A Primer on Propane for Prepping and Survival

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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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Call it serendipity if you will but a couple of months ago when I was contacted by Chris Newman, inventor of the InstaBed Cubic Foot Garden System, I had no idea that I was about to meet and get to know a really smart guy with MacGyver like skills and knowledge in all aspects of prepping and survival.

Chris has been generous in sharing his knowledge with me – from gardening to solar energy to grains and more – and has graciously agreed to become a technical consultant to Backdoor Survival.  He is doing this in the spirit of spreading the preparedness message and hopefully making our world a bit greener and more livable in the process.

Today I am thrilled to share a primer on propane that Chris wrote specifically for Backdoor Survival. He covers a topic near and dear to me personally since my household cooking and heat as well as my backup generator is fueled by propane.  And whereas my home is served by a large, community-based propane tank, I now have some workable strategies for stockpiling a backup supply of propane in portable tanks not only for my own use but for barter purposes.

Read on.

INTEGRATING PROPANE INTO YOUR PREPPING STRATEGY – PART ONE

This article covers the basics of propane as an important prepping energy resource. The subjects include safe propane handling, storage, assembling a stockpile of bulk tanks for long term storage at the lowest possible cost and refilling the smaller one pound canisters that are commonly used with portable camping gear, for about 1/5 the cost of new. We’ll also examine a variety of entry-level propane appliances and their suitability in a survival scenario.

Why Propane?

For convenience, value, air quality and long term storage stability, nothing beats propane.

Firewood is cheaper, if you have access to it and you don’t count the value of your time. But, when you’re burning all day and every day, it isn’t all that convenient if you have to go out and cut/gather it yourself. The stuff is heavy, especially if you’re hauling it a long distance. And, how are you at swinging an ax for hours at a time?

If you’re short on survival labor, which is a fair probability, having the option to cook with propane for an extended time, at least until things settle out, will let you channel that considerable fuel-wood time and energy into other important tasks, such as hunting and growing food, or warding off predators. Also, the ease of using propane allows the delegation of cooking etc. to a lesser-able member of your party, allowing all to contribute to the general welfare.

A Hedge Against Inflation

From an investment standpoint, the prices of both propane and the hardware/appliances that use it are directly tied to monetary price inflation – the “hidden tax” that steadily gnaws away at the purchasing power of your hard-won savings. Inflation is currently being deliberately manipulated to keep it low for now, but some price categories, like food, are still skyrocketing, with wages not keeping up. And, the economic stage is strongly set for hyper-inflation in the not-too-distant future.

So, one of the best investments in pre-inflationary and inflationary times (aka hedges against inflation) is hard goods and consumables, like food, that you’ll be using anyway and that will surely cost even more in the future. In other words, to combat inflation, the best place to store your surplus wealth is in tangible stuff, not pieces of paper, or electrons. For sure, no matter how the future shakes out, the retail prices for propane and propane hardware won’t be getting any cheaper, and they probably will go up by a lot.

Properly stored, both fuel and hardware will last indefinitely without degrading, ready to use on a moment’s notice. For all intents and purposes, unlike food, there’s no limit to its shelf life.

So, you’ll save money in the long run, anyway, by stockpiling consumables. But, if the grid goes down, there won’t be any more propane available to buy at all and the value of your investment will go way up. So, the larger your stockpile and the smaller the appliances that use it, which use less fuel, the longer it will last you.

If you play your cards right, you can stockpile at least a year’s worth of cooking and minimal lighting fuel for an average family (10 full five gallon bulk tanks that are equal to 200 small green canisters) for about $200, and do so $20 at a time.

Safety First!

If not handled with respect, Propane is DANGEROUS! As in dynamite dangerous and AK-47 dangerous. As in blowing up your whole house into kindling dangerous. This isn’t vegetable oil. So, treat it with prudent caution and always, always, always read, understand and follow the safety directions that come with every propane product.

Never store tanks of propane indoors or in any other sealed environment. Especially, if you see, smell or hear a gas leak, shut off the source immediately and then fix the problem before you continue. If you can’t shut it off, move away, warn others and cross your fingers. Otherwise, you’ll very likely go up in a cloud of smoke and all your hard-won prepping will have been for naught.

On the plus side, propane has been used as a consumer product for nearly 100 years and stringent government regulations require hardware designs that are fairly, if not perfectly, fool-proof. So, it’s not like you’re handling nitroglycerin. But, unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t try to modify or override the hardware safety features.

Unlike gasoline vapors, pure propane is nontoxic, though it’s certainly not healthy to breathe it and you should avoid it as you would with wood smoke. However, as with all combustion, there’s a real risk of oxygen depletion in a sealed room and proper ventilation should be an ongoing consideration. If you find yourself starting to gasp for air, triggered by a buildup of carbon dioxide, that’s an early warning sign that the oxygen is running low and it’s time for some fresh air, no matter how cold it might be.

Unlike natural gas, propane is heavier than air (1.5 times as dense). In its unburned state, propane vapor sinks and pools at the floor level. So, simply opening a couple of high windows to vent a leak may not be enough: You need to open a door or something else at ground level to let the heavy unburned vapors “drain” outside to disperse.

Liquid propane, say from a broken hose or leaking tank valve, will flash to a vapor at atmospheric pressure and the vapor appears white due to moisture condensing from the air. A big cloud of propane in the open air will blow up with the slightest spark, even static. So, you want to avoid coming even close to these.

Those basic risks described, however, if you treat propane with respect and understanding, there is no better fuel to stockpile for long term storage and multiple uses in survival situations, at least where you are not on the run, and while it lasts. Especially, when you use propane for just vital things like cooking and night lighting, the use rate is surprisingly low and a little propane will go a long ways.

What is Propane?

Propane is a gaseous byproduct in the refining of both oil and natural gas. It can be compressed into a liquid at relatively low pressures and will readily convert back into a burnable vapor under any conditions which humans can tolerate. First synthesized in 1910, it has been in commercial production since the 1920’s and the technology of using it at the consumer level is very well refined.

90% of all propane used in the US is from US sources, with 70% of the remaining amount coming from Canada. So, using propane fuel doesn’t fund jihad by our enemies and the money remains within the US economy, which are two of the reasons why I like it, beside the many practical prepping utilities.

Propane combustion is much cleaner than gasoline and other liquid hydrocarbons, though not quite as clean as natural gas combustion. Environmentally, it’s usually greener to cook with propane than with electricity. With a perfect burn, attainable only in theory, the only by-products are heat, carbon dioxide and water vapor. So, it can be used for indoor heating applications, but use a stove that provides a very high combustion efficiency and, especially, a low-oxygen sensor that will shut it down if the O2 gets low.

Convenience and Labor Savings

Another way to look at propane is as a serious labor saving device. In a self-subsistence scenario, your greatest critical shortages are going to be labor and the energy to power it. With propane in your resource inventory, the large amount of work that would normally have to be expended gathering and processing fuel for a cooking fire can then redirected into other critical tasks, such as growing food etc.

