The Ultimate Primer on Propane for Prepping, Survival and Self-Sufficiency

Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
The Ultimate Primer on Propane for Prepping, Survival and Self-Sufficiency

Editor’s Note: This page represents the collection of a 5 part series on Propane for Preppers, now revised, consolidated, and updated for 2018.

Having sufficient fuel for cooking and heat following an emergency is always an concern for preppers. If you are lucky, you live in a wooded area and have access to a wood burning stove as well as plenty of wood to feed the fire. Most of us, though, turn to propane as our primary source of emergency heat and cooking fuel.

Alas, the only experience many folks have with propane is limited to the backyard barbecue and perhaps a Coleman lantern. That tells me that if the stuff hit the fan, many of us would be lacking in the knowledge needed to use propane efficiently and safely.

Today I begin a series of articles titled Propane for Preppers. This topic may sound familiar since I wrote about propane back in early 2013 but even so, the importance of this topic called for a focused update.

This time around, I have started from scratch by asking my friend Ron Brown to write a series for us that is well-grounded and includes some real-life, real-time testing. In this series he will be sharing information on how to use propane with an emphasis on safety and storage concerns. Over the next couple of months, this series will provide you with tips, tools and tricks that will facilitate the use of propane in an emergency.

Part one begins with the basics.

Propane for Preppers – Part One

Propane for Preppers Part One -


This has been a difficult article to write. The word ‘prepper’ covers a lot of territory.

Whether it’s a blackout or a race riot – and both have occurred in these United States during my lifetime – what’s the plan? Shelter in place? But is that a single-family dwelling with a cellar? Or a one-bedroom apartment on the 17th floor?

Or is ‘the plan’ to get outta Dodge? On foot? Bicycle? Motorcycle? Car? And where will you go? To a relative with a spare bedroom? Hunting camp? Boat? RV?

Not only is the audience hard to pin down, propane (the subject of this article) is so versatile that it’s hard to know where to begin.

You can convert your automobile to run on propane. And the outboard motor on your boat. And your motorcycle. And your lawnmower. And your electric generator. My sister has a backup system, a generator that runs on propane, that will support most of the electrical needs in her home – including the electric range in the kitchen. Every Friday night her lights flicker as the system goes into its weekly self-test.

There are refrigerators that run on propane. Little ones for RV’s and big ones for full-time off-grid living. Not to mention furnaces and space heaters (both vented and unvented) and catalytic heaters, plus gas lamps, water heaters (with tanks and without), air conditioners (absorption chillers, by any other name, that work on the same principle as gas refrigerators), fireplaces, clothes dryers, kitchen stoves for cooking, salamanders for the construction site to keep the freshly poured concrete from freezing, and toilets.

Yes, toilets. If your land has poor drainage, you can install a gas-fired toilet that will incinerate human waste after each deposit thereof.

So which prepper am I talking to? The single gal living with her grandmother on the 17th floor? Or the survivalist with more ammo than he can carry? And what are the topics I should cover? I just now discovered an adapter, for example, a wand-like tube with a fitting on one end, that converts an old-time Coleman liquid-fuel camp stove to propane. And another adapter that allows you to run a BBQ grill from a little 400-gram Bernz-O-Matic soldering cylinder. And another that will let you hook up natural gas devices to propane.

OMG. It hurts my head to think so much.


Safety is a good place to start. Safe-mindedness.

Propane has been sold commercially since the 1920’s. A lot of safety features have been engineered into propane devices – the storage tanks, for example, as well as BBQ grills and camping gear. It’s best to not bypass these features. Let me give you an example.

Today, propane tanks are made such that they can’t be filled more than 80%. When ‘full’ the bottom of the tank contains liquid propane and the top 20% of the tank contains propane in the gaseous state. Gas can be compressed. Liquid cannot.

If you bypass this safety feature and fill the tank 100% and leave it out in the sun, heat will make the liquid expand. First the blowout plug (a fuse of sorts) will go. If the blowout hole cannot accommodate the volume of propane trying to escape, the tank will burst, creating a propane cloud. A mere spark can ignite the propane cloud, sending both you and your propane tank to join all the computer files you previously sent to ‘the cloud.’

There’s a lot of Attitude out and about. “Nobody’s gonna tell me what to do.” It’s a control issue. I get it. But you might want to make an exception when it comes to propane. Just this one time you might want to consider following the rules.

Call it food for thought on your journey to the hospital.


Crude oil is the stuff that gets pumped out of the ground. Crude oil is refined into a whole range of products from gases (propane, butane) to liquids (gasoline, kerosene) to solids (paraffin wax).

All of these products are hydrocarbons. The ‘hydro’ part of the word stands for hydrogen (symbol = H). The ‘carbon’ part of the word stands for carbon (symbol = C). Am I going too fast?

In refining, distillation breaks or fractures the crude oil into groups of hydrocarbons with similar boiling points. The five major fractions are (1) refinery gases, (2) gasoline, (3) kerosene, (4) diesel oil, and (5) residues.

Our interest here is in the first group, refinery gases. And there are four: methane, ethane, propane, and butane.

The refinery gases have the following chemical formulas: Methane is C1H4. Ethane is C2H6. Propane is C3H8. Butane is C4H10. This is simply a reference list. Sometimes we need to be precise in our language so as to remove any confusion regarding which gas is under discussion.

Note that the C-number or carbon-chain number climbs one step at a time throughout the progression: C1; C2; C3; C4.

The English language can be ambiguous. The word ‘gas’ has several meanings: [1] it can mean gasoline (petrol to the British), or it can mean [2] methane or propane (“Now you’re cooking with gas.”), or it can mean [3] a vapor (as in the three states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas), or it can be [4] a euphemism for farting (“He passed gas.”). As we go along I’ll do my best to make the meaning clear.

Methane (C1H4). Methane is used as a fuel, commonly called natural gas, and is transported via pipeline in LNG form (liquefied natural gas). Methane is also the swamp gas of UFO lore. Methane is lighter than air.

Lamps that burn natural gas inside your home, common in the gay ’90s – the 1890’s – back when ‘gay’ meant happy – are still manufactured today. Paulin, Mr Heater, and Humphrey [1] are three U.S. brands. Their use requires that you have a natural gas line into your house. If you heat with natural gas, you do. Lamps burning natural gas are wall-mounted (or ceiling-mounted) and thus not portable. Note that such lamps can readily be converted to propane.

If you put in one of these wall-mounted lamps (and, personally, I think it’s a great idea to do so), I urge you to have it installed by a certified-licensed-authorized technician and not attempt the installation yourself.

Should you ever have a house fire, the insurance company will look for excuses not to pay. So let’s not void our fire insurance to save a few bucks on installation, shall we?


Ethane (C2H6). Ethane is used as a catalyst in other chemical processes, more so than as a fuel in and of itself.

Propane (C3H8). I live in the country, beyond the reach of natural gas pipelines. As a consequence, I have a 200 lb. propane tank behind the house. We use propane for cooking.


The company who delivers our gas is Suburban Propane. I can drive to their storefront and refill a small 20 lb. cylinder [2] to use on a camper or RV (recreational vehicle) or propane BBQ grill. The tank behind my house and the 20 lb. cylinder contain exactly the same stuff – LPG (liquefied petroleum gas).


The skinny little propane cylinders sold for Bernz-O-Matic [3] (brand) soldering torches hold 14.1 oz. (400 grams). The more squat ‘one-pounders’ [4] sold for camping stoves and lanterns hold 16.4 oz. (465 grams). That’s how much they hold. What they hold is LPG. That is, propane. That is, C3H8. Propane is propane is propane.


Can you hook up a propane camping lantern, [5] the kind that customarily runs on a one-pounder, to a 20 lb. propane tank? Sure. The fittings and extension hoses to do so are sold as a kit [6] under the Century brand name. And the Mr. Heater brand name. And the Coleman brand name. I bought one myself in the camping section at Wal-Mart.



Wall-mounted propane gas lamps (and other appliances such as refrigerators) are often employed in cottages and hunting camps located at a distance from both electricity and in-town natural gas lines. These appliances burn LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) rather than LNG (liquefied natural gas).

LPG and LNG lamps can look identical on the outside but propane is more highly pressurized. Propane lamps therefore use a nozzle with a smaller orifice (the hole through which the gas comes) than do natural gas lamps. If you move from city to country, or vice-versa, your gas clothes dryer presents exactly the same orifice problem. Fortunately, conversion kits are readily available.

Propane, by the way, is heavier than air. It pools in your basement. And it pools in the hull of your boat; it only takes one spark to cut your vacation short. Check out ‘boat explosions’ on YouTube. It will likely make you sit up and take notice. It did me.

Butane (C4H10). Like propane, butane is also heavier than air. Please note that we are still climbing the C-numbers.

It’s interesting that, given the right adapters, propane can be substituted in camping lanterns and stove burners originally designed for butane. It’s not just theory. I’ve done it. You can too.


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Most butane cigarette lighters are disposable; some are refillable. [7] If refillable, you’ll find a small fitting on the bottom of the lighter. Note that the butane cartridge [8] must be turned upside down to fill the cigarette lighter. In your hands, you can feel the butane cartridge get cold as the transfer of gas takes place.

Butane is used in cigarette lighters, in pressurized cartridges for one-burner stoves, and in camping lanterns for backpackers. It turns from a gas to a liquid at 31º F (almost the same as the freezing point of water).

Mexico has a warm climate and butane, they say, is favored over propane as cooking gas. Butane is even called ‘Mexican gas.’ If you Google for images of butane tanks, you’ll find many pictures of large tanks (100-pounders and the like).

In cities with a large Asian population (e.g. Toronto, Canada), one-burner stoves [9] that run on butane cartridges [10] are for sale in all the ethnic food stores. I’ve also seen them on eBay and in restaurant supply stores (caterers use them). The fuel cartridges are lightweight, similar to shaving cream containers. They hold 8 ounces (227 grams).




These butane stoves are a pleasure to use – easy to light, regulate, and extinguish. Why they’re not more popular with the state-park-camping crowd is no doubt their low-temperature limitations. Ditto for the use of butane in lanterns. Below freezing, a lantern that runs on butane (and there are some) will not light. How wonderful is that? (FYI, I’ve seen lanterns that run on these 8-ounce butane cartridges under the brand names of Kovea, Glowmaster, and American Camper.)

Adapters & Substitutions

American Camper sells (1) a butane-only lantern as well as (2) a Multi Fuel Lantern that comes with an adapter; it will run on either the 8-ounce butane cartridges or propane one-pounders.



It is interesting, is it not, that propane (C3) can, given the right adapter, be burned in the same appliance that uses methane (C1). A clothes dryer, for example. At the other end of the spectrum, propane (C3) can be burned in the same appliance that uses butane (C4). The American Camper lantern, for example.

Mini-lanterns and micro-stoves using butane cartridges (in 110-gram, 230-gram, and 450-gram sizes) are made for backpackers. Unlike the 8-ounce canisters discussed above, the cartridges have a threaded 7/16″ male coupling. (And, typically, they contain a propane-butane blend – to avoid freeze-up – rather than pure butane.)

So wadda ya do when you have a lantern [11] or stove [12] made with the screw-type coupling but only have an 8-ounce cartridge of butane to use as fuel? Come now. That’s why God made adapters. [13]


Propane Adapter

Propane for Preppers Image 034

Tip. Butane lanterns use mantles [14] (just like Coleman lanterns). Butane lamp instructions (auto-translated from Chinese via computer) typically say ‘wicks’ or ‘gauze.’ Oops! Sorry. They are mantles. Although mantles are beyond the scope of this discussion, it’s ‘mantles’ you need to ask for in the sporting goods department, not wicks or gauze.

Back to our story. Say you have a butane lantern or stove made with the screw-type coupling but you only have a propane one-pounder for fuel? Solution. A different adapter. The adapter shown below is the Kovea VA-AD-0701. [15]




Aside. There’s one application for propane one-pounders that I don’t much care for. It’s the direct-screw-on single-burner stove. [16] To me, it looks awfully top-heavy when loaded with a pot of water. Boiling water being sterilized in a grid-down situation – let’s just hope the cat doesn’t jump on the table and knock anything over.


