Propane tanks

Residential propane is a liquefied petroleum gas used for space heating, clothes drying, refrigeration, outdoor lighting. It is stored in a large propane tank on your property. This is why it is so convenient: if you are not connected to the natural gas pipelines network, having a propane tank enables you to fuel various home appliances with a source of energy you control. There are two kinds of propane tanks: aboveground and underground.

How much do a propane tank cost?

To buy and install an aboveground propane tank you will need to spend between $450 and $2,500. An underground propane tank will cost you anything from $1,800 to $3,500 to buy and install. If you buy a propane tank you will also need a permit ($25-50) and depending on where it is installed you might need extra copper piping and fittings ($1-2 per foot). Alternatively, you can buy a used propane tank ($0,75-1.25 per gallon capacity) but you will need to get it tested and certified. Renting a propane tank costs between $25 and $250 per year (with companies requiring between three and five years’ commitment). The cost of buying a propane tank depends on tank size (the larger the propane tank, the more expensive it will be); the cost of renting a propane tank depends on propane company policies and offers.

Choosing the right tank size

Propane tanks exist in sizes that range between 100 and 1,500 gallons. The size of your tank depends on your propane-fueled appliances. If most of your home appliances work with propane it is likely that you will have a larger propane tank, whereas if you only use propane for low-consumption appliances it is recommended that you have a smaller propane tank. Similarly, the size of your propane tank will vary according to how large your home is: a bigger home will require more propane. Generally, a four bedroom home where propane is the primary energy source will require a 500-gallon propane tank.

Propane tanks: buying or renting?

If you are moving into a home where there is already a propane tank, you should find out whether the previous homeowner owned the tank or rented it from a propane dealer. If the person from whom you purchased the house owned the propane tank you are free to select a propane company to fill and maintain your tank. If the tank was rented you are not allowed to fill it with propane from another supplier: it is therefore in your interest to call the company that owns the tank to find out what they can offer you in terms of pricing and maintenance options and compare it with quotes from other companies (you can always have the tank removed and another installed).

You may choose to buy and install a propane tank if your home does not already have one. In this case, you should work out how much propane you are likely to use by looking at appliance BTU ratings (energy output per hour), converting BTU requirements into gallons (91,500 BTUs per gallon). This may seem complicated at first but buying your own propane tank enables you to shop around for the best propane price when you need your tank filled. If you do not want the hassle, get quotes from different companies for tank purchase and installation – they will be able to advise you on the most appropriate tank size for your consumption.

On the other hand, renting a tank from a propane company does not allow you to look at propane prices from different suppliers when you need a tank refill but it does make managing your propane installation easier since the propane company installs your tank, fills it and maintains your propane appliances system. If this is what you prefer, it is essential to look around for the propane company that will provide you with good propane prices and safe and reliable service. The best way to find out which companies are best suited to your needs is to get quotes from several suppliers and examine what they each offer.

Safety considerations

Propane is a highly regulated industry and the likelihood of having a propane emergency in your home is very small. However, propane remains a flammable gas so precautions are necessary when using propane to power home appliances.

The first safety recommendation for propane tanks is to use certified service technicians and not install or maintain the tank yourself. Propane technicians are highly qualified people who are aware of the latest safety regulations and recommendations and will ensure that your propane tank is installed and your propane appliances are fitted properly. However, DIY propane tank installation and appliance fitting increases the risk of leaks and accidents.

Federal propane safety regulations (NFPA) require propane tanks to be a certain distance from your house and neighboring structures (playgrounds, parking lots, railroad tracks, etc.). When installing a propane tank, certified technicians will ensure these distance rules are respected. Distance rules depend on propane tank size but generally propane tanks should be at least 10 foot from openings, windows and appliances, as shown in the diagram below.

Aboveground tank distance rules

Source: NFPA

Underground tank distance rules

Source: NFPA

Propane tank parts

For better understanding of how propane tanks function, here is a list of propane tank parts and their uses:

  • The fill valve is used by propane companies to connect the delivery truck hose to the tank.
  • The relief valve is used for over-pressure venting.
  • The service valve is where propane is converted to vapor for appliance use.
  • The fixed liquid level gauge lets you know when the tank is filled at or above 80%.
  • The float/dial gauge indicates how much propane there is in the tank.
  • The vapor return valve removes excess pressure during propane deliveries.
  • The liquid withdrawal valve is used to remove liquid propane from the tank.