial) gauge. See Float Gauge and Fixed Liquid Level Gauge for detailed information about these two propane gauges.
Another instance that may seem confusing to propane consumers involves tank volume following a propane delivery in the afternoon, which is commonly the hotter part of the day. When propane deliveries are made during the hotter parts of the day, the gas has already expanded before it is delivered into the tank and the gauge may read 80% following a fill. Inspecting the tank gauge the following morning may show a significant percentage drop (up to 5%) even if no gas has been used! This does not necessarily indicate a leak. More likely than not, the volume of liquid propane in the tank has contracted in the cooler overnight hours. Also see Propane Tank Color for more information about the effects of heat on liquid propane volume and Propane Volume Correction for an explanation about hot and cold weather delivery issues.
Why are two hoses used during propane delivery?
This is a very common propane delivery question in warmer climates. The additional hose is a vapor return hose and will be used on days when the temperature is rising quickly or is expected to be quite high. The vapor return hose is used to relieve the excess pressure from the tank being delivered into. Remember that as the volume in the tank increases, the pressure is also rising. As a precaution, the vapor return hose is connected to prevent an over-pressure condition which could result in the release of propane through the Safety Relief Valve. A common misperception is that the second hose is being used counteractively to the fill hose.The vapor return hose does not recover liquid propane from your tank during the filling process. It only recovers excess pressure. See Vapor Return Valve for details about this propane delivery process and Propane Liquid and Vapor for information about propane in its two states.
Why is propane spewing out of my tank during delivery?
During propane delivery, the fixed liquid level gauge, also called a bleeder valve is opened as required by law. The driver is not inadvertently letting gas out of the tank. This valve accurately indicates the liquid level in the propane tank and lets the delivery driver know when to stop the filling process. The picture at the top of this page shows the bleeder valve actively being used during a delivery of propane. See Fixed Liquid Level Gauge for a better understanding of its use during the propane delivery process.
Why do I have to have a leak test performed on my propane system?
Leak tests are required any time there is an interruption of service meaning the flow of gas was stopped for any reason. NFPA 54 (2006), 8.2.3 states that “Immediately after the gas is turned on into a new system or into a system that has been initially restored after an interruption of service, the piping system shall be tested for leakage. If leakage is indicated, the gas supply shall be shut off until the necessary repairs have been made”.
Propane Leak Test Explained
All propane piping, connections and fittings are threaded so that they may easily connect together during installation or modification. These propane connections are coated with a pipe joint compound that lubricates the fittings during the joining process and will dry after a short while. During normal usage, a propane plumbing system is at a constant pressure. This means that as long as the tank has gas and is supplying the system with propane, a constant pressure is exerted on the piping and the pipe joint compound. The pipe joint compound will expand during normal pressurized usage and will retract if the system loses pressure. This loss of gas pressure may cause leaks to form because of the expansion and retraction of the piping compound within the propane plumbing system.
The leak test will indicate any leaks within the propane piping system due to interruption of service or out of gas situation. The leakage test is simply testing the integrity of the system plumbing joints and the seal of the pipe joint compound. This is the safety reasoning behind leak testing. The real reason a leak test is performed is because it is required by law and none other.
Out of Gas – Empty Propane Tank = Required Leak Test
All too often, propane customers run out of gas when temperatures are the coldest. No matter what the temperature or how busy the gas company is, if the tank is out of gas a leak test is required. This is considered an interruption of service. How do you keep from running out of gas? Keep an eye on the tank gauge or have your propane company place you on an automatic delivery schedule. Out of Propane = Mandatory Leak Test. It may not be convenient but it’s the law. Learn more about reading your propane tank gauge as to not run out of gas.
Propane Companies Make More Money Performing Leak Tests…Not Quite
Many companies will charge a fee for performing a leak test. Even if a propane company does not charge for a leak test, it costs the company time and money. Cold weather brings about increased gas usage and because more propane customers run out of gas during these cold spells, propane delivery personnel perform more leak tests. If leaks are discovered during a leak test, the driver has to fix the leak(s) before filling the tank. These repairs can sometimes take an hour or more leaving the driver with less time to complete his deliveries. If the propane company is busy performing leak tests and repairs, they are not delivering as much gas as they could or should be. This sometimes results in lost customers and decreased output. Leak testing is required but costs a propane company more in time to test and repair a gas system than they could make by delivering the much needed propane to cold customers. Even if the propane company charges a hefty price for a leak test, consider it a positive thing. A propane company that is trying to deter consumers from running out of gas is taking an active stance in protecting the propane industry and its customers.
There's no way I could have used that much propane. I must have a gas leak.
Propane companies hear this more often from residential consumers during periods of cold weather. It is more common for propane marketers in the southern states to get these calls than northern marketers just because the weather and climate is so much warmer in the south. During abnormally cold weather this is very common but it doesn’t always men there’s a gas leak. If you smell propane, get out of your house and call your propane company immediately.
Home Heating in Cold Weather
If you heat your home with propane and it’s cold outside, you are going to use more propane. The same goes for heating with natural gas or electricity. The United States encompasses such a large geographic area that the climate regions of the country range from frigid to tropical. These contrasting environments signify a large difference in heating seasons as well as varying lengths of the heating seasons. Some parts of the southern U.S. have almost no heating season at all while parts of the northern U.S. seem to have a heating season for the bulk of the year.
Consumers in the warmer regions of the U.S. may think they have a leak after an unseasonable winter or extended period of cold weather more often than propane consumers in cold climates. The reason being that people in these warmer climates are not used to cold winters and they can’t see how they could have used so much gas. The example here actually occurred in San Antonio, Texas after an extended period of cold temperatures in January of 2007.
