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.
VERY IMPORTANT - When the gas delivery is made, have the driver take you to the tank and let you experience 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The odorant, Ethyl Mercaptan is injected into propane to make sure it can be detected in case of a leak.NFPA 58,the federal code regulating the propane industry, requires that each delivery of propane be tested for proper level of odorant. Mark Heard Fuel Company checks the odorant level three times before you take delivery. Once when we receive the propane at our distribution plants in Cumming and Dawsonville, again when we load the propane into our delivery trucks, and finally, when your driver delivers the propane to your home or business.
It is a good idea for you to be familiar with the propane odorant in case there is ever a leak in your system. If you have never smelled propane or would like a reminder, contact Mark Hears Fuel Company to schedule a propane safety sniff test. Your driver will be happy to stop by to give a demonstration at your propane tank.
When should I reorder?
We recommend signing up for our “Keep Full” service. Our driver will place you on a regular route and check your supply of propane every 30 to 45 days (less often in summer). That way, you never need worry about running low on propane.
If you prefer to monitor your supply of propane yourself, please call us when the percentage of propane in your tank reaches 20%. That will give us enough time to schedule your delivery when your driver is in the area and save you an unwanted special delivery charge.
Like all liquids, propane needs room for expansion when temperatures outside increase. We will fill your propane tank to 80-90% of its total water capacity (the amount it takes to completely fill the container). This allows room for the propane liquid to expand without causing the pressure relief valve to activate
No. In Georgia, only the owner of the tank may fill the container. If you wish to do business with a company other than the one who owns the tank, you will need to have the new company set a tank and call your old company to remove theirs.
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.
Click here for more information on checking for gas leaks.
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 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.
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.
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.
The float gauge is designed to indicate the level of propane in your tank. The float gauge is located on the top of the tank under the protective dome. The face gauge, often called the dial gauge is the part of the gauge assembly that is used to indicate the approximate level of liquid propane inside the tank.
Float Gauge Purpose and Use
The float gauge is for consumer use only. As indicated in the picture to the left, the float gauge is not to be used for filling as it only gives an approximate tank percentage and cannot be considered 100% reliable. The fixed liquid level gauge is used for filling. Tanks with float gauges measure the volume of the tank as a percentage of the total capacity of the container. If the gauge reads 50% on a 250 gallon propane tank, the tank has approximately, 125 gallons of propane. Many people think this is a pressure gauge or a gallons gauge (although some older tanks do have gallons gauges) but it is a gauge that indicates the volume in the tank as a percentage of the tank's total capacity.
Propane Float Gauge Operation
The float gauge in a propane tank consists of moving parts located both inside the tank and outside. At the end of the stem is the float (pictured below) that rises and falls with the level of the propane in the tank. The top of the stem is the pinion gear (pictured left) that turns the gear in the shaft and causes the dial on the external face gauge to turn. As stated above, the float gauge is not considered a fully reliable instrument for measuring tank volume. Float gauges have a number of moving parts that are subject to wear and tear and can also become ineffective in any part of the assembly. If the gauge needs to be replaced, the propane tank must be empty. If the face gauge has a stuck dial, it can be quickly replaced as dial/face gauges use magnets and can be interchanged without the tank needing to be empty.
Propane Percentage Gauge Converted to Gallons
To convert percentage to gallons, multiply the number displayed on the face gauge (50 means 50% or .50) by the water capacity of the tank. Water capacity can be found on the tank manufacturers nameplate. The chart below indicates percentages converted to gallons on common size propane tanks (at 60°F).