A Primer on Propane for Prepping and Survival – Part Two

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Note:  This article is not current.  A new series on Propane for Preppers began in August 2014.  Here is link to part one.

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Propane for Preppers – Part One

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Two weeks ago, when I posted an article on prepper propane, I had no idea that there was such a thirst for knowledge on the topic.  Nor did I expect my technical consultant, Chris Newman, to respond to each and every comment asked not only here but also on Before Its News.

Today I am sharing Part Two in the series “A Primer on Propane for Prepping and Survival”.  If you have not read it yet, part one covered covered propane safety, various types of tanks, the cost-benefit of refilling empty tanks and how to obtain free (or cheap) old-style bulk tanks.  What you learned in part one was how, with some creative scrounging and smart purchasing, to acquire enough tanks to provide at least minimal cooking and night lighting for about a year, at nominal cost.

If you haven’t yet read Part One, you’ll find it at hereA Primer on Propane for Prepping and Survival.

INTEGRATING PROPANE INTO YOUR PREPPING STRATEGY – PART TWO

In this article we will cover the easy low-cost refilling of expensive (when new) green one pound canisters and some of the challenges that they can pose. We’ll also cover some of the main low-usage appliances for propane that will make life easier, and more secure, in a grid-down scenario while transitioning to a possible new world order.

Refilling One Pound Canisters from 20 Pound Bulk Tanks

With the right kind of adapter, described further below, it is a fairly simple process to transfer liquid propane from a bulk tank into small green canisters and vice-versa. There are a couple of critical things to keep in mind, however:

Propane in the container is in two forms: liquid and gas. These are both pure propane, but at room temperatures, the liquid will quickly and greatly expand in volume to a gas as the vapor pressure reduces. There are no practical uses for liquid propane, other than transferring it between containers, and lots of potential problems (such as explosive clouds of white gas), so you want to avoid releasing liquid propane, whatever it takes. If you deliver liquid form into a small propane heater, for instance, the liquid fuel can do some real damage, rendering the heater inoperable, with no easy repair.

A more critical example would be if you connected a one pound canister to a camp stove, with the canister either over-filled or upside down, so that the output is liquid, instead of gas: Liquid propane could jet out of the burners, it will quickly expand to a large cloud of gas just when you’re trying to light it and something’s going to go Boom! With any luck, the only thing that will get singed is your eyebrows, but you could also destroy the equipment and even suffer eye injuries that will be painful and take a long time to heal, just when you don’t have the time to waste.

But, if it was a huge cloud of flame and you happened to be sharply inhaling at the moment, such as from surprise at the huge cloud of flame that’s currently enveloping your face, you’ll end up literally breathing in the flame into your lungs. When you burn the lining of your lungs, they will start oozing liquid to the point of filling up and you will probably die of pneumonia within 15 minutes, if you’re lucky. If you’re not lucky, it will take even longer.

I can promise you that it will be the most miserable 15 minutes of your life. In a slightly different scenario, this actually happened five years ago to someone for whom I cared a great deal, and Julie did die, alone on the floor of her kitchen, with her traumatized dog lying by her side. The memory still makes me ill. So, I’m here to tell you that that this type of deadly injury really can happen.

Sorry to get so heavy, but this really happened in my life and my point in making this so personal is to hammer home the point that, when you play with propane, you’re literally playing with fire, and a more of it than you’ve probably ever experienced. Like a firearm, propane is a powerful and valuable survival tool, but it needs to be handled with the utmost of both understanding and respect. That’s why I keep hitting safety issues so hard and so frequently.

So, before you start down this propane road, especially if you’re going to color outside of the lines, you’d better have a very clear idea what you’re doing. That’s the whole purpose of this long article, which is intended to bring the average reader up to speed from a standing start.

But, if you keep a few possibly-new basic principals in mind and carefully read the all of the instructions that come with every propane appliance, propane can also save your life, or at least make it a lot more pleasant in a grid-down situation.

Propane: It’s Both a Gas and a Liquid, In the Same Tank

Again, propane inside the tank is in both a gas and a liquid form that can quickly expand into a surprisingly large cloud of gas and that can touch off into a large explosion with the slightest spark.

Fortunately, it is easy to choose which form, gas or liquid, that you want to dispense out of the container, depending upon whether you are transferring fuel between containers or using it for practical purposes:

When the container is standing upright with the outlet at the top, the liquid propane is at the bottom of the tank, so what will come out is the gaseous form, which will be quickly replenished from the liquid form as internal tank pressure goes down. When you’re using propane for practical purposes, this gas is what you want.

But, when the tanks are upside down or possible on their sides, what will come out is liquid propane. Generally, the only time that you want this liquid is when you’re transferring fuel from one container to another.

Just keep in mind, for consumer-level propane hardware: “Upright gets you gas and upside-down gets you liquid.”

The One Pound Canister Refilling Process

The key component that you need to refill small one pound propane canisters is an adapter which costs about $15 and is called a MacCoupler Adapter.