San Antonio is known for hot summers and mild winters and the propane customer was unable to believe that he had gone through so much gas in just a few weeks. The customer has a 1,000 gallon propane tank that supplies the following LP Gas appliances (with appliance BTU ratings):
- 3 Water Heaters – 40,000 BTU/hr each
- 2 Central Furnaces – 200,000 BTU/hr each
- 1 Clothes Dryer – 35,000 BTU/hr
- 1 Gas Range – 65,000 BTU/hr
- 2 Fireplaces (with ceramic logs) – 26,000 BTU/hr each
- 1 Pool Heater – 425,000 BTU/hr
One gallon of propane has 91,547 BTU’s. Appliance BTU ratings indicate the appliance usage at 100% capacity. In other words, a furnace with a 200,000 BTU/hr rating means the furnace will use 200,000 BTU’s per hour when it is running at “full blast”. The furnace will use about 2.2 gallons of propane in one hour’s time (200,000 ÷ 91,547 = 2.18). The total load on this house is 1,097,000 BTU/hr meaning that if all appliances are running at 100%, the total use will be about 12 gallons of propane an hour (1,097,000 ÷ 91,547 = 11.98). At this propane usage rate, a total of 288 gallons are being used each day.
Realistic Propane Usage
We all know that nobody will run all of their appliances at 100% all day long so let’s take a reasonable approach to higher than average gas usage using the example above during off peak usage (Summer months) versus peak usage (Winter months).
Summer Propane Usage - During off peak months, propane will be used by cooking appliances, water heaters, clothes dryers and the maybe pool heaters. If the gas range, dryer and water heaters are used at a rate of 25% capacity 2 hours per day, the gas usage will be about 1.2 gallons per day. 220,000 BTU/hr ÷ 91,547 = 2.4 gal/hr • 2.4 gallons x .25 = .6 gallons • .6 gallons x 2 hours = 1.2 gallons of propane
Using the same calculation above, the usage rates will differ as capacity and length of use change. 25% capacity for 2 hours – 1.2 gallons per day 25% capacity for 6 hours – 3.6 gallons per day 50% capacity for 2 hours – 2.4 gallons per day 50% capacity for 6 hours – 7.2 gallons per day
If the pool heater (425,000BTU/hr) is used for one hour per day at 75% capacity, add 3.5 gallons per day to the numbers above (425,000BTU/hr ÷ 91,547 = 4.64 gal/hr • 4.64 x .75 = 3.48 gallons). As you can see, pool heaters use a lot of gas and playing with these numbers, you can get an idea of normal off peak propane usage rates.
Winter Propane Usage - The winter months bring more usage of all energy sources for heating so the usage numbers above will drastically change as heating requirements increase. For instance, let’s take an unseasonably cold week with the same appliances above and compute the propane gas usage with the same hours of use adding the use of the furnaces for heating. If the furnaces are used at 50% capacity for 12 hours, the daily gas usage will increase by about 26 gallons. Note that does not include the two fire places. 400,000 BTU/hr ÷ 91,547 = 4.4 gal/hr • 4.4 gallons x .5 = 2.2 gallons • 2.2 gallons x 12 hours = 26.4 gallons
Using the same calculation above, the usage rates (during heating) will differ as capacity and length of use change. 50% capacity for 18 hours – 39.6 gallons/day or 277.2 gallons/week 75% capacity for 06 hours – 19.8 gallons/day or 138.6 gallons/week 75% capacity for 12 hours – 39.6 gallons/day or 277.2 gallons/week 25% capacity for 12 hours – 13.2 gallons/day or 92.4 gallons/week 25% capacity for 18 hours – 19.8 gallons/day or 138.6 gallons/week 25% capacity for 24 hours – 26.4 gallons/day or 184.8 gallons/week
Pool Heater Gas Usage - If you add the propane consumption of a pool heater, the numbers really start to climb. Pool heaters are high capacity appliances that can consume more than 4.5 gallons of propane per hour (425,000 BTU/hr ÷ 91,547 = 4.64 gal/hr). If it takes 4 hours to heat the pool on a cool day, the pool heater may use 18.5 gallons. We bring pool heaters up because they are such high demand appliances that can really cause consumers to think they have a gas leak…when in reality, they just need to be mindful of not leaving the pool heater on for an extended period of time. The pool heater in the above example will consume 100 gallons of propane in less than a day if left running at capacity. If you’re heating your pool, keep an eye on the gas gauge.
Propane Usage Comparison
As described and explained here, the propane usage rates during peak and off-peak seasons contrast sharply and can leave some people guessing where all their gas went after a cold weather period. While many people believe they must have a leak, their system is actually leak-free and they just used the gas. This is particularly true in warm climate regions where an extended period of cold weather prompts a sharp increase in propane usage through home heating. People get used to the gas bill being the same month after month and then when an uncommonly cold norther sets in, they use more propane than they thought they ever would. The fact is they just aren’t used to it and it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a leak within the system.
Also See Checking For Propane Leaks
How do I choose what propane company to use?Quite often, people are faced with selecting a propane company to provide them with service in some capacity. This generally occurs before a house is built or after moving into an existing house that uses propane as an energy source. The following thoughts and recommendations will hopefully help consumers find a propane company that will take care of their needs and safety resulting a long term relationship. A relationship with a propane company is a personal one, unlike that with a public utility. Propane users actually get to know the person providing their service.