Speaking of adapters, you can use an adapter to refill [17] a propane one-pounder from a 20-lb. cylinder. That will be covered in an upcoming article in the series. But before we embark upon the ‘how-to’ of refilling, we first need to understand some basic plumbing stuff – tanks and valves and such – so that we have our terminology straight. Plus there are safety issues that we need to understand.


And even before that, let me mention MAPP gas. MAPP originally stood for MethylAcetylene-Propadiene Propane although today (since 2008) products labeled MAPP are really MAPP substitutes.

Small MAPP ‘welding sets’ [18] are widely sold. They employ oxygen cylinders as well as MAPP gas cylinders. The MAPP gas cylinders are the same size and have the same threads as the soldering cylinders (Bernz-O-Matic variety) that hold propane.


Propane for Preppers 046

So let’s put MAPP gas in context.

Given the right adapter (and there are several brands of adapters we’ll identify when we get to that part in an upcoming part of the series), we can refill a propane one-pounder.

And, using the same adapter, we can refill the skinny Bernz-O-Matic-type soldering cylinders. The shape of the cylinder is different from a one-pounder but the threads are the same.

And we can refill a MAPP-gas cylinder with propane. Again, the threads are the same so we can use the same adapter. Let us be clear. The MAPP cylinder comes from the store holding MAPP gas. When empty, we can refill it with propane. From a technology point of view, it’s no more complicated than storing salt in a sugar canister.

But leave yourself a clear trail. A label on the cylinder would be a good place to start. As an analogy, how good are you at finding stuff on your computer? Stuff that you, yourself, tucked away for future reference. And remembering today which gas cylinder it was that you refilled two or three years ago . . . and where you stored it . . . and how you labeled it. “Houston, we have a problem.”

Part One Sources – For Reference Purposes

Ron has provided a list of items available at Amazon that are footnoted above. They may or may not be precisely the items/brands displayed in the article.

Treat this list as a starting point. At the very least, the items on this list will reveal the terminology manufacturers themselves use in describing their products (e.g. is it a canister, a cylinder, or a cartridge?). Just knowing the terminology will provide some clues about what to search for.

[1] Natural Gas Wall Lamp: Humphrey Gas Light, Natural Almond (9NA), Pre-formed Mantle
[2] 20-lb. Propane Tank: Worthington 336483 20-Pound Steel Propane Cylinder With Type 1 With Overflow Prevention Device Valve And Sight Gauge
[3] Bernz-O-Matic Soldering Cylinder: CRL Standard Propane Fuel Cylinder
[4] One-Pounder: Propane Fuel COLEMAN 16.4OZ CAMPING FUEL CYLINDER
[5] Propane Lantern: Stansport Compact Single Mantle Propane Lantern
[6] Propane Distribution Post: TXS PROPANE DIST TREE 2-PIECE
[7] Refillable Butane Lighter: 2PK Comet Lighter
[8] Butane Refill Cylinders: Ronson Universal Lighter Refill Ultra Butane
[9] Butane Stove: Camp Chef Butane 1 Burner Stove with Camping Case
[10] 8-oz. Butane Canisters: Butane Refill Fuel Gas Can Cartridge for Camping Portable Stove Gas Range [11] Butane Lantern: Snow Peak GigaPower Auto Start Stainless Steel Lantern Auto One Size
[12] Butane Stove (for backpackers): Ultralight Backpacking Canister Camp Stove with Piezo Ignition
[13] Butane-to-Butane Adapter: Kovea Dual Stove Adaptor
[14] Slip-On Mantles: Coleman Double-Tie Fuel Lantern Mantle #51
[15] Butane-to-Propane Adapter: Butane-to-Propane Adapter
[16] One-Burner Propane Stove: Coleman PefectFlow 1-Burner Stove
[17] Refill Adapter: Gascru Brass Propane One Pound Tank Refill Adapter EZ Coupler
[18] MAPP Welding: Welding, Brazing, and Cutting Torch Kit

Propane for Preppers – Part Two

Propane For Preppers Part Two - Backdoor Survival

Tanks, Valves, Regulators, and Pipes

Before we move on to tanks, valves, regulators and pipes, a word about crystal meth and used propane tanks.

Crystal Meth. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have bothered to include this section. Today it’s top on the list.

I live in the country, near a village with one stoplight, 30 miles from Wal-Mart. Yesterday, in a house just up the road, there was an explosion that blew the front door off its hinges and the glass out of all the windows. The only person home at the time went to the hospital with burns over 75% of his body. It’s the fourth meth bust we’ve had locally in the past 12 months. As Bob Dylan said in 1964, the times they are a-changin’.

People who make meth use propane tanks to hold ammonia. The tanks are made of steel but the fittings are made of brass. And ammonia attacks brass, cracks it, and makes it brittle. Makes it unpredictable. And it gives the brass fittings a distinctive blue color. The tank may or may not hold pressure without exploding.

Urban legend has it that such tanks are sometimes turned in, refilled, and recycled back to propane customers. Extremely unlikely. For one thing, the tanks are screened by propane suppliers. For another, as Snopes points out, anyone turning in a meth tank (with its prominent blue corrosion) would draw attention to himself. A far more likely scenario would be finding such a tank in the garage of the house you just rented, left behind by previous tenants. Or finding one at a flea market.

If you do come across such a tank (that is, a propane tank where the brass fittings are corroded to a blue or blue-green color), don’t move it. You don’t know what’s inside or how much pressure it’s under or how close it is to blowing. Will it take the jostling and jarring of being moved? There’s no way to tell. Call the fire department. Let them bring in the bomb squad.

Seriously. Don’t move the tank yourself.

I don’t own such a tank, or even pictures of such a tank, so that I can show you what the blue color looks like. But if you’ll Google for ‘ammonia blue propane’ you’ll find lots of images. Check it out. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.


Propane tanks come in all sizes. I worked many years at an aluminum mill. We consumed enough gas in the ‘soaking pits’ to light a small city. Literally. Had a big snowstorm. Blackout. Lost production. Mega-bucks. We installed propane tanks big enough to run for a week without interruption. Gas was delivered by rail car. It looked like a supply depot. It was a supply depot.

On the other end of the range are cartridges that hold 110 grams (4 oz.) of a propane-butane blend. Weight-wise, that’s equivalent to half a cup of water. A hiker can toss a cartridge into his backpack and not notice the weight. That kind of cartridge is intended to power small lanterns and one-burner stoves.

Within those two extremes, this series of articles will focus on the lower end of the range – one-pounders and 20-pounders for the most part. The one-pounders are made to be disposable, not refillable.

Technology-wise, one-pounders can be refilled and adapters to do so are widely sold. A subsequent section will show you how. Just remember that, when we do it, we’ll be assuming all risk, all responsibility.

The skinny (Bernz-O-Matic) soldering cylinders have the same (right-hand) threads that one-pounders have. And that MAPP-gas cylinders have. They can all be refilled the same way. Unfortunately, they are all made to be disposable and they are all prone to leaking. I’ve had it happen several times. An audible hiss; escaping gas that you cannot stop.

Threaded brass end caps [19] will stop the leak if an O-ring is added. A basin of water with a leaking one-pounder in it reveals a stream of bubbles coming from the valve. If you install a brass end cap, the bubbles continue. If you wrap the threads with Teflon thread-seal tape (the Teflon tape made for propane is yellow BTW), the bubbles continue. If you install a gasket cut from a sheet of rubber-cork gasket material from the automotive supply store, the bubbles continue.

If, however, you replace the factory-installed gasket with an O-ring (15/16-inch outside diameter) from your local hardware store, the bubbles stop. Bingo!

mac cap

end caps

Unfortunately, brass end caps are expensive. An alternate is a propane device that’s no longer functional (because it’s plugged, dented, etc.) – soldering tips and such that you pick up at yard sales. These devices can be mounted on a one-pounder in place of an end cap. Plus-or-minus an O-ring, they’ll stop leaks.

Another way to use a leaky cylinder is to store it (empty) until you need it, then refill it immediately before use. But that means you must leave the appliance attached to the cylinder until the propane is totally consumed. Else the leaking resumes.

Side Note: Brass end caps are used because brass is non-sparking. Flint and steel makes sparks. (Remember the old flintlock Kentucky rifles?) Even steel and steel makes sparks if you bang the pieces together just right. Sparks are a constant threat, a constant fear, around propane. But you can bang on brass all day long and not get any sparks. And that’s a good thing, a wonderful thing.

Let’s move on up the food chain. The next size larger tank after a one-pounder is a four-pounder. Actually, the so-called 4-pounder is 4¼ lbs. Seems like an odd increment but no doubt it was intended as a ‘one-gallon’ tank. One gallon of propane weighs 4.23 lbs. at 60º F.

One pounders have right-hand threads, are intended as disposable (not refillable), and lack the 80%-refill safety feature described in an earlier section.

All tanks from 4 to 40 lbs. have left-hand threads, are refillable, and do have the 80%-refill safety feature (called OPD or Overfill Protection Device).

In the 4-lb. to 40-lb. range, tanks made before 1998 lacked OPD. The shutoff knobs on the older tanks had a variety of shapes – round, 5-point star, 6-point star, etc. Those tanks are mostly gone now, retired when their certification dates expired. Plus, since 2002, they could not legally be refilled. They’ve effectively been bled out of the supply chain and have disappeared.

old valve

new valve

What remains in circulation (in the 4-lb. to 40-lb. range) are tanks with a standardized shutoff knob, triangular in shape and stamped ‘OPD’. Not only do OPD tanks have a float inside to prevent over-filling, if the valve is accidentally left open and the tank is not hooked up to anything, no gas comes out. Sweet.

Propane is sold in both pounds and gallons. The gas supplier who fills the big tank at your house will invoice you in gallons. Small tanks (20-pounders, for example) are filled and billed in pounds.

A ‘20-lb. cylinder’ is sized to hold 20 pounds of propane (net) when it is 80% full. So its ‘total’ capacity (theoretically) is 25 pounds (20 / 25 = .80). But the tank’s internal float prevents you from putting more than 20 pounds in it.

The empty or unladen weight of a container is its ‘tare weight.’ The tare weight of a propane cylinder is stamped on its collar. Pictured below is the collar of a nominal 20-lb. propane cylinder. ‘TW’ stands for tare weight. In this case, the tare weight is 16.6 lbs. (16 lbs. 10 oz.).

tare weight

So if you removed this exact tank from your BBQ grill and weighed it, and it weighed 30 lbs., then you’d know it contained 13.4 lbs. of propane (30 – 16.6 = 13.4). And you’d know it contained 67% of its rated 20 lb. capacity (13.4 / 20 = .67).

When this tank is filled to capacity (20 lb.), it will weigh 36.6 lbs. (20 + 16.6 = 36.6). Anything below that indicates under filling. At the trade-in station where you turn in your empty tank (plus a few bucks) in exchange for a full one, you can weigh your new tank (giving you the gross weight), subtract the stamped tare weight from the gross, and see how much propane, net, is actually in your new tank. Wadda ya think? Will it be a full 20 lbs.? Or less than 20 lbs.?

Blue Rhino says about itself: “In 2008 . . . Blue Rhino followed the example of other consumer products companies [and] . . . reduced the amount of propane in our tanks from 17 pounds to 15 pounds.”

(This is nothing more nor less than the universal business model in action. After all, I can remember when a pound of coffee weighed 16 ounces instead of twelve. I believe this is what the communications people mean when they say, “The world is getting smaller.”)

Refillable tanks are certified for twelve years from the date of manufacture (stamped on the collar). At the end of twelve years they must be tested and recertified. The recertification is good for five additional years.

And how about the disposable one-pounders we want to refill? There is no collar. The date of manufacture is unknown. There is no recertification procedure. Translation. If you refill it, you’re on your own. I’m not saying, “Don’t do it.” But I am saying, “Be careful.”


Some years back, if you cooked with gas, having two 100-lb. tanks with changeover valves was SOP (standard operating procedure). That’s what I had as a married student back in the day, supplying my 12′ x 60′ house trailer.

