Lessons learned about propane

By glblguy

fireplace

I mentioned two weeks ago in my Friday gathering post that as a result of moving into our home, I’m having to learn a bunch of new things due to our new house and the new area we live in. The trend of learning continues.

As I write this, I am sitting next to a nice, warm gas fire. It’s 6 degrees outside, so I’m very thankful for it. Our gas fireplace keeps our middle main living floor nice and cozy. Two weeks ago though it wouldn’t have as we ran out of gas.

Finding propane gas

When we purchased our home, it had two 100 pound propane gas tanks under the deck to provide gas for the fireplace. There was gas in the tanks, but less than I expected as we ran out just a few weeks after the cold weather kicked in. Thus began my quest to get the two tanks re-filled.

Driving to and from town, I had noticed a propane gas company that I thought I would check out first. I drove over, explained the gas set-up and asked if I could just bring the tanks over and have them filled. The lady sorta laughed and explained to me that 100lbs tanks are indeed just that, 100lbs a piece when full. She also told me that it was illegal to transport them in a car and that they needed to be kept upright and carried in a truck a specified distance from the “cabin” area. Oh…didn’t know that. She said they would be more than glad to bring me out replacement tanks, but installing a larger refillable tank would be a better option.

She estimated that a 120 gallon tank would be appropriate and then began to write down the initial order. This included leasing a tank for a yearly fee, the price per gallon for the initial fill, and the service charge for installing it. I asked when she could get it installed…3 weeks! With the cold kicking in, I didn’t want to wait that long.

Closer to our home, I thought I had seen another gas company so I headed down that way. They were closed for lunch. So I headed home, dug out the phone book in hopes I could find someone that could install a tank sooner. I also wanted to verify the information provided by the first company I talked to.

Using competition to my advantage

I ended up talking with about 5 different companies whom all quoted me different rates and additionally guaranteed to beat the lowest offer I received. It would seem that propane gas service is a competitive market here in the mountains. I began calling the various companies and playing their offers against each other. I finally ended up getting a really low quote from a company that seemed very friendly and received good recommendations from a few of my neighbors along with the guys that installed the gas fireplace.

There were all out of the 120 gallon tanks, but they felt that a 100 gallon would be large enough for our needs. They came out that day and surveyed our property to make sure they could deliver and place the tank. Two days later they came to install it.

The service guy that did the install was incredibly nice. He did a high quality job doing the install including doing a gas leak test and ensuring our gas fireplace was operating correctly. He took the time to overview how to operate the tank, the fireplace and how to know and detect any problems. He never once acted like he was in a hurry and answered all of my questions thoroughly.

After he left I was very pleased with my decision. Not only did I end up getting a much better deal than was first offered to me, I also worked with a company that really seemed to put customer service and quality high on their list. That seems to be a rare find these days. Definitely pays to shop around.

Lessons on propane

I learned a few things through all of this and wanted to share them with you:

  1. Use a professional – While propane gas and it’s associated connections might seem straight forward, don’t be fooled. There is much more to it. It’s also very dangerous, and the risk of not having something properly installed or working just isn’t worth the money you might save. Leave the install to the professionals who are certified and trained.
  2. Leave a window cracked - I have a ventless gas fireplace. While mine is a high end unit that was professionally installed, making sure you have adequate ventilation and a fresh supply of oxygen is important. Modern ventless gas fireplaces have both built in CO and oxygen depletion detectors, but they can fail. Don’t take the risk. Just crack a small window and allow some fresh air in. If you don’t have ventless fireplace, than you don’t need to worry about this.
  3. Install CO detectors – CO (Carbon Monoxide) is a odorless and deadly gas. It is produced during the combustion process when oxygen levels are low. Installing CO detectors can literally save your life. They should be installed near sleeping areas and high up and generally CO gas rises with the heat in your home. Always follow the manufacturers recommended installation instructions. I have three, one near our fireplace, one in our master bedroom and one near our children’s bedrooms in the hallway.
  4. Propane stays low – All gas used for heating contains a chemical additive that smells bad. This is done so you can quickly note a gas leak. Be aware though, natural gas rises as it’s lighter than air. Propane though is heavier and stays low. Leaking propane will generally stay below 18″ above the floor, so you may have to stoop down to smell it.

Do you use propane as a primary or supplemental heating source? Did lease or buy your tank? What size tank do you have and why did you go with that size? Have a helpful tip? Add a comment!

Photo by: mulmatsherm


10 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Lessons learned about propane”

  1. Gypsie Says:

    I am glad that you had such a great experience with the company that you decided to go with. Now, call or write a letter to the company to let them know how great your technician was. He deserves the recognition.