When cooking is less labor-intensive, it can also be assigned to the lessor-able in the party, such as older folks with more enthusiasm than physical stamina, while they simultaneously babysit and teach the young ones how to cook, freeing up the parents to work elsewhere.

The easiest way to implement propane into your prepping strategy and to start climbing the learning curve is to start looking for ways to incorporate it into your day-to-day life. It doesn’t much matter where you start, but probably the best place is cooking. So, if you don’t already have one, start shopping for a camping cook stove. Amazon has a good assortment  and you can often find propane stuff at very attractive prices at yard sales etc. Generally speaking, you want appliances that use those green 1 pound propane canisters that cost so much new, but that can also be easily refilled at a huge savings.

To develop your proficiency in advance, fire up the camping stove and cook at least a few meals with it, perhaps practicing your prepper cooking recipes at the same time. Maybe hold a “grid-down weekend” drill, where you live off nothing but assembled resources, in order to test your resources and quickly determine what’s missing. You’ll be killing at least three prepping proficiency birds with one stone: Propane, using your portable stove and subsistence-style cooking from stored food.

Propane on the Run

An empty bulk tanks weighs 19 pounds and, when full, will weigh 39 pounds. So, they’re not exactly ideal to bring along when running for your life on foot. However, if mobility is mandatory until you reach your safe haven (you do have one lined up, don’t you?), simple single-burner stoves can be quite small and compact.

When combined with wok cooking, which includes stir-fry, steaming and soups/stews etc., you can feed a feed a lot of people with very little fuel. Asian folks, where fuel is always in critical shortage, have been using woks to cook for countless years as the most fuel-efficient way to prepare food over a tiny flame.

For truly minimalist propane use, such as in your bug out bag, a good choice is the Coleman PefectFlow 1-Burner Stove that screws directly onto the top of the canister.

Between the stove and fuel canister, you’ll add about two pounds to your load. But, you’ll also be able to boil a lot of questionable water for drinking, instant soups, coffee etc. which will also help cut the chill, and heat some quick meals whenever you can stop running for a few minutes.

Adding a small Cantonese style hammered steel lightweight wok and a couple of utensils won’t add much more weight, and will give you even more subsistence options. The tiny stove and a canister will pack, mostly, inside the wok. Don’t forget to pre-season your new wok, as you would with cast iron.

Costs

All things considered, propane as a backup energy supply is dirt cheap. There’s a huge amount of high cost technology involved in the production of the gas and storage containers that you won’t be able to replace on a DIY level. Since propane is a byproduct of other processes, the market price doesn’t reflect its true cost to create it, as with, say, solar panels.

As for cost per heat unit, propane is cheaper (and a lot safer to use) than any of the liquid fuels, though not quite as cheap as piped-in natural gas, none of which will be available in a grid-down situation.

The market price range will generally fluctuate along with the rest of the hydrocarbon market, so stock up shortly after gasoline prices go down, after the propane dealer has had a chance to catch up to lower their prices, which they are frequently not in a hurry to do, unless prices are going up.

For the first couple of bulk tanks in the stockpile, at least, I wouldn’t stress too much about waiting for prices to drop to rock bottom. Even a 50 cents/gallon price difference is still only $2.50 for a bulk tank and I’d hate to get caught in the dark and cold because I delayed and tried to save a little pocket change. Once you’re basically prepared with a couple of bulk tanks, you can then start extending the time that you acquire the balance of your stockpile on a timely and cost-effective basis. Even one bulk tank, with sparing use, should keep you going comfortably for a month of grid-down.

Just to make things confusing, propane is sold in two different measurements: In pre-filled container form, it is sold by the pound of fuel. But it’s sold by the liquid gallon in bulk form. One gallon of liquid propane weighs just over four pounds, or will fill four green one pound canisters.

Since refilling, either by the dealer or the prepper, is never 100% to a container’s capacity, your results will likely vary a little from the measured theory, but this is close enough for long term planning,

A brand new empty 20 pound (aka five gallon) bulk tank, the kind that your outdoor barbecue uses, will cost you about $25-$30. It must then be filled with 5 gallons of propane (currently $2.59/gallon at the farm co-op near my home in the Seattle area), which will cost another $12.95. So, the total cost for a brand new full bulk tank will run about $40.00.

propane3

If you obtain your propane by trading in your tank for a pre-“filled” tank at the local store, it’s going to cost you about $18-$25. The higher price in the above recent photo at the local Wal-Mart is if you don’t have a trade-in tank. The lower price is if you do: A difference of about $26, or about the price for a brand new tank. Some propane kiosks will also charge a higher price if your trade-in tank is “non-OPD,” which we’ll cover a little later. You wan to avoid these like the plague.

But, the tank that you receive in trade won’t be full, because the suppliers deliberately do not fill it to capacity. To me, this is on a par with watering the booze. The shortage can vary from 2 pounds (10%) up to 5 pounds (25%) so, in order to figure out how badly you’re being ripped off, check the new tank’s label for the net weight in pounds and subtract that from 20. Around here, trade-in tanks are often 3 pounds (15%) light, so I’ll use that figure.

Trading in is a very costly way to buy propane, at least if that’s your only intent. On a trade-in basis, assuming a $20 trade-in price for the tank, each gallon of propane is going to cost you $ 4.71/gallon, which is a lot more than $2.59 in bulk, especially when you’re talking about five gallons per tank and multiple tanks in the stockpile. If the shortage is greater than 3 pound, you’re paying an even higher price for the fuel.

Propane prices, whether bulk or trade-in and besides market fluctuations, will also often vary by a great deal within the same region. It all depends on where you buy it. I have found that the cheapest place to buy bulk propane is at the local farm co-op. The most expensive is at gas stations near freeway interchanges that see a lot of RV traffic, where the price can be double the co-op’s price. For trade-ins, Wal-Mart has always been about 10% cheaper than other outlets, and that’s one reason to trade in your tanks there. So, shop around and find the best bulk prices in your area.

Another reason to not buy brand new tanks, if you’re going to be trading them in, is that you will lose that shiny new tank, getting a used one back. On a practical level, this doesn’t really matter. But, the idea of trading new for used still grates on me.

One Pound Canisters

A brand new 1 pound small green propane canister will run anywhere from about $2.50 to $7.50. $3.00 is about average locally, so I’ll use that figure. A gallon of propane in one pound canisters is going to cost you about $12.00. So, while this is certainly convenient, it’s also very expensive. Fortunately, these small canisters can be refilled many times for about 65 cents each and we’ll detail how to go about refilling later in this article.

Hardware

Something worth mentioning is to not confuse one pound propane cylinders and hardware with butane-powered ultra-light gear, which are primarily designed for backpacking. A tiny 4 ounce tank and stove might be great in your bug out bag, but this is not a good ongoing fuel source: The tiny tanks won’t last long, bulk butane is difficult to find in the best of times and there is no easy way to refill the tanks. The way that the tanks connect to the hardware is different than propane, too, so there’s no chance of mixing up the two.

One other caveat is that bulk propane tanks require a pressure-reducing regulator before you hook them up to most appliances. You can find these on gas barbecues and RV’s and they generally are very durable. On the other hand, the small one pound canisters do not require regulators and can be directly connected.

