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. I’ve never used propane before. What do I expect? Who do I call?
There’s a first time for everything and some people buy or rent a home that has a big propane tank in the backyard and they have no idea what to do. In truth, it’s almost exactly like natural gas or electric power with one major difference, propane power is delivered to you by a person, in a tank truck. There’s no need for concern. In fact, just view it as the gas company representative paying you a visit to check on everything and make sure your energy supply is adequate and your gas system is functioning properly. The first thing you should do is learn a little bit about propane. It’s just like electricity or natural gas – it can hurt you if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Propane – First Things First
When you venture out to the propane tank, check for a sticker or something that identifies the company servicing the tank. If there are no stickers on the tank, open the dome and see if there is anything identifying a propane gas company such as a tag, sticker or something that gives the name and number of a propane company. This will give an indication of who (or what company) is familiar with your tank and LP Gas system. Most propane companies keep records of tanks that they service by location and by the tank’s serial number. Other firsts for new propane users after inspecting the tank and based on individual situations include:
- If you rent the home, contact your landlord for information about the propane company servicing the tank.
- If you bought the home, contact the propane company servicing the tank, provided you have that information.
- If you don’t meet either of the above criteria, see Choosing a Propane Company and go from there.
- VERY IMPORTANT – When the gas delivery is made, have the driver show you what propane smells like.
Knowing what propane smells like will help you know if there is ever a leak in the LP Gas system. Don’t be overwhelmed or feel unsafe by seeing a propane tank on your property…there’s nothing to be afraid of. Contrary to first time propane user beliefs, propane tanks do not explode. Look around this site to see that propane is safe and reliable when understood and respected, just like electricity or natural gas.
Your First Propane Delivery
There are many instances where a residential propane delivery is made while the customer is not at home. This is very common and quite often the norm regarding most propane deliveries. There are several things that the propane company needs to know about your property before delivering to your home, especially if it’s a new driver or a new propane company servicing your tank. First of all, propane companies will keep a record of certain instructions you have for them but you may need to meet the driver at your home the first time a delivery is made. Remember that a propane delivery bobtail is is a big and heavy truck that doesn’t turn on a dime or go under trees and overhangs as easily as the family car can. Several things you definitely need to inform the delivering propane company of include:
- Septic Tank Location – A propane truck is heavy enough that thick concrete septic tank covers and lids are easily broken through when run over by a gas delivery truck.
- Overhead Power Lines – When a delivery is made at night, which is sometimes the case, the driver may not see low hanging overhead power lines. Also, if power lines are hidden by low hanging trees, the truck tank may hit these causing a power loss.
- Sprinkler Systems – Many yards with sprinkler systems can be damaged if a bobtail or service truck runs over any part of the irrigation system.
Some propane companies may ask that somebody be home if it’s the first time to deliver. Although it may be an inconvenience, it is strictly for the protection of your property and should be viewed as such. It will also help the homeowner acquaint themselves with the company representative as well as provide the driver with any direction they may need for future deliveries. (back to top)
Q. Why does it say “Volume Corrected to 60 Degrees” on my invoice?
The liquid propane volume in any LP Gas container is directly related to its temperature. In fact, the volume of any liquid in any container is directly related to its temperature. Propane volume rises as temperature rises and falls as temperature falls. Being temperature dependent, propane becomes more dense as temperature falls and expands as temperature increases. This is extremely important to remember when understanding propane temperature and volume and the relationship between the two.
Propane is stored and delivered as a liquid. In comparison to other liquids regarding temperature and volume, it is no different. The volume of any liquid will rise and fall dependent upon temperature.
Propane Volume Basics
To understand what’s going on with regard to differing tank gauge readings in extreme temperatures (hot or cold), we need to first explain basic principles that affect the liquid propane volume. The following example assumes a 250 gallon propane tank has 100 gallons of propane at 60°F. The industry standard 60°F is universally recognized as the base reference point for liquid propane volume correction.
- A properly functioning float gauge will read 40%
- 100 gallons of propane weighs 424 pounds (4.24 lbs. per gallon)
If there is a significant temperature drop (over 20°F) the gauge will indicate that there is less propane in the tank. Assuming the gauge dial sits between 35% and 40% following the temperature drop, there are still 424 pounds of propane in the tank. Although the propane volume has decreased, the amount of propane has not decreased, it has simply become more compact (dense). The amount of usable energy has not decreased. If the temperature were to rise by the same respective amount, the gauge would indicate a higher volume of propane but there would still be 424 pounds of propane in the tank. As temperatures fall, liquids become more dense and compact. As temperatures rise, liquids become less dense and expand. Propane is a liquid and is subject to the same rules of mother nature.
