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The Ultimate Guide to Propane: All You Need to Know

Pinnacle Propane
Propane bulk tanks
This guide collects the most important information about propane. Explore what propane is, how it's made, safety regulations and much more.

Propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is an alternative fuel used in a multitude of domestic, commercial, and industrial applications. Propane gas powers homes all across the United States and around the world.

You have probably seen propane tanks for sale or have used propane to grill burgers in your backyard. But have you ever wondered what propane gas is and where it comes from? Did you know that around 2% of all the energy used in the US comes from propane gas? That does not seem like a lot until you consider all the at-home and industrial applications of propane, including heating, cooking, and powering equipment and machinery.

Consumers curious about propane, its uses and applications should refer to this page. To learn more about the benefits of switching to propane, everything you need to know is listed below.

Table of Contents

Part I: Definition of Propane

Part II: How propane is made

Part III: 6 interesting facts about propane

Part IV: Propane compared to other energy sources

Part V: Propane uses

Part VI: Buy propane

Part VII: Propane tanks vs Propane cylinders

Part VIII: Propane safety

Part IX: Conclusion

Part I: Definition of Propane

What is propane?

Also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), propane is a clean-burning fuel used for diverse domestic, commercial, and industrial applications. Propane is a gas that is compressed and normally stored as a liquid. It is non-toxic, colorless, and odorless (an identifying odor is added to propane so it can be detected for safety purposes).

Propane is a fossil fuel found naturally alongside oil and natural gas. It is a common misconception that propane gas is natural gas; propane gas is an alternative fuel that is extracted from natural gas and oil using different methods which we will discuss in a different section.

The popularity of propane around the world is due to a number of factors, such as:

  • Propane is relatively inexpensive

  • Propane is safe to use

  • It is versatile and can be used in a wide variety of applications

  • It is relatively safe to handle and transport, compared to other fuels

After propane is extracted, it is pressurized so it can be stored as a liquid in the familiar tanks and cylinders you have probably seen outside stores, on trucks, or alongside people's homes.

What is liquid propane?

Liquid propane and propane gas refer to the exact same thing in different forms. Propane is used as a gas but is stored and transferred as a liquid. The reason for this is because propane is 270 denser as a liquid than as a gas.

Liquifying propane is a critical step in getting propane to consumers. Propane is extracted and then stored and transported as a pressurized liquid. This is why you will notice liquid moving around when you are carrying a propane tank. However, when you open the valve, or your home uses propane for heating, the liquid propane will turn into a gas.

What is renewable propane?

More recently, so-called 'renewable propane' or "bio-propane" has appeared on the market. Chemically identical to conventional propane, renewable propane is made from biomass-based inputs, such as cooking oil, animal fats, or 20% dimethyl ether, instead of fossil fuels. The most common form of renewable propane today is a byproduct from the same process that creates renewable diesel from soybean oil.

Propane as alternative fuel?

Propane is increasingly becoming an autogas alternative to gasoline and diesel. As mentioned above, it is clean burning and more efficient than other fuel sources. Fleets do not have to wait until they are ready to purchase new vehicles to switch to propane autogas. Existing vehicles can be converted with a certified aftermarket bi-fuel system. The benefits of this switch are reduced emissions and more runtime compared to other fuels. And propane autogas is better for your engines as we discussed above.

Propane autogas dispensers are easy to install. Propane Education and Research Council provides comprehensive minimum specifications for those interested in installing propane dispensers to fuel their vehicle fleets.

Part II: How propane is made

Propane origin

The French scientist Marcellin Berthelot first identified the compound in 1857. It was also found dissolved in light crude oil in Pennsylvania by Edmund Ronalds in 1864. But propane was not made commercially available until 1911 when Walter Snelling developed ways to liquefy it during the refining process of gasoline.

Propane production

Propane is found naturally alongside oil and natural gas. It is primarily a byproduct of natural gas processing, but some propane is produced from crude oil refinement. Propane is produced from natural gas through a process called fractional distillation. Natural gas is composed of methane and other hydrocarbons. The first step in creating propane is separating the methane component, which is then purified into higher-quality propane. This process requires high temperatures and pressures and is done using complex equipment.

