Common questions about propane delivery and bulk tank refueling
Propane delivery seems simple but propane customers sometimes have questions surrounding the delivery process. These questions are asked routinely of propane dealers and have common explanations involving laws, LP Gas requirements and physics.
Q: How (or Why) did my tank percentage fall so quickly?
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. (back to top)
Q: Why is propane spewing out of my tank during delivery?
During propane delivery, the fixed liquid level gauge, also called a bleeder valve is opened as required by law. The driver is not inadvertently letting gas out of the tank. This valve accurately indicates the liquid level in the propane tank and lets the delivery driver know when to stop the filling process. The picture at the top of this page shows the bleeder valve actively being used during a delivery of propane. See Fixed Liquid Level Gauge for a better understanding of its use during the propane delivery process. (back to top)
Q. There’s no way I could have used that much propane. I must have a gas leak.
Above Average Propane Usage – Not Necessarily a Leak
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. (back to top)
Q. How many gallons of gas do I lose in a leak?
A common question propane dealers have when customers have a leak is “how much gas did I lose?”. The answer is usually not that much. In reality, a small leak on a tank will result in the loss of maybe a gallon of propane over a considerable period of time. However, all questions about leaks should be directed to your propane company. This page is only concerned with the amount of propane that may be lost as a result of a leak. Also see Checking For Propane Gas Leaks
Propane Leaks and Gallons Lost
Consumers often feel that a leak on their propane tank results in the loss of many gallons of propane gas. The following example will hopefully illustrate that the actual amount of gas lost is nowhere near what they envisioned. We’ve all seen a helium tank fill balloons and we’re all familiar with the loud hissing noise and force at which the helium is coming out of the tank and into the balloon. If you hear a propane leak that’s remotely similar to that of a helium tank filling a balloon, you need to be calling the fire department instead of reading this! We’ll now use that which we’re familiar with and attempt to equate it with propane.
Propane Leaks – Balloon Illustration
Let’s take a standard size balloon (like a party balloon), which holds a volume of roughly .5 cubic feet and for the sake of this example, you think your tank has leaked 10 gallons of propane. 10 gallons of propane equals 363.9 cubic feet of vapor which will fill about 728 standard size party balloons. Some customers believe the gas they have lost is over 50 gallons and if they have in fact lost 50 gallons of propane, that’s enough propane to fill 3,639 standard size party balloons. Just one gallon of propane which produces 36.39 cubic feet of vapor will fill almost 73 standard size balloons or 2 standard size (18 cu. ft) refrigerators.
- 1 Gallon of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 73 standard size party balloons
- 5 Gallons of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 364 standard size party balloons
- 10 Gallons of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 728 standard size party balloons
- 25 Gallons of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 1820 standard size party balloons
- 50 Gallons of propane lost in a leak fills roughly 3639 standard size party balloons
As you can see, the actual amount of propane lost in a leak is far less than most people realize due to the volume of propane vapor that is produced by one gallon of liquid propane. (back to top)
Q. Can I check for gas propane leaks? How?
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 gas 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. A leak such as the one to the left (with the red regulator) may result in the loss of one gallon of propane over a year’s time. The propane gauge leak at the bottom left may result in the loss of one gallon of propane over 3 years. These leaks are common on older tanks and installations so do not be alarmed if you find a leak.
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 (pictured left) 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. Again, small leaks like those pictured here are not cause for alarm so don’t worry about the amount of gas coming out of the tank or the amount of gas you’re losing. It’s not all that much and leaks of this size are easily fixed by tightening a fitting or connection. (back to top)
Q. Can I repair or modify my own propane system?
This is probably the single most important safety issue the propane industry battles on a daily basis. People constantly want to fix their own leaks or make changes to their gas system to save money or because the propane service technician isn’t available for several days or weeks. Modifications to any part of a propane system is not advisable and unsafe. All repairs and modifications to any part of a propane system should be handled by a propane company or a licensed propane gas professional. In short, performing repairs and making modifications or additions to your propane system is not advisable. You will be safer in addition to it being cheaper in the long run.
Propane System Modification
The propane industry views modifications to a propane system as “additional changes” to an existing gas system. Quite often, modifications to a propane system performed by the homeowner result in an unsafe and illegal situation. In addition to not being safe, there are many things to take into consideration before any amendment is made to a gas system. For instance, you have a room in your house that you need to put a new space heater but there is no gas valve or connection so you figure you’ll do it yourself. It’s not just as simple as getting some pipe or tubing and running the line and attaching a valve in the room for the heater. Some questions come to mind that you probably don’t know need to be answered:
- How will this new gas outlet affect other appliances when in use?
- Will the current regulator be sufficient for the total BTU load?
- Are there any permitting requirements or local codes to be complied with?
- Does the length of the pipe or tubing require a second stage regulator?
- Is the regulator designed and/or legal for fixed propane piping systems?
- What size tubing or pipe will be needed so that the heater will function properly?
- Will the propane company still fill my tank if I don’t repair this properly? What is properly?
- Are flue gases an issue? What about appliance venting and is it required?
The propane company knows how to properly make additions to the existing system so that the entire system will function properly…Let the propane professionals handle it. Also, improper installation of a piping system can result in the incomplete combustion of propane. Carbon Monoxide is a deadly byproduct of incomplete combustion and can cause death within a matter of minutes if concentration levels are high enough.See Do It Yourself Propane Pictures
Propane Troubleshooting and Repairs
Only propane companies and professionals have access to tools and equipment that can properly diagnose and identify problems within a propane gas system. They also have the experience. Buying tools, parts and supplies from the local hardware store to make household repairs is something we’re all accustomed to because of the availability and convenience of large stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and others. Books about hazardous and dangerous household subjects such as electricity are readily available but finding a book on propane repairs or LP Gas troubleshooting is quite difficult. The reason being is that trying to repair your own propane system isn’t advisable, nor is it safe. Some tools and parts that appear to be similar to the parts on your propane system can be readily found but if they aren’t designed for LP Gas use, they can place your family in a potentially dangerous situation.