Yet another warning is to avoid tanks with rust in the metal, if at all possible. This rust weakens the strength of the tank wall and, if it gets bad enough, it will blow out from internal pressure, releasing all the gas in an explosive cloud, with no way to shut it off. For this reason, a brand new tank is supposed to be inspected and recertified 12 years after it was manufactured. After that, the tank is supposed to be recertified ever five years. As a practical matter, I have never had a bulk dealer check the certification date on any tank that I was having filled.

propane1 A few small scratches with a little rust is common and no big deal. But, if there’s serious rust, such as on the tanks in the above photo of my trade-in stockpile, you need to trade them in, whether they have the new style valve or not. The trade-in companies will clean, repaint and re-certify them, if possible.

But, if you’re keeping your tanks and plan to refill them with bulk gas, try to avoid scratching and dinging the paint as much as possible. If you really want to preserve them, add a can of white Rustoleum paint to your supplies, which is designed to go directly over rust, and touch up any scratches to protect the exposed steel from rusting further. If you store them outdoors in the weather, the tanks will eventually look like those in the above photo. So, the best place to store them is dry and out of the weather, but with plenty of ventilation. (Don’t just cover them up with a plastic tarp, which will concentrate condensation and be even worse than normal weathering.)

Finally, keep in mind that the threads into which you connect things to a bulk propane tank are *left handed.” That means that they need to be screwed in in the opposite direction as normal, counter-clockwise, instead of clockwise. In this case, “Lefty tighty, righty loosey.” This is especially important to remember when you’re disconnecting something from the tank valve: If you crank down hard in what would be the normal loosening direction, all you’re doing is making it tighter. If you’re strong enough, you’ll actually strip out the brass valve threads and that will destroy the tank for any further use, except trading it in, if the stores are even still open.

propane2

Thanks to a change some years back, bulk propane tank valves have been upgraded to what is known as OPD (Overfill Protection Device). This valve prevents over-filling the bulk and it also prevents gas from leaving the tank if the valve is opened, but nothing is hooked up to it.

You can easily see the difference between old-style valves and new-style in the above photo: The old-style, with a star-shaped knob, is on the left. The new-style OPD, with a triangular knob, is on the right. Replacing an old-style valve with a new-style valve on an old tank is not something that amateurs should do, except in an emergency.

By law, bulk propane dealers cannot refill tanks with old-style valves. But, they will happily refill trade-in tanks, even with the labels still on, which will save you $10.60 per five gallons over the trade-in cost. If you have 10 bulk tanks in your stockpile, refilling your own tanks creates a savings of $106, so it’s well worth the extra trouble.

In theory, your bulk propane dealer can top off the partially-filled trade-in tanks, but it would be a real imposition to ask them to go to the trouble for a gallon or so. If it’s a friend who would do you a favor anyway, that’s another thing, however. I wouldn’t feel too badly asking for a top-off of one recently acquired trade-in tank, if I was also having two empty tanks filled at the same time.

New-Style Tanks for Old

One of the really cool things about change, as much as most people hate it, is that this is where you find the best opportunities to save/make money. In this case, there is the opportunity to save a lot of money by obtaining empty old-style bulk propane tanks free or cheap and trading them in for “full” new-style tanks. For each old-style tank that you trade in, you’re going to save about $20, even factoring in the higher price of gas and the shortage. When you’re first setting up a stockpile of 10 tanks, that will reduce your total cost by $200, or about half the price of brand new, which will buy a lot of other prepping gear.

The reasons to go to Wal-Mart for your exchanges are 1. They’ll probably be the least expensive and, 2. The employees aren’t going to care what you’re trading in.

While the changeover happened more than 10 years ago, there are still lots of old-style tanks kicking around, of the countless millions that were produced. Since they can’t be refilled, they’re too light (18.5 lbs.) to be worth a trip to the local metal recycler and too heavy/bulky to throw in a garbage can, they tend to stick around, taking up space. A great place to find them is on the front of old RV trailers that haven’t moved in years.

In my experience, most people who are stuck with old-style tanks have been delighted to give them to me for free. So, look around and see what you can spot at friends and neighbors. I obtained many of my stockpile of tanks in the days when I was buying and selling vintage RV trailers. The unit may have had old-style tanks when it came in, but it didn’t when it sold.

Another good place to check for old-style tanks is local RV dealers who deal in a lot of trade-ins. They may just have a stockpile out back and be happy for you to haul them off.

If I really wanted to score a lot of trade-able tanks, I’d run an ad on Craigslist and offer to pay $5 each, delivered to my home. There are lots of amateur metal salvagers scrounging around, who work cheap, that the metal recycler would pay them less than $1 per tank. So, they would love to find a $5 buyer and you’ll probably have offers for more trade-in tanks than you need. Even paying $5 each, and not counting all the time and trouble you’d have to go through to obtain them for “free,” as well as the missing fuel in trade-in tanks, you’ll still be saving $14 per tank, over buying them brand new.

(At the same time, in the CL ad, I’d also be looking for 1 pound propane canisters and offer to pay up to $1 each for them. When you refill them the first time, your total cost will be $1.60, about half the price of new. Since the valves in these canisters are designed for a one-time use, though they will usually support many refills, they will eventually wear out. So, you want plenty of spares in your stockpile. I have about a dozen and want a couple of dozen more.)

Yet another place to look for old propane tanks is at your local metal recycler, who often sorts out re-sellable items from the general scrap and keeps them off to one side for customer purchase. The scrap yard near my house has a pile of about 50 used propane tanks and will be happy to sell them to me for 20 cents a pound, or about $3.80 each, which is still a huge savings over a new one for $25.

Part Two – Coming Up Next

This ends Part One of “Prepper Propane 101,” which mostly covered the what’s and why’s. In Part Two, we’ll get into the how’s and learn how to refill small green one pound canisters from bulk tanks, for a tiny fraction of the cost of new. This refilling can get a little complicated when you’re trying for a full fill, but it needn’t be if you understand what you’re doing. We’ll also go over some of the basic propane appliances that you should add to your resources.

THE FINAL WORD

It goes without saying that learning how to safely use propane is a good idea.  Campers, RV’ers, boaters and off-grid homesteaders are already familiar with propane but for many city dwellers, the gas BBQ represents the extent of their experience with propane gas.

Next month I will be sharing part two of this primer on prepper propane. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions, be sure to leave a comment below and I will send them over to Chris for a response.  You can also visit Chris at his website at his Cubic Foot Gardening website.

Added:  Here is a  direct link to A Primer on Propane for Prepping and Survival – Part Two.

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.

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.  Less than $25 plus a lifetime warranty.

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.

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

Mr. Heater Portable “Big Buddy” Heater : A number of readers have mentioned this portable heater to me. Using propane and safe for indoor use, the Big Buddy Heater features an automatic low-oxygen shut-off system that automatically turns the unit off before carbon monoxide fumes reach dangerous levels in home.