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In the photo above, on the right side, you can see the black rubber O-ring that seals it to the bulk tank.

Here are photos showing it mounted onto a bulk tank.

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Mr. Heater MAC Coupler Propane Adapter

Don’t forget, this is a reverse thread, so turn it *counter-clockwise” (lefty-tighty). You can start threading this in by hand. Tighten lightly, but still with a wrench.

The photos below show proper container orientation during various operations.

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Above:  The proper position to transfer fuel from the bulk tank into the canister. (The plastic tank wrapper has since been removed.)

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Above:  The proper orientation to transfer fuel from a canister back into the bulk tank. If you want to completely refill the bulk tank, you’ll have to go through this operation at least 20 times. But, if you’re throwing a big barbecue and run out of gas, this could save the day. Ditto, if you need to run something that’s set up for bulk tanks, but all of yours are empty.

The Fuel Transfer Process

Transferring fuel from one tank to another is relatively simple:

1. *With the tank valve closed,* install the reverse-thread adapter onto the bulk tank. Tighten it with a wrench until it is moderately snug, and don’t forget that it’s a reverse thread direction than normal. The actual sealing mechanism is a rubber O-ring on the adapter and these don’t require huge torque pressures to seal. “Just snug” is just right. You’ll find specific directions on tightening a little further below.

2. If refilling a small canister, turn the bulk tank upside down and place it on a flat sturdy surface to avoid tipping over. Remember, you want to transfer the liquid form, which is at the bottom, so the outlet needs to be at the bottom. Keep the bulk tank valve closed.

3. Attach the canister to be refilled onto the other side of the adapter. This time, however, the threads run in the normal “righty-tighty” direction. Again, the seal mechanism is a rubber ring, so just snug it in place. Important Note: If the adapter connection to the tank is too loose and you screw in the canister on the other side with too much force, you will actually start unscrewing the adapter from the tank, potentially releasing gas into the airspace that you’re currently occupying. Again, “no bueno.” This is why you need to keep the bulk tank valve closed at all times, except when you are making the fuel transfer.

4. Once everything is properly oriented and connected, now is the time to open the tank valve and let the transferring commence. Keep an eye and ear peeled for gas leaks, in the form of a cloud of white gas. It may take a minute or so to complete the transfer, depending upon the temperature and remaining contents in the supply tank, both of which impact the supply pressure. When the hissing stops, you’ve transferred as much as is going to move right now. This is going to give you about a 50% fill of the canister.

(Transferring fuel from a canister to a bulk tank is the same process, but the canister needs to be upside down and the bulk tank on its side, as in the above photo.)

Achieving a Full Refill

But, wait! We haven’t run out of surprises, yet! The most common challenge in refilling one pound canisters is that it is normally very difficult to completely refill the canister.

This latest surprise stems from the fact that, while the liquid fuel temperature drops as the supply diminishes, at the same time, as fuel enters into a new container, the internal pressure increases, the canister gets *hotter* as a result and the pressure resisting the transfer into the canister rises nearly exponentially. At the same time, during the transfer process, the supply tank pressure drops and the dispensing pressure decreases.

The bottom line result is that a one pound receiving canister typically will only become about half-filled during the transfer, not to mention becoming quite warm. So, it will only last half as long before it runs dry. Assumed is that we want a full fill-up, or nearly so.

The most accurate way to keep track of the fill level is to weigh the canister with a small scale when it’s empty (you can’t hear any liquid sloshing around inside) and then weigh it again after filling. With a full fill, it should weigh exactly 16 ounces more than when empty.

Safety Note: You do NOT want to over-fill a receiving canister, and this is possible by having the supply tank too hot. That risks dispensing liquid fuel into your appliance, even if the canister is properly oriented, which can cause flash clouds of flame and/or damage the appliance itself, as described above. Conceivably, you could even risk bursting the canister by overfilling, explosively releasing a pound of vapor. The package insert that comes with the adapter contains a couple of dozen warnings and you should read and memorize all of them, as well as the safety warnings that come with every appliance. This isn’t salad oil, here.

The factory that fills new canisters uses high pressure pumps to overcome this temperature resistance phenomenon. But, we don’t have that option, which is probably just as well.

What you want for the best fill is a warm (not hot) supply tank and a cold receiving tank. The Net is full of suggestions on how to achieve this, some good and some very bad.

One of the worst ideas that I’ve seen is to heat up the bulk tank by letting it sit in the sun for hours. As we learned in the scout camping cautionary tale above, again, no bueno. Do NOT fill or top off a one pound canister from a hot (more than 85 degrees F.) bulk tank. If the ambient air temperature is higher than 85, it’s just not a good time to refill canisters. If this is an issue in your situation, the first thing in the morning, after a cooler night, is the best time.

Other suggestions, including in the MacCoupler adapter insert, suggest pre-cooling the receiving canister by either sticking it in the freezer or dunking it in ice water prior to filling. These are fairly effective at pre-compensating for “thermal resistance,” but in a grid-down scenario, freezers and ice water may be very hard to come by.