Today, I have a 200-lb. tank owned by the gas company. My gas company waives any rental fee. Some companies charge. When I had 100-lb. tanks, I, myself, transported them to the vendor to get them refilled. Today, with a 200-lb. tank, the vendor sends the truck to me.

About the only place I see changeover valves (sometimes called switchover valves) these days is on RV’s where they use two 20-lb. tanks. (BBQ grills typically have one 20-lb. tank.)

With changeover valves, when tank #1 gets empty the valve automatically switches to tank #2. At that point you can shut off and remove tank #1, haul it away to get it refilled, and have supper cooking on tank #2 while tank #1 is off-line.

I once stayed with some folks in their travel trailer who had changeover valves but who didn’t understand them. Tank #1 ran out of gas. They shut everything off – I failed to convince them it was unnecessary – and, despite the fact that tank #2 was available, supper waited while someone drove to town, many miles on back roads, to fill tank #1. What part of h-u-n-g-r-y don’t you understand?

Newer changeover valves look different than the old-style valves but perform the same function. If you don’t understand how they work, there’s no harm in asking your gas supplier. YouTube also has some good tutorials; just search for ‘LPG changeover valves.’


Regulators are the heart of a propane system. Regulators keep the gas pressure to an appliance constant even though conditions change. Say it’s noon and 70º F outside. The pressure inside your propane tank is 145 PSI. You turn on a stove burner (to cook down a big pot of tomatoes from scratch, say) and set the burner on ‘medium.’ The sun comes out and by 1:00 PM it’s 90º F outside. Due to the increase in ambient temperature the pressure in your propane tank rises to 180 PSI.

But the flame at your stove is still ‘medium’ in size. Then your gas-fired hot water heater starts up. And your gas-fired clothes dryer shuts down. But even with demand bouncing around in addition to the change in tank pressure, the flame under your tomatoes remains ‘medium.’ Looks like magic to me.

Actually it takes two regulators to perform the magic. One regulator of the type pictured below is mounted on the big tank supplying your home. (The one pictured here even sends a radio signal to the delivery truck saying you need a refill.) In addition, each individual appliance (stove, fireplace, water heater, etc.) has its own secondary regulator.

regulator photo

With portable tanks and smaller devices there is only one regulator. Your BBQ grill has its own regulator (the 20-lb. supply tank has none). The one-burner stove that screws onto the top of a one-pound cylinder has a regulator (the one-pound supply cylinder has none). With these smaller devices the regulator is part of the appliance, not part of the fuel supply.

one burner stove regulator


The RegO company (the name is derived from Regulator and Oxygen) has a free, downloadable, 52-page, LP-gas serviceman’s manual. It’s far more technical than this article but might be nice to tuck away for reference. It’s available here: RegO LP-gas serviceman’s manual.

In my house, we have a gas cook stove and a gas clothes dryer. One ½” copper pipe comes from the outside LP tank through the concrete-block wall into the basement and thence to a ‘T’ coupling. After that, each leg feeds one appliance. Simplicity itself.

Aside. When we bought our house, there was an electric range in the kitchen. We replaced it with propane so that we could cook normally during a blackout. Granted, in a blackout, the stove’s electronic sparking system does not spark and we must light the burners with a match. But I can handle that.

Back to our story. In a more complex setup (one propane tank feeding several apartments, for example) a manifold system (similar to what you have for water) is used. Such systems have large pipes near the source and progressively smaller pipes as you move further away from the source.

The RegO manual explains how to size such a manifolding system (plus tons of other stuff). More than you ever wanted to know.

Of more immediate concern is the issue (some would say myth) of unshielded copper tubing running through a concrete wall and being corroded by the concrete. To avoid that corrosion, some building codes around the country (not all) require plastic-coated tubing.

I once had an LP-gas serviceman install a new tank, look at the unshielded copper-to-concrete installation already in place, and tell me I needed to change it. He was new to both his company (who had actually performed the installation some years earlier) as well as to the area. He was simply citing the rules and regulations as he knew them from a different section of the country.

It appears that the well-intended serviceman was wrong. Radiant heating systems have had copper tubing buried in concrete for years. I suggest you to check it out yourself. Here’s a good place to start: Copper pipes “reacts chemically” with concrete a “myth”?.

Disposal of Empty Propane Cylinders

Unfortunately, I am completely stymied on the topic of cylinder disposal for one-pounders. I live in upstate New York (not the same as New York City). I Googled for ‘NYS propane tank disposal.’ Here are the first two results, top o’ the list, one from Westchester County and the other from Huntington, Long Island:

Barbecue and Propane Tanks “To dispose of a one to two pound propane barbecue tank: Residual gas should be burned off through proper use of the grill. Empty tanks may be disposed of in the garbage or on bulk pick-up days. Never include a 1 or 2 pound barbecue tank with your glass, plastic or metal recyclables.” [emphasis added]

Propane Tank Recycling “Town of Huntington, Long Island, New York . . . The Recycling Center will accept, at no charge, propane tanks sized up to 25 lbs. . . . Never put a propane tank out for trash collection with household garbage.” [emphasis added]

I feel so much better now that the disposal issue has been clarified. Of course the labels are helpful. “When empty discard in a safe place.” Or “appropriate place.”

Or maybe this one: “To discard, contact local refuse hauler or recycle center.”

So I called my refuse hauler. I really did expect them to be knowledgeable. After all, they have a hundred garbage trucks on the road at any given time. Maybe two hundred.

Turned out they didn’t have a clue. After a bit of phone-tag (and confirming I was talking about “the little green cylinders you hook up to camping lanterns”) they told me to contact Home Depot or Lowe’s and see what the people who sell these things suggest. You mean the clerk on duty in the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart is the final authority on this stuff? Really?

I also chased down the number of the county recycling center. Got an automated recording who never called me back. (Imagine that.)

There’s a theory in business management to the effect that, if management cannot decide something, then the decision, when push comes to shove, will be made at the lowest level in the organization (the machine operator typically). And the decision will be whatever is easiest for the guy making it.

So if the folks who make one-pounders cannot tell you how to dispose of the cylinder – nor can the vendor who sells it; nor can the trash collector; nor can the recycle center; nor can the internet; nor can the alphabet-soup government agencies – then the decision will be made by the customer. And it will be whatever is easiest for the customer.

Right or wrong, empty one-pounders will go in the trash and get set out with the garbage. In my heart of hearts, I’m sure it happens hundreds s if not thousands of times every day.

Tell me it ain’t so.


‘Purging’ is the act of flushing out the air inside a new (empty) tank and replacing it with propane. If the tank is not purged before its initial fill, the propane will be diluted with air and not up to the task of functioning as a fuel.

Purging is not a concern with one-pounders because they’re already filled with propane when we bring them home from the store.

There are actually three materials to consider in the purging process: propane, air, and the water vapor in the air.

The wrong way to purge a tank is to use liquid propane. When the first bit of liquid propane rushes into the empty, virgin tank it evaporates and turns to a gas. To turn from liquid to gas requires heat. The heat is drawn from the sidewalls of the tank. Any water vapor in the air quickly coats the inside of the tank with ice. After the air is expelled, the ice remains. Which leaves you with water in your propane. In case you didn’t already know it, water does not burn well when it reaches the flame in your appliance.

The new tank should therefore be purged or flushed out with gaseous propane. And it needs to be flushed out four times.

After the first flushing (accomplished by filling the receiving-tank to 15 psig with gaseous propane then exhausting the vapor to the atmosphere), the tank contains a 50/50 mix of air and propane.

After the second flushing, the tank contains 75% propane and 25% air.

After the third flushing, the tank contains 87.5% propane and 12.5% air.

After the fourth flushing, the tank contains 93.75% propane and 6.25% air.

And that’s adequate. At that point the new tank can be disconnected from the gaseous-propane line, hooked up to a liquid-propane line, and filled.

Part 2 Sources – For Reference Purposes

As he did in Part 1, Ron has provided a list of items available at Amazon that are footnoted above. They may or may not be precisely the items/brands displayed in the article. Part Two has just a single item.

[19] End Caps: Mac Coupler Propane Bottle Cap MacCaps (End Caps)

Propane for Preppers – Part Three

Propane for Preppers Part Three

The Economics of Refilling

A store-bought one-pounder is double or triple the cost of a home-filled cylinder.

My propane supplier just now filled our 200-pound tank behind the house. He charged $3.86 per gallon including 3% sales tax. A gallon of propane weighs 4.23 lb. so my propane cost $.91 per pound (3.86 / 4.23 = .91).

A so-called ‘one-pounder’ holds 16.4 ounces (465 grams) or 1.025 pounds (16.4 / 16 = 1.025).

Using these figures, were I to home-fill a propane one-pounder, it would cost $.93 per cylinder (.91 x 1.025 = .93).

Wal-Mart’s lowest-priced one-pounders are $2.90 per cylinder including 8% sales tax.

On this basis, store-bought cylinders are triple the cost of home-filled cylinders (2.90 / .93 = 3.12).

But here’s a worst-case scenario. Another dealer, locally, charges a flat $12 (including sales tax) to refill a 20-pounder, be it empty or almost full. In other words, he’s topping it off for $12.

If you reserve a 20-pounder exclusively for refilling and always top it off when it gets down to 50%, then you’re effectively paying $1.20 per lb. Even so, if you do the arithmetic, it works out that a store-bought one-pounder is more than double the cost of home refilling.


All the propane one-pounder brands I’ve seen (currently on the market in the USA) carry this disclaimer on the label: “Never refill this cylinder. Federal law forbids transportation if refilled – penalty up to $500,000 and 5 years imprisonment (49 U.S.C. 5124).”

Coleman’s statement is even stronger: “Never refill this cylinder. Refilling may cause explosion. Federal law forbids . . . blah, blah, blah.” The explosion bit does not appear on other brands.

Coleman one-pounders sold in Canada and Coleman one-pounders circa 1980 carry softer warnings. In Canada the label says, “Do not refill cylinder.” NEVER is replaced with ‘do not.’ And there is no mention of explosion. The old 1980 label says, “It is HAZARDOUS TO REFILL this cylinder.” [emphasis theirs] Quite different from NEVER. And, again, no mention in 1980 of explosion.

In the business world, these are classic CYA statements (Cover Your Fanny). The propane company doesn’t care if you refill the cylinder. They just don’t want to get hauled into court. So to escape any legal liability they say, “Never refill . . .” That gets them off the hook.

U.S.C. stands for United States Code; ‘49’ is the chapter. You can Google for it. And then argue all day about what it means. Does it apply only to ‘commerce’ and not to private individuals? As a federal law, does it apply only to interstate transportation across state lines? Or does it apply to intrastate transportation as well?

The 49 U.S.C. 5124 statement even appears on Coleman-Canada propane labels. I assume its function is to scare people. I don’t see where it would have any more relevance in Canada than the Canadian age of consent has in the USA. (Raised in 2008, BTW, from fourteen to sixteen.)

Transportation notwithstanding, I strongly doubt it is a crime to REFILL a propane cylinder. If it were, then Mr Heater [20] and MacCoupler [21] and EZ Adapters [22] and CE Compass [23] and Gascru [24] and Schnozzle [25] (all of which are brands of refill adapters) would be accessories. As would Amazon, eBay, and your local hardware store where the adapters are sold.


Cylinder leakage is a legitimate concern.

One-pounders have a Schrader valve as their main valve. A Schrader valve is what you have in your car or bicycle tire. The Schrader valve seat, the seal, is rubber.

Bigger tanks (such as the 20-pounder we’ll use as a source-tank in refilling), employ brass needle valves. Big difference in reliability and life expectancy.

When you attach and detach a one-pounder to an appliance (stove, lantern, etc.) gaseous propane travels through the cylinder’s Schrader valve. When you refill, liquid propane travels through the valve. I’m not sure if that does any harm but I’m certain it lacks any benefit.