  2. Funny about Money Says:

    How does the cost compare with natural gas or electricity? A friend who has a vacation home here says propane is phenomenally high.

    We used to use it to run the refrigerator and the stove on the ranch. That was a long time ago, & the partnership dealt with the bills, so I don’t know what it cost. The fridge worked wonderfully, and the stove ran just like any gas stove. I imagine you could hook up propane to run a gas stove in a house in an urban area not served by natural gas, barring any HOA or city regulations to the contrary.

    Be sure to check your connections regularly with a little detergent water, and have the service guy check the system on a regular basis, too. Propane is fine when safety precautions are followed, but just like natural gas, it’s nothing for amateurs to dork around with.

  3. glblguy Says:

    @Funny about Money – Excellent question and I’m working on a more detailed article about that, especially since my electric bill was $420 today! I think it depends on the area you live, but propane is more expensive than electricity and electricity is more than oil.

    My house is all electric except for the gas fireplace which is nice and toasty warm so I’m ok with paying the extra there. Certainly wouldn’t want my whole house on propane though!

    The company that I went with comes out and tops the tank off each month and also inspects the lines, regulator and tank at the same time.

  4. glblguy Says:

    @Gypsie – Called the owner that evening and told him how great David was. As a manager, I always appreciate it when people take the time to tell me about a good (or bad) experience with my staff.

  5. MITBeta @ Don't Feed the Alligators Says:

    @ Funny About Money: I just wrote an article about comparing various fuels for heating: http://www.dontfeedthealligators.com/blog/comparing-the-costs-of-different-heating-fuels

    The difference between any 2 fuels has a lot to do with where you live. Where I am, electricity is around $0.20 per kilowatt-hour, which is very expensive when it comes to heating. Propane is no bargain, but it’s still a lot better than electric.

    @ Glbl: The tip about keeping the window open needs to be qualified:

    You’re clearly losing some efficiency by keeping it open, and it’s affects as they relate to make-up air and CO mitigation are marginal at best. I hope that whomever installed your fireplace did a proper make-up air calculation before the installation. If you’re only using this appliance as a extra heater, and you only have 100 gallons of propane on hand at a time, I’ll guess that it has a pretty low firing rate and therefore needs little in the way of make-up air. But keeping the window “cracked” isn’t going to provide much make-up air, nor is it going to provide enough dilution in the event of a CO problem. So my advice would be to keep the window shut instead of giving your heat a path to the outdoors.

    Also, your CO detector should usually be outside your bedroom (as it is with the kids) because you want to know when the concentration out there is too high, not the concentration in your bedroom. Kudos, though, for having CO detectors at all. It’s now a state law where I live, but it’s the only time it comes up is when heating appliances are installed (and permits are pulled…) or when homes change hands.

  6. plonkee Says:

    CO detectors are a great call. The symptoms of CO poisoning are having a headache and feeling sleepy – very easy to mistake those for something else in the middle of winter.

  7. Mark Framness Says:

    Hmmm,

    I’ve always used natural gas, the only time I haven’t is when I lived in the Middle East and didn’t need heating of any sort.

    Fortunately, our house (the building inspector approved in August ’08 see http://homeproject.framnett.net) we just moved into was built with a gas line at the road, so we heat with a combination of NG & wood. In fact, at http://frugal.framnett.net/ I am writing a series of articles on heating with wood. Compared to natural gas I am getting therms for about ½ the price I can from the gas company. However, some of that is eaten up by the cutting, hauling, splitting of wood one has to do, plus ashes and kindling — still a deal. Our new house is about 2x the square footage (plus one room is a very open concept room with a high ceiling) of our old place and we cook with gas (both in our current house & in our old house we heated with gas and our clothes dryer is gas). Our heating bill, despite colder weather this year, was very comparable to our old house. However, we have to work on the electricity!

    Since I just started this wood heating stuff I have burned for about one month on “free wood” (about 1-½ face-cord of good oak from tree tops that were on the ground for two years & then cut up & split this last fall) and then I bought a cord of oak that is not ready for burning, and just recently I bought another cord of mixed wood supposedly beech & maple; at least that wood seems like it is seasoned.

    Years ago we bought a gas detector for propane, natural gas, and CO. Right away it gave a false-positive, we called in the fire department and they spent a fair amount of time but couldn’t explain the detector’s alarm. I pulled the thing from the wall and it is somewhere in our piles of stuff.

  8. No Debt Plan Says:

    I used to invest in a propane company’s stock that did fairly well. Here’s why it is so competitive, as far as I can remember. Essentially, your switching costs (as you’ve noted) are incredibly high. Once you are hooked on one propane provider, you are really unlikely to switch.

    Thus, competition.

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