Propane and its cousin, butane, are also produced during the crude oil refining process in two ways. The first is when crude oil undergoes its initial distillation and the second is when gasoline is produced.

Propane manufacturing steps

Propane is not made, it is found because it occurs naturally in the earth. Propane manufacturing involves separation and collection of the gas from its petroleum sources using the following steps:

  1. Drilling: When underground oil fields are tapped by wells, the mixture piped out of the well contains LPGs such as propane.

  2. Separation: The mixture pumped out of an oil field is sent through a gas trap. Crude oil, which is heavier than LPGs, sinks to the bottom and the "wet gas" (which contains propane) rises to the top.

  3. Refining: The "wet gas" that contains propane, is piped to a gasoline absorption plant where the LPGs are separated from the mixture. These gasses are then further separated into butane, isobutane, and propane.

  4. Distribution: Propane is then sent to distribution companies to be sold to consumers.

Part III: 6 interesting facts about propane

Do propane tanks expire?

Propane tanks of 100 pounds or less have a general expiration date of 12 years from the date of manufacture. There is no official "expiration" date listed on a propane tank, however, the manufacture date will be stamped on the tank's collar. Add 12 years to this date to figure out how old your propane tank is and if you should replace it with a fresh tank.

Unlike other fuel sources like diesel and gasoline, propane has an indefinite shelf life. It is one of the most storage-friendly and stable energy sources available.

Does propane smell?

Propane gas has no discernable odor. The "rotten egg" smell you smell when propane is released into the air is an additive. The additive is called mercaptan and it is added to propane by companies as a safety measure. If you smell propane in your home or place of business, it is imperative that you leave the premises and call 911 before you call your propane provider.

If you suspect you have a leak in your propane tank, call your propane provider to come and check it out for you. In case of emergency, call 911 and then call Pinnacle 972-444-0300

Is propane liquid?

Propane is a three-carbon alkaline gas (C3H8). After it is extracted, it is pressurized and turned into a liquid for transportation and storage. As you carry your propane cylinder (bottle), you will probably notice the liquid propane or LPG moving around inside. Liquid propane and propane gas are the same element in different forms.

Is propane lighter than air?

Many people think propane gas is lighter than air, but this isn't the case. Unlike natural gas, propane is actually heavier than air. At sea level, propane gas is 50% heavier than air. This means that if propane gas leaks, it will not simply dissipate into the air but rather it will sink and settle in low areas.

Is propane flammable?

The answer to the question, "Is propane flammable," is more complex than it may seem at first. The short answer is yes, propane is flammable. However, under pressure, and in its LPG state, propane is not flammable. Propane is stored and transported in its liquid (LPG) state. Only when propane is released and converted to gas will it become flammable.

The temperature propane burns at is the same temperature natural gas burns at: 3,560° Fahrenheit. However, you get more energy with a unit of propane than you do with a unit of natural gas.

If you have an above ground propane tank, you may be wondering at what temperature propane freezes. The freezing point of propane is -306.4° Fahrenheit, so not to worry! Despite freezing temperatures outside, your propane will remain unfrozen in your tank.

What is the chemical formula of propane?

Propane is composed of three carbon atoms and eight hydrogen atoms. Its chemical formula is C3H8.

Propane produces energy by undergoing a combustion reaction. Combustion reactions occur when an oxidizer reacts with another substance to produce heat energy.

Combustion reactions can be classified into exothermic (heat generating) and endothermic (heat absorbing) reactions. Exothermic reactions involve an increase in temperature, while endothermic reactions cause a decrease in temperature. In both cases, energy is released during the chemical reaction.

The combustion reaction propane undergoes when ignited is exothermic. In addition to propane, the reaction requires two other inputs: oxygen and external heat. During the reaction, the energy stored in propane's chemical bonds is converted into and released as heat energy.

When enough oxygen is present, a propane combustion reaction has three outputs: heat, water, and carbon dioxide. However, the reaction can also produce carbon monoxide and soot without enough oxygen.

Part IV: Propane compared to other energy sources

Butane vs propane

Butane and propane share many similarities, however as you will see, propane is the superior fuel source.

Both propane and butane are liquid petroleum gasses (LPGs). They are both flammable hydrocarbon gasses that are found alongside natural gas and crude oil.