Selecting a Propane Company
Although choosing a company to provide propane service or buy parts and supplies might seem simple, it actually deserves some thought. When choosing a cell phone provider, you may look at price but most would agree that coverage and clarity are far more important. Would you sign up for phone, internet or cable television service knowing that the company can guarantee 85 or 90% uptime? Would you do this at your place of business? Propane companies fall into a somewhat similar category but there’s a lot more riding on it besides their reputation. The safety and well being of you and your family is at issue as well. So if you’re thumbing through the phone book or looking on the internet for a propane company in your area, consider the following.
- Safety Record – Ask the company about their safety record and safety programs. They should be able to offer references, such as regulatory agencies that will attest to their safety record as well as any safety programs they are enrolled in or perform within their organization.
- Regulatory Agencies – Each state has an agency regulating its propane industry. These agencies and regulatory commissions oversee all activities regarding the LP Gas industry within their respective state. Although state regulators probably can’t recommend any particular propane company, they may be able to provide information about safety records and compliance if requested.
- NPGA and State Propane Gas Associations – Association memberships ensure that the propane company stays up to date and informed about safety issues and compliance within the propane industry.
- Company Policies – Ask about any policies such as out of gas procedures, service fees or pricing structures that may better work with your budget or give you peace of mind.
- Better Business Bureau – The BBB is an excellent source of information to find out about company history and reputation.
The very best advice is to choose a company based on their references, reputation and safety record…not solely their price. Your safety and that of your family depends on it. What if your insurance company was reliable only 85% of the time? Choose your propane supplier wisely.
Can I paint my propane tank so that it matches the color of my house?The answer to this question is yes. Can you paint it any color you want? No. NFPA 58 states that propane containers must be painted a heat reflective color. Most state regulatory agencies have their own rule addressing this particular issue but the national code declares that LP Gas containers must be painted a heat reflective color unless installed in an extremely cold environment.
What color can I paint my propane tank?
All too often propane customers take it upon themselves to paint their tank a color that complements the colors of their home or landscaping. This presents a safety problem as well as a serviceability problem if the tank color is dark or non-reflective. Dark colors absorb heat while lighter colors reflect it. Have you ever worn a dark colored shirt on a sunny day? A dark shirt on a sunny day will give you a lot more warmth than a white shirt will. The principle is the same with LP Gas tanks as the last thing any propane tank needs is to absorb heat. Perhaps a better example is walking barefoot on the concrete sidewalk and stepping onto the asphalt street on a hot sunny day. Concrete sidewalks are fairly light in color (heat reflective) while asphalt streets and roads ar dark in color (heat absorbent). The sidewalk is much more bearable to walk on while the asphalt road can be quite painful. Propane tanks need to reflect heat, not absorb it.
The entire reasoning behind propane tank color involves pressure and some simple laws of chemistry that apply to fluids and gases when they are heated. The law “as temperature increases, volume increases” applies and can be seen in this explanatory animation from NASA. Because propane exists as both a liquid and a gas within the tank, the absorption of heat due to a non-reflective color creates the possibility of a high pressure situation that may cause the safety relief valve to open. The bottom line is this:
Dark (Non Reflective) Propane Tank = Absorbed Heat = Propane Expansion = Relief Valve May Open
Rust Colored Propane Tanks
Below are actual photos of propane tanks that have excessive rust and are subject to over-pressure. In fact, rust is a color and will contribute to the absorption of heat. Rusted tanks pose another problem, pitting. Pitting occurs when a tank is excessively rusted and the surface of the tank is compromised. The rust will actually eat away at the surface of the tank. Tanks that are rusted often need to be sanded or scraped with a wire brush before they are painted.
How many gallons of gas do I lose in a leak?A common question propane dealers have when customers have a leak is “how much gas did I lose?”. The answer is usually not that much. In reality, a small leak on a tank will result in the loss of a maybe a gallon of propane over a considerable period of time. However, all questions about leaks should be directed to your propane company. This page is only concerned with the amount of propane that may be lost as a result of a leak. Also see Checking For Propane Gas Leaks
Propane Leaks and Gallons Lost
Consumers often feel that a leak on their propane tank results in the loss of many gallons of propane gas. The following example will hopefully illustrate that the actual amount of gas lost is nowhere near what they envisioned. We’ve all seen a helium tank fill balloons and we’re all familiar with the loud hissing noise and force at which the helium is coming out of the tank and into the balloon. If you hear a propane leak that’s remotely similar to that of a helium tank filling a balloon, you need to be calling the fire department instead of reading this! We’ll now use that which we’re familiar with and attempt to equate it with propane.
Propane Leaks – Balloon Illustration
Let’s take a standard size balloon (like a party balloon), which holds a volume of roughly .5 cubic feet and for the sake of this example, you think your tank has leaked 10 gallons of propane. 10 gallons of propane equals 363.9 cubic feet of vapor which will fill about 728 standard size party balloons. Some customers believe the gas they have lost is over 50 gallons and if they have in fact lost 50 gallons of propane, that’s enough propane to fill 3,639 standard size party balloons. Just one gallon of propane which produces 36.39 cubic feet of vapor will fill almost 73 standard size balloons or 2 standard size (18 cu. ft) refrigerators.
- 1 Gallon of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 73 standard size party balloons
- 5 Gallons of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 364 standard size party balloons
- 10 Gallons of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 728 standard size party balloons
- 25 Gallons of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 1820 standard size party balloons
- 50 Gallons of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 3639 standard size party balloons
As you can see, the actual amount of propane lost in a leak is far less than most people realize due to the volume of propane vapor that is produced by one gallon of liquid propane.