Here’s the easy way to get a full fill: Fill the canister twice.

That is, fill the canister as full as it will get without special temperature tricks, turn off the bulk tank valve and then let the canister cool back down in the shade or, if you have it, some cool water. Then, once it has cooled back down, top it off with a second transfer. Generally, this will get you about a 90% fill, which is usually good enough and leaves a little extra safety cushion to avoid an over-fill. It never hurts to leave in a little safety cushion.

If you have a scale, you can get a strong handle on your fill rates by weighing the canister before and after both steps. With a little practice, you’ll be able to make a pretty good guess without a scale just by the heft of the canister and the amount of “slosh” that you hear inside.

Handle With Care

While we’re on the subject of using propane adapters etc., in a grid down situation, these will be simply irreplaceable. They are the critical link in the canister refill system and there’s no way to easily cobble one together out of salvage. For this reason alone, it would be wise to have a new spare adapter in stock. If you don’t anticipate being able to easily replace this adapter, or even if you can, you need to treat these things with some gentle care.

These adapters are made out of relatively soft brass. So, it’s very easy to damage or even wear out the threads from hard repeated use, which could render the adapter useless, and make it no longer possible to refill small canisters from bulk tanks. If that happens, you’ll be stuck with all these handy portable propane appliances, but with no easy way to fuel them.

Here are several things that will extend the life of the adapter threads:

1. The first, obviously, is to not drop the adapter onto a hard surface: Hitting a rock can totally mess up the threads. You might be able to clean up the threads with a file or by gently starting it into the bulk tank threads and carefully using a wrench to restore the position of the banged-up threads, though they won’t be as strong resisting pressures of up to 200 PSI. For sure, make certain that whenever you start threading in the adapter, you start it in straight, not “cross-threaded.” If you can easily screw it in for a couple of turns with just finger pressure, you’re in good shape.

2. Another life-extending strategy is to lubricate the threads of the adapter before screwing it in or screwing something into it. A thin coating of axle grease or Vaseline would work fine. But, be sure to not let any get into the end opening or it will end up inside your smaller canister and eventually into the appliance, which could clog it up and prevent it from working properly. In a pinch, pull the oil dipstick out of your vehicle’s engine and let a drop or two drip off the bottom of the stick onto the threads. Even a light rubbing with a bar of soap will help to extend the thread life. Just don’t use any more lubrication than it takes to reduce the friction wear on the threads.

3. Another tip to minimize thread wear is to start threading the adapter onto the tank by hand, as tight as you can get it, until it starts resisting. Only then, tighten it down with a 1 1/8″ wrench. Over-tightening is what will wear out the threads the fastest and with a wrench this large, that’s easy to do. The main sealing mechanism isn’t friction or compression, as with other fittings, but a small rubber O-ring on the adapter that mates with another O-ring inside the bulk tank throat. The new OPD type tanks have a second spring-loaded internal valve that prevents gas from escaping when the valve is opened, but nothing is hooked to it.

“Hand tight to first contact, plus about 2 to 2 1/2 turns more with a wrench” should be about right.

And, of course, when you’re removing the adapter, remember the reverse thread and rotate the adapter on the clockwise direction: Righty-Loosy. There’s no faster way to strip out the threads then cranking it in the wrong direction with a big wrench during removal.

Watch Out for Leaks!

Finally, something thing to be very aware of is that, when you refill one pound propane canisters, which are really intended to be a one-shot deal that you throw away when it empties, is that the internal valve on the canister just might develop a slow leak. This is not uncommon with multiple refills, or even just one.

At best, you won’t have the fuel when you need it. At worst, that pound of gas can leak into a closed environment, such as a hot car trunk or closet and make a very satisfying explosion, unless you happen to be in the middle of it.

So, when you refill a canister, always test it by dropping in a little soapy water into the top of the bottle. If you see bubbles forming, you’ve got a leaker that will slowly (or quickly) empty out. This is also a good way to test all new propane connections. Rinse soapy water out of the canister outlet with a little clean water and let it dry before using it.

You can usually smell a small leak, too. The refiners add a “smellorant” that is very distinctive. If you can smell it, you need to act fast.

If the canister leaks badly enough to hear the hissing and you see a cloud of white vapor, you need to carefully move the canister to a safe and well-ventilated outdoor location, move away, let it empty out and then throw it away. That one’s a goner, though you might find some use for it as, say, a fishing float or else recycle the sheet metal to repair something else. Remember, we’re talking about a grid-down situation that may be long term, so don’t throw away anything that can be recycled or repurposed. Even tin cans and leaky fuel canisters.

If you get a moderate leaker, there are some things that you can do about it:

1. Mark the canister, if only marking an “L” in the paint on top of the shoulder, so that you can easily identify it later. They all look alike.

2. Attach something to the canister threads that will prevent further leaking. This is not a bad idea, anyway, when storing and transporting canisters. This “something” will be either screw-on caps or some sort of appliance that has a shut-off valve.