Of course, the sporting-goods company wants you to throw out the old cylinder and buy new. As discussed in Part One, brass end caps with O-rings will stop a cylinder from leaking. But if you don’t test the cylinder after refilling, and if you don’t install a brass end cap plus O-ring on the leakers, you’ll be traveling down the road wafting a trail of gaseous propane behind you, extremely flammable stuff.

As the old saying has it, “Your right to swing your fist ends with the beginning of my nose.” Rephrased: “Your right to travel the highway with a leaking propane cylinder ends just before you blow up me and my family.”

Curiosity got the best of me and I cut the top off a one-pounder. You can see the bottom end of the main Schrader valve and a reverse Schrader valve, for lack of a better term, that serves as the cylinder’s pressure-relief valve. The relief valve appears upper-left in the image; it’s barely visible on the outside of the cylinder but inside it is bigger than the main valve.

As discussed in an earlier installment, one-pounders are prone to leaking. I’ve had it happen several times. Please don’t casually dismiss the possibility.

Propane 1 Pound Cylinder Cut Open

So Here’s How You Do the Doin’

First, to paraphrase Mark Twain, there are two kinds of men. Those who learn by reading the directions. And all the rest of us who must pee on the electric fence and find out the hard way. So let’s get to it.

1. Materials. We need (1) an empty one-pounder, (2) an adapter, and (3) a 20-pounder at least half full.

We also need (4) an insulated sleeve to slip over the one-pounder and (5) a brass pushpin, discussed below, with which to release pressure from the one-pounder.

(6) Leather gloves are a good idea to avoid frostbite if something goes wrong. As are (7) safety goggles. Frostbitten fingers are one thing; frostbitten corneas (should you get hit in the face with a blast of liquid propane), quite another.

2. Environment. We need a heavy-duty table (like a picnic table) to work on. Being outside, a ‘floor’ of blacktop or concrete would be welcome. We don’t need a table-leg to sink into mud or soft dirt and dump our tanks on the ground. Oops.

It is imperative to work outside where there is good air circulation (to disperse any puff of propane that may escape as we screw and unscrew cylinders). And to disperse a ‘propane cloud’ should the unthinkable occur.

In 2012, Stanley Johnson (Polk County, Minnesota) had a fatal explosion – it was his wife who died actually, not he – while refilling a one-pounder inside his garage. Propane is heavier than air. It pools on the floor. Outside, Stanley would have had a fire. Inside, he had an explosion.

3. Procedure. Turn the 20-pound supply-tank upside down. The valve where (liquid) propane will exit is then at the bottom. Inside the tank, liquid propane is immediately above the valve. Gaseous propane is at the top, next to what is now the ceiling of the tank.

Propane Tank Refill Adapter

Propane Tank Upside Down

4. Screw the adapter into the supply-tank. This is tricky spot #1 because we’re dealing with a left-hand thread (meaning that, when tightening, it turns counter-clockwise, contrary to ordinary nuts-and-bolts). We snug the adapter tight with a 1⅛” open-end wrench. ‘Snug’ is all we need. It’s the adapter’s rubber O-ring that forms the seal.

5. Screw the one-pounder, the receiving-tank, into the other end of the adapter. (Note that we’re starting with the supply-tank and the receiving-tank at the same temperature.) When attaching the one-pounder, it’s the old “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” because we’re dealing with an ordinary right-hand thread.

One pound propane tank connection to larger tank

Propane Tank Connection

But it’s really tricky spot #2. Why? Because one end of the adapter has a left-hand thread and the other end has a right-hand thread. If we over-tighten the receiving-end we simultaneously loosen the supply-end.

My solution is to leave the open-end wrench in place to serve as a handle. It’s then easy to prevent loosening the adapter from the supply-tank. The wrench can be removed when we no longer need a handle.

Open End Wrench to Propane Tank

Propane Tanks Hooked Together

6. Once the tanks are hooked firmly together, remove the handle/wrench, tip the supply-tank up on its side (slightly) to gain access to its triangular valve-knob, then reach under there and open the valve full.

7. Wait one minute for the filling to complete. You can hear a hissing noise (for 10-30 seconds) as the transfer takes place but I’ve found that one minute gives better results than ending the fill right after the hissing stops. Five minutes, on the other hand, does not give better results than one minute.

8. Turn off the triangular valve-knob and remove the newly-filled one-pounder. This is tricky spot #3. Turn off the supply-tank before unscrewing the receiving-tank.

I really need to impress this upon you. DO NOT REMOVE THE ONE-POUNDER BEFORE YOU TURN OFF THE 20-POUNDER.

Although I just said it three different ways, one forgetful moment will reward you with a propane cloud – generated by liquid propane, under pressure, gushing out of the 20-pounder. A propane cloud has the potential for a major fire or explosion. One spark at considerable distance – your neighbor lighting his BBQ grill, for example – can do the trick. This is not kid stuff. You are coloring outside the lines here.

I mentioned in an earlier installment that, with today’s OPD valves, if no appliance is hooked up to the tank then no propane will exit the tank even if the valve is left open. Great! HOWEVER, when we remove the just-filled one-pounder, the 20-lb. source tank is still hooked up to an appliance: the ADAPTER.

My fear is that, once you see how easy it is to refill a one-pounder, you’ll lose respect for the potential danger. Just the other day my wife and I saw a woman walk into a telephone pole – ALMOST – while texting. She was coming towards us on the sidewalk but not really paying attention to what she was doing. She stopped with the pole just six inches from her nose.

We laughed out loud. She was horribly embarrassed. She was so distracted by the phone that she forgot where she was walking. Is that so much different than watching the girls sunbath next door and neglecting to turn off the 20-pounder before we remove the one-pounder? DISASTER!

Refilling is both easy and safe IF we stay focused.

Once you’ve launched a propane cloud, BTW, reaching into that cloud to turn off the forgotten valve will produce frostbite. Converting from liquid to vapor (and that’s what the propane is doing) requires heat. Just like when liquid water turns into gaseous steam, heat is required.

Heat. Calories. Your hand will supply calories. And when your hand gives up calories your hand gets cold. Google for ‘frostbitten fingers’ and click ‘images.’ I guarantee it will make an impression.

At this point (assuming you’re still alive and all is well), you’ve detached the one-pounder with 280 grams of propane inside. That’s 60% of the one-pounder’s 465-gram capacity.

Your results may vary. The 60% figure is ‘typical.’ I’ve gotten everything from 54% to 75% using this same procedure and I’ve given up trying to understand the variance.

9. If you’re satisfied with a 60% refill then you’re done. But most of us, I suspect, would rather have 100%. No problem. Here’s how:

First, release some pressure from the receiving tank that we just filled to 60% (the one-pounder). Do this by pushing in on the one-pounder’s Schrader valve located top-center on the cylinder. It’s like letting air out of a tire. Depress the valve-stem for 5-10 seconds.

Do it outside. Hold the one-pounder upright. That will release gaseous propane from the top of the cylinder. Holding the one-pounder upside down will release liquid propane. Not good.

Use a brass rod to depress the Schrader valve. This is important. Brass is non-sparking. A ‘lift wire’ for use on your flush toilet is just under ⅛” in diameter plus being brass. Perfect.

Lift Wire

Releasing Propane Pressure After Refilling

In this procedure, you’re not really ‘releasing pressure’ per se. Rather, the Schrader-valve pressure-release chills the receiving-tank. You can feel in your hands the one-pounder get cold. The colder tank temperature equates to lower pressure inside the tank; pressure varies directly with temperature.

10. Immediately screw the one-pounder back onto the adapter. Don’t linger. Slide the insulated sleeve over the one-pounder. You just took steps to make the one-pounder cold; now keep it cold.

My insulated sleeve is a homemade cardboard cylinder covered with three layers of bubble wrap. The sleeve’s bottom-end was made by winding an inch-wide strip of bubble wrap into a ‘wheel’ (slightly oversize), then shoehorning the wheel into the hole in the bottom of the cardboard cylinder.

Even before adding the insulated sleeve, there’s precious little clearance between the side of the one-pounder and the tabletop. With the sleeve in place, all clearance disappears. Hence the 20-pounder must perch fairly close to the edge of the table so that the one-pounder (and sleeve) can hang completely off the edge.

Chill the propane receiving tank

11. Next, repeat steps #6-8. That is:

(6) Open the valve on the supply-tank.

(7) Wait one minute for filling to occur.

(8) TURN OFF THE SUPPLY TANK, remove the insulated sleeve, and unscrew the receiving-tank.

At this point you can expect your receiving-tank to contain somewhere between 435 and 480 grams net. That’s a range from 94% to 103% of the one-pounder’s 465-gram capacity. Gee, 100% has a nice ring to it. (Your results may vary.)

If you do the chill-thing with the Schrader valve but, in the next step, fail to use an insulated sleeve, you can expect 325-400 grams net in the one-pounder. That’s 81% to 86% of its capacity. (Your results may vary.)

So . . . can you use this technique to top off your not-so-well filled one-pounders? That is, can you chill the cylinder via the Schrader valve and then keep the cylinder cold in an insulated sleeve? Can you do that with a one-pounder now filled to 60%, say, and bring it up to 100%? Can you? Yes.

12. Assuming, again, that you are still alive and have survived step #8 (twice), weigh the newly-filled cylinder to check for over-filling.

A brand new one-pounder holds 465 grams net of propane. The tare weight is 400 grams. That’s a gross weight of 865 grams or 30.5 ounces. If your cylinder is overfilled, you can burn off the excess with an appliance (stove burner, for example) or keep poking the Schrader valve with your brass rod – psst – until the cylinder is merely full, not overfull.

If you use the psst method, do it outside.

In a later installment we’ll discuss the dangers of overfilling and the necessity of leaving some headspace in the cylinder. For the moment, please take it on faith that you DO NOT want to overfill any propane cylinder.

13. Immerse your newly filled one-pounder in a basin of water and check it for leaks.

If it blows bubbles from the main valve, you can poke at it with your brass rod and attempt to get the valve seated properly. Do it with the cylinder upright so that gaseous propane escapes, not liquid propane. Failing that (and, to be honest, the brass-rod thing has never worked for me), install a brass end cap plus O-ring as discussed in Part Two.

If you have no way of capping off a leaker, install it on a stove burner (or other appliance) and run the device until the one-pounder is empty. Do not store propane in a leaking cylinder. You don’t need neighbors complaining about the funny smell or the noise of an explosion. You know how picky neighbors can be.

If the one-pounder blows bubbles from the safety valve, don’t even try and fix it. Just use up the gas immediately and dispose of the cylinder.

Theoretically you could pull-and-snap-release the stem of the safety valve with needle-nose pliers in an attempt to seat it properly but that’s steel-on-steel; non-sparking it ain’t. And if you’re really aggressive, I’ve heard tell of people pulling the valve stem right out of the cylinder. Woot, woot!

Yanking the valve stem out of a full one-pounder would constitute a genuine emergency. Should it happen, hold the cylinder upright. If you turn it upside down, liquid propane will surge out; a propane cloud. And let’s hope you’re outside when it happens. Everything you can think of produces sparks. Electric motors when they start. Light switches. Uncle Harry when he lights his cigar.

But, hey, if the one-pounder is full and doesn’t leak and you’re still alive and the barn didn’t burn down and your nose hairs didn’t get singed and you don’t have frostbite . . . then you can swagger along home with bragging rights, eh?

Plus you saved $1.97. That’s my kinda afternoon.

Part 3 Sources – For References Purposes

[20] Mr Heater: Mr. Heater F276172 Propane One Pound Tank Refill Adapter
21] MacCoupler: Brass MACCOUPLER EZ Fill Propane Coupler
[22] EZ Adapter: Propane Tank Refill Adapter EZ Coupler
[23] CE Compass: CE Compass Propane Refill Adapter Lp Gas Cylinder Tank Coupler Heater
[24] Gascru: Gascru Brass Propane One Pound Tank Refill Adapter EZ Coupler P432
[25] Schnozzle: Shnozzle – SAFEST Propane Refill Adapter for One Pound Tank Small Cylinders

Propane for Preppers – Part Four

Propane for Preppers Part Four

Refilling a 20-Pounder

At issue is the refilling of a 20-pounder (BBQ-tank size) from the big supply-tank that feeds your home. Several big-tank sizes exist. For discussion purposes, let’s refer to the big supply-tank (whatever its size) as the ‘nurse-tank.’