Here are the differences between butane and propane:

  • Propane stores better than butane, especially in colder weather

  • Butane has a boiling temperature of 31°; Propane has a boiling temperature of -43°

  • This means propane will continue working in much colder climates than butane

  • Butane is more commonly used as a propellant and refrigerant

  • Propane is more commonly used for grilling, heating, and as an alternative fuel

Propane vs natural gas

The biggest difference between propane and natural gas is propane is more energy efficient and considered to be a "green fuel," while natural gas is not. The reason is this: propane generates more Btu's (British Thermal Units) than an equivalent amount of electricity, so much less propane is needed to produce the same amount of heat. Other differences are:

  • Propane-fueled appliances are more efficient and waste little fuel in the combustion process.

  • Furthermore, propane contains twice the energy of natural gas and burns less volume per hour.

  • Propane is clean-burning, energy-dense, and low-cost.

  • Propane is widely available and easy to transport.

  • Propane has the lowest carbon content of any fossil fuel. Less carbon means fewer harmful byproducts following combustion, such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, and greenhouse gas emissions.

All of these aspects combined make propane an incredibly efficient energy source

Propane vs oil

Propane is the king of fuels in rural areas when it comes to heating, so the question of propane vs oil heat is not even close. However, in some parts of the United States, heating oil is the preferred method of home heating. Here are a few differences between propane vs oil:

  • Propane is more efficient than heating oil, emitting more Btu's per gallon.

  • Propane is cheaper than heating oil per gallon.

  • It is harder to get fuel oil to burn than propane.

  • Oil-fired water heaters are available, but they are more expensive and less efficient than propane-powered water heaters.

  • Propane is cleaner-burning than oil, and it emits much less CO2 into the atmosphere.

To consider the cost of propane vs heating oil, use this cost calculator.

Propane vs electric

It is an undeniable fact that propane heat is more economical and efficient than electric heat. Virtually everything in your home including appliances can run on both propane and electricity. However, propane powered appliances cost less to run and work better than electric appliances. One drawback is it can be expensive to convert electric appliances to propane, but you will save money in the long run on your bills. Here are a few more advantages of propane vs electric heat:

  • You need much less propane to heat a home than with electricity.

  • The heat emitted by a propane furnace is warmer faster than electric heat.

  • Propane furnaces also last on average 5-10 years longer than electric ones.

  • The cost of propane is significantly lower than electricity, and it fluctuates less than electricity.

  • On average, a home powered by propane heat is 42% less expensive than a home powered by electricity alone.

  • Propane gas water heaters cost on average 10% less per month than electric.

Propane vs electric water heater

The differences in cost and effectiveness of a propane vs electric water heater is surprising. Propane water heaters can save homeowners on-average of $2,000 per unit over their lifetime. Electric water heaters can only heat half as much water per hour as propane water heaters. Propane water heaters offer a constant supply of hot water to homeowners while electric water heaters can run out from overuse. Typically, propane water heaters cost less to repair than electric water heaters.

Propane vs electric furnace

Propane furnaces consistently supply air at 120℉ while electric heat pumps supply air at 95℉. This makes the air supplied by electric heat pumps feel cool. Propane furnaces last on average 8-10 years longer than electric furnaces, and they cost less to repair. Propane furnaces are more dependable than electric. Electric furnaces are subjected to power outages, while propane furnaces are supplied by a tank kept full by your propane supplier.

Propane vs electric dryer

Electric dryers have long been the number one choice of households, but they are missing out on all the advantages a propane dryer provides. Especially for larger homes, propane dryers are more efficient, offer a larger capacity, and cost less to operate than electric. Electric dryers may be cheaper up front, but they cost more to operate throughout their lifetime. And, propane dryers last longer than electric dryers. Electric dryers are easier to move and install because they do not require gas hookups.

There is less of an environmental impact with a propane vs electric dryer. Propane is a clean energy source that works more efficiently than electricity, so propane dryers use less gas to achieve better results than electric.

Propane vs electric patio heater

If you are considering an electric vs propane patio heat, take a look at these differences below before you make your choice. Electric heaters actually cost less to operate than propane, which is rarely the case when speaking about electricity vs propane, but the cost difference is minimal. However, electric patio heaters only heat in one direction and they are stationary. Propane patio heat is portable and will heat in all directions. Propane heat is also hotter and more efficient than electric patio heat.