The least expensive option that I’ve been able to find is the Mac Coupler Propane Bottle Cap aka MacCaps. Two of these heavy duty brass caps will run you about $8, plus shipping. They’re also fairly common in sporting goods stores and departments for about the same price, but without the shipping cost.

These will certainly stop leaks, as well as protecting the canister threads, which are actually fairly durable. But, if you have dozens of irreplaceable canisters in your inventory, this can get spendy.

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Another option is to attach the leaky canister to a propane appliance and use the control valve on that to stop the leak. One of my preferences is a small and inexpensive propane torch, the kind that plumbers use to solder copper pipes and which can thaw frozen locks etc. These torches will also do a great job of starting campfires even in windy situations, at least with fairly dry wood.

For new torches, one good value option is the Mag-Torch MT200C Propane Pencil Flame Burner Torch. One thing that I like about this one is the all-brass construction, which should be durable under most conditions. Other brands use a lot of plastic and their durability might be questionable. With one of these and a welder’s flint striker (described below), you can just about kindle a flame in a hurricane and it’s very unlikely to blow out. In a pinch, you could even boil some drinking water in a small tin can without having to build a campfire.

A self-igniting small torch could also prove very handy as a sure-fire flame source in almost all conditions, sort of like a Bic lighter on steroids. But, these are going to tend to be not as durable, so they should be held in reserve when any torch use is needed.

You can also frequently find these torches, and other propane camping gear, cheap at yard sales, too, and it doesn’t hurt to have backups, especially if you need something to “cap” a small canister that has started leaking, in order to keep it in service. I’ve picked up used serviceable torches for less than the cost of a new cap. Of course, test out any used propane gear as soon as you can, preferably before you lay out any cash. But, it usually tends to be fairly durable. If you’re going yard-saling, it couldn’t hurt to bring along your own fuel canister for testing, properly stoppered, of course.

3. A third option with slow-leak canisters is the “just in time” method: Just don’t refill them until you need them, then quickly attach them to the appliance. Keep a couple of refilled standby canisters on hand with some sort of capping device and leave the bulk supply tank set up to quickly refill them on demand. The rest of your stockpile of empty canisters is your reserve to replace the inevitable bad leakers.

When working with slow leak canisters, if you must, do this outdoors away from ignition sources, for sure, and don’t dally about connecting it up or capping it. Again, if it’s a fast-leaking canister, unless there is no other choice, take it out of the inventory and find another use for it.

That’s it for refilling small green canisters from bulk tanks. With a little common sense and some patience waiting for the canister to cool back down for a top-off filling, you’re good to go.

Replacements, Hardware and Appliances

Now, we’ll touch on the other stuff that you need to best take advantage of propane.

Stock up on O-Rings!

As we saw in the above photo of the MacCoupler, at one end is small a rubber O-ring seal. Even with proper thread care, these seals will still slowly wear out from use and they’re not a DIY item to replace. They’re fairly durable, but they’ll still wear from normal abrasion and, when they wear out, you may start getting leaks at the tank valve, no matter how hard you tighten it. How quickly they wear out will depend upon how often you screw the adapter into a bulk tank, which will refill about 20 one pound canisters before it empties.

One O-ring preservation strategy is to not remove the adapter from the bulk tank until it is emptied. If you need a bulk tank to power something, grab another one from your stockpile.

But, prepare for this inevitable wear and pick up some extra O-rings of the proper size while you still have the chance. These are quite inexpensive and easy to find at most auto parts and hardware stores, as long as they remain open. The simplest thing is to gently pry off the original O ring that comes with the adapter, perhaps with a plastic knife, take it to the store and tell the clerk, “I want a dozen of these.” O-rings often come in bags of a dozen or so, they’re cheap and having a new one when you really need it just might save your life.

Striking Sparks

The biggest challenge in kindling a flame, for whatever purpose, is creating the initial spark. Lighters, matches and flint/steel etc. are normal parts of the prepping stockpile. But, these all create fairly small sparks that can be problematic in windy conditions.

Magnesium fire starters, which drop burning metal onto the tinder, have their place, too, at least if you don’t have a small propane torch for continuous combustion until the wood catches fire. But, without a spark source of some sort, or a heavy (Glass 10X) magnifying glass, you’ll have to resort to rubbing two sticks together to kindle a flame, and that’s a long tedious process, at best.

Another really nice feature with propane is that it lights very easily in almost all conditions, assuming that you want it to, with a simple, if irreplaceable post-SHTF, flint spark striker. the kind that welders use to light their torches. These industrial strikers fit over the torch output end, put out a large volume of big fat sparks just by squeezing the handle, and they’re cheap.

A good value in flint strikers is the “Hot Max 24172 Single Flint Striker with 5 Replacement Flints“.  This striker is designed for industrial use, it will last for a long time and, with five replacement flints, you are assured of all-weather fire-starting spark for years. With a little extra effort, you might even be able to spark fine dry tinder into flame.