Now how good is that? Read the reviews and decide for yourself. I think that in a power down situation, this is a great option for someone without a wood burning heat source.

Mr. Heater F276172 Propane One Pound Tank Refill Adapter: One pound propane tank refill adapter with male soft nose P.O.L. and female 1″x20 throwaway cylinder thread refills 1 lb. bottles in one minute or less.

Solo Stove Emergency Survival Stove: You should also have a stove that burns biomass.  The Solo Stove is perfect for cooking beans and rice using just a pot, some water and biomass as fuel. A step up is the EcoZoom Versa. Remember when I spoke of redundancy? I have both plus a Volcano II collapsible stove. I suppose you could say that going hungry is not high on my to do list.  And yes, I have a propane stove too.


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Comments

A Primer on Propane for Prepping and Survival — 64 Comments

  1. This was one of the most informative articles dealing with prepping that I have ever read. Thank you so much. I anxiously await part 2.

    • I would like to have seen specific information on storage do’s and don’ts. For instance, can I store my 20 gallon tanks in a metal job box. Can I store them in a plastic storage box.

      • IMO storage could be anything that does not subject them to moisture or extreme heat as long as ventilation is provided. Tight metal box in the summer sun – NO.

  2. When we took our tanks in for refill, the service guy told us to remove the label that is wrapped around the cannister. This draws and holds moisture and causes your rusting.

  3. Thanks Robbyn! Part Two, covering refilling small canisters and some hardware reviews, will appear in a couple of weeks.

    Great tip, Terresa, about removing the plastic wrapper to help prevent tank rust. Always something new to learn.

    I will be checking into this article comment section regularly and happy to answer questions and acknowledge more good tips, which I’ll add to Part Two.

    If you’re interested in learning more about high-intensity food security Cubic Foot Gardening, please visit http://cubicfootgardening.net/ . We’re now well-stocked with InstaBed raw materials and in full production, with shipping within a couple of business days and $12 flat rate Priority Mail shipping cost for any size order.

  4. Thanks for the Tips, I just put a tri fuel conversion kit on our Generator and got two 100 lb. tanks of propane for Emergency Power , Ill use you advice for sure . thanks

  5. I have built up my stock of propane tanks from garage sale purchases–usually between 3$3-5…I immediately trade them in for full tanks. I currently have 8 and plan on adding a few more. I think this is the cheapest way to find them–People are thrilled to get them off their hands.

  6. Very good information about propane. While I’m guessing that you’ve previously covered the “security” factor of visible heat sources in the midst of an extended power grid outage… the propane provides a much less visible heat exhaust… especially in comparison to burning wood for heat. As has been said before, “When people get desparate – people do desparate things”. (Not intending to be a messenger of “Gloom & Doom”… just consideing the real possibilies.) Although the most humane mindset would be to welcome others in from the cold… and share with others… there is realistically a limit to survival provisions. In any case, propane doesn’t send out the “smoke signals” as does burning wood or most other combustibles. A good source of fuel… as so well discussed in the fine article.

    • Thanks for your kind comments, CO. You bring up an excellent point! I’ll add this to Part Two.

      Understanding and factoring in OpSec is certainly one of the most critical elements in any serious prepping strategy. The main purpose of this particular article is to get propane newbies launched into the fuel technology at the lowest possible cost and without blowing themselves up.

      My personal belief is that the safest place to be post-SHTF, if such is even possible, is within a community of like-minded prepared folks in a pre-arranged, sustainable and highly defensible bugout location. In the works is a series of articles covering the ABC’s of forming one of these “flash survival communities” that’s entitled “Strength in Numbers.” It will likely be at least a few months before it appears here first, in Backdoor Survival.

  7. Great article on propane! Also, most people do not think about using propane for refrigeration, especially important if you use med’s that need to be kept cool. While typically dual electric/propane refrigerators cost more than conventional ones they can be found fairly cheap when someone parts out old campers. Propane refrigerators actually do not use much fuel. Good luck fellow preppers.

  8. Great technical article! I love reading material by the experts. But I am not an expert or even very competent at this point, and I have a couple of simple-minded questions. I have used a single burner camp stove, and have several 1 lb canisters in my closet. Is this a bad idea to have them inside? It gets very hot in the summers here in central Texas. Second, am I to understand that it is safe to use my one-burner inside?

    • Thanks for your questions, Mindy! Great wisdom is composed of the answers to countless simple minded questions. We all start at Ground Zero and how high we choose to build is up to us.

      I’ll be covering your questions in more depth in Part Two, which is due out on BDS on May 7.

      But, the quick answers are that:

      A. You should never store any sort of propane in a sealed place, and especially inside living spaces. The one pound canisters especially are built cheaply and have been known to leak, even new ones, and especially with high heat. The hotter they get, the more pressure builds up inside and anything over 85 degrees is starting to push the limits. If one of your canisters should leak, it would easily fill the closet with explosive gas, that then will slowly leak out the bottom of the door and travel across the floor, looking for a spark or pilot flame. I don’t know if there would be enough power released from one canister to blow your house completely off its foundation, but whatever happened would be most unfortunate and it certainly set your house on fire. In hot climates, at least, be sure that they are shaded from the hot direct sun. So, please get your canisters relocated to a vented area ASAP.

      B. For all practical purposes at the user level, propane is as safe to use indoors as natural gas, which burns just a smidgen cleaner. Oxygen depletion is a bigger concern than carbon monoxide build up, especially with clean-burning hardware, but don’t ignore either potentials. The key to safety is to have at least a little ventilation. For instance, if you put your portable stove in your kitchen, turn on the vent fan over the stove. Or crack a window. Unlike unburned vapors, which sink, the combustion products rise, so a higher window, should vent fine. For added safety, open two windows and get some cross-ventilation going.

      • Thank you so much! I will get those canisters out of the closet today! Maybe move them under the house, which is open, pier and beam. It can get to triple digits in this part of Texas, but under the house stays much cooler.

    • Just to add to this – I always recommend that you have a carbon monoxide detector as well. The cost is marginal compared to the warning these detectors will issue if a leak is suspected. My experience is that they will sometimes issue a false alarm but better to be safe – and alive – than sorry.

      • Absolutely! When the option exists, whatever the subject, it’s always best to go with both “suspenders and a belt.” Sh*t happens, and usually at the most inconvenient time.

        When the option for backup security doesn’t exist, for whatever reason, the next best thing is a thorough understanding of the subject that will let one make a reasonable assessment and at least minimize potential risks by reading the situation.

  9. Another thing to think about is larger tanks for heating and water heating, refrigeration, and what have ya. Do not forget that you can have your older cars converted to propane as well.

  10. I bought a 90KW Kohler propane powered generator at an estate sale which came with a 500 lb bulk tank that is 3/4’s full or about 300 lb of propane if my math is correct. What would be the procedure for hooking this up to my house or filling smaller tanks from it for easier transportation? Given our present political/economical clime, I’m thinking filling smaller tanks would be more important. The generator already has its own 100 lb tank attached but I would like to refill it from the larger tank also.

    • OP, correct me if I am wrong on this….