Electric vs propane patio heat tend to be smaller, while propane heaters are larger and can heat larger spaces. Electric heaters require an outlet, while propane heaters can go anywhere. Propane heaters produce about eight times as many Btu's than electric patio heaters.

Part V: Propane uses

Since propane became commercially available in 1911, the fuel source has grown to claim a large proportion of the energy sector around the world.

Propane now has many uses, including fueling vehicles and heating homes. Farmers also use it to dry crops and livestock feed. Manufacturers also use propane to produce plastics, fertilizers, synthetic fibers, and pharmaceutical products.

Interest in propane as an alternative transportation fuel has grown since the US passed the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Today, it is the world's third most common transportation fuel thanks to its domestic availability, high-energy density, relatively low cost, and clean burning qualities.

The practical applications of propane gas in both domestic and commercial settings are seemingly endless. Propane is typically used in rural areas that do not have access to reticulated natural gas. It is also used in urban settings because of the wide range of practical uses it has around the home. Propane can be used as a heat source, propellant, refrigerant, and alternative fuel for vehicles.

The many uses of propane gas tend to fall into two categories: domestic (at-home) applications and commercial/industrial applications.

Domestic applications of propane

Propane is widely used in the domestic sector and The National Propane Gas Association reports that 50 million American homes use propane in some capacity.

11.9 million households use propane to heat their homes and water. Others also rely on propane gas to cook food, dry clothes, and refrigerate food.

Propane inside your home

Propane has both indoor and outdoor applications. Inside your home, propane will reliably fuel furnaces, fireplaces, and space heaters. It will also fuel ranges, standard and tankless water heaters, and machine dryers. In some cases, propane can be used as a back-up power source in the instance of a power outage.

Propane generators

As a back-up energy source for your home during a power outage, propane makes an excellent fuel alternative. Propane generators have many advantages over the more common diesel fuel generator, including lower operating costs, no interruptions to supply, environmental impact, and reliability.

Propane reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 35% compared to diesel fuel. Propane generators are also quieter and more cost-efficient. Lower demand also means that buyers can save up to 10% during their initial purchase of the generators compared to diesel units. Lastly, propane generators require fewer deliveries, further lowering costs and environmental impact.

All told, switching from diesel generators to propane generators can lead to capital savings on fuel consumption of 20-30%.

Indoor propane fireplace

Indoor propane fireplaces are safe to use and emit a sufficient amount of heat per gallon of propane used. Propane fireplaces are good for the environment as well, and they do not emit dangerous particles into the air.

See all examples for propane for indoors.

Propane outside your home

For outdoor living, propane can fuel fire pits, barbecues, outdoor kitchens, outdoor heaters, pools, and landscaping equipment. The fuel source is a great option for these at-home energy needs because it heats up to 40% faster than electric alternatives.

Propane grill

One of the most common ways Americans use propane outside the home is with a propane grill. Few methods of cooking are as hassle free as using a propane grill.

Using a propane grill is simple. Once you purchase a fresh propane tank from your local store or supplier, here are the easy steps to follow*:

  • Connect the tank to the propane grill

  • Open the valve on the propane tank to start the flow of gas

  • Turn the knobs on the propane grill to "ignite"

  • Click the red ignite button until the propane ignites

*Be sure to refer to the user manual of your propane grill as these steps may be different.

See more examples for propane for outdoors.

Commercial applications of propane

Propane is one of the most versatile energy sources available, which is why there are so many commercial and industrial applications of the gas. The construction industry relies heavily on propane to provide a portable energy source to locations that are remote and have not been wired for electricity. For example, propane fuels many pieces of heavy equipment, such as forklifts, bulldozers, and cranes. Propane tanks are easily placed at construction sites, and easily refilled using bobtail trucks.

Hospitality industry

Another important commercial sector that relies on propane is the hospitality industry. Hotels and resorts use propane for cooking and heating food, cleaning laundry, heating pools, melting snow, and more. The cost-effective nature of propane allows hotels and restaurants control their bottom lines while providing a higher-than-expected level of service to customers.