For extra security, since these are so inexpensive, deliver so many sparks and it would be very difficult to MacGyver a striker out of salvage materials, I’d have at least a couple, with spare flints, in the stockpile. For $11, you’ll have two strikers and 10 replacement flints, and so be in good spark shape for a very long time. If you want to stock up on barter items with a very high potential demand and value, welder’s spark strikers are a good choice.

Heat

If you need a lot of heat in an open area or large vented space, nothing will perform better than a catalytic heater that mounts on top of a bulk tanks. But, these use up fuel like flushing a toilet. You’ll burn through a full 20 pound tank in less than a day, so these aren’t really a good option in grid-down, except maybe for an emergency. You’re better off with a campfire or wood stove.

The smallest and safest canister-fueled propane heater seems to be the Mr. Heater Buddy Indoor-Safe Portable Radiant Heater for spaces up to 200 square feet These will last for about 2 – 5 hours per canister, depending upon how high you crank it. At a low burn and five hours of heat per night, a bulk tank will last you about three weeks.

This heater comes with a built-in low-oxygen detector that shuts it down if the oxygen level gets consumed too far. The unit burns at a very high efficiency, so oxygen depletion is usually the biggest concern. If you find yourself gasping for air, you’re low on oxygen (O2) and building up carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air. So, get some fast ventilation from a door or window. But, it’s not going to silently kill you.

However, for suspenders and a belt, it sure doesn’t hurt to have a carbon monoxide (CO) detector, too. There are a variety of CO alarms available that range from $40 and up, but read the reviews carefully; Some are a lot better than others.

One of the best-reviewed seems to be the Universal Security Instruments Carbon Monoxide and Natural Gas Alarm. I like both that it’s a dual methane/carbon monoxide unit and that it has a battery backup.

Cooking

For compact cooking portability, I particularly like the Coleman PefectFlow 1-Burner Stove.  This is a minimalist 10,000 BTU burner that screws onto the top of a canister, with a canister base to keep it more stable. Depending on how hot you burn it, a canister will last about 2 to 5 hours.

But, there are many other choices, too.  My advice is to look for something that fits your budget, meets your needs and has good reviews.

For the best fuel efficiency, I really prefer a steel wok. With this, you can fry, steam and even make soup or boil drinking water, with just a small flame under the center of the bottom. You can also use it with just a tiny little campfire, which saves a lot of labor in finding wood. In Asia, they are frequently fueled by charcoal, which is easy to make off-grid, but the topic of a different article.

I especially like the fact that you can store a small screw-on stove, like the PerfectFlow, and a one pound canister, inside the wok, mostly. It would be a little cumbersome in a bug out bag, but it’s a lot of compact self-contained instant cooking capability to fit into about 1/2 cubic foot of space, with a total weight of just about three pounds. If you’re reduced to eating roots and grubs, they’ll taste a lot better if they’re sautéed.

One good option is the Town Food Service 14 Inch Steel Cantonese Style Wok which I also recommended in part one.  The Cantonese style has two small handles, which makes for easier transport. The Mandarin style wok has both a small handle and a long heat-proof handle, like a frying pan, that makes it easier to flip food and move with one hand, but is more cumbersome to carry and store.

I can’t think of a smaller, lighter family-size “Bug out Kitchen” and later night lighting for less than $75 than this combination of mini-stove, mini-lantern and wok.

As with cast iron cookware, you’ll need to pre-season the cooking surface of steel woks. Gaye has an excellent article on seasoning cast iron in another section of Backdoor Survival, so follow these same directions. Also, keep in mind that this steel has no rust-resistance properties at all. So, dry it well after use and, ideally, give it a light coat of oil inside and out.

Another option that won’t rust, though more costly, would be a stainless steel wok. You’ll find some choices here.

Light

One of the best and most-efficient uses for propane is for lighting. With a little forethought, you can even squeeze a little heat and cooking out of it, without using extra fuel. Typically, a two mantle lantern will run for about 7- 8 hours on a one pound canister.

You’ll find a variety of these at varying prices at here.  Again, read the reviews.

My top choice for minimalism is the Coleman One-Mantle Compact Propane Lantern. For absolute minimal fuel usage, weight and storage, this is the one. This is so small that you should be able to fit it inside the wok, along with the PerfectFlow stove, for no extra space and just handful of ounces of added weight. $24. They don’t mention how long a canister will last, but it should be on the order of 14 – 16 hours.

Since propane lanterns also put out a great deal of heat, and burn very cleanly/efficiently, they can do some nice double duty providing both heat and light. With proper ventilation and, ideally, a carbon monoxide detector, of course. When I’ve gone camping in my Scamp micro-trailer, normally a lantern has provided all the heat I need, for no extra fuel usage. If you mounted a rack above the lantern to hold your wok, you might even be able to make some hot coffee or tea and transfer some of the waste heat to inside your body, where it will do the most good.

And, geez, stock up on lantern mantles! When fired off, these are fragile ceramic nets that will crumble and become useless if you even look at them cross-eyed. Without a functioning mantle, your lantern, whatever the fuel, is worthless. These are definitely not a DIY item.