Moving Your Propane Tank
Along the same lines of modifying your own propane system is moving your own tank. The best way to move your propane tank is by calling a licensed propane company. Although it’s not necessarily illegal to move a propane tank, the risks involved with moving it far outweigh the advantages. Too much can go wrong while using equipment such as a forklift or front-end loader to move the tank yourself. For instance, if the tank still has liquid propane in it, the lifting lugs can be damaged rendering them useless. And if the “do-it-yourselfer” goes a step further by welding on the tank, the tank may become completely unusable. Welding on any propane container is illegal unless the welding is done by a tank manufacturer or an approved tank fabrication and repair firm. If the tank rolls after hitting the ground, valves and fittings can be broken off allowing propane to vent dangerously into the vicinity creating a very hazardous situation. Too many things can go wrong by trying to move your own propane tank so be on the safe side and contact your propane company. Chances are, it will also be cheaper in the long run by doing so. See how dangerous moving your own propane tank can be or the damage that can result from moving it yourself. (back to top)
Q. I hear a hissing noise coming from my tank. What is it?
Propane tanks will sometimes give an indication of a leak by sound. People will describe this noise as a “hissing” noise coming from the tank getting louder as they get closer. Although product release is occurring in some capacity, it might not necessarily be a propane gas “leak”. Some of the situations consumers may encounter with propane tank “hissing” are depicted below.
Open Bleeder Valve
The fixed liquid level gauge (bleeder valve) is required to be opened by the delivery person every time the tank is filled with propane. On occasion, the delivery driver may not completely close the bleeder valve following the filling process or the bleeder valve opening may have been blocked by a small piece of debris from inside the tank that cleared following the drivers departure. If this is the case, simply turning the bleeder valve clockwise will close the valve and stop the flow of gas. This is not unheard of and is easily remedied by simply closing the bleeder valve.
Relief Valve Actuating
On hot days when the sun is high overhead and a propane delivery has recently been made, the safety relief valve may open slightly allowing excess pressure to vent. If the relief valve is opened, the protective cap will be removed from the top of the valve from the pressure buildup, as pictured to the left. DO NOT LOOK INTO THE RELIEF VALVE OR TAP IT WITH ANYTHING. Doing so may cause the relief valve to open all the way. The relief valve is doing what it was designed to do and on hot, sunny days, propane tanks are subject to excess pressure due to expanding liquid within the tank. One way to remedy the situation is to cool the tank down by spraying water from a garden hose on the surface of the tank. This will generally cause the relief valve to close.
Q. I open my LP Gas cylinder valve and nothing comes out. What’s wrong?
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. (back to top)
Q. How (or where) do I dispose of a propane tank or cylinder?
Propane cylinders and tanks of all sizes sometimes have to be discarded. Although there are other uses for condemned propane tanks and bottles, people frequently just want to get rid of them. Propane tanks can be disposed of but it’s important for them to be disposed of in a proper manner.
Propane tanks, gas bottles and other hazardous materials will not be picked up by the local garbage collectors. In fact, improper propane tank disposal might be illegal in some areas. Propane tank disposal is a safety issue that is easily handled by a propane company.
Propane Cylinder Disposal
Propane cylinders and bottles of all sizes will at some point reach the end of their useful life and because cylinders are portable and moved exponentially more than bulk LP Gas tanks, their useful life is often much shorter. When a cylinder is no longer fit for service, it will need to be properly disposed of. More than likely, the propane company or bottle filling attendant will inform the customer that the tank is no longer fit for service. Although the customer can take the bottle with them, it’s better to just leave it with the company that condemned the tank. Propane companies know what needs to be done with the tank prior to disposal. This is the safest and best option for the customer. For more information or guidance about cylinder disposal, consumers can contact a propane company, fire department or a company specializing in propane tank and hazardous materials container disposal.
Safety is an issue regarding propane tank and bottle disposal because the tanks sometimes contain a small amount of gas and propane dealers are able to safely recover the product in the tank. After all propane is safely transferred to another tank and the cylinder is depressurized, all of the valves and fittings are removed and the tank is scrapped. Tank connections, valves and gauges from unusable cylinders that are discarded are often of no further use, have little or no value and are scrapped as well. Unlicensed individuals attempting to remove gas from a cylinder or any propane tank prior to disposal can result in fire, injury or death.
ASME Propane Tank Removal and Disposal
Large stationary propane tanks are usually disposed of by simply finding a different use for them. Consumers wanting to get rid of a large LP Gas tank should contact a licensed propane company for removal. The gas service technicians have the tools and materials to properly remove any remaining gas in the tank and the means to haul it away. Individuals wanting to sell a condemned tank to a scrap yard will likely be turned away due to the fact that containers used to store hazardous materials or pressurized gases, such as propane must comply with a set of safety standards prior to being accepted for recycling. Many scrap yards won’t accept propane tanks of any size due to the hazards of residual gas in the container which is why a propane company should be contacted for proper removal and disposal. As mentioned above, individuals attempting to remove of any remaining propane in a tank prior to its disposal can result in fire, serious damage or harm.
Although underground propane tanks can be removed and disposed of, the amount of work involved with unearthing an underground tank is often not the best option. The preferred method of underground tank disposal involves recovering all of the gas and pressure from the tank and then filling the tank with water or sand. The unusable underground tank poses no threat to the soil or environment when left with water or sand. Disposing of an abandoned underground propane in this manner is actually the NFPA approved procedure. (back to top)