Ready or Not #20: Propane

Out of all of the storeable and usable fuels, I think that I like propane the best. I like the ambiance of a nice wood fire, coal will keep my house warm through the night, gasoline kind of scares me, but for me, propane is still the most efficient and easy fuel to store. My dream is to someday have a propane generator that is wired into my house so that if the power goes off, it will automatically kick on and save everything in my fridge and freezer – whether I’m home or not. Maybe someday – if I keep saving my pennies.

Because I have been looking into purchasing a propane generator, I was curious about how to safely store the propane. I called Rich at Freeway Propane in Springville to get the best and most accurate information. He said that each city has its own set of rules and regulations for propane use and storage, so make sure to ask your city officials before purchasing large storage tanks.

The basic Utah state regulations require that if you have a tank between 101 gallons to 999 gallons, the tank must be a minimum of 10 feet away from any building, structure or property line. If your tank is 1,000 gallons or more, the tank must be no less than 25 feet away from any building, structure or property line. The only exception to that rule is if you bury the tank. If you want the tank underground, you must make sure that you purchase a tank that has been specifically manufactured to be buried and have it installed by professionals.

A 6,000 to 7,000 watt generator, depending on the horsepower, will burn approximately a half-gallon of propane an hour. This means that you would be able to run the freezer, refrigerator, a few lights and a couple of other items for seven to eight days, on less than 100 gallons (a 120 gallon tank will hold 100 gallons of propane) – and that is if you ran it non-stop, full throttle, day and night. Obviously, you would only need to run it for maybe 10 to 15 hours out of the day to keep your food cold and you warm, and you could possibly extend that 100 gallons to last up to two weeks. I’m impressed, and there is no messy clean up.

Most natural gas stoves, and other appliances, are manufactured to be able to make a simple orifice change to make it compatible to burn propane. Another thing to think about: if you want to store fuel safely for your car, you can adapt one of your vehicles to run on propane. Propane is safer to store than gasoline, it is cheaper and unlike gas, propane never goes bad and it is one item that doesn’t have to be rotated. Doesn’t need to be rotated? I didn’t think that I would ever say that, but in this case it is true.

The most effective way to store propane, if you don’t want to buy a large storage tank, is to buy portable propane tanks as you can afford them and keep them full. If you have old tanks lying around, you need to make sure that the old valves have been changed with the new safety valves on any tank that is 10 gallons or less. If you have tanks that are 11 gallons or larger, they will need to be checked and certified. Freeway Propane in Utah County, Utah, can change your old valves for the new safety valves and they can also certify your larger tanks – and they can fill them for you too.

In the past, I have heard that propane will freeze and not be usable in the winter if it gets too cold. I asked Rich about this and he said that, as in any case, you need the right tool for the right job. He said that when you use propane you are actually combusting the vapor, not the liquid. If you are using an appliance that is too large for a small tank, the vapor can freeze because of the pressure and friction. This can even happen in the summer. A really good example of this is when you are using a portable weed burner. The weed burner uses a lot of vapor really fast and if the tank is too small and hasn’t got enough “area” to do its thing, then it can freeze up.

I have heard of some pretty scary techniques to “thaw” out a propane tank, none of which is safe or smart. Don’t even be tempted. Just make sure that when you are using an appliance that you check to make sure you are using the right sized propane unit to feed the appliance you are using and you won’t have any problems – no matter the outside temperature.

Make sure that whatever you do, and however you choose to keep your family safe and warm, that you are really keeping them safe while keeping them warm. With any kind of alternative heating, whether you choose wood, coal, gasoline or propane, make sure that you have plenty of fresh oxygen and always keep CO2 detectors around to make sure that you stay healthy, happy and ALIVE.

There are a lot of other additional energy sources you can check out: solar, wind turbines or windmills, water, bicycles hooked up to a generator and so forth. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that it is safe, that you are not using more energy to produce the energy than what you are getting in return, and that your choice is something that you can live with. You might even consider having several different resources. Think it through and choose the best alternatives for you and your family.

And please store your water.

The Utah State Law pertaining to propane storage:

3803.2.1 Portable containers.
Portable LP-gas containers, as defined in NFPA 58, shall not be used in buildings except as specified in NFPA 58 and Sections 3803.2.1.1 through 3803.2.1.7.
3803.2.1.1 Use in basement, pit or similar location.
LP-gas containers shall not be used in a basement, pit or similar location where heavier-than-air gas might collect. LP-gas containers shall not be used in an above-grade underfloor space or basement unless such location is provided

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