Refrigeration

Finally, propane is also a source off-the-grid refrigeration, usually by means of a gas absorption refrigerator, the kind that you find in RV’s, though some brands in RV’s seem to break fairly frequently and none are easy for amateurs to repair. Pulling a propane fridge out of an old RV and plumbing it for standalone use is possible, but not a recommended project for beginners.

On the plus side, propane refrigerators are not especially high consumers of fuel, so if food is hard to come by, preserving it with propane-powered cold might make sense. If you have medications that require refrigeration, having cold storage could save a life. For sure, place these in the coolest location available. But, if you’re going to go with propane refrigeration, increase your bulk tank stockpile.

One of the least expensive options, currently at $315 with shipping, is the Porta Gaz  3-Way Portable Gas Refrigerator.  A nice feature with this one is that it will also run on 120 volt AC power, as well as 12 volts. So, it could also be powered by solar cells or even a vehicle, if you have the gas. Or, a small wind turbine driving a car alternator. There was no indication of the power draw, but they don’t draw much compared to, say a tank-type water heater. If you’re going to go this route, more research to match solar power capability with the power draw, and some field testing, would be an excellent idea.

Conclusion

So, that about wraps up this long starting point to safely integrate propane into your prepping plans. The practical comfort that your stockpile can bring, and especially the labor that you won’t have to spend gathering wood from an ever-increasing distance, can make the difference between barely surviving and prospering toward a brighter future. The way to become proficient in using propane is the same way that you get to Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, practice!

At the risk of sounding like Hank Hill, I’ve really just barely scratched the surface for propane. Unless you live in the city, there is much to be said for going whole hog into the propane lifestyle for your home. Millions of people have already done so. But, again, you need to have a good idea about what you’re doing and I’ll leave this research up to you: Just Google “propane” and you’ll find a wealth of information, much of it pretty good. When in doubt, ask your local residential propane delivery dealer.

Thanks for reading! And, remember: “Safety First!”

THE FINAL WORD

Backdoor Survival readers provided some great feedback, useful tips and good questions in the comments section from Part One.  Although many of the questions themselves were covered in this article (part two), there were a few issues that are worthy of some additional discussion, especially as it relates to safety.  For that reason, Chris has agreed to “Prepper Propane – Part Three” and of course, I am thrilled.

One last thing.  As you may know, Chris is the inventor of the Cubic Foot Gardening InstaBed system.  I met him when, as a reader, he invited me to stop by his place and look at his unique raised bed gardening system.  I plan to feature Chris and his work in a separate article – he really is an interesting guy – but in the meantime, if you are in the market for a raised bed gardening system that will not break the bank or your back, please visit his website and check things out.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

Gaye

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Bargain Bin:  Today I share a list of the items mentioned in today’s article plus a few additional useful items.

Mr. Heater F276172 Propane One Pound Tank Refill Adapter:  This is the gizmo you need to refill your small, one pound propane canisters.

Mac Coupler Propane Bottle Cap aka MacCaps: This ingenious device protects the threads of disposable 1 pound propane bottles and helps prevent thread damage and seals out dirt. You will receive 2 caps per order. The Mac Caps makes a welcome addition to any camping gear, RV enthusiast, outdoorsmen, or home owner that needs to use a 1 lb. propane tanks. Now you can protect the threads of those tanks with the Mac Cap. Simply attach the Mac Cap to your 1 lb. tank when not in use to help prevent leaks and protect the threads.

Mag-Torch MT200C Propane Pencil Flame Burner Torch: Useful on leaky canisters, this small and inexpensive propane torch will also do a great job of starting campfires even in windy situations.

Hot Max Flint Striker with 5 Replacement Flints:  If you’re looking for some small item to reach Amazon’s $25 free shipping minimum, it’s a great add-on.

Mr. Heater  Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Portable Radiant Heater: This was first recommended to me by a number of Backdoor Survival readers.  This little buddy is a portable, indoor safe radiant heater. A single 4,000 heat setting delivers sufficient radiant heat for a space up to 200-square-feet. Safety features include a tip over switch that will shut the heater off if it gets knocked over and a low oxygen sensor that shuts the heater off when oxygen levels in the room get too low. The pilot design will also shut the heater off completely if the pilot light goes out. Heater uses a knob for ignition and a separate single button acts as a kill switch. Clean burning and nearly 100-percent efficient.

Coleman PefectFlow 1-Burner Stove:  This Coleman One-burner Propane Stove is an easy-to-use portable stove that should meet almost any camp cooking need. The PerfectFlow regulator provides consistent cooking performance by producing a steady fuel stream, even in cold weather, high altitudes, or when fuel is low. Equipped with one 10,000 BTU burner, this fully adjustable stove will last for 2.2 hours on high or up to nine hours on low.

Cantonese style hammered steel lightweight wok:  Cast iron cooking is my favorite but a bit heavy for bugging out.  You can cook almost anything is a wok and this model is both lightweight and inexpensive.