First, we have legalities to ponder. Are there any federal regulations (EPA, DOT, DOE, etc.)? How about the state? County? Township? City? Zoning laws?

Maybe life would be simpler if I just became a certified propane serviceman. But where do I get the training? I don’t even know what to Google for.

And let’s not forget the gas supplier. We own the gas but he owns the tank. Can we legally disconnect from his tank and then use his tank to fill smaller tanks? ’Cause if his tank gets damaged . . .

I feel a copout coming over me.

Tell you what. I’ll share the little bit I know about the mechanical process of transferring propane from one tank to another but you’re on your own regarding legal requirements. Fair enough? Just remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse. So here we go . . .

There are two refill methods, (1) liquid-transfer and (2) gas-transfer.

Liquid-transfer. Your big nurse-tank has a pipe inside that goes from top to bottom (like the tube inside a pressurized aerosol spray can). As the tank comes to you, the top of the pipe is capped off (but it is possible to install a hand valve at the top of that pipe). The gas company installs such a valve and uses this top-to-bottom pipe to pump the gas out of your tank if the tank is moved (should you cancel them as a supplier, for example).

If you remember, when refilling a one-pounder we had to turn the supply-tank upside down to get liquid propane to exit the valve. But here we have a pipe that goes to the bottom of the tank where the liquid lives plus a (potential) valve at the top of the tank. The top of our nurse-tank could thus host two valves – a ‘gas-valve’ to feed the house with gaseous propane plus a ‘liquid-valve’ for use in refilling smaller tanks.

To refill a 20-pounder via liquid-transfer we need to have the correct valve installed on the top-to-bottom pipe plus a high-pressure hose with the appropriate fittings on each end (to reach from the nurse-tank to the 20-lb. receiving-tank). We’d connect the two tanks with the hose, open both valves, and let the games commence. You can hear when the transfer stops. OPD would prevent us from overfilling.

(Where do you obtain the valves and hoses? Your gas company already has, for its own use, everything you need. All you have to do is convince them to sell you the stuff.)

After refilling, we’d check the weight of the 20-lb. receiving-tank. The total weight should not exceed the tare weight of the receiving-tank (as stamped on its collar) plus the 20 lbs. net of propane we just transferred. Conversely, should the 20-lb. receiving-tank be underfilled, we could chill the receiving tank and take additional propane on board.

Gas-transfer. We can also use the gas line (that goes to our house) rather than the liquid line. Note that the ‘gas-transfer’ method is much slower. It will take 30-90 minutes or more to fill a 20-pounder.

As before, when connecting the big supply-tank to the small receiving-tank, we need a high-pressure propane hose with appropriate fittings on each end. We would (1) turn off the nurse-tank that feeds the house. Then (2) disconnect the supply-line that runs from the valve to the house. Note that any household appliance with a pilot light would have to be relit afterwards (plus there might be air in the lines).

(3) We’d connect our high-pressure hose between the nurse-tank gas-valve and the 20-lb. receiving-tank. Then we’d (4) open the valve on each end and let the games begin.

(5) We would have to keep the receiving-tank colder than the supply-tank throughout (to lower its pressure and condense the entering gas). One way to do this would be to set the 20-pounder in a tub of ice water. Another way would be to trickle water from a garden hose over the receiving-tank for the duration. As with the liquid-transfer method, OPD would prevent us from overfilling.

So, in round numbers, those are the basics. You can find YouTube videos demonstrating both methods. Please note that the safety precautions taken by the makers of these videos are not always the greatest. (What part of ‘understatement’ don’t you understand?)

If you do attempt refilling a 20-pounder, leather gloves and safety goggles are appropriate. No smoking. No sparks. And if something goes wrong, it will not blow up your garage. It will blow up your neighborhood. Well, that’s an exaggeration. Explosions are rare. It will only burn down your neighborhood. But if you aspire to be stage-center on the 6:00 o’clock news, this could be your debut. As an added bonus you’ll receive an official letter on company stationery from your fire insurance agent (suitable for framing).

Come to think of it, maybe you should talk to your fire insurance agent first, before attempting to refill a twenty-pounder. Ya think?

Storage of One-Pounders

Storage is a troublesome topic for me. I’ve come to have a lot of respect for propane (a.k.a. fear). I don’t want to store the cylinders in my living quarters. Ditto for my basement workshop.

Why? Because they might leak. That’s one reason. But if I ever have a fire, a few propane cylinders venting into the flames at random intervals (if not exploding) will not make things better. That’s the real reason. I don’t want the firemen sitting in the truck waiting for the show to be over before combatting my house fire.

My garage, attached to the house, poses the same problem. And my outdoor sheds/barns get hot in the summer. I’m sure they go over 120° F with no-one being aware of it. And it’s humid from time to time. Which contributes to rusting.

Here’s my experience. A year after formal retirement I received job offer in Canada. So we left our house as-is (unoccupied but fully furnished) and rented an apartment near the job.

Before departing for Canada, I took all the combustible items I could find – gas cans, kerosene, paint thinner, charcoal lighter fluid, half a dozen propane cylinders, etc. – and locked them up in a metal shed a hundred feet away from the house.

The shed and everything in it was largely ignored for the two years I was gone. When I returned, the propane one-pounders had all rusted (as shown in the photo below).

Okay. So I can’t store the cylinders in my living quarters. Or basement. Or garage. Or in a non-air-conditioned shed or barn. How am I supposed to store these things?

Propane Cylinder with Rust

I’ve read, incidentally, that you should remove the paper labels from propane cylinders so that moisture doesn’t get trapped under the label where it will contribute to rusting. That advice turns out to be armchair science. I did not remove the labels and all six of my one-pounders looked like the photo above. All of the rust was on the shoulders of the cylinders; none of the rust was under the labels. Translation: The theory is wrong; the advice is bogus.

Anyway, presented below is my storage solution. It’s what I came up with. Is it any good? Don’t know. Will it work? Don’t know. Come back in ten years and ask me. Note that I did not use any mastic when sealing the storage containers. I want to be able to open them, and do it easily, at least once a year for our family camping trip.

I have a fair supply of empty 5-gallon plastic pails with tops. They originally contained driveway sealer. They seem to make excellent storage containers for one-pounders.

There is enough room to stand four one-pounders on the floor of a 5-gallon pail. Plus you can squeeze in a Bernz-O-Matic-type soldering cylinder should you happen to have one. There’s enough additional space for two more one-pounders to be laid crossways on top of the upright, bottom cylinders. (To avoid things clanging around, I wrap the two horizontal cylinders in bubble wrap.) So a 5-gallon pail will hold a total of six one-pounders plus a soldering cylinder.

I also add a desiccant to absorb any air-borne moisture inside the 5-gallon pail. If there is no moisture in the air, then the metal cylinders cannot rust, eh? I use calcium chloride. To hold the desiccant, I punch holes in the lid of a half-pint canning jar (which then resembles a salt shaker) and stretch a piece of cloth over the mouth of the jelly jar (but under the lid) so that no calcium chloride pellets leak out through the punched holes. I am at pains to prevent the calcium chloride (sold as driveway de-icer in the winter) from touching the steel propane cylinders. Calcium chloride – CaCl2 – is corrosive to steel.

A desiccant expands as it absorbs moisture. So each of my desiccant jars is only half-full of calcium chloride. I put two such jars in each 5-gallon pail. I slide the jars between the standing cylinders so that they (the desiccant jars) are upright, vertical.

Gaye’s Note: You can learn to make your own desiccants in the article Beginners Guide to Desiccants.

Lastly, I seal the lid of the 5-gallon pail with duct tape. I put three continuous windings around the lid, making the first wrap flush with the top edge of the lid itself and spiraling successive wraps (generously overlapped) downwards onto the body of the pail.

One of the dangers in storing propane is that, if a cylinder gets hot (in the 120-130° F range or higher), the cylinder’s safety valve can spurt out a bit of propane to relieve the pressure. With propane, temperature and pressure are directly related.

This is especially dangerous in a confined space (the hull of a boat, for example). Repeated ventings (that no-one is even aware took place) from a bunch of stored propane cylinders can be disastrous.

Personally, I don’t want the cylinders in my 5-gallon pail to get hot and vent propane into the bucket. If I lived in Texas or Florida where summer temperatures reach absurd levels this would be an even greater concern.

Let me share an experience that might reveal how we can help ourselves temperature-wise.

It was winter. I lived in a rented house. Times were tough. I got permission from the landlord to install a homemade barrel stove (in which to burn wood for heat). The stove worked fine but it was positioned less than six inches away from an exterior wall. The inside surface of the wall was wood paneling. And the wall got hot. Very hot. As in, “Ouch! That’s hot!”

After a few days of worry, I Scotch-taped aluminum foil to the wall behind the stove. At which point you could lay your hand flat on the wall and the wall was cold. Icy cold. As in, “Wow! That’s amazing!”

So we could wrap our plastic pail in aluminum foil. That would be one way to help with the temperature problem. But foil is fragile, easily torn.

As an alternative we could spray-paint our pail with aluminum paint. Or white paint. And wrap it in bubble wrap. Or wrap it in a bat of fiberglass insulation. Or stand it in a cardboard box filled with sawdust. Or do all of the above and then bury it in the cool earth. In the shade. These are all just suggestions on how to cope with the temperature question.

Carbon Monoxide

The label on Coleman one-pounders contains a surprisingly prominent warning about carbon monoxide (CO). No other brand even mentions carbon monoxide. Older Coleman labels don’t mention carbon monoxide. Coleman one-pounders sold in Canada don’t mention carbon monoxide.

So what gives? Was (or is) the Coleman warning part of some legal settlement? That’s all I can think of.

Things that smolder (cigarettes, charcoal briquettes, incense) give off large quantities of carbon monoxide. That’s why it’s not safe to use a charcoal grill inside the house. Things that burn with a clear flame (stove burners, lanterns) give off miniscule (tiny, tiny) quantities of carbon monoxide.

A few years ago, in researching “Lanterns, Lamps, and Candles: A User’s Guide,” I tested all sorts of lamps and lanterns (one at a time) in a room with a CO detector. The detector, factory-preset to 30 ppm (parts per million), never went off. I began to doubt it was even working until I moved a stick of burning incense nearby. Then it screamed.

But where should I position the detector? Above or below the lamp being tested? Is CO heavier than air?

That seemed like a straightforward question. But when I Googled it, some answers said CO is lighter than air and rises; some said it’s heavier and pools in the basement; some said it’s about the same and rises because it’s mixed with the hot exhaust of the burning lamp. Good grief.

I could not find authoritative answers to my questions so I finally shelled out a hundred bucks for a meter [26] and did my own testing.

CO meter

Carbon monoxide proved to be elusive stuff. Even in a closed shower stall it was hard to get a reading. The meter measured in 1 ppm increments and had a measuring range from zero to 999 ppm. Out in general living quarters it was virtually impossible to get a reading.

I found that wick-type kerosene lamps (that generate light from a simple burning flame) produce more CO than do pressure lanterns that employ a mantle. After burning for one hour in a closed shower stall, for example, my average meter-reading for a Rayo wick-type kerosene lamp was 20 ppm.

For a propane mantle-lamp, the average reading was only 5 ppm. (And this, remember, is after one hour of burning inside a closed shower stall with no ventilation of any kind in the bathroom – no fan, window closed, bathroom door closed.)

One ppm is not very big. A carton of paint at the hardware store holds four one-gallon cans. Visualize, if you will, 17 gallons of paint – a stack of boxes, four high, plus one extra gallon on top. A single drop of paint thinner, measured with an eye-dropper and spread evenly across all 17 gallons, constitutes one part per million.

Oxygen Starvation

Everything that burns consumes oxygen – your fireplace, your gas range in the kitchen, the candles on your birthday cake. When your house is crowded with people, each breathing and consuming their own bit of oxygen, the available supply goes down even faster.