Can I check for gas propane leaks? How?Although propane companies have specialized equipment designed for checking for leaks and their severity, consumers can check for leaks themselves. The process is quite simple while the supplies and ingredients are found in almost every home and consist of just soap and water. Using a solution such as this is safe and will not harm a propane tank or plumbing connections. It’s been heard of that people use a match or lighter to check for leaks and nothing could be more unsafe. Soap and water will safely identify and give an indication of the size of the leak.
Checking For Gas Leaks
Homemade propane leak detector solution can be placed in a spray bottle or other container. Liquid dishwashing soap will produce the most bubbles when mixed with water and is what’s most commonly used. If a spray bottle is used, adjust the tip of the sprayer so that a sharp stream is produced by squeezing the bottle’s trigger. Don’t use a broad misting as this won’t adequately cover the connection or seal that’s being checked for leaks. The sharp stream will provide enough of the soapy mixture to produce bubbles if there is in fact a leak as well as reaching into any recessed connections that are not easily reached. Using a sponge or dish rag to dispense the solution will adequately indicate any propane leaks as well. A leak such as the one to the left (with the red regulator) may result in the loss of one gallon of propane over a years time. The propane gauge leak at the bottom left may result in the loss of one gallon of propane over 3 years. These leaks are common on older tanks and installations so do not be alarmed if you find a leak.
If You Find a Leak
As a general rule, small bubbles indicate a small leak while large bubbles indicate a larger leak. Tightening the screws on the face gauge (pictured left) would probably stop this leak, or any leak around the face gauge. However, trying to fix the leak yourself may do more harm than good. This is especially true on older tanks where the screws may be easily sheared off if over-tightened. The best thing to do is call your propane company and let them know that you’ve found a leak and they’ll make arrangements to take care of it. Again, small leaks like those pictured here are not cause for alarm so don’t worry about the amount of gas coming out of the tank or the amount of gas you’re losing. It’s not all that much and leaks of this size are easily fixed by tightening a fitting or connection.
Can I repair or modify my own propane system?This is probably the single most important safety issue the propane industry battles on a daily basis. People constantly want to fix their own leaks or make changes to their gas system to save money or because the propane service technician isn’t available for several days or weeks. Modifications to any part of a propane system is not advisable and unsafe. All repairs and modifications to any part of a propane system should be handled by a propane company or a licensed propane gas professional. In short, performing repairs and making modifications or additions to your propane system is not advisable. You will be safer in addition to it being cheaper in the long run.
Propane System Modification
The propane industry views modifications to a propane system as “additional changes” to an existing gas system. Quite often, modifications to a propane system performed by the homeowner result in an unsafe and illegal situation. In addition to not being safe, there are many things to take into consideration before any amendment is made to a gas system. For instance, you have a room in your house that you need to put a new space heater but there is no gas valve or connection so you figure you’ll do it yourself. It’s not just as simple as getting some pipe or tubing and running the line and attaching a valve in the room for the heater. Some questions come to mind that you probably don’t know need to be answered:
- How will this new gas outlet affect other appliances when in use?
- Will the current regulator be sufficient for the total BTU load?
- Are there any permitting requirements or local codes to be complied with?
- Does the length of the pipe or tubing require a second stage regulator?
- Is the regulator designed and/or legal for fixed propane piping systems?
- What size tubing or pipe will be needed so that the heater will function properly?
- Will the propane company still fill my tank if I don’t repair this properly? What is properly?
- Are flue gases an issue? What about appliance venting and is it required?
The propane company knows how to properly make additions to the existing system so that the entire system will function properly…Let the propane professionals handle it. Also, improper installation of a piping system can result in the incomplete combustion of propane. Carbon Monoxide is a deadly byproduct of incomplete combustion and can cause death within a matter of minutes if concentration levels are high enough. See Do It Yourself Propane Pictures
Propane Troubleshooting and Repairs
Only propane companies and professionals have access to tools and equipment that can properly diagnose and identify problems within a propane gas system. They also have the experience. Buying tools, parts and supplies from the local hardware store to make household repairs is something we’re all accustomed to because of the availability and convenience of large stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and others. Books about hazardous and dangerous household subjects such as electricity are readily available but finding a book on propane repairs or LP Gas troubleshooting is quite difficult. The reason being is that trying to repair your own propane system isn’t advisable, nor is it safe. Some tools and parts that appear to be similar to the parts on your propane system can be readily found but if they aren’t designed for LP Gas use, they can place your family in a potentially dangerous situation.
Moving Your Propane Tank
Along the same lines of modifying your own propane system is moving your own tank. The best way to move your propane tank is by calling a licensed propane company. Although it’s not necessarily illegal to move a propane tank, the risks involved with moving it far outweigh the advantages. Too much can go wrong while using equipment such as a forklift or front-end loader to move the tank yourself. For instance, if the tank still has liquid propane in it, the lifting lugs can be damaged rendering them useless. And if the “do-it-yourselfer” goes a step further by welding on the tank, the tank may become completely unusable. Welding on any propane container is illegal unless the welding is done by a tank manufacturer or an approved tank fabrication and repair firm. If the tank rolls after hitting the ground, valves and fittings can be broken off allowing propane to vent dangerously into the vicinity creating a very hazardous situation. Too many things can go wrong by trying to move your own propane tank so be on the safe side and contact your propane company. Chances are, it will also be cheaper in the long run by doing so. See how dangerous moving your own propane tank can be or the damage that can result from moving it yourself.
I hear a hissing noise coming from my tank. What is it?
Propane tanks will sometimes give an indication of a leak by sound. People will describe this noise as a “hissing” noise coming from the tank getting louder as they get closer. Although product release is occurring in some capacity, it might not necessarily be a propane gas “leak”. Some of the situations consumers may encounter with propane tank “hissing” are depicted below.