Oil industry

Propane also plays an important role in the oil industry. Much of the heavy machinery required for oil extraction relies on either propane or diesel for fuel. Additionally, most oilfields use on-site generators to produce the electricity needed. The fuel for these generators? You guessed it: diesel and propane.


One of the commercial sectors that relies most heavily on propane is agriculture. Propane is a great fuel source for agricultural vehicles such as tractors, combines, and delivery trucks. It can also power irrigation engines, grain dryers, generators, and heaters essential for diverse agricultural applications. Because it burns clean, propane is beneficial because it keeps engines cleaner and extends their usable life.

One of the reasons propane is so heavily used in agriculture is because it is easy to deliver. Rural locations and communities can easily receive needed propane shipments, even if the area lacks the necessary infrastructure for other energy sources. Propane also stores well and does not require fuel stabilization. Finally, the non-toxic nature of propane means that farmers don't need to create an EPA spill plan to use it.

Part VI: Buy Propane

Propane is typically stored in one of two different ways: a propane tank or in a propane cylinder. Propane storage containers are made in various sizes and shapes and are both stationary or mobile. Both are designed to hold propane in liquid form, which means they are pressurized.

Regardless of whether you store your propane in tanks or cylinders, it's important to make sure that your propane containers receive regular maintenance. Preventative maintenance stops leaks before they happen, ensuring that your propane systems remain safe and efficient. Pinnacle Propane excels at providing top-notch propane tank maintenance for its customers.

Propane prices

The main advantage of propane gas is its relatively cheap price. It costs around $0.20 per gallon, which is less than half the cost of natural gas. Plus, propane prices fluctuate less than natural gas, making costs easier to predict and plan for over the long term (an important consideration for business owners).

As the seasons change and the demand for propane increases, so does the price. You can expect propane pricing trends to increase in the winter months and decrease in the summer months, although this is not always the case.

We understand how important it is for homeowners and businesses to have access to propane at reasonable cost. Pinnacle offers three price protection plan options:

  • Propane Budget Pay Fixed-Price agreement offers a consistent monthly payment

  • Lock-in Residential Agreement allows customers to pay a small advance deposit to lock in a special rate

  • Pre-Buy Residential Agreement allows customers to purchase 12 months of propane in advance and receive a special per-gallon price

Homeowners can lock in their rates today by signing up for one of Pinnacle Propane's Price Protection Plans.

Part VII: Propane tanks vs Propane cylinders

The main difference between a tank and a cylinder is the application. The amount of propane stored in a cylinder is relatively small and not nearly enough to meet the propane needs of a primary residence. A cylinder is best for consumers who need to use propane infrequently and not every day for critical needs like heating a home.

Propane tanks offer a much better storage option than cylinders. Tanks are more convenient and cost effective, even for private residences. Pinnacle Propane provides tank installation, plus convenient payment and delivery plans for at-home customers.

Propane tanks

The most common way to store propane is in steel tanks that hold liquid propane at atmospheric pressure. These tanks are made from stainless steel and aluminum alloys, which provide excellent corrosion resistance and strength. They come in sizes ranging from 5 gallons (19 L) to 20,000 gallons (76,800 L).

Propane tanks are intended for permanent installation. They are refilled by regular propane deliveries from tank trucks like the ones described above. The tanks are usually located outside, underground, or inside buildings. Click here to find the right propane tank for you.

There are regulations for the placement and location of propane tanks that vary state by state. It is important to contact your local authority to inquire about the proper separation distance for your propane tank. The experts at Pinnacle Propane will be aware of the requirements of your state, and will advise you accordingly.

Tank distribution is by far the most efficient method of obtaining and storing your propane. Modern propane tanks use telemetry (the automatic collection of data) to measure and report back on how much propane is left in your tank. Telemetric systems mean that youll never run out of gas before your next delivery.

If you're planning on using propane regularly, a propane tank system definitely has the advantage. Homeowners and business owners alike can quickly run through the small amount of propane held in a bottle. Installing a tank eliminates the need for frequent trips to refill tiny cylinders.

