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Propane Tanks

How to prepare your propane tank for winter

We’re entering the period of Big Nor’easters, Alberta Clippers and multiple atmospheric rivers in the Pacific Northwest. So naturally, our customers are starting to ask us how to protect their propane tank in cold weather. 

In truth, propane and its storage tanks are built for this kind of stuff. One of the biggest strengths of propane is its durability: that’s why many people in colder parts of the world rely on it so heavily. But there are plenty of myths and misconceptions out there, giving you fake news about how your precious energy source will react when the thermometer starts to dip. 

Propane tanks and winter

So let’s clear up some of those frosty falsehoods. Today, we’re going to give you a bunch of essential tips for propane tank winter care. Here are some of the questions we’ll be answering: 

  • How will my propane react to lower temperatures?
  • Is it safe to keep my propane tank outside in winter?
  • How do I keep my propane tank warm in the winter? 
  • Aside from heating, what else can I do to protect my propane tank in cold weather? 

If you’re looking for advice about how to install a propane tank for winter, then we’ve covered that in a separate post, which you’ll find here

A quick note before we start. Propane tanks can be positioned above-ground and underground, and are usually designed for either of these purposes. We’re going to be discussing above-ground tanks today. 

In addition, when we talk about propane tanks, we’re talking about large bulk tanks starting from 250 gallons. People sometimes use the terms ‘propane cylinders’ and ‘propane tanks’ interchangeably, but all the advice we give today is focused on the bulkier ones (although hopefully it will be applicable to cylinders, too). 

Ok, let’s get into it. Can propane tanks freeze in winter?

This is probably the question you want to answer straightaway. And the answer is no… but with a few caveats. 

Propane has a freezing point of minus 306.4 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty chilly. In fact, it’s around 200 degrees colder than any recorded temperature in human history. No matter how or where you store your propane, this figure remains constant. 

However, propane is temperature-dependent. As the temperature rises and falls, its molecules expand and contract. And when the molecules get drawn together in cold weather, two problems occur. 

1. You’ve suddenly got less propane than you had before 

You’ll find that the level gauge is far lower than it was before, which means you’ll have to fill it up. Suddenly you’re having to insert more propane to meet your energy needs. 

2. The propane may be less effective or stop working altogether.  

For propane to work, the liquid needs to boil and become gas. It’s this gas that heats your lights, appliances and everything else. The liquid is just the raw material. 

But when the pressure drops, the propane is less able to boil. And if the temperature drops to -44 degrees fahrenheit, it’ll stop boiling altogether. This may seem like a minor concern for many readers, but if you’re reading this post from Alaska, you may have experienced this level of cold yourself. 

 

306F Propane freeze
Propane freezes at -306.4°F

Ok, and what about the propane tank itself in winter?

For many of you out there, the winter weather can do more damage to your tank than the propane inside.  

Even if the mercury rarely drops below zero, snow, ice and frost can deplete your equipment. Here are some of the most common propane tank problems in cold weather. 

  • The snow and ice can create cracks that cause dangerous gas leaks. 
  • It can also weigh down on the tank and cause it to shift, which again can be risky. 
  • The frost can cause brittle seals and valves to snap. 
  • The moisture created by melted snow and ice can cause rust and degrade your equipment prematurely.  
  • The icy covering can prevent sunlight getting to your tank, cooling the internal temperature and causing those depletions we mentioned earlier. 

So even if your neighborhood rarely sees extreme weather, it’s important to protect your propane tank throughout winter. 

 

propane tank long term
Propane tanks have a lifespan of up to 30 years

Does this mean I can’t keep my propane outside in cold weather?

Absolutely not. In fact, you should always keep your propane tank outside. You shouldn’t even store it in a garage or outhouse.  

So it’s important you know how to keep your propane tank warm in winter. And we’re not talking about putting a fire or electric heater nearby. That’s a bad idea, for obvious reasons. 

Here are some basic tips that can preserve your precious fuel when it gets chilly out. 

  • Clear snow off your Propane tank whenever you see it building up. You can use anti-freeze, just as you would on your car. 
  • Leave your tank uncovered during the day, so it captures the sun’s rays. But be sure to cover it back up when the sun goes down.
  • Use a waterproof cover. Even when the ice and snow melts, it won’t cause rust. 
  • Maintain your equipment. Don’t wait until snow-boot season to fix your propane tank. Book a specialist and see if you need an equipment upgrade. If you think, or discover, that you need a completely new tank, we’ve got a guide that will help you choose the right one for your home.

And it’s absolutely safe to keep your propane tank outside throughout the winter. In fact it’s far, far safer than bringing the tank indoors. 

That’s great. And is there anything else I can do to prevent propane tank problems in cold weather?

Definitely! While it’s vital that you invest time and money in your propane tank’s winter care, you should also think about how you can prepare your home, and your family, for the oncoming cold snap. 

Your propane tank is going to be key during the colder weather, but you don’t want to over-burden it. If there’s a sudden snowstorm, you don’t want to be refilling the tank or finding that it can’t cope with your power demands.

Here are some early winter hacks that can keep you one step ahead. 

  • Keep refilling your tank. While the weather’s nice and mild, check your propane tank at least once and week and ensure the liquid’s topped up. That way, even if you can’t get to the tank during a blizzard, you won’t run out of fuel. 
  • Make sure your tank is marked. This is mostly for people who live in areas of heavy snowfall. Before it starts coming down, mark out the site of your tank with a flag or spike, so you’ll never use it under a freezing blanket. And keep the pathway to your tank nice and clear, too. 
  • Maximize your home’s energy efficiency. Investing in thermal clothing, turning off lights when you’re not in the room and keeping your windows tightly shut can all help to insulate your home, so you’re not burning through your fuel. You may also want to invest in a programmable thermostat, so you’re not wasting energy while you and the kids are out. 
 

2/3 energy consumption
Energy wastage: 2/3 in the U.S.

Fantastic. Anything else I should know?

Just this: if you’ve got any doubts, please contact us

Hopefully we’ve shown you how to prepare your propane tank for winter and given you some tips that will help you prevent propane tank problems when the cold weather rolls round. 

But if you’d like more information, no worries: just reach out to us at (LINK). And if you need someone to come out and see you, we’ve got a directory of offices and partners who can provide local assistance. 

Remember: your propane tank is built for this time of year. All you need to do is commit a bit of time and money before it gets really cold, and you’ll be nice and toasty all the way through to spring.