Coleman One-Mantle Compact Propane Lantern: Easy to use and portable. This Coleman compact lantern lights with matches and is pressure-regulated for consistent light, regardless of weather. The porcelain ventilators will prevent rusting and help this lantern last you a long time.

Universal Security Instruments Carbon Monoxide and Natural Gas Alarm with 9-Volt Battery Backup:  This is a dual sensing alarm – providing protection against two deadly household threats, carbon monoxide and natural gas.

Camping Cook Stove:  Everyone should have a camping cook stove.  Here is a listing of various models to consider.


FN_C926 Fruit & Vegetable ComboShop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials: The monthly specials at Emergency Essentials feature discounts of up to 35% off sometimes a bit more.

You know how I love my fruits and vegetables.  Well for May, the Freeze-Dried Fruit and Vegetable Favorites Combo is on sale for $99.99 which is 31% off the regular price of $145.74.  Included are Strawberry Slices, Banana Slices, Peach Dices, Green Peas, Tomatoes and Super Sweet Corn.

Also on sale are Mountain House Pouches and Freeze Dried Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese for $34.99, discounted from $40.95. 


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Comments

A Primer on Propane for Prepping and Survival – Part Two — 27 Comments

  1. Really good follow up article!

    I looked on the Porta Gaz website and it said the little cooler will run 33 days on a 20 pound cylinder, not bad.

    Tex

  2. Refilling disposable cylinders is like crossing the streams: A really bad idea. “In summary, refilling non-refillable gas cylinders is dangerous because the metal is stressed to it’s maximum, and because the inelasticity of the metal concentrates stress and fatigues the metal.” http://www.gizmology.net/dot39.htm

    1 dead, 1 injured in a refill explosion:
    http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2012/02/06/1-dead-1-injured-in-polk-county-garage-explosion/

    Think I’ll still to the refillable varieties.

    • After reading the referenced article, a couple of things. He was filling them in a (closed?) garage, when the canister exploded, was there a gas water heater with a pilot light near by? Did he heat the tank? Not much to go on. If he had been outside in an open area, methinks it would have come out better.

      • Dunno, but given the facts in the first link (metal stressing/inelasticity) I’m not willing to risk it.

    • I am an engineer… so let me clear up a few things. This so called “inelasticity” of the one pound tank is a fiction. Unless you allow the internal pressure to greatly exceed the design pressure, you can refill the tank as many times as you wish and still be within the elastic limits of the steel from which the tank is made. A brand new, never refilled tank is just as dangerous if the pressure is allowed to become excessive. This can only happen due to excessive temperature. So for our purposes here, the only danger in refilling one pound tanks is putting more than one pound of propane in them and/or having leaks. BTW, the hemispherical ends are there for a very good reason as is true for pressure tanks such as air compressor tanks. The bottom line is this: if you don’t clearly understand what you are doing, don’t do it.

  3. Great article. As far as the safety of refilling one pound tanks, it’s only as safe as the person doing it. I have an off the grid cabin and have been doing it for many years. Common sense is your greatest asset when filling tanks, ALWAYS do it outside and just be careful. If you don’t have the common sense the good lord gave you, don’t refill!

    • Have a look at the first article I linked to. Apparently there is more to it than common sense; Things like the wall of the canister must also be considered. You’ve been blessed to not have an explosion but from that link this is not an issue of if but when.

  4. Thanks for a great article.
    Wouldn’t it be easier to just run any appliances (lamp, heater, stove) directly from the 20# tank, with the proper adapters, hose, and (I’ve seen recommended) an inline moisture filter? I always see the warnings to keep the 20# tank OUTSIDE any building (run the hose through a window?), but see no inherent difference in danger between a 1# and a 20# if properly checked for leaks and the tank closed when not in use. Maybe you could follow up with a discussion on this topic.

  5. Refilling propane tanks was one of the little side jobs that Flying J Maintenance personnel had to do, which required some certification…
    Anyway, one precaution when recycling tanks is to make DAMN SURE that the brass valve on top isn’t corroded blue or green–either where you screw in your adapter, or where it is screwed into the tank, which would be an indication of prior use in a Meth lab to hold liquid Ammonia(!). Reusing such a tank with propane WILL result in you having a VERY BAD DAY.

  6. Pretty good information. I agree that the best way is to use the twenty pound cylinder with a proper hose. They can be purchased at camping supply stores. Not much need to fill one pound cylinders. I ran a propane company for eight years and found many uses for propane.

  7. **** IMPORTANT ****
    Propane is HEAVIER THAN AIR, and leaked propane CAN accumulate in the lowest parts of poorly ventilated areas, such as the bilges of boats, trailers, basements, etc., and remain explosive for indeterminate amounts of time. I saw the grisly evidence of this early one morning in the Bahamas, when a 41 charter sailboat on anchor at Treasure Cay went up in a cloud of black smoke, killing all aboard. I still use propane, but I do so with EXTREME CAUTION.

  8. Mr. Heater makes an adaptor so you can hook up a stove that is made for 1lb tanks to 20lb or larger tanks. It has tank adaptors on either end with 3ft of hose between.

