The kind of delivery service you request from a propane company depends on how much you want to control your energy supply, especially the price you pay for each gallon of propane and whether or not you make a single payment for each delivery. Propane prices are determined at the discretion of each propane company so it is in your interest to ensure you have the best deal available for your budget and your convenience.
Most large propane companies offer automatic delivery. With automatic delivery, the propane company uses usage estimates and weather indicators to calculate your consumption and plan propane deliveries. This is convenient because you never run out of propane.
Automatic delivery is also popular because it does not require that you be at home at the time of delivery. You simply need to ensure the company has clear road access to your propane tank and the propane company takes care of the rest of the process.
The only inconvenience with automatic delivery is that you have less control over the propane price. Indeed, unless you check before each delivery you have no way of knowing how close the price the propane company charges you is to the daily market price. Also, you need a credit approval.
Therefore, if you choose automatic delivery, it is recommended that you keep an eye out on your propane tank level and call before you think your propane company may schedule a delivery to check how much you are being charged and whether it is reasonable.
Will-call deliveries allow you to control when you have propane delivered. This implies regularly checking your fixed dial gauge, which indicates how much propane is in your tank at a specific time. If the level is at 30% or below (20% at worst) you need to call your propane company and request a delivery.
This type of delivery option is popular with those who prefer to be at home when propane is delivered (though nothing stops you being at home with automatic delivery). More importantly, it allows you to plan deliveries not only according to your propane level and usage but according to propane prices: indeed, when you reach a certain level (say, below 50%), you can check on propane prices, which may be lower (and your order may be less urgent) than if you waited until propane reached 20% tank capacity.
The issue most have with this type of service is that propane deliveries take several working days and if you forget to check your propane level at the wrong time you risk having to order an emergency delivery (which can be costly) or running out of propane and having to have a leak test (mandatory if you run out) before your system can resume functioning.
Delivery payment options
Whether you decide to choose automatic delivery or will-call, it is also advisable to check what payment options propane companies offer in your quest for a deal that suits your specific needs.
Because filling a propane tank is costly (a 500-gallon tank cost $1,204 to fill completely in November 2012), some propane companies offer budget plans that allow you to pay over several months, even a year. Other companies offer a monthly budget plan at a guaranteed price per gallon.
Some customers are able to buy a certain amount of propane in advance at a fixed price per gallon: this is convenient if you can buy propane in summer for winter usage (propane is more expensive in winter).
It is important to note that monthly budget plans tie you to a propane company for almost a year. Companies have an interest in retaining customers and if you are ready to stay with one company, you should spend some time selecting the company not only with the most appropriate delivery option for you, but also the payment plan that suits your budget.