Open Bleeder Valve
The fixed liquid level gauge (bleeder valve) is required to be opened by the delivery person every time the tank is filled with propane. On occasion, the delivery driver may not completely close the bleeder valve following the filling process or the bleeder valve opening may have been blocked by a small piece of debris from inside the tank that cleared following the drivers departure. If this is the case, simply turning the bleeder valve clockwise will close the valve and stop the flow of gas. This is not unheard of and is easily remedied by simply closing the bleeder valve.
Relief Valve Actuating
On hot days when the sun is high overhead and a propane delivery has recently been made, the safety relief valve may open slightly allowing excess pressure to vent. If the relief valve is opened, the protective cap will be removed from the top of the valve from the pressure buildup, as pictured to the left. DO NOT LOOK INTO THE RELIEF VALVE OR TAP IT WITH ANYTHING. Doing so may cause the relief valve to open all the way. The relief valve is doing what it was designed to do and on hot, sunny days, propane tanks are subject to excess pressure due to expanding liquid within the tank. One way to remedy the situation is to cool the tank down by spraying water from a garden hose on the surface of the tank. This will generally cause the relief valve to close.
I hear that propane tanks explode easily. Is that true?This question has been asked of many propane dealers and is also a topic discussed by people that are unfamiliar with propane, propane tanks, propane accidents and explosions involving any type of container storing flammable or combustible material. Propane tanks do not just explode if they fall over, are hit by the lawnmower or a car. In fact, it would be hard to say that a propane tank will explode if it were hit by an airplane or bullet. Many people mistakenly believe that propane tanks in any setting will explode if they are mishandled in some certain way. Let’s explore and dispel this common myth.
Propane Explosions 101
Propane tanks do not explode. They do not implode and nor do they rupture or come apart on their own. In fact, bringing a propane tank to the point of “explosion” is a tremendously difficult and time consuming task that’s not as simple as most people think. Many people believe that a propane tank “explosion” can occur with the slightest of ease. This is not the case whatsoever and people should understand that a propane tank, operating under normal circumstances will not explode or rupture. Safety devices and mechanisms are in place to prevent explosions, accidents and propane tank ruptures or breaches. Just like any other hazardous material or activity, human error is a primary factor in preventing or contributing to any type of accident, however serious in nature.
BLEVE – Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion
The term BLEVE is well known among firefighters and hazardous materials response teams and does not solely refer to propane tanks. A BLEVE occurs when the pressure in the tank exceeds that at which the safety relief valve can safely vent the excess pressure into the outside atmosphere. Relief valves are designed to vent tank pressure at a certain flow rate to the outside atmosphere once the pressure inside the propane tank reaches a certain level and will close once the pressure in the tank falls below that level.
Let’s look at a simple example involving something we’re all familiar with, a plastic 3 liter soft drink bottle. The soft drink bottle has a 1/4″ hole drilled in its side (about the same diameter as the cord on your mouse). This hole functions as the safety relief valve. If you were to blow air into the bottle through the top after unscrewing the cap, the excess pressure in the bottle would be relieved through the opening in the bottle’s side causing no damage to the bottle. Now, suppose you attached an air hose that screwed onto the bottle top forming a tight seal and the air hose was supplied by a large air compressor. Turning the air compressor on starts the flow of air into the bottle which in turn creates more pressure than the small hole (relief valve) in the side of the bottle can keep up with. The plastic bottle starts to expand and eventually ruptures. The reason the bottle ruptures is that the amount of increasing pressure inside the bottle is far greater and exceeds that at which the small hole allows to escape. The pressure in the bottle is increasing faster than it can escape through the “relief valve”.
A propane tank BLEVE will occur when the container is subject to extreme heat, such as in a fire. While the tank is being heated, the liquid propane inside is being heated causing it to expand. The safety relief valve will open allowing pressure to vent to the outside atmosphere. If the pressure inside the tank grows to a level exceeding that at which the safety relief valve can expel it from the tank, the propane tank may rupture. If flames or a source of ignition is present, the propane will ignite resulting in an explosion. It’s important to know that a BLEVE will occur only if the conditions are right, such as being subject to continuous flame impingement over a period of time. The possibility of a propane tank explosion (BLEVE) is extremely remote.
Pictured left is a tank that was involved in a grass fire. The fence caught fire and burned down around the tank. Although the tank is no longer serviceable, it is a testament to the strength propane tanks have as well as the manufacturing standards propane tanks are subject to. Many people believe that an LP Gas tank will explode easily if fire is present or near. This propane gas tank is an example of the rule, not the exception.
Propane Tank Strength
The pictures below are of propane bobtail tanks that were involved in accidents. Each of these 2,600 gallon tanks were involved in rollover accidents and were over 60% full. That means each tank contained over 1,500 gallons (~6,300 pounds) of propane. The tanks may be dented but the force of 10,000+ pounds coming down on the hard pavement is definitely a testament of strength in itself. You be the judge.
Do propane cylinders explode easily?Like ASME propane tanks, LP Gas cylinders do not explode easily and nor do they explode on their own. The requirements for a cylinder to “explode” or experience failure is related to heat in the same manner that heat affects the failure of an ASME propane tank. The principle is the same but because the container sizes are so different, the situations are often different as well. In short, propane cylinders will not explode when they are used and stored in accordance with NFPA requirements.