The fix is easy. Open a window. Let in some fresh air.

But what if you don’t? What are the symptoms of oxygen starvation and what are the consequences if you ignore it?

The symptoms are these. Early on, you may report ‘feeling just fine’ even though you are pale and confused. Later, you have no energy/strength/stamina. You have shortness of breath, chest tightness, blue coloring around your lips, tingling fingers, increased pulse, you want to sleep.

Oxygen starvation can also occur at high altitudes (where the air is ‘thin’) and when breathing mixtures of gases with low oxygen content (diving, for example).

If you’re living at a high altitude, say, and ignore the symptoms, the long-term consequences can be extreme fatigue, waking at night gasping for breath, loss of eyesight, loss of short term memory, and progressive weakening of the heart muscle leading to heart failure.

But that’s the long-term extreme. As far as unvented propane appliances are concerned (your kitchen stove, for example), the fix is easy. Open a window. Let in some fresh air.

Coming Up

In Part Five of this series (our final installment), we’ll discuss (a) the dangers of overfilling propane cylinders, (b) extinguishing a propane fire, and (c) the rather strange double standard that exists in the universe of propane safety. It does leave you scratching your head sometimes. See you then.

Part Four Sources – For References Purposes

As he has done with each installment, Ron has provided a reference for the numeric footnotes embedded in his article. This time there is only one.

[26] Carbon Monoxide Meter: Generic Carbon Monoxide CO Meter

Propane for Preppers – Part Five

Propane for Preppers Part Five |Backdoor Survival|

Our series on propane comes to an end with this installment. In it, I’m going to reopen the topic of carbon monoxide. Gaye forwarded a letter to me that reveals just how troublesome and conflicted (not to mention huge) this topic is. After seeing the letter, I realized my time would be better spent addressing this concern than any other.

Here’s the letter:

I started reading up about propane stove/burners and carbon monoxide. There’s a ton of conflicting advise on the internet about those two. Even the Mr. Buddy Heater threads have some people who argue about how best to use it and where not to. For instance, some people say they are meant for indoor construction sites, not for enclosed rooms.

I used one years ago during a power outage. The room was 12×12 and adjoined a 12 x 10 room and a 10 x 10 room, I still got a bit of a headache from it. I think it was on that thread I read someone say not to use a natural gas oven to heat a room. I used one once for that purpose. Had no ill effects. I went on to read how some Yahoo asked what’s the difference between a propane camping stove and a natural gas oven, IMHO he never got a clear answer. Someone replied that the natural gas ovens are vented as being the difference, which is clearly false, at least the several natural gas ovens I’ve used didn’t have any kind of venting.

I read on a tiny house blog where some people say don’t worry about using propane stove/burners in enclosed spaces, one guy mentioned how millions of people in Asia use propane everyday with no ill effects. Older people chime in and say how they used them in the old days in the United States, in contrast to those who freak out about the very idea of using a propane device inside.Then there’s the fellas using the Coleman dual fuel camping stoves in the back of a camper or in a tiny house with no ill effects. While other guys insist on running a hose through the wall to an outside tank for their propane stoves, and yet still more guys just run a hose under the kitchen sink to their 20lb. tank.

The beer brewing guys talk about the subject quite a bit. Seems a lot of them use turkey fryers in their garages and some of them would prefer to brew in the basement during the Winter. They ask themselves: will propane work?

I came across an imported wok propane burner, it could get to 100,000 BTU. Pretty impressive, but way too hot for my needs.

I looked at the RV drop-in and slide-in propane stove top burners. On the BTU side, they seemed to all run a little low. Campers they are used in – are enclosed – yet, I didn’t read about anyone freaking out about the use of them. I’m considering building a wooden box one can drop or slide into so I can use it on the kitchen counter top.

I found a propane single burner on Amazon which was listed as safe for indoor use. In the Q & A section it appeared the manufacturer was saying the reason they are safe for indoor use is that they are small and only give off a small amount of carbon monoxide. Then I read elsewhere how some people say the only real danger from using a Coleman propane camping stove inside is from using it too long, from trying to heat a room or house, and from leaving it unattended. I get the idea it’s ok to use one if a window is open a crack.

(In contrast, one guy on the beer brewing thread said he kept a garage door open two feet – and a backdoor open – and still got high carbon monoxide readings on his detector inside his house after using his propane turkey fryer).

On the Coleman website, in the description of some of the propane camping stoves, it says, use during emergencies. I’m guessing this is their way of saying they’re not going to say it’s safe to use indoors, but you might be just fine.? The rest of the stoves simply state something like, “for outdoor use only”. I wonder if there’s a difference between the two groups or if it’s just worded differently?
This subject would make a good follow up to the propane series. (Hint. Hint.)
I also came across a company which sells (imported from India) small kerosene single burner stoves, they looked like they might be worthwhile. However; the importer does caution that they come from a third world country and might be a bit banged up, dinged, scratched or have a bit of rust. Millions(?) of people use them with great success though.

I need to read some more. Pardon me if that was a bit long winded and sloppy, the subject matter is rather wide.

It is, indeed, a wide-ranging topic. Please be advised that, in reopening the carbon monoxide discussion, I must repeat some of what was presented in Propane for Preppers, Part Four.


First, please know that whatever I say, some people will agree with me, some will disagree, and some will be confused. And feelings will run high. So let me first present a bit of ‘philosophy’ (for lack of a better term).

Rationalizing is “the attempt to explain or justify one’s behavior or attitude with logical, plausible reasons, even when those reasons are not true or appropriate.”

People can rationalize just about anything. Consider a ‘discussion’ I had with my brother-in-law. We’d been talking awhile and at one point he commented, “Aw, that’s just conspiracy theory. I don’t believe any conspiracy theories.”

In the interest of reasonableness, I said, “Sam, we all participate in conspiracies. How about Santa Claus? All adults conspire about Santa. We all lie to our children . . .”

He interrupted. “Santa Clause is REAL. Santa Claus is the spirit . . .”

“No, Sam! I’m not talking about the ‘spirit of giving.’ I’m saying there is no fat man dressed in a red outfit trimmed in fur that lives at the North Pole . . .”

My sister rose to her husband’s defense. “How do YOU know? How do you know there isn’t a fat man in a red suit living at the North Pole. Can you prove to me there isn’t?”


The point to this little narrative is that human beings can rationalize just about anything. War, torture, propane safety, Santa Claus, anything.


Continuing for a moment with the philosophy bit, we all seek perfection but perfection does not exist on this earth, in this realm.

I can give you (what I think) is good advice about marriage. Raising children. Driving a car. Running a factory. It will be good advice but not perfect. There are no absolutes.

Ditto for propane safety. Ditto for carbon monoxide.

Stupid stuff happens in committee meetings. That means stupid stuff sometimes appears on product labels. And stupid stuff sometimes appears in government regulations. Do you think the Coleman company, when speaking in public on matters of safety and carbon monoxide, is divinely withheld from error? How about OSHA?

You can rationalize it however you want.

What Are the Risks Surrounding Propane?

● Inhaling propane vapors

● Oxygen depletion

● Inhaling products of combustion (carbon monoxide)

● Fire and explosion

● Frostbite from a cylinder leaking liquid propane

Frostbite was covered in the 3rd installment of ‘Propane for Preppers’ where we described the refilling of one-pounders. The other four items are discussed below.

Inhaling Propane Vapors

A little puff of gas always escapes when you turn on the kitchen stove burner. Sometimes you can even smell it. The same thing happens when connecting or disconnecting a one-pounder to a camp stove or lantern. Inhaling some of it is virtually unavoidable. The question is, how much harm does it do you?

In answer, propane, although non-toxic, is an asphyxiant gas meaning it can replace oxygen and suffocate you. Teenagers have been known to inhale propane in an attempt to get high. They put a plastic bag over a BBQ tank, fill the bag with propane, then inhale from the bag. Unfortunately, when their lungs are full of propane, oxygen is blocked from entering the lungs.

Here’s the tricky part. Our urge to breathe is triggered by a high level of carbon dioxide in the air. Our body knows that if carbon dioxide is high then oxygen must be low. And so our body tells us that it’s time to breathe. However, propane displaces the carbon dioxide in our lungs right along with the oxygen; a high level of carbon dioxide never exists. So our body never gets the signal to breathe. What was that 911 number again?

Propane is heavier than air and pools in the bottom of your lungs (blocking oxygen absorption into your bloodstream). The burner on your kitchen stove is lower than your face so you inhale a minimal amount. When you attach/detach one-pounders from your camp stove or soldering torch you can position the fittings (and any escaping gas) lower than your face. You can also hold your breath for a moment to avoid inhaling propane. You can also (it seems to me; I’ve never read this anywhere) stand on your head and take a few deep breaths. The same gravity that deposited propane in the bottom of your lungs should remove it, no?

Oxygen Starvation

The burners on your kitchen gas stove consume oxygen. So does the oven. So does your wood stove. So does your lantern – whether it burns kerosene or propane or Coleman fuel.

Your wood stove has a chimney and is thus ‘vented.’ Venting gets rid of unwanted products of combustion. Your gas range in the kitchen (typically four burners plus an oven) is not vented. But whether an appliance is vented or not, the oxygen it uses in the burning process comes from the inside air.

Outside air is 21% oxygen. Inside air is something below that. You, your wood stove, your birthday candles, your girlfriend, and the family dog all compete for the available oxygen. If the oxygen level is depleted too far you suffer ‘oxygen starvation.’

You say you feel ‘just fine’ even though you are pale and confused. Later, you have no energy/strength/stamina. You have shortness of breath, chest tightness, blue coloring around your lips, tingling fingers, increased pulse, you want to sleep.

The fix is easy. Ditch the girlfriend. Well, okay. Open a window. Let in some fresh air.

Oxygen starvation (having nothing whatsoever to do with propane) can occur at high altitudes where the air is ‘thin.’ If you ignore the symptoms, long-term consequences in such an environment can be blindness and heart failure.

But that’s the long-term extreme. As far as propane appliances are concerned (your kitchen stove, for example), the fix is easy. Open a window. Let in some fresh air.

Inhaling the Products of Combustion

As a youngster, I was repeatedly lectured on the dangers of carbon monoxide. Why? Because my mother had two schoolmates die from carbon monoxide poisoning. It made quite an impression on her tiny high school graduating class of twelve students.

The victims had been out ‘parking’ in a Model A Ford. Heat for the Model A was pulled from the exhaust manifold. It was a poor design, well known for leaking exhaust gases. In this case it was fatal.

This, our fifth and last installment on propane, began with longish letter reflecting a lot of confusion and contradictory advice about carbon monoxide. I’m going to TRY and clear up some of the confusion. Wish me luck.

A Primer On Propane – Because it is Important

Carbon monoxide is produced when something burns with insufficient oxygen being present.

That seems simple enough but rapidly becomes confusing. Things that smolder when they burn (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, charcoal briquettes, incense) give off large amounts of carbon monoxide. If you want to test your carbon monoxide detector, bring a burning stick of incense nearby. The detector will SCREAM!

But why do these things smolder? After all, they have oxygen. They have access to the same air that we’re breathing.

The answer is that they don’t have ENOUGH oxygen. Each material has its own threshold of how much oxygen is required to burn with an open flame. Firewood will burn with the amount of oxygen found in the open air. Tobacco will not. Nor will steel.

An oxyacetylene cutting torch, for example, doesn’t MELT a hole in steel. It BURNS a hole in steel. In a pure oxygen atmosphere, steel burns. Think about all the restrictions around medical patients who are on oxygen. Various materials will ignite and burn in a high-oxygen atmosphere that won’t burn, or will only smolder, in our regular atmosphere.

So let me say it again. Carbon monoxide is produced when something burns with insufficient oxygen being present. That means insufficient oxygen for the material at hand, for the material that is burning.

There are three ways that a condition of ‘insufficient oxygen’ can come about.

(1) To burn with an open flame, the fuel in question (tobacco, for example) needs more oxygen than is present in ordinary air. We just covered that.

