What Is Propane and is it a Clean Fuel?


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Many of the articles here at BooneyLiving.com are about alternative energy but you’ll also find plenty of articles that are just about living in the country. Today is one of those articles and today will be sharing some interesting information about propane with you.

What Is Propane?

Propane is the common name for a type of fuel that is more accurately described as liquid petroleum or LP. It is actually a fossil fuel so it is not renewable. Even though it might not be a renewable energy source, keep in mind that living a green lifestyle isn’t always black and white. Sometimes we have to make compromises and when we’re making these compromises if we can choose fuels that are clean burning, we are still doing our part to help make the planet a healthier place to live.

According to the Propane Education & Research Council, this is a very clean burning fuel that is listed as an alternate clean fuel in the 1990 Clean Air Act. They also state that it’s listed as the source of clean burning fuel in the National Energy Policy Act of 1992.

Is LP a Liquid or a Gas?

Some of you might be confused about whether propane is a liquid or a gas. The answer is a little bit tricky because it can be both a gas and liquid. When slightly pressurized it turns into a liquid but as it is allowed to escape from its pressurized container, it vaporizes into a clean burning gas.

The Price of Propane per Gallon

As with any petroleum based fuels, the propane price per gallon varies from day to day depending upon several factors. Some of those factors are the price of crude oil but others are the time of year and the demand for the product.

Cost of Propane Per Gallon

  • According to the US Energy Information Administration, for February 27th, 2012 the retail price of propane was $2.87 per gallon.
  • In Southern Oregon, as of 12/11/2011 you can buy a pre-filled 20lb propane tank for $43.92 and you can exchange your old tank for a full tank for $17.92.
  • If you want to buy the little tiny one pound tanks, they will set you back about $2.86 which makes this the most expensive way to purchase propane.

Where to Buy Propane

If you’re wondering where to fill propane tanks, the good news is that you have several options to choose from. When we first started using propane at our off the grid cabin in the mountains, we you were buying it exclusively from a distributor called Amerigas. They are the largest distributor of propane in our area and they actually come out and fill the big propane tanks that you commonly see parked in the yards of rural homes. You can expect to pay a little bit more per gallon for propane if you have it delivered to your home because you are not only paying for the price of the fuel, you’re also paying for the price of delivery.

You can also buy a propane at gas stations, RV campgrounds, truck stops, and even some of the larger retail stores. A few years ago, many retailers started carrying pre-filled propane tanks. This is a pretty neat program because all you need to do is exchange your empty for a full tank. This makes purchasing propane a little bit more convenient for some people.

One disadvantage to the exchange program is that if your tank isn’t completely empty, you still pay the same price to exchange it for a full tank. Let’s imagine that you are headed out on a camping trip and you want to make sure that you have full propane tanks on your RV. If you simply take them in an exchange them, you might be trading partially full tanks for full tanks. If you have you have your partially full tanks refilled at a service station, you will only pay for the amount of propane that it takes to top your tanks off.

Where to Get Propane Tanks Filled

Many of you will already have propane tanks and you might be wondering where to get your propane tanks filled. Like I mentioned before, many gas stations will fill propane tanks for their customers. The tell-tale sign that a gas station will fill a propane tank is usually that they have a very large propane tank at the station. You can usually see these tanks from the road while you are driving by.

Here’s a little bit of advice for saving some money the next time you have your propane tanks filled up. It may pay a to to do a little research about all of the places that fill propane tanks in your area. When we first started using a lot of propane, we didn’t realize that the price could vary quite a bit depending on where you buy it. We usually just filled or propane tanks up at the same gas station we fill our cars up at.

Some places will offer propane at a discounted rate to attract customers into their stores. For example, our local KOA campground usually has a better price on propane than our local gas stations do. For us, an even better place to buy propane is at our local Uhaul rental truck yard. They have a special program where the price that you pay per propane goes down the more you buy. We’ve learned that we can save quite a bit by waiting until we need to fill several tanks before we buy our propane thanks to their tiered pricing schedule.

Here’s another great tip, if you click here, you can sign up for Uhaul’s “Loyal Customer Discount” program. All you have to do is enter your email address and your zip code and they’ll send you a coupon that will entitle you to a $1.00 discount every time you buy propane from them this year!

Some Helpful Tips about Using Propane

Over the years we’ve learned quite a bit about using propane. For example, the other day, one of our new neighbors stopped by and asked the question: How much propane will I use per year? This is a very tricky question to answer because it really depends on how many uses you have for it. At our little off the grid cabin, we use propane to heat our water, cook our food, and heat the cabin. Because we use it for multiple purposes, we go through about 300 gallons in a year.