      90KW! That could run an entire city block of houses!

      I just went to Kohler’s website and they don’t make a 90KW in LP anymore but they do offer a 100KW.

      I was curious so I did a little math:
      You said you have approximately 300 pounds of propane in your big tank and the gen set holds 100.
      lbs.
      300lbs/2.2+ 136.36 KG/ 0,535 cubic meters in a KG= 254.88 cubic meters of propane
      The 100KW genset at kohlerpower dot com uses 5.5 cubic meters of propane PER HOUR at 25% LOAD!
      or 22.5KW/hr (more that ANY house would ever use) 254.88Cubic meters of propane divided by 5.5 cubic meters per hour= 46.34 hours of run time on 75gallons of propane.

      Even at 0% load it would run our in 88hours. That’s with the big tank, divide that by three for the 100 lb tank.

      All that said, my advise would be to sell the gen set, make some money, buy a 10-12KW gen set AND an auto transfer switch AND pay and electrician to install it.

      Just my 2 cents.

      Tex

  11. Our Boy Scout troop uses a lot of propane. We live in a small community (less than 1500) and we all go to the county dump. You would not believe what people throw out. We have supplied out troop with lots of cast iron cookware, chairs, utensils etc and several propane canisters. As you said in the article, we take them to the trade in spot at a local grocery store and they take them no matter what the condition is. No cost accept the first fill. Then we go to our local propane supply and get them filled for free.

    One thing you didn’t mention in your article, keep the filled canisters out of the sun! One year we were on our week long summer camp. It was over 110 deg in the shade as we set up camp. One of our canisters was sitting in the middle of the campsite while we set up. All of a sudden the pressure safety valve went off and the canister went flying across the campsite! Normal vapor pressure for propane is not that high, but when it sits in the sun for a few hours it can go up well over 200 psi!

    Tex

    • Thanks for the valuable tip, Tex. I’m glad that no one was hurt. That was quite a learning opportunity for the scouts that certainly won’t be forgotten.

      I live near Seattle, where three days of 75 degree weather is considered a heat wave, so I’m not used to solar radiation being an issue. I’ll include your warning in Part Two.

  12. Thanks for math work Tex. It was built in ’69 and has a 4 cyl. John Deer engine on it. I was curious as to what the consumption rate would be. As disappointing as those figures are I’m sure they are accurate. A friend of mine who is the head electrician for the county emergency operations and civic center said it’s bigger than anything they own and like you said, would power a small neighborhood. I only bought it because I got such a good deal. It was originally hooked up to a large house to come online in the event of a power outage due to a hurricane (I live in south FL) of other outside interference. Selling it is definitely on my list.

    • An Inline 4 would not be as bad, however it must be a big one! All the 80-100KW units I saw all had a small block V8!

  13. Regarding the old style tanks and the several remarks you made about them. In SC you can certainly have the old style refilled easy at any dealer..The old style tanks are MUCH cheaper to acquire than the new ones, especially the 100 lb tanks.I average less than $50.00 for a tank that retails for $129.00 and up depending where you my go. I have 4 and use them regularly and look to buy additional tanks. The old style tank is what you want for re-filling the smaller tanks.

    • Thanks for the further info. The more propane in your stockpile and the cheaper that you can pick up the tanks, the better, of course. As I understand it, the larger old-style tanks are still reusable most anywhere.When in doubt, check with your local dealer to see what they can fill.

      The upside of larger tanks is that you don’t have to change them out as often, so they’re more convenient in use. The downside is the greater weight to haul and move, after they’re filled. It’s hard to get a full 100 lb. tank into and back out of the trunk of your car, especially if you don’t have great physical strength.

      The article was written as a basic primer on safe and inexpensive propane use/stockpiling for all skill and capability levels, for the primary purpose of prepping for a possible SHTF scenario. It already ran a lot longer than expected, so some of the more advanced applications, such as living the propane lifestyle now, weren’t covered.

      Personally, I plan to install a 500 pound tank at my bugout destination, use it regularly in my RV-based shelter and keep it filled by a propane delivery service. Plus, a bunch of smaller 20 pound tanks, just in case.

  14. Re: buying at garage sales. Be sure and hook-up/check this stuff out right away. While a good source, price wise, there is no guarantee it works, ie, don’t wait until you need it! (this doesn’t mean the seller is dishonest, but who knows when the item was last used/checked, etc).

  15. Have not yet searched for them so hoping that Part 2 will include links for hose sets that will properly connect larger tanks to small portable tanks – for refilling AND to connect stoves, etc that use small tanks to the larger tanks – desire option to run camp gear (stove, light, heater, etc) off my BBQ tank.

  16. Those cute little 10 gal tanks are nice but have you calculated how long they last in real time use? You can get about 6 weeks of cooking from one if that is all it is used for. Nice cushion to fall back on while thinking up plan B. But…We have a 280 gallon tank that we use currently. We keep it topped off twice a year just because. The useful life of that tank (for cooking only) it 3.76 years. We own the tank so can shop for the best price at each top off. The tank is of course camophlaged (in a manner acceptable to state regs for large tanks) so it is not easily spotted. Seems if you are going to go to the expense of a gas appliance (there are stoves for cooking and heating and refrigerators too) you need to look at the long term for relying on them.

  17. Very good article. I have a conversion kit for my gas generator to use propane and have been adding 30 & 40 lb propane canisters to my storage. You do not mention how much propane might be needed in an emergency. To keep it simple, how log will a 15 lb canister last if used to cook two or three times a day? How long if used for heat (one heater). I realize any suggestion would be an estimate, but it would be helpful never-the-less. Thanks

  18. Couple of things to add:

    If you do refill the 1 pound canisters from a tank, “legally” by DOT rules, you may NOT transfer them on the highway. Only the larger refillable tanks can be legally moved by car or truck. (nobody pays attention to this) The reason, IMHO, is leakage. These things tend to leak after some use. If you do refill them, keep them in a well ventilated area.

    Someone wanted to know how long X size will last with cooking/heating. The answer is “it depends…. on a LOT of stuff.

    Example: We moved in to our old farm house in December of 1983. It just so happened to be the coldest winter in South Texas memory. It got down to 9 degrees and then stayed below freezing for over a week. We had just bought and installed a 500 gallon propane tanks and had it topped off. No problem, we thought….

    We had just three space heaters, a 30 gal water heater and a LP gas range. We went through ALL 400 gallons (remember only 80% fill) in a WEEK! We had NO insulation, poor windows, and cracks under all the doors. It was miserable.

    We have since fixed a lot of that, but we still go through 100-175 gal of propane in a winter, even in South Texas.

    • Thanks for answering some of the new questions, Tex. They came in in a flurry.

      Without knowing the usage rates (in BTUs and use rate) of each appliance, there’s no way to estimate how much gas they will consume. Even “2 or 3” meals a day would vary a lot, depending upon how many people are being fed, and what. Are you cooking stew for 10 in a cast iron kettle or a quick stir-fry in a wok for two? It’s good to ask these questions now, though, while there’s still time to learn and adjust one’s prepping strategy, and mindset.