Cold Temperature Propane Deliveries
Propane users can become quite confused during periods of cold weather following a gas delivery because their propane tank gauge may read less than what they expect it to read. Using the information from above, a 100 gallon delivery on a cold day (far below 60°F) may indicate less than 100 gallons delivered just by looking at the gauge. If the temperature were to rise to 60°F, a properly functioning float gauge would rise to 40%, assuming the tank was empty at the time of delivery. Cold weather often brings confusion and frustration for propane customers concerning perceived propane volume and the actual amount of propane delivered but the reality is this; When a propane delivery is made during cold temperatures, the tank gauge will indicate less propane delivered based on the beginning and ending gauge readings but the actual amount of propane delivered, according to a properly calibrated truck meter is what was truly pumped into the tank during the delivery.
We could explore gauge readings and propane volume correction in hot weather and high temperatures but nobody seems to be concerned when their tank gauge indicates that more propane was delivered than actually was. However, we will briefly explain below the propane truck’s built in volume correction device, called a temperature compensator.
Propane Truck Volume Correction – Temperature Compensation
If temperature compensation was not taken into account, propane companies would be either getting more propane than they paid for less, depending on the temperature. Considering volumes in excess of 10,000 gallons are being delivered into a bulk storage plant, it’s assured that propane companies certify volume correction factors are in place. The same is true on the consumer side but state and federal governments regulate measurement that is protective of the consumer.
Propane delivery trucks all have meters that measure the amount of propane pumped into consumer tanks. These meters include a volume correction device known as an automatic temperature compensator. The temperature compensator takes into account the temperature of the liquid propane running through the meter and automatically adjusts to correctly deliver the amount of propane that the consumer ordered. By law, these devices are required to be re-calibrated and are adjusted based on the temperature of the liquid at the time of calibration. When a delivery of propane is made to your home or business, know that the amount you paid for is the amount you are actually getting. (back to top)
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.
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. Why do I have to have a leak test performed on my system?
Leak tests are required any time there is an interruption of service meaning the flow of gas was stopped for any reason. NFPA 54 (2006), 8.2.3 states that “Immediately after the gas is turned on into a new system or into a system that has been initially restored after an interruption of service, the piping system shall be tested for leakage. If leakage is indicated, the gas supply shall be shut off until the necessary repairs have been made”. (back to top)
Propane Leak Test Explained
All propane piping, connections and fittings are threaded so that they may easily connect together during installation or modification. These propane connections are coated with a pipe joint compound that lubricates the fittings during the joining process and will dry after a short while. During normal usage, a propane plumbing system is at a constant pressure. This means that as long as the tank has gas and is supplying the system with propane, a constant pressure is exerted on the piping and the pipe joint compound. The pipe joint compound will expand during normal pressurized usage and will retract if the system loses pressure. This loss of gas pressure may cause leaks to form because of the expansion and retraction of the piping compound within the propane plumbing system.
The leak test will indicate any leaks within the propane piping system due to interruption of service or out of gas situation. The leakage test is simply testing the integrity of the system plumbing joints and the seal of the pipe joint compound. This is the safety reasoning behind leak testing. The real reason a leak test is performed is because it is required by law and none other. (back to top)
Q. How do I choose what propane company to use?
Quite often, people are faced with selecting a propane company to provide them with service in some capacity. This generally occurs before a house is built or after moving into an existing house that uses propane as an energy source. The following thoughts and recommendations will hopefully help consumers find a propane company that will take care of their needs and safety resulting a long term relationship. A relationship with a propane company is a personal one, unlike that with a public utility. Propane users actually get to know the person providing their service.
Selecting a Propane Company
Although choosing a company to provide propane service or buy parts and supplies might seem simple, it actually deserves some thought. When choosing a cell phone provider, you may look at price but most would agree that coverage and clarity are far more important. Would you sign up for phone, internet or cable television service knowing that the company can guarantee 85 or 90% uptime? Would you do this at your place of business? Propane companies fall into a somewhat similar category but there’s a lot more riding on it besides their reputation. The safety and well being of you and your family is at issue as well. So if you’re thumbing through the phone book or looking on the internet for a propane company in your area, consider the following.
- Safety Record – Ask the company about their safety record and safety programs. They should be able to offer references, such as regulatory agencies that will attest to their safety record as well as any safety programs they are enrolled in or perform within their organization.
- Regulatory Agencies – Each state has an agency regulating its propane industry. These agencies and regulatory commissions oversee all activities regarding the LP Gas industry within their respective state. Although state regulators probably can’t recommend any particular propane company, they may be able to provide information about safety records and compliance if requested.
- NPGA and State Propane Gas Associations – Association memberships ensure that the propane company stays up to date and informed about safety issues and compliance within the propane industry.
- Company Policies – Ask about any policies such as out of gas procedures, service fees or pricing structures that may better work with your budget or give you peace of mind.
- Better Business Bureau – The BBB is an excellent source of information to find out about company history and reputation.
The very best advice is to choose a company based on their references, reputation and safety record…not solely their price. Your safety and that of your family depends on it. What if your insurance company was reliable only 85% of the time? Choose your propane supplier wisely.