Propane Cylinder Strength
The integrity of a propane bottle needs to be understood before exploring the issues that can lead to a ruptured container. This is extremely important to understood because the likelihood of a cylinder explosion is exponentially remote even if cylinders are extremely damaged by forceful blows to the container shell. By design, all propane gas containers are manufactured to withstand extensive external damage. Although the integrity of a cylinder may be compromised due to forceful impact, the containment of liquid propane is secured, which is factored into the engineering and construction of these cylinders. The picture to the left is a 5 gallon steel buffer cylinder that fell onto a highway and was struck by a vehicle. The damage to the vehicle was by far more extensive than the damage to the propane bottle. Although this cylinder is no longer fit for continued service, the structural strength of the container is depicted in this picture (see a close-up photo of the damaged cylinder). In short, propane cylinders are designed to withstand impact without rupturing or exploding. Although this is a real world example and was not a test, attempting to duplicate this scenario would be nothing short of dangerous.
Propane Cylinder Explosions
Cylinder explosion videos can easily be found browsing the internet. A search on a video website for propane explosions will normally yield numerous results. Most all of these videos share a common theme, the propane cylinders are placed on a fire or source of extreme heat. Many of these propane cylinders explode after being shot at while on a fire (fire reduces the integrity of steel propane containers). Some videos are filmed by amateurs while others are staged and controlled explosions produced by professionals but the common catalyst for causing a propane cylinder explosion is fire and extreme heat.
A very important point about propane cylinders that are shot during flame impingement; Once the bullet penetrates the compromised propane cylinder, the gas bottle itself becomes a deadly projectile with a mind and direction of its own. Shooting at propane cylinders and tanks in this manner can result in death.
Cylinder Storage Fires and Explosions
One of the more potentially dangerous situations regarding propane cylinders revolves around their storage. The storage of propane cylinders itself isn’t dangerous. The potential danger is generally introduced by irresponsible behavior and/or human error. For instance, a group of cylinders in storage cages are all secure and filled, properly positioned and legal in all respects but one of the cylinders has the bleeder valve opened slightly and is allowing a small amount of propane out of the tank. An employee is walking by the cylinder cage smoking a cigarette and leans down to inspect the hissing noise coming from the cylinder. The cigarette ignites the propane resulting in a small fire that under most circumstances would be considered manageable. However the employee panics and runs inside to call the fire department instead of using the available fire extinguisher to put the fire out. In the meantime, the original fire from the bleeder valve is directly impinging on the adjacent cylinders resulting in the opening of their relief valves and subsequent igniting of the escaping propane gas. The original fire has become the catalyst for a chain reaction of propane cylinder fires. Some of the cylinders rupture due to direct flame impingement, intense heat and over pressure. Due to human error, a once manageable (and preventable) fire has now become a damaging situation. The picture below depicts irresponsible behavior on the part of a propane company employee. This employee has opened the bleeder valves on these forklift cylinders in order to empty them. Notice the frost that has formed around the bottom of the cylinders, indicating the liquid propane level. Any source of ignition in the vicinity could result in a chain reaction as described above
I open my LP Gas cylinder valve and nothing comes out. What's wrong?
This is a statement propane cylinder users sometimes make following the exchange or re-filling of their bottle. The bottle feels heavier and obviously is filled with propane but opening the valve produces no escaping gas. OPD valves are designed so that propane will not flow from the service valve unless it is hooked up to a hose end connection. This is the way the OPD cylinder valve was designed. Unattached propane cylinders equipped with OPD valves will not allow gas to flow when the service valve (handwheel) is opened. The same is true of forklift cylinder valves.
OPD Valve Design
The design of the OPD valve is such that turning the cylinder service valve handwheel will not produce any effect if the cylinder is not hooked up to an appliance. In other words, a connection must be made between the appliance hose end and the cylinders service valve. The inside of the OPD valve is engineered to only allow propane in or out if the internal valve is actuated by being depressed. This OPD valve feature adds additional safety in case the handwheel is turned, opening the valve. For this reason, OPD equipped cylinders will not allow gas out of the cylinder when opened. The same is true for industrial forklift cylinders. Click the photo of the OPD valve (left) to see a larger and more detailed picture of the of the internal flow valve. See additional OPD Valve Information
Hose End Connection
The hose end connection on either a fill hose or appliance supply line is designed to work only with OPD equipped cylinders. For the OPD valve to operate with the handwheel open, the hose end connection must be securely attached. The picture to the left shows a hose end connection. Notice the elevated brass fitting is surrounded by acme threads. When attached to a cylinder valve and tightened, the brass fitting will push the internal valve open and allow gas to flow out of the cylinder to the appliance, if the handwheel is in the open position. This fitting must be in place for gas to flow out of the cylinder. Otherwise, turning the handwheel will not produce the intended result.
I need a propane tank but don't know if I should rent or buy one.Prospective propane customers often have the option of either buying or leasing a propane tank for their needs. There are pros and cons for both the rental and purchase of propane tanks that should be taken into consideration when deciding between buying a tank or leasing one. Additionally, propane companies have differing policies that factor into the decision of whether to rent or buy. There are obviously too many factors involved with tank rental versus purchase while individual circumstances vary widely but the overall process is outlined here and will hopefully help with your decision.
Buying a Propane Tank – New Tank Purchase
Purchasing a propane tank is more common than renting one in some parts of the country. A propane tank purchase price will generally include the piping from the tank to the house as well as all regulators, fittings, gas and other installation related parts. These costs associated with a tank purchase are common throughout the propane industry and are explained to customers prior to the installation. Most companies will not sell and install a tank without filling it with propane. Nor will a dealer sell a tank to an unlicensed individual for installation by themselves. If choosing to buy, the gas company selling the tank will likely have financing available for qualified buyers or the tank can be paid for at the time of installation. One of the primary advantages of buying and owning the tank is that the customer can buy propane from whatever gas company they choose. Other issues to consider with buying a propane tank:
- Tank financing is often available with approved credit with one year terms.