  9. An excellent job of explaining propane, both from the aspect of information and presentation.
    I have been refilling disposable propane bottles for years, and am glad to see that others are interested, too. One thing to keep in mind; it is illegal to transport refilled disposable bottles across state lines -but I have never encountered the Propane Police.

    I am considering installing a large (500-1000 gallon) propane tank and converting my heating and cooking to propane, in order to gain greater independence. I would also like to be able to refill 20 lb tanks from the bulk tank. Do you know of anyone who supplies a system to do so that does not require a pump?

    Al

    • The heating and cooking in my home is powered by propane fed from a large tank but to the best of my knowledge, it can not be tapped to refill 20 lb tanks. Perhaps one of my readers will come up with some ideas for you.

      In the meantime, if you learn of such a system, please share.

      — Gaye

      • The only difficult part will be getting the valve to install on your large tank. Propane vendors have them but are reluctant to self/install them (not sure why… liability perhaps). All large propane tanks have a fitting on the tank that has a dip tube that goes to the bottom of the tank so that a propane vendor can pump out propane from the tank should the tank need to be moved. There is a check valve under the plug at this fitting. All the vendor needs to do is remove the plug and install a hand operated valve to which a hose with appropriate fittings are attached. I bought my valve used form a vender for $50.00 and he made up the hose for me. Once you have this setup, you can easily transfer propane from your large tank to smaller tanks. I urge anyone doing this to be sure you thoroughly understand the entire procedure! It is not hazardous if you know what you are doing but can be very dangerous if you don’t.

  10. Yes it can. One of the fittings beside the main connection can be converted to a fill station with about $100 worth of fittings and hose. The other connection is a pressure relief valve. My propane supplier told me he can supply these items.

  11. In your article you stated that the one pound bottle does not need a regulator like a 20 pound bottle does. While that is technically true, you imply that the 1 pound bottle does not need a regulator. That is false. The pressure in a 1 pound bottle is the same as a 20 pound bottle. The difference is that little part that you screw into the 1 pound bottle that connects to your stove has a regulator built into it.

  12. One extremely important detail that was not made clear is that no propane vessel should be filled more then 80%.
    Liquid does not compress, vapor does, so a ‘cushion’ of vapor needs to be there to compensate for temperature changes.
    I fill my tanks and years ago apparently filled one to the top, it was taken to the garage and apon opening the door it overpressured and vented, mostly outside, if it had vented ten seconds sooner there would have been a concrete slab for my widow where the garage was. Pure luck, all those years of clean living paid off, don’t count on it for you.
    -all- propane vessels (even cheap small ones) have a popoff valve and will vent and not rupture if in reasonably good condition.
    As you note, propane is a volatile liquid, it changes from liquid to vapor or back based on pressure and temperature. (like water)
    So, if one connects a small tank to a large one, say overnight, or if the small one is cooled artificially. the large one will be warmer, or cool slower then the small one and the cooler temp in the small one will result in condensing propane It is possible to fill the small one completely over time.
    Pay attention here, I am not kidding, it will fill completely and when it warms it WILL vent. OPD (overfill protection device) tanks offer some protection, but are not designed to hold back vapor and should not be trusted.
    All tanks intended to be refilled have a ‘snifter’ valve on a dip tube that goes to the 80% level, on the 20 lb tanks it is almost always on the side of the shutoff valve. on most newer tanks it looks like a screw on the side of the valve. On some older tanks it looks like a thumbscrew.
    Now take the tank safely away from buildings or ignition sources, preferably on a windy day when any building is upwind. (do I need to note do not smoke while doing this?) carefully open the valve and if you are getting white vapor the tank is too full. If this is the case for me it is immediately hooked up to a gas grill or a salamander to burn off gas until it is safe. better to waste some gas then to waste a building or lives.
    Note: it will not vent while connected to the large tank, any excess pressure will return to the large tank, which has a vapor cushion.
    NEVER, NEVER, NEVER keep propane bottles inside of a building or out where it is hot. I have a very small vented shed (a little bigger then a doghouse) kept a good distance away from buildings in the shade with no problems.
    For further information the Rego service man’s manual is available on the net for free download. The Rego catalog has some great information as well.
    Rego is a major brand of propane accessories, but not the only one. It happens that this is what is here.
    If you have another brand, get information specific to your equipment.
    And DON’T use airlines/fittings to save a few bucks, the mercapten in propane (to make is smell) is a volatile oil and can degrade materials not rated for propane.
    You can die horribly of burns, or lose your house.
    I won’t refill disposable tanks, to me, no more then I use it is just not worth it.
    this information is presented for amusement only, do not attempt this anywhere. if you do, be double dog sure you know what you are doing, and have your procedure and equipment’s safety verified by a competant serviceman.
    be safe

  13. clear back up in “Handle With Care”……screw in til hand tight..then 2-2 1/2 turns more.. you’ll be lucky to get 1-2 FLATS of hex nut to tight even with big wrench Be very careful here !

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