Choosing a propane company can seem complicated given how many there are and the different options available to current and potential customers. Here are a few tips to help you get the best quotes.
Initial considerations: safety, reputation and proximity
Your safety is always your first consideration and while propane is a safe source of energy it remains a highly flammable gas. Before accepting a quote from a propane company you should check their safety standards, whether they have a propane appliances system inspection program (like a Gas Appliance System Check), what sort of safety training they offer their employees and whether they have a 24/7 emergency call line.
The Better Business Bureau lists Amerigas as the propane company with the best reputation among the three large propane dealers in the United States. But you could also get a quote from Suburban Propane or Ferrellgas, who also cover almost all states and have a good and relatively good complaints record, respectively. Check that the dealer whose quote you are interested in is a member of the state or national LP-gas association (they tend to hold companies to high standards).
You will also want a propane dealer that is not too far from your home (outlet and storage facilities) in case your propane system needs maintenance or you need a delivery.
Owning Vs. leasing a propane tank
If you own your propane tank you are free to look around for the best propane price for each delivery when getting quotes. However, this flexibility comes at a price since propane tank and installation costs vary significantly: an aboveground 500-gallon tank will cost between $800-2,500 to purchase and install; the same size underground tank will cost $1,800-3,000 to buy and install.
Leasing a propane tank saves you the cost of buying and installing a propane tank but prevents you from shopping around for the best price each time you need to fill your tank or need propane. In fact, it is illegal to fill a leased propane tank with propane from another supplier. This does not prevent you from renegotiating your propane supply agreement at the end of your contract. If you want to switch suppliers during your contract, you will need to pay your current propane company to have the tank removed as well as any tank installation charge from your new dealer (make sure your quote includes this).
What to ask propane retailers or look for in quotes
What is the propane price?
Propane price is affected by crude oil prices, the propane spot price, supply and demand, climate, etc. Because propane is not regulated, companies are free to set their own prices. Make sure the price you are given in the quote is the current residential market price and not a discounted rate established to attract new customers.
What is included in the propane price?
Some propane dealers include various services in the prices they quote, others prefer to let customers add services they need onto a basic propane price. This will enable you to make a better comparison between propane companies and the global price you would pay for their services.
What fees apply?
Some propane dealers publish a list of fees and charges on their website, and others do not. To avoid unpleasant surprises it is important to know exactly what you might be asked to pay. For example, for a selected propane company there may be safety fees, late payment charges, special trip charges, etc. Find out what could be the case for you when requesting a quote.
What options exist?
When asking for a quote, it is in your interest to specify what type of services you are looking for besides basic customer care and emergency response services. For example, would you prefer to pay a fixed price for propane over a certain period of time or would you rather stick to residential market prices? Similarly, would you prefer to order propane yourself or have the retailer supply your propane automatically? Would you rather pay in advance, when you order or over several months?
What discounts apply?
Because the propane market is competitive, companies might include discounts in quotes for new customers. This often translates into an initial amount of propane for free or at discounted rates. It is up to you to put companies up against one another to get the best deal for your home.