(2) The device (a stove burner, for example) can be out of adjustment; the fuel/air ratio can be incorrect. With propane, a ‘lean’ burn can be recognized when flames lift away from the burner and tend to go out. A ‘rich’ burn results in large flames, yellow in color. (Propane flames should be blue.) Both rich and lean burns reveal incomplete combustion and imply the production of carbon monoxide.

(3) In an enclosed area (room, cellar, garage, shed), combustion can deplete the available oxygen with the result that carbon monoxide (CO) is produced. It’s produced as a byproduct of combustion rather than the normally-produced carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is nontoxic and harmless to breathe.

Note that in this last scenario carbon monoxide can be produced even when the appliances are properly adjusted. When the oxygen is ‘depleted’ or partially used up it means there’s not enough to go around. And in the combustion process it takes less oxygen to make CO (with one oxygen atom) than it does to make CO2 (with two oxygen atoms). So, in a situation with limited oxygen, CO is what gets made.

Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. That’s what makes it so dangerous. It sneaks up on you.

Hemoglobin is the principle oxygen-carrying compound in your blood. Unfortunately, the attraction or affinity between CO and hemoglobin is many times stronger than the affinity between oxygen and hemoglobin so CO displaces the oxygen in your bloodstream. Your brain and heart do not get the oxygen that they need. You die.

Headache is the most common symptom of acute carbon monoxide poisoning. (Acute means ‘brief and severe.’) With oxygen depletion you are pale and confused; with carbon monoxide, you have a headache.

Product Warnings

Keep in mind the principles outlined above when reading the warnings on product labels. You’ll find today’s restrictions are more severe than the restrictions in years past. And safety restrictions in the USA are more severe than the restrictions in other countries.

Personally, I believe this results from lawsuits over the years and from companies trying to protect themselves with CYA (Cover Your Fanny) statements. They don’t want to get hauled into court so, to preempt that possibility, they say ‘never’ do this and ‘never’ do that. With the blanket word ‘never’ they try and protect themselves from lawsuits. At least that’s my opinion.

Here are a couple of examples.

Coleman one-pounders circa 1980 caution that “Refilling can be hazardous.” Also, “Do not store . . . where temperatures exceed 130º F.” Today, Coleman one-pounders say, “Never refill this cylinder. Refilling may cause explosion.” Plus today’s storage limit is set at 120º F.

So is it 120º or 130º? Is today’s propane really different than yesterday’s propane?

A 20-pound tank in the USA corresponds to a 9-kilogram tank in the metric world. (Nine kilograms equals 19.84 lbs.) In New Zealand, per their Environmental Protection Authority regulations: “The typical portable domestic LPG cylinder holds 9 kg. This is the largest cylinder you are allowed to have inside your home.”

A Worthington (brand) 20-lb. tank in the USA is labeled thusly: “For outdoor use only. Do not use or store cylinder in a building, garage, or enclosed area.”

Why are New Zealand tanks safer than American tanks?

Joking aside, to be absolutely honest, I can’t rationalize this stuff.

Extinguishing a Propane Fire

The topic of propane fires is another toughie. If you Google for ‘extinguishing a propane fire’ the results are all over the map. At the top of the list will be directions for how to extinguish a fire on your propane BBQ grill. Unfortunately, a fire fueled by hamburger grease is confused with a fire fueled by propane.

On YouTube you’ll see various groups of firemen practice turning off the propane valve on a large tank engulfed in flame. Five men hunker behind a 550-gallon-per-minute water spray, advance to the tank, shut off the valve, and retreat. The exercise is only worthwhile, of course, if the propane leak (the source of fuel for the flame) comes after the valve.

Explosions are rare but do happen. One classic incident was the 1998 Turkey Farm fire in Albert City, Iowa. An ATV (all-terrain vehicle) struck an above-ground pipe carrying propane. The pipe leaked. The propane caught on fire. The pipe was hooked to an 18,000 gallon tank. The firemen thought that if they stayed away from the ends of the tank they would be out of the line of fire should the tank blow up.

Explanation: The tank was sausage-shaped. The fireman thought that, should the tank blow, the north end would go north and the south end would go south and the body would hold. They didn’t expect any debris to travel sideways. Oops.

They were wrong. The tank did blow up. Pieces of tank flew randomly in all directions. Two firemen were killed. Seven were injured.

Another famous case was in Ghent, West Virginia (2007). An old 500-gallon propane tank was being replaced with a new 500-gallon tank. A technician removed a plug that should not have been removed. It caused a leak. There was an explosion. Four people were killed. Six were injured.

These two examples notwithstanding, explosions are rare. And that fact is a testament to the propane industry.

Explosions are rare because every propane tank of every size, from one-pounders on up, have a pressure relief valve. In a fire, the tank heats, the pressure rises, the relief valve opens, propane exits the cylinder, is ignited, and forms a tower of flame like a fireworks fountain. It’s visually impressive but very rarely does a tank go BOOM!

From what I’ve read, it is virtually impossible to extinguish a propane fire in a large tank. On small scale, the Coleman one-pounder label says: “IN CASE OF FIRE (1) Leave area quickly. Call for help. (2) Let cylinder burn out.”

Translation: Evacuate the area. Call Ghost Busters. Don’t mess with it yourself. Let the pros take over.

The Rest of the Story

Went to a lawn party. 15-year-old came around asking for a lighter. He’d been assigned the task of grilling the hamburgers. Of course he’d never cooked hamburgers before in his life. And never lit a gas grill for that matter. I offered matches. “No. I’ll burn myself with those.” As it turned out, nobody in the politically-correct group carried a cigarette lighter. So I followed him back to the grill with my matches.

He had turned the gas on before he went looking for a lighter. I could hear the hiss of escaping gas as well as smell something. Sauerkraut? After pondering the choices I decided that propane was the more likely candidate. I had him turn off the gas. We fanned the area as best we could to dissipate the gas that had already escaped. I lit a match and held it near the burner. He turned on the gas. Poof! He jumped. It singed the hair off the back of my knuckles.

“Well,” I told him, “poof is better than whump! That’s when you lose your eyebrows.” He didn’t smile.

I explained that you should light the match first and then turn the gas on. If it blows the match out (because of air in the line), turn the gas off and light a second match. Don’t turn the gas on first and then fumble around looking for matches. That’s the wrong way ’round. That’s where poof and whump and KA-BOOM originate.

He didn’t smile. He didn’t speak. He didn’t have to. The body language he’d been practicing for all of his fifteen years made his message abundantly clear. “Nobody’s gonna tell me what to do.”

His hostility was rewarded moments later with a dose of karma. Hamburger grease dripped into the grill . . . and the flames rose to his shoulders . . . and the smoke wafted across the yard and across the porch and into the house and set off the smoke detector . . . and there was much running to and fro.

And, yes, this is a true story. And I (for one of the few times in my own life) followed directions.

I evacuated the area. (I joined a bunch of people elsewhere in the yard.)

I called Ghost Busters (also known as the boy’s parents).

I did not mess around with it myself. I let the pros handle it. And they did a great job. That’s what parents are for. God bless ’em.



Remember my brother-in-law Sam from the beginning of this article?

Turns out that when Sam was first married he lit a gas oven in the kitchen stove using a match. Like my 15-year-old friend in the story above, he turned on the gas before he went searching for matches. He found some. He struck one. The propane picked him up, carried him across the kitchen, and deposited him on the floor. His hair was gone so he got a wig in his Christmas stocking. That’s where his adult belief in Santa Claus originated.

© Ron Brown 2015

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240 Responses to “The Ultimate Primer on Propane for Prepping, Survival and Self-Sufficiency”

  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.

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  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.

    • Another great contribution. Thanks, Dave! How did you get a sneak peek at Part Two of the article? 🙂

  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.
      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.


  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!


    • 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.

    • JJM – I actually did include a link to an adapter in the “Bargain Bin” section of the article. Is this what you were looking for?

      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.

    • Thanks – They also had some important usage tips re: freeze small tank first.
      Also found the hose to adapt propane appliances to my larger 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 // 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:


      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!

    • Chris – here’s a link explaining about purging your tanks (I did not actually do this – it was done for me by Ferrell Gas, who I would recommend without any reservation – their tank prices were better than anybody else I could find and their customer service was great).


    • Thanks, Darrell, for sharing this great info with the rest of us. We’re all in this together.

    • 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:

      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. BTW, my main “thing” is Food Security Gardening. For more info, click in my name link.

  25. 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.


  26. 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:


    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 @ // would be a good place.

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

  27. 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.” //

    1 dead, 1 injured in a refill 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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!

  32. 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.

  33. **** 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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?


    • 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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

  41. 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 !

  42. Thanks Ron and Gaye. Hopefully you will be covering how to convert a gasoline generator to run on propane. And the pro’s and con’s of doing so.
    The only problem I see with propane is that if everything collapses you may have a difficult time finding more propane. That’s why I also have a wood burning heating stove in my house (plus it saves on the propane bill!).

  43. Thanks for a wonderful article.. a lot of people don’t think about fuel and its accessibility. I believe in solar and wind as the answer but the good propaganda campaign from big oil has been really effective.What a lot of people haven’t looked into is the unit ( not presently available in the USA) that turns waste plastic into oil .. or a hand cranked oil press.

  44. Did you guys read the article the other day from the UK where some homeowners were able to harness the heat from their compost piles and heat the water to their home? It was a fascinating story. Not sure how sustainable it is, but it is kind of cool.

  45. I remember back in 1999 when Y2K was all the talk. The knowledgeable preppers were looking for 500 or 1000 gallon propane tanks with a valve on the bottom. It requires a valve on the bottom to be able to get the liquid out of the tank. The top valve gives off the gas. It take liquid to fill the 20 lbs tanks and prepping groups were storing 20 pounders all over the hill sides for the coming bad times. They needed reliable filling stations.

    • John, an ex-employer of mine refilled his 20# tanks from a 250 gallon tank. The hose connection was on the top of the tank. Apparently there is a pipe under the hose connection that extends down into the tank, allowing the gas pressure to push the liquid propane out the hose.

    • In a later installment we’ll describe the refilling of 20-pounders (BBQ-tank size) from bigger tanks. It is doable. That’s a fact. But it has the potential to burn down not your house but your neighborhood. That’s also a fact. You might want to talk it over with your fire insurance agent before you start.

    • Thank you. The “ebook” in question (Lanterns Lamps & Candles) can be found at // It is a CD in PDF format. Frankly, readers love the content but don’t care for the format. The CD actually forms the basis of the (paperback and Kindle) Non-Electric Lighting Series. The Non-Electric Lighting Series has three books currently but will ultimately have nine (and will cover Rayo, Aladdin, Coleman, Petromax . . . even Kosmos and Guy’s Dropper). Thanks again.

  46. Very good info! I can’t wait for the rest of the articles. I have a Mr. Buddy heater that takes 2 canisters of propane and it works great for heating.

    • When we get to the last installment of this propane series, I think you’ll find the Safety section interesting. I should say, the “double-standard safety section.” Indoor and outdoor use (and storage) of propane cylinders, what the labels say today, what they used to say, what they say in other countries . . . velly interesting . . .

    • Just bought a Mr. buddy heater with the 20 lb.tank hose adapter & filter here in Canada, could hardly see the heater under all the warning labels. Appears the 20 lb tanks are a cross between a live hand grenade and a claymore mine. Need safety facts and reasons not just warnings. Keep up the good work and waiting for more of this series.

  47. Hope I am not getting ahead of the articles here, but propane electrical power generators are VERY common in the communications business. Propane does not go stale, or decompose when stored for long periods. This makes it perfect for stand-by power at remote sites. Diesel,especially the new Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel (ULSD)can go bad in a matter of months without proper storage. Propane, on the other hand, stays just the way it was delivered for years. There is that little matter of temperature though, and if you live in cold climates you either run your generator on liquid, taken from the bottom of the tank, or you have tank heaters installed that keep the propane just above the completely liquid level.