      The main focus of this article (in two parts) is for entry-level beginners to get safely started with propane and camping-level appliances, which don’t use much fuel, as a backup fuel in a survival situation. It’s not about living a propane lifestyle, which is also a Good Thing, at least as long as the trucks keep running. If you start throwing in water and large space heating, as you mentioned, you’re going to go through a LOT of fuel and quickly run out of what may be the last propane that you see for the rest of your life.

      If bathing is important, one can get a good scrub with a gallon of warm water, some soap and a sponge, which will use very little fuel. For that matter, they also make solar-powered “camping showers” and that fuel is inexhaustible.

      But, here’s a bit of a preview from Part Two, which will appear on May 3: A one pound canister contains just over 21,000 BTU’s of heat energy. How long it will last depends upon the consumption rate of the stove (or other appliance), which is also rated in BTUs used per hour. For instance, the Coleman PefectFlow 1-Burner Stove is rated at 10,000 BTUs of output per hour at full blast. So, divide the contents of the canister (21,000+) by the use rate per hour (10,000) and you get a little over two hours of cooking time per one pound canister.

      But, that’s at full blast. If you turn down the flame, which consumes less fuel, it can last a lot longer. According to Coleman, the PerfectFlow will run between 2.2 hours and 9 hours on a single canister. Other camping stoves will probably run close to this: Check the output rating for your particular appliance, then do the math to determine the hours of use.

      My hypothetical “bulk” stockpile of ten standard 20 pound tanks (200 pounds), will fill (or refill) 200 one pound canisters. With a single burner stove, that will give you between 440 and 1,800 hours of cooking time.That’s one reason why I like steel woks, which are among the lowest BTU methods of cooking on the planet.

      And, yes, “disposable” canisters can start to leak with repeated use. That’s a good reason to stockpile a lot of these, even if you don’t keep them all filled. The fast solution for a leaker is to attach it to something else with an “Off” valve. Another option is to buy screw-on canister caps. Upcoming will be some specific product recommendations.

      And, yes, one should always test out used camping gear, preferably before shelling out any money. For that matter, new products should be tested, and practiced with, too, while there’s still time.

  19. Could empty MAPP gas bottles be refilled the same as the 1lb propane bottles. Have several around. Just wondering if I should keep or sell for scrap.

      • The tall one pound propane canisters that are commonly used for similar shop torches will work, too. To clear up any possible confusion, a MAPP gas torch will run fine, if cooler, on propane. You can also run small shop torches off the green canisters.

        But, according to the manufacturers, don’t hook a propane torch up to a MAPP gas tank, but they don’t say why. Presumably, they can’t handle the hotter flame and, for all I know, the internal jets may be different. Just to fill in my knowledge gap, does anyone have any definitive info on why small propane torches shouldn’t be connected to MAPP tanks?

        Both types of these small shop torch tanks seem to have a little thicker metal, too. Anyone hear anything about whether the internal valves are any better at not leaking than the cheap squat green canisters? Over many decades of using these, I’ve never had a leaker, but then I’ve never refilled any, either.

        I have used a tall shop propane canister in a pinch to power my Coleman two burner stove. The fuel hooks up with a rubber hose that’s mounted on the stove and the canister is intended to sit upright, behind the wind screen. (You don’t *ever* want to let a canister be heated by the burner flame!)

        One issue that did come up, however, was that the rubber hose leading from the stove was not long enough to accommodate the taller torch and let it stand upright. It will lay on its side fine, though that could risk a serious problem when you go to light the stove.

        A full tall canister lying on its side could conceivably have a liquid propane level above the outlet.In that circumstance, you could potentially be drawing off liquid, instead of gas, and when it hit the burner would instantly vaporize with a LOT more BTUs than you were intending. In other words, a large ball of flame that would kill you in a slow painful fashion from pneumonia, if you inhaled it and fried the linings of your lungs.

        This is not an issue with torches, which are more complexly engineered than stoves. But, I’m not going to experiment with my stove.

        In my case, the tall tank wasn’t completely full and I propped up the valve end to nearly an upright position. So, I safely had my morning coffee.

        If you do have tall shop torch tanks in your inventory, the next time that you have the stove out would be a good time to see how well it will accommodate the non-standard height.

        The main point, however, is that propane is generally safe to play with, as long as you are coloring inside the lines and following all of the safety directions that come with the hardware. The product designs anticipate potential surprises and are generally pretty fool-proof.

        But, when you start improvising and adapting, scenarios can occur that can put you at serious risk due to circumstances that you’ve never experienced before. For instance, an upright tank of any size (except certain industrial tanks that you’re unlikely to encounter) will dispense gaseous propane. But, if it’s upside down, it will dispense liquid that will flash into a cloud of vapor.

        So, it’s good to have a strong working knowledge of the basics on any topic before getting adventurous. If you start cutting and brazing and recycling parts off of old barbecues, you’re getting into seriously dangerous territory.

        • I had 1 tall torch tank which decided to start leaking upon disconnect. This is an old tank which had been connected several times and because of the leak is now stored installed on the torch until it is emptied and replaced.

      • I no longer trust those 1 pound tanks at all. Was using one to unsolder some old water pipe in my cellar a couple years ago. When the job was done I unscrewed the torch head as I always do, and THE CHECK VALVE IN THE TANK DID NOT CLOSE. Vented the entire tank contents into an enclosed space before I could run up the stairs and toss it outside. Fortunately it was summer so the whole-house woodburner was cold.

  20. I recently purchased a tri-fuel generator. The company that I purchased it from strongly advised using propane tanks that are used (that have been gone through several cycles of refills), the reason being that a propane-fueled engine must have pure propane – will not run if there’s even a little air being fed from the propane tank, and almost noone that you would commonly go to for filling your tanks knows how to properly purge the air from a new tank. I was unable to find any used 40-lb. tanks and wound up purchasing new ones from Ferrell Gas, a major national distributor. I asked them if they know how to PROPERLY purge the air in new tanks, and they said yes. I hooked it up and the gen ran fine (after some initial adjustments).

    I opted for the tall, slim 40-pounders (they come in the “squat” and taller configurations) for a couple of reasons: The 40-pounders are about the most that I can reasonably handle, and they can be stored in a shed, using less floor space therein than the fatter, squat ones. The shed, btw is in the shade nearly all day (it gets upwards of 115-120F here), vented, and all metal and is properly grounded which – from what I’ve read – will function as a faraday cage (key elements being all metal and grounded).

    I was going to look into getting a supply of the one-pounders, but after going through the comments, I’m not so sure … in a part of the country that gets HOT, it doesn’t sound like a good idea to store outside, but not indoors either — so where WOULD these be safely stored?

    Great article and comments – looking forward to part 2.

    • If it gets that hot where you live, a great place to store your tanks would be in the Pacific NW. 🙂 As Tex mentioned above, storing tanks in the sun in 110 degree heat can cause all sorts of interesting surprises.