Propane tank disposal and recycling

It is important to follow local regulations and directives on how to dispose or recycle your propane tank properly. If you have questions about propane tank disposal or recycling, you can contact your propane supplier for help. You can also call your local hazardous waste disposal site or contact your local public works department about recycling your tank. Some municipalities may allow for disposal of empty propane tanks, propane cylinders, and propane bottles with your regular household trash.

Fill propane tank

Pinnacle Propane believes in delivering the best customer service, quality propane, and innovative products to our valued customers. We also deliver on our promise to provide the safest and best propane operation in the United States. With our Keep Full program, you will not go without propane! We will keep your tank level checked and fill it based on patterns of your past usage. With this program, you can have a hassle-free Propane tank refill without contacting us.

It is never a good idea to try and fill a propane tank yourself, and with Pinnacle, you never will!

Propane tank exchange

One of the most common ways to exchange a propane tank is at your local retailer. You can simply bring your empty tank and exchange it with a new one already filled. If you are unsure where you can exchange an old propane tank with a new one, contact your propane supplier or visit their website. If you are a retailer, many propane suppliers will partner with you and deliver tanks to your place of business.

Propane tank storage and transporting propane tanks

More than likely you have seen propane being stored outside your local grocery store or alongside a neighbor's home. Typically, propane is stored in tanks under high pressure. The pressure liquefies the propane, making it more compact and stable for storage and transport. Liquid propane is also more stable and safer to transport and store.

After production, propane is shipped to bulk distribution terminals using pipelines. The regions of the United States, such as the west, that are not served by pipelines get their propane from railroads or trucks. This method is also how the majority of consumers get their propane, mostly by truck delivery.

Energy companies will distribute propane to homes, farms, and other properties where it has a large number of applications. They will also distribute propane to industrial and commercial customers depending on their needs.

Propane cylinders

The most common propane gas container on the market is called a propane cylinder. Propane cylinders are what you typically see for sale outside hardware and convenience stores. These places are where customers can exchange spent gas tanks for full tanks. You probably have a propane cylinder at your home connected to a gas grill or outdoor heater.

Propane cylinder parts

All propane cylinders have similar parts and fittings. It is important to familiarize yourself with these to better understand the operation and safety of your gas cylinder.

Propane cylinder parts include:

  • Relief valve

  • Service valve

  • Fixed liquid level gauge

  • Nameplate

  • Neck ring

  • Foot ring

Caring for propane cylinders

It is important to properly care for your propane cylinder in order to extend its life expectancy. Always store your propane cylinder where it cannot get dinged or banged into. Scratches or dents can result in rust or corrosion. Also, never store propane cylinders in pooling water for the same reason.

When carrying propane cylinders, always hold them by the handles on the neck ring. Never let propane cylinders roll around unsecured in a truck bed or car trunk. Always place propane cylinders upright, and follow connection directions, usage directions, and safety protocols.

If you have any questions about the proper use and care of propane cylinders, please call Pinnacle Propane 1-927-444-0300.

Part VIII: Propane Safety

Is propane safe?

While propane is generally considered safe, it can be dangerous if it is not stored properly or used correctly. If it is released in a confined space, it presents a possible inhalation hazard as it displaces oxygen and acts as a simple asphyxiate. Liquid propane can be dangerous if touched because it is an effective refrigerant. It rapidly absorbs heat from the skin and can cause severe burns to the body.

It's important that the propane systems in your home are properly maintained. You should also make sure to keep your propane relatively cool and check your tanks regularly for leaks.

Odor (rotten eggs) is added to propane to help homeowners notice propane leaks. Remember, it is important to leave the premises immediately if you smell a strong presence of propane in your home or anywhere.

Regular maintenance eliminates almost all potential risks of propane. Safety and maintenance are two of our biggest priorities at Pinnacle Propane. We go to great lengths to ensure that all of our tanks are installed correctly and receive regular maintenance.

Part IX: Conclusion

Propane's virtues have given it a place in various industries. Its many applications mean that there is a great demand for high-quality, affordable, and reliable propane products.

Pinnacle Propane offers customers a safe and reliable propane source at competitive prices. We are committed to our customers' safety and satisfaction. Our focus is customer experience, satisfaction, and safety, alongside relentless innovation.

Contact us to find the perfect plan for your home or business today.