- Warranty on tank, parts and labor should be discussed with the propane company prior to purchase.
- Propane prices sometimes differ for customers that own their own tank.
- Selling your home doesn’t burden the next owner with acquiring propane service as the tank is part of the sale.
Propane Tank Rental – Leasing a Tank
Leasing a propane tank is an option that many potential customers have, provided they meet certain requirements. Many propane companies require a minimum annual propane usage, a certain number of appliances be on propane or total BTU load is at or above a minimum threshold. For example, a company may require three or more propane appliances in order to lease a tank but standards such as these vary widely by company and by region. Also, propane tanks are generally leased to credit worthy applicants so expect the propane company to perform a credit check prior to approval. Know that all piping, fittings, parts and connections are purchased by the customer and cannot be rented. Several things to think about if renting a tank is an option:
- Company owned tanks are maintained by the propane company so any repairs to the tank will generally be taken care of by the propane company.
- All propane must be purchased from the company that owns the tank. Buying gas from another company will likely result in the termination of the tank lease.
- Most propane companies require that rental tanks are filled by scheduled delivery (automatic filling) which is much safer and protective of the customer.
- Propane companies pay very close attention to their lease tanks for their customers’ protection as well as their own.
- Lease tank contracts often give the propane company the legal right to enter property to inspect the tank.
- Moving to a new home will require you to notify your propane company of your relocation.
All in all, the differences between buying a propane tank outright and leasing one boil down to the maintenance of the tank and who is responsible for the repair cost. Also see Choosing a Propane Company
How (or where) do I dispose of a propane tank or cylinder?Propane cylinders and tanks of all sizes sometimes have to be discarded. Although there are other uses for condemned propane tanks and bottles, people frequently just want to get rid of them. Propane tanks can be disposed of but it’s important for them to be disposed of in a proper manner.
Propane tanks, gas bottles and other hazardous materials will not be picked up by the local garbage collectors. In fact, improper propane tank disposal might be illegal in some areas. Propane tank disposal is a safety issue that is easily handled by a propane company.
Propane Cylinder Disposal
Propane cylinders and bottles of all sizes will at some point reach the end of their useful life and because cylinders are portable and moved exponentially more than bulk LP Gas tanks, their useful life is often much shorter. When a cylinder is no longer fit for service, it will need to be properly disposed of. More than likely, the propane company or bottle filling attendant will inform the customer that the tank is no longer fit for service. Although the customer can take the bottle with them, it’s better to just leave it with the company that condemned the tank. Propane companies know what needs to be done with the tank prior to disposal. This is the safest and best option for the customer. For more information or guidance about cylinder disposal, consumers can contact a propane company, fire department or a company specializing in propane tank and hazardous materials container disposal.
Safety is an issue regarding propane tank and bottle disposal because the tanks sometimes contain a small amount of gas and propane dealers are able to safely recover the product in the tank. After all propane is safely transferred to another tank and the cylinder is depressurized, all of the valves and fittings are removed and the tank is scrapped. Tank connections, valves and gauges from unusable cylinders that are discarded are often of no further use, have little or no value and are scrapped as well. Unlicensed individuals attempting to remove gas from a cylinder or any propane tank prior to disposal can result in fire, injury or death.
ASME Propane Tank Removal and Disposal
Large stationary propane tanks are usually disposed of by simply finding a different use for them. Consumers wanting to get rid of a large LP Gas tank should contact a licensed propane company for removal. The gas service technicians have the tools and materials to properly remove any remaining gas in the tank and the means to haul it away. Individuals wanting to sell a condemned tank to a scrap yard will likely be turned away due to the fact that containers used to store hazardous materials or pressurized gases, such as propane must comply with a set of safety standards prior to being accepted for recycling. Many scrap yards won’t accept propane tanks of any size due to the hazards of residual gas in the container which is why a propane company should be contacted for proper removal and disposal. As mentioned above, individuals attempting to remove of any remaining propane in a tank prior to its disposal can result in fire, serious damage or harm.
Although underground propane tanks can be removed and disposed of, the amount of work involved with unearthing an underground tank is often not the best option. The preferred method of underground tank disposal involves recovering all of the gas and pressure from the tank and then filling the tank with water or sand. The unusable underground tank poses no threat to the soil or environment when left with water or sand. Disposing of an abandoned underground propane in this manner is actually the NFPA approved procedure.
Why is my propane regulator covered in frost? Is it freezing up?Freezing and frosting of propane regulators is quite common and usually nothing to be concerned about provided everything is in working order and operating as it should. Frost can form on regulators connected to both propane cylinders and bulk (stationary) LP Gas tanks. If in doubt about the safety of your regulator, turn off the tank service valve and contact your propane company. Further reading will help propane users understand the reasoning and causes of a “freezing” regulator.
Freezing Regulators – Frost on LP Gas Regulator
During normal operation propane regulators can become covered in frost, which may alarm some users. While this “freezing” of the regulator may be a symptom of an actual problem, it usually is a sign that outside humidity is at a level capable of producing condensation. The only difference is, the condensation forming on a regulator is frozen. As described, propane regulators act as a barrier between high tank pressures and delivery pressure as required by downstream appliances and/or equipment.
Once a propane appliance is actively in use, the liquid propane in a tank or cylinder begins to boil. The propane vapor, as boiled off the top of the liquid begins its journey downstream to the point at which it is used. Before making its way to the LP Gas system piping, it passes through the regulator where its pressure is reduced to a usable level. Keep in mind that the regulator will only deliver a constant pressure on the outlet side while inlet pressures can significantly vary. As the propane passes through the regulator, it expands (resulting in sub zero temperatures) and causes the regulator to gradually reach the extremely cold temperature of the propane vapor passing through it. Depending on the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air, the regulator will produce condensation, much like that of a frozen mug or glass taken out of a freezer.