      Short of moving, the nearest off-grid cold to you is a yard or so beneath your feet. Even in south Texas, the ground temperature just below the surface is only 72 degrees. A good thing to know if lost in the desert: Dig a shallow trench, with straight sides and a north/south orientation to minimize direct sun exposure during the noon hour, to shelter in until the air temp cools.

      For safely storing propane tanks in extreme heat, I would look for some sort of large plastic barrel, preferably with an open top and matching lid. Something around 50 gallons in size. This needn’t be food grade, so they should be cheap, though watch out for toxic residue.

      I would then bury it to within about 6″ of the top, just to keep ground water out. You can store at least a couple of large bulk tanks and many small ones inside. The exercise would also cover my daily workout and let me know how well prepped I am, shovel-wise.

      Then, loosely cover the barrel, with either the lid or a piece of plywood etc. (A plastic tarp would start to sag inward the first time it rains and even a tiny pinhole would let the barrel fill with water, which would promote rusting.) You may not reach the minimum ground temperature, but it will still be a lot cooler, and that’s the main point.

      Don’t seal the barrel top securely. If one of the tanks starts leaking, you want it to be able to vent with a loose top, rather than bursting from 200 PSI pressure. With vapor displacing the oxygen in the barrel, the risk of an underground explosion is probably small, unless the escaping plume gets touched off. So, position your underground tank storage well away from any possible ignition source, as well as prying eyes.

      If you have access to some heavy equipment or a lot of hand labor, you can also build larger earth-sheltered shelters, root cellars etc. with local materials. The bottom half of the page at http://www.richsoil.com/sepp-holzer/sepp-holzer-permaculture.jsp has some great ideas with photos and drawings.

      This same barrel setup would do a pretty good job in some regions as a small root cellar, too, or even extending the shelf life of insulin a little if there’s no refrigeration. If you really want to pin down the minimum and maximum temperatures, which are more critical when storing a harvest, you can pick up a “recording” thermometer fairly inexpensively. These are commonly used in greenhouses, so GH suppliers would be a good source, if you can’t find them on Amazon.

      They have small black steel needles inside that get pushed by the mercury with rising and falling temps, then remain in place. All you have to do is read their landed location and you’ll know how hot and cold it got since the last time that you checked. To reset it, you use the included magnet to slide the needles back to the current location of the mercury. If you keep one of these in your buried vault and check it once a month for a year, you’ll have a pretty good idea what to expect in the future.

      The following link will bring up a map of the US that shows ground temperatures. So, you can see what to generally expect in your region:

      http://www.tanklesshotwaterguide.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Groundwater-Temp-map-Toronto.png

      You made a very good point about needing to purge the air from brand new empty tanks. I’ve never actually bought a tank, new or used, so I hadn’t thought about this issue. Would you mind sharing the proper procedure for purging air from new tanks, if only to be able tell the person filling it what to do? Thanks!

    • In the late 70s, I used dozens of 10 pound propane tanks to power Thermal Generators (high heat resulting in 12 volt output power). Would normally set up 4 tanks secured to a metal fence post driven into the ground. These were placed in the open with no protection from the sun, heat and cold. Anyway, 4 years of use in Alaska, California and Mexico resulted in no incidents including when transported over rough terrain in the back of pickups in the dog days of summer.
      Based on my experience with the 100 pounders, I would not be overly concerned; however, with the warnings herein stated, I would probably store in the shade in a well vented location.

    • Propane/methane (natural gas) detectors generally run from around $0 – $55. I’m not sure what you consider inexpensive, but the Universal Security Instruments MCND401B M Series Plug-In Carbon Monoxide and Natural Gas Alarm with 9-Volt Battery Backup costs $47.50 with free shipping and has the best customer reviews (4.9 out of 5). I like both that it’s a dual methane/carbon monoxide unit and that it has a battery backup:
      http://www.amazon.com/Universal-Security-Instruments-MCND401B-Monoxide/dp/B006W4TFGS/ref=pd_cp_hi_0

      First Alert makes a unit with the same features for a few bucks less, but about half the customer reviews were really bad. According to at least one reviewer, this sucks batteries dry even when plugged in and he had to install a new 9 volt about once a month. Many others commented about frequent false alarms. Always good to read the reviews and “What people bought after viewing this item” on the Amazon product page.

    • I bought a professional hand-held “fuel gas” detector when I was plumbing my house for natgas. (Legal to do in my BOL community, not legal for anyone not licensed in urban and suburban areas.) Not cheap, but extremely sensitive. They all have a heating element in them, which is why they drain batteries very quickly. Only a line-powered one is practical if you want to monitor 24/7.

  21. We have a Big Green Egg grill that will, in an emergency, burn small amounts of wood.
    You can smoke, grill, bake anything on this thing including bread, cakes, pies, pizza and Dutch oven recipes.
    Yes, they’re expensive but are practically indestructible unless you drop it (it IS ceramic) but this thing will handle any cooking needs on or off the grid.

    • I have one of those too! A Kamado pot. I inherited it from my Dad and it’s over 30 years old and still kicking. You can grill steaks or bake a turkey with only 15 charcoal briquets

  22. i,m going to post this at the risk of sounding like i,m living on the edge of danger—-lol—. i live in the very heart of central texas and i have been saving up on propane for several years now. i store all the different size tanks including the 1 gall tanks in my metal shed. we have extreme heat here in the summer and i,ve never had a tank explode, but that is not to say to store your tanks in metal sheds!!!! i don,t have a place outside to store all my propane tanks without having to worry about them being stolen and to tell you the truth i never thought about them exploding so i am now going to try to find a better place to put them.

    • I think that we passed the “edge of danger” so far back that the dust cloud has already settled. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment. If I got you thinking and reevaluating your situation with greater understanding, then I’ve done my job.

      Part Two, which is due out next Tuesday, May 7, goes into more specific detail on temperatures and tank pressures etc. But, bottom line: If your tanks are all up to spec, as long as you can keep the temp inside your shed below 120 degrees, you “should” be OK.

      The biggest risk is probably one pound canisters that have been refilled, since they have the highest risk of leaking. If you have any refilled canisters, they should be either capped or connected something with a shut-off valve.

      But, it’s always good to stay back from the edge as much as possible. Sh*t happens that we aren’t expecting, usually at the worst possible time.

      I assume that there are no operating electrical appliances or other possible source of ignition inside the shed. That would be no bueno.

      This first thing to do would be to put a thermometer inside the shed and check it out in the hottest part of the day. Then, you’ll know exactly how close you are to the limits. You can often find these at dollar stores. A recording thermometer costs a little more, but will let you just check at your convenience and you’ll know how hot it got.

      Besides relocating your stockpile, there are some things that you can do to minimize the temperatures, and still maintain your current level of theft security. They basically boil down to ventilation and the prevention of acquired solar energy.

      For ventilation, the simplest thing that you can do is to open the shed door at least a few inches during the day when temps will be higher, say above 85 degrees. Of course, this would be a real pain if you also have to maintain security, opening the door in the morning and closing it back up in the evening. I have to do this with my chicken coop, also to protect from predators, and sometimes feel like a slave to the birds.