Our goal is to reduce this number by building a new DIY solar hot water heater and a solar space heater. We also plan to make use of solar ovens more often to reduce the amount of LP that we use.

Is Propane Safe To Use?

Propane is a relatively safe type of fuel to use because you can smell it when it’s leaking. In its natural form, it’s odorless and colorless so you would have no idea if you had a leak but for safety purposes, an identifying odor is added to commercially available propane gas that smells a lot like rotten eggs.

Only store and use propane tanks outdoors. Also, since propane is a fuel that is burned, it would probably be a good idea to have a carbon monoxide detector installed in any room that has appliances that use it. You can also buy propane detectors and will sound an alarm if it detects a leak. It would probably be a good idea to have these devices installed in your home as well if you use propane.

Tip for Using LP When it’s Really Cold Outside

When we first arrived on the mountain eight years ago when we decided to try our hand at living off the grid, we relied heavily on our 5th wheel because the cabin wasn’t finished and ready to be lived in yet. One day during the winter we went to cook our breakfast but we couldn’t get any of the burners on the stove to light.

This was strange because we had just filled the tanks the day before. I remember saying to my husband, “can propane freeze?” He told me that he believed that it could freeze but its freezing point was around -310 °F. Initially he thought that we must be having propane tank regulator problems so we replaced the regulator but this didn’t fix the problem.

Feeling frustrated, we asked some of our neighbors who had been living on the mountain for many years and they informed us that the small propane tanks that are commonly used on RV’s often have problems when they get really cold. The reason for this is that the colder it is outside, the more difficult it is for the liquid propane inside the tank to vaporize into a gas. The solution for us was to simply warm the tanks up a bit and they started to work perfectly. Incidentally, we never experienced this problem with our large 300 gallon propane tank but we experienced it quite a bit with our small tanks.

Is Propane Sold in Gallons or Pounds?

This can be a little bit of the confusing issue for some because the huge home propane tanks are rates in gallons while smaller RV type cylinders are rated in pounds. Every place that I have purchased propane from charges by the gallon. This often confuses people because a standard gas grill sized propane cylinder is called a “20 pound tank”.

Many people mistakenly believe that these tanks will actually hold 20 gallons of propane. When a propane tanks like this is filled by weight, the tank is weighed prior to it being filled up. Then a chart is referenced by the person who is filling the tank so they will know exactly how much is already in the tank. After they fill the tank, this information will be used to determine exactly how many “gallons” of propane you will be charged for when you pay the bill.

Another interesting tidbit of trivia is that propane needs space inside the tank to expand in order for it to vaporize into a gas that can be burned. This means that when you get your tank filled up, the person helping you will only fill it to about 80 percent of its rated capacity.

In some cases, propane cylinders won’t be filled by weighing them first. In these cases, the person who is doing the filling will open a small bleeder valve at the top of the tank and they will pump propane into the tank until they see gas starting to escape from the bleeder valve. This acts as a visual indication that the tank should not be filled past this point.

The main thing to remember is that you will be charged by the gallon but a 20 pound tank doesn’t hold 20 gallons of propane. Now let’s do a little math. One gallon of propane weighs 4.2 pounds at 60° F. That means if you were to fill a 20 pound tank all the way full, it would hold 4.76 gallons. Since they will only fill the tank to around 80% of it’s capacity, that means that they will be putting approximately around 3.8 gallons into your tank (20/4.2 = 4.76 multiplied by 80% = 3.8).

I hope you found my article to be informative. If you did, you can thank me by telling your friends and family about my site. One easy way to do that is to click on the “Facebook Like” or “Tweet” buttons that are found on nearly all pages of my website.

Before you take off, there are many articles here at BooneyLiving.com that you might find interesting. For example, if you would like to learn about generators, especially quiet running generators, please take a minute and read this article: What is The Quietest Generator For Camping.

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2 Responses to “What Is Propane and is it a Clean Fuel?”

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  1. Sue says:

    Can multiply families share one propane gas tank? Can there be three individual meters to read how much each family uses for fair billing or for fair dividing of the bill instead of just dividing the bill by three families?
    Thank you

    • Patty Hahne says:

      Hi Sue, I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. If you’re using a large take that you rent from your local propane company, they might have a problem with you running propane lines to your neighbors. I’d check with them to see what they say.

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