This is why, under normal operation in hot and humid climates, the external surface of a regulator will freeze and appear to be frozen or frosted. The rate at which propane is being withdrawn from the tank or cylinder will also cause the container to display a visible frost line, which indicates the liquid level of the propane within the tank.
Regulator Freezing – Problems
Although regulators can freeze under normal and “proper” operating conditions, there are times when regulators are freezing because of actual problems. One of the problematic issues causing a regulator to freeze is due to liquid propane entering and passing through the regulator. Liquid propane can produce an effect of extreme freezing when introduced abruptly into a regulator. There are two ways that liquid can be delivered through the tank (or cylinder) service valve: 1) If the container is overfilled or, 2) If the tank, usually a bottle, is not upright with the service valve communicating with the vapor space of the container. Both of these scenarios are possible and while avoidable, are not very common.
These freezing regulator problems both involve one thing; that one factor is liquid propane. For this reason, cylinders and tanks should always be located and positioned as designed for use so that not only liquid propane is kept out of the regulator but also, is kept out of the downstream appliances designed to work with propane vapor. Additionally, regulators that are frozen due to tank or cylinder overfilling pose the same problem as an improperly positioned container. Propane cylinders equipped with OPD valves are designed to prevent this problem but cylinders and tanks that are not equipped with OPD valves can be filled completely with liquid propane and result in liquid flowing through the service valve, into the regulator and downstream to appliances designed to work with vapor. Again, this is not common and is not probable, but it is possible. If you feel that your tank has been overfilled by looking at the gauge, opening the bleeder valve and seeing the frost on the regulator, contact your propane company after closing the container service valve.
Why are BTU's so important in the propane industry? What are BTU's?BTU, or British Thermal Unit is what the entire propane world revolves around. Surprisingly, the LP Gas industry is not solely dependent upon gallons or pounds of propane to make informed decisions. Industrial, commercial and residential customers alike are at the mercy of BTU’s for their propane energy needs. A BTU is a unit of measurement, much like a gallon or pound.
BTU Explanation and BTU Ratings
It would be much easier for manufacturers of propane appliances and equipment to express gas usage in terms of gallons instead of BTU’s because propane users buy their gas “by the gallon”. After all, the appliances are using those same gallons purchased from the propane company, much like gallons of gas pumped into a car’s gas tank. But when you buy a car, you don’t ask about the gallons of gas the car will use, you would rather ask how many miles per gallon the car gets. If your vehicle needs involve hauling heavy loads, you would probably be interested in engine and/or towing power. Although a crude comparison, BTU’s are in essence a measurement of consumption or deliverable power applicable to individual LP Gas appliances. While vehicles and engines are made to run on diesel, gasoline, propane or other fuels, the engine is rated by horsepower as a factor for explaining how much power the engine is capable of generating. In the gas appliance world, we equate BTU’s to be somewhat of an “appliance horsepower” measurement.
Appliance BTU’s are expressed through BTU input ratings and are based on a “per hour” basis. Whereas a furnace may be rated for 100,000 BTU, a furnace rated at 200,000 is capable of delivering twice the “horsepower” of the 100,000 BTU furnace. It’s also capable of delivering 5 times the horsepower of a 40,000 BTU space heater. In the propane world, a 200,000 BTU furnace is not needed to heat a room when a 40,000 BTU heater will do the job. As you see, BTU ratings are used to appropriately match appliances for the required need and appropriate purpose.
BTU’s are used by propane companies to determine total LP Gas appliance load. The total load is expressed in BTU’s and represents the total propane demand on a system when all gas appliances are operating at full capacity. The BTU load help the propane company select an appropriate tank size for the installation as well as select pipe size and regulators so that the downstream appliances will work efficiently. For instance, a large home with several furnaces and water heaters will require many more BTU’s than a one room cabin with a propane stove. The larger home has much more propane appliance “horsepower” than the small cabin. This is the sole reason that BTU’s are the factor of measurement in the propane industry as opposed to using gallons for measurement.
How do I prepare for an emergency such as severe weather or natural disaster?An emergency in the propane industry is all relative to what is actually occurring or forecast to occur. The same holds true for propane consumers and is dependent upon any number of circumstances. Emergencies listed and discussed here are more along the lines of natural disasters and severe weather situations. It is crucial to understand that every propane emergency is different and the smartest way to handle an emergency is through good judgment and obeying instructions set out by emergency response authorities and local officials.
Propane and fire do not mix well where wildfires are concerned. Wildfires can rapidly spread across open country when winds are high. These fires are not an emergency that can be contained by homeowners. There are however precautions that can be taken to mitigate damage and/or avoid disastrous aftermath altogether. Propane users need to be prepared during times when outdoor conditions are conducive to wildfires and wild land fire emergencies.
Flooding associated with rains or rising rivers can cause propane tanks to float or even be washed away. This type of propane emergency is manageable in many cases and can be mitigated through advance preparation. Outdoor propane systems such as underground piping and fittings will generally be able to withstand moisture associated with flooding but propane tanks (especially above ground tanks) will need some extra attention in advance of a flood.
Severe weather can disrupt power to homes and businesses but propane appliances can continue to operate despite these power outages. Severe weather such as a hurricanes and tornadoes can render LP Gas systems useless if necessary preparations haven’t been taken. Additionally, propane tanks and structures can be damaged further if precautions aren’t taken in certain cases, such as emergency evacuations.