      An easier option in the long run would be to install some vents, by cutting holes in the shed walls and blocking them off with inexpensive ventilation grates, say 12′ X 12″. You want two vents, one low at floor level and the other high, on the opposite wall. This will vent out both hot air and potential fumes, with the heat inside the shed providing the power to move the air out.

      The bottom intake vent should be in the coolest wall possible that accommodates the door location and the location of the exhaust vent on the opposite wall: Ideally the north side, but the east side should be OK, too. If the outlet vent will be centered, then the inlet vent should be too. Otherwise, go low-corner-to-high-corner for maximum cross-ventilation. Basically, you want the “breeze” to cross the center of the shed.

      The outlet vent should be on the opposite wall, but up as high as possible. Hot air rises.

      For solar heat prevention, you’ve got both reflectance and shade to harness. If your shed is painted white, then you’re already bouncing off most of the sun’s heat. If not, at a minimum, I’d paint the roof with flat white paint. (Flat white reflects about 10% more light than gloss white.) If the sidewalls aren’t white, I’d paint at least the west wall, which is going to pick up the most heat on hot afternoons. Or, just paint the whole shed to make it look good.

      For shading, without being too obvious that you’re protecting something, I’d hang a curtain of a new piece of white/tan painter’s canvas drop cloth a few inches out from the east wall. You want new, of course, so that it doesn’t stick out in appearance. That will reflect much of the sun heat away from the wall and block the rest.

      You can pick up painter’s drop cloth in any paint department. Harbor Freight carries it, too. Currently, they’re selling 4′ X 12′ pieces for $6.99 and 9′ X 12 for $14.99. In a pinch, a white bed sheet would do, though it wouldn’t last as long as something more durable.

      I hope that this helps. When you formulate your mitigation strategy, please let us know what you decided.

  23. We live in two states; mt and fl. RV between. Our home in MT is small and we have a 500 gal. propane tank that does not belong to us–we rent it. Is that wise? We use several small green tanks a year on grills and have typically trashed them as we did not know they could be refilled. Will the local gas place fill them or is that (as we thought) not possible? we do have an old propane rv refrigerator that can be used; not hooked up. We bought solar panels but a friend wanted them as we are not home in the winter. We paid for them, they did not. we have green camp cook stoves in both places. I have some canned things I did and some commercial canned goods. How long are they useable? If beyond expiration date but the cans are in good condition is it okay?

    • Rent the tank wise? Depends. You own the propane but not the tank. Sounds like you don’t use much propane, so you pay more in rent than gas. You must decide what is best/frugal for you.

      Propane deers will not refill the small one pound canisters, as it is illegal to transport them by motor conveyance after a refill. You can buy the adapters to refill them yourself from twenty pound canisters from Cabellas.

      I don’t understand your relationship with your neighbors regarding you solar panels. Are they yours or not?

      Can goods, as long as they are not spoiled, have a shelf life of ten years or more. They just lose nutrition value over the years. As long as the cans are not bulging or dented, they should be fine.

      • Thanks for picking this up, Tex. I couldn’t have put it better.

        Part Two, which I just sent off to Gaye, covers refilling one pound canisters in exhausting detail. You’ll receive it Tuesday.

      • I have some cans of Dinty-Moore Beef Stew I bought back in ’98 in anticipation of Y2K that are still edible. They’ve lost some of the flavor, but I add a can of beef gravy to it and it tastes better than the original stew…

  24. Something I’ve not seen in part 1 or 2 is using the camping style tankless hot water heaters with a 20 pound propane tank. A typical one is on eBay:

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=151041479625&fromMakeTrack=true&ssPageName=VIP:watchlink:top:en

    These are about $120.00 and I’ve been using one for the last two years for my shower. I use so little hot water that it’s not worth running hot water unless I need it, and in a grid down situation, all you need is water under pressure, a D cell, and a propane tank. I connect with washing machine hoses to the house plumbing. I’ve got a shallow well pump(from Harbor Freight) that can provide all the water I need, and I can run it from solar, an inverter, or a generator. The combination means that I don’t need grid gas, electric, or water. YMMV.

    I have no affiliation with any of the vendors mentioned.

    • Hi Mike. Thanks for the tip! I was aware of tankless propane water heaters from my RV’s but not that they’re also available as standalone units. Recycling a unit from an RV is not a job for newbies. Under $120 sounds for a portable like a great deal.

      I left a lot of information on propane out of this extensive article. This was intended to get newcomers safely launched into the subject, so I drew the line at basic and free-standing applications that consume minimal fuel and don’t depend on anything else, like well pumps and other toys.For sure, I barely scratched the surface.

      If anyone has ideas to share, this forum and at Part Two @ http://www.backdoorsurvival.com/primer-on-propane-for-prepping/ would be a good place.

      “If you’re interested in learning more about Food Security Gardening, please click on my name link.”

  25. I have the tankless propane water heaters that I use in my house. I live in the country and try to be as self reliant as I can. They work pretty good but you have to be careful about freezing weather as they are mounted outside. Right now, I have one small unit that supplies my shower and kitchen. Later on, I plan to hook up the other one for the guest bathroom. They came with an adapter to hook up to 20# tanks but I converted them to hook up to my supply tank (150#). I also have a spare supply tank that is 200#. I have had a couple of campers that I wore out and have kept the larger tanks from them so I’m in pretty good shape. Also have 2 propane/electric frigs from the RV that work. Enjoyed both articles and will pick up an
    adaptor to refill the small 1# tanks. I use then for heat when I hunt!

  26. Also if we are talking about an “end of the world” situation. Air conditioning will be at a premium. Propane has been used as the refrigerant for a while. Yes, it is dangerous but to be able to refill an a.c and use it to get some comfort could be priceless. Also a very sell-able and usable commodity would be ice if you can get an ice maker to work.

  27. one place my family and I have found free tanks is camp grounds. many people leave them by the dumpsters. some of them still have plenty of fuel still in them.

  28. Thanks for an excellent, informative article. I have just now found it, a little late to the party lol I now live in a large city but have a piece of land in the country where I camp frequently but I always have in the back of my mind that it would be a go-to place in any kind of survival/SHTF situation. I have a 2 burner propane camp stove that was designed to work with a 1 lb propane canister. I am also lucky enough to have been gifted with a pop-up tent trailer that came equipped with a propane stove designed to be connected to a 20 lb tank. It really bugs me that I have to buy those 1lb propane canisters then throw them away for the Coleman stove so I am looking forward to your advice on refilling them. I have 3x20lb tanks, only one of them recently filled. But I have a stupid question….when you talk about storing/stockpiling these tanks, do you mean full tanks or simply collecting empty tanks to be refilled or returned? I live in Canada so our temps aren’t like Texas lol in the summer sun but I would still be cautious about a pile of propane tanks sitting in an enclosed space in the sun. I look forward to having the time to read Chapter 2 of this article – thanks again for so much info.

  29. @diane:

    Be sure to store your canisters in a DRY location. The necks will rust quickly and make them useless. Also, there are adapter hoses that will let you use your propane stove on the 20lb cylinders, much cheaper.

    Tex

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