  48. I’ve read Ron’s book on Lanterns, Lamps and Candles, loved it so much, I made candles of recycled ones too small to burn. I have two identicalColeman Campstoves that take fuel, and two Dietz Lanterns that work amazingly well for how old they are. Of course I have a propane grill with a 20 pound tank that I keep filled.
    Redundancy is the key for preppers who live far from the Madding Crowd.

  49. Excellent article, Ron. Thanks for the info. Perhaps you can help me . I picked up an old Magic Chef gas stove (circa 1940’s) with the intention of brewing beer outdoors with it or actually cooking with it should the need arise. I attached a propane tank and regulator to it but the burners will not stay lit. It looks like the orifices on the elements are too large and are not compatible with the pressure/volume of the propane. My guess is that this unit wants to run on natural gas. Can you explain the difference in the two and recommend a course of action? I really want to get this stove up and running. Thank you!

    • Propane is under higher pressure and the orifice (the hole through which the gas comes) is smaller than it is with natural gas. Your local gas company (i.e. the business or firm who would install a tank and deliver propane to your home) will have a serviceman equipped with conversion kits for clothes dryers and kitchen stoves to switch from natural gas to propane and vice versa. That’s where I would go. He’ll know what he’s looking at. He’ll have the tools and parts to fix it.

  50. My 2 sense.

    Love propane, buy every used 100 pound tank on Craiglist I can find. Just bought 2 TriFuel generators from Central Maine Diesel, a 2k and 8k. They both run great on gas and propane.

  51. Propane is NOT very efficient to run generators. Not many people realize that. A 20lb tank won’t last very long. Gas is still the most efficient. Unless you have one of those huge “buried” tanks, but propane is still not very efficient, which surprised me.

  52. Thanks for the article! We just upgraded our rented 100 gallon to a purchased 500 gallon propane tank and the cost per gallon goes way down, offsetting the cost of the tank. The 500 gal. will now support current use for over 2 years but also allows for the addition of a propane on demand water heater and/or furnace/ac. Adding lighting was something I had not thought of, so thanks sgain.

    • I had wall-mounted propane lamps at a camp once. The cabin was located way back in, miles away from power lines. It took a 4-wheel-drive to get there. The lamps really were a pleasure to use. Each one gave off light on par with an 80-watt light bulb. Now THAT was roughing it.

  53. Thanks for the information. I wanted to know all this and now I will learn! You are getting your own folder on my computer!

  54. Wow! So much information, good information! I have only recently put my mind to the importance of getting prepared. Articles like this are not only informative but also inspirational. I have alway been a “one step at a time” kind of person and this shows how to get ready step by step.

    • Thanks. Propane has some features to recommend itself: it’s widely available, it can be stored without degrading, it’s available in many container sizes and increments. On the downside, you must use some discretion. I used to teach seminars with a guy who said to the students, “Don’t park your brains at the door.” I never cared for his phraseology but it sure does appply to propane. You must stay focused. Propane is HIGHLY flammable. One spark can change your life. You think texting-and-driving don’t mix? Well………….

  55. Excellent!!! I love Ron Brown’s writing. His expertise is strong, his delivery emminently approachable without being simplistic. He strikes a wonderful balance.

    Sadly, I don’t do cloud e-books or I’d be all over his 99-cent books.

  56. He mentioned yellow Teflon tape for propane,… what if a person uses the white plumbing Teflon tape instead? The white stuff is what my local hardware store recommends, for low pressure devices anyway.
    I don’t recall ever seeing yellow tape.

    • As far as I know, white Teflon tape is intended for water and yellow for gas. (Plus Dupont holds the Teflon trademark and doesn’t like the phrase “Teflon tape” because they, DuPont, no longer make it.) The white tape has been stretched during its manufacturing process. It is both thinner and lower density (more porous) than yellow. For gas, the story I get is that white tape will work; yellow tape will work better. And by all means, don’t be afraid to Google for it.

  57. Ron – I have gotten tanks at the exchange place that, although seeming full, I could get no drop an out of. You said ” Not only do OPD tanks have a float inside to prevent over-filling, if the valve is accidentally left open and the tank is not hooked up to anything, no gas comes out. “. Could his be cause by a bad float, or as some people say, because the tank is full of water? If the float, is there anything the average person can do to get it working properly? (35 miles each way is a bit far for returning the tank, especially during an emergency when you need it NOW)

    • If your tank is not hooked up to anything and you open the valve and “can’t get a drop out of it,” GOOD. That’s the way OPD is supposed to work. If, however, your tank is hooked up to an appliance and nothing comes out, different story.

      At the feed store where I get my BBQ tank refilled, there are twenty abandoned OPD tanks at any given time setting in rows near the refill station. Why? Because with the float paraphernalia inside, OPD tanks are more delicate than the old-style tanks they replaced. But the good old boys don’t know that. They let the 20-pounders roll around in the back of their pickup trucks just like gramps usta do. Clankity-bump. Eeee-haw!

      If the tank/float/valve is at fault and no gas comes out even though it’s properly hooked up and you know the tank to be full, then NO, there is nothing the average person can do to fix it. That’s why the abandoned tanks are lined up at the feed store.

      You might consider testing your new tank right there in the parking lot before making the 35-mile trip home. Doing so would require an adaptor hose plus a small appliance (e.g. camp stove), and those devices are not free, but there is no technological reason why it couldn’t be done

    • Thanks Ron – where I live I suspect the “good ole boys” problem. That and the exchange place not properly checking them. I guess I’ll have to get one of the single burner stoves so I can check the tank before leaving! 🙂

    • A single-burner stove, designed to go on a one-pounder, will not mount DIRECTLY on a 20-pounder. You’ll need an adaptor and/or adaptor hose. All available at Walmart. Not exotic stuff. Just be sure you’ve got everything you need for testing before you leave home on a 70-mile round-trip jaunt.

  58. This is ONE topic which I’ve been sadly lacking. Acquired a foldable bbq grill but it’s supposed to hook up to propane. (Have patience, all female house w/no male advisers here) lol Anyway, I don’t like those small ‘throw away’ bottles and would like to get a small refillable tank for the car and a standard tank for home. What sizes do I look for? From the reply to JimW, I’m going to be taking my bbq grill when I go buy these babies too. 🙂 Thanks so much for the great article.

    • As far as I know, the smallest size refillable propane tank is the 4.25 lb. (one gallon) size. If you Google for it (“4.25 lb propane tank”) you’ll find that Lowe’s and Home Depot and several other stores carry it. The “standard tank” you want for home use is likely the 20-pounder. And EVERYBODY sells those. The 20-pounder is what’s on everyone’s BBQ grill. Ironically, the little 4.25-pounder is over $50 whereas the bigger (and more popular) 20-pounder is only $30. Say what?

      With the 20-pounders, there are places you can trade in your old, empty tank (plus a few bucks) and take home a different, full tank. It’s quick. You don’t have to hang around waiting for somebody to fill your tank. To get started on this swap system, you can outright purchase a filled tank.

      OR you can start out by buying a new, empty tank AND GET IT PURGED and filled, then keep taking the same tank back for refilling. With a 4.25-pounder, this second option is your only choice. The first option (turn-in-an-empty-and-go-away-with-a-full-but-different tank) can only be done with 20-pounders. (Although TIAEAGAWAFBDT has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?)

  59. Thanks for the unexpected reply.

    The question I now face is: should I, or shouldn’t I, replace the tape on the connections for the propane/generator/conversion set-up?

    … I’m going with: maybe later, but get some yellow to have on hand, especially for the brass elbows.

    • As far as I know, the “Teflon” part of the Teflon tape is the same, be it white or yellow. It’s not like propane will dissolve the white tape or anything like that. It’s just that the yellow tape, being slightly thicker and slightly less porous, will contain or confine GASEOUS propane better than will white tape. White tape will suffice with a LIQUID, but a gas, under pressure, is more easily contained with the heavier yellow tape.

      That being said, if the joints you already have don’t leak . . . then they don’t leak. Check them out with soapy water. If they don’t leak . . . well, what more can you ask of them?

  60. Ron – My sis just called me. How she knew you were doing propane stuff today I don’t know! I have a 250 gallon tank and she said her neighbor has a 250 for sale at a very low price ($100). In addition he said she could use his trailer to bring it to me (250 miles).
    The questions now are:
    How difficult is it to connect two tanks together? Should it be straight tank to tank or should it be via the regulators?
    Would it be better to have my propane company come out and connect the tanks to be sure it’s done correctly?
    Is it even worthwhile contemplating?
    Finally, should there be a shutoff valve between the tanks so you can isolate them?

    (Man – we running you ragged today! 🙂 )
    Thank you for sticking with us!

    • You’re out of my league here, sorry. Anything I say would just be guessing. And propane is something I DO NOT want to guess with. I’ve come to have some very healthy respect for the stuff. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

    • Thanks – Probably the safest bet is to have the propane supplier do it. They should know all the safety regs and may have to empty the tank I now have. They should have the equipment to do it all with. Now to see if my sis is willing to pay more! 🙂

  61. Ron (?), regarding “purging” ; If I purchase a NEW 20# propane tank (from Walmart for instance) do I need to inform the guy at the propane station that it’s new and needs purging ? If “yes”, does that mean that I then need to pay for the tank to be filled and emptied 4 times before I take it home ??

    • Ken – the purging is done with gas (vapor), not liquid. After purging then the tank is filled with liquid. So, I don’t think you would be charged much if any for the purging. I do admit that I haven’t had that experience, but I would probably argue if they tried to charge me for “filling” it 4 times! Maybe a small additional charge for labor, but not for “filling”.

    • The guy at the propane station will likely notice that the tank looks brand new and ask you if it has ever been filled. But don’t take the chance. You tell him right up front. I have never been charged for purging and would be surprised if anyone did so. To the propane company, it’s part of the cost of doing business. The cost of purging the occasional tank (filling it with GAS and venting it to the atmosphere 4 times) is built into the day-to-day propane price. You’ll be back for a refill. They’ll get you then. Don’t worry; they’re not giving anything away.

  62. Ron
    you say “the issue (some would say myth) of unshielded copper tubing running through a concrete wall and being corroded by the concrete”….
    Here in UK most houses have central heating systems where the wall mounted radiators are fed by copper pipes through which the water heated by the boiler circulates. On the ground floor these pipes sometimes have to be run under the cement floor to get to each radiator so as to avoid ‘unsightly’ runs of pipe along the walls which then are often boxed to hide them. The practice is to sheath the copper pipes in plastic, though its not thick stuff, more like freezer bag thickness. The pipes of course have water flowing through them, not propane gas. What I wanted however to point out is that if that sheathing is broken you can indeed get corrosion and ‘pinhole’ size leaks. We have had that happen three times in our house, and always at the point where a copper pipe is emerging from the floor, which is the point, for aesthetic reasons I guess, where the sheathing stops. The only solution is to smash the surface tile, dig out the cement until you are down to undamaged copper pipe and make good with a joint and a decently sheathed piece of new pipe. I’ve learnt the hard way to take the precaution of watching the installer like a hawk and insisting on thicker plastic sheathing, e.g. damp proof course thickness which I’ve purchased myself, being wrapped several times round the replacement pipe and joint until it stands proud of the floor by a few millimetres. The place the leaks occur haven’t had someone with a foor mop making them wet, nor has the joint above onto the radiator itself leaked back down the pipe and onto the floor. In two cases the floor round the pipe was carpeted. So any external moisture would purely be from the air. It takes many many years for copper pipe to corrode usually in these circumstances, but plumbers here always say it is because of something in the cement that the corrosion eventually occurs if unsheathed.

    • Tim, thanks for both your interest and your time in composing such an extensive comment.

      What you’re saying makes sense although the truth of the matter might be somewhat different from what “common sense” tells us. As an analogy, back in Part One I discussed the armchair science of peeling the labels from one-pounders so that moisture wouldn’t get trapped under the paper, etc.

      I’ve little doubt but what corrosion will form around a pinhole in the plastic sheathing. One solution would be to seal the pinhole. Another solution might be to remove the plastic altogether.

      It looks like our topic of propane could morph into a discussion of galvanic corrosion, eh?

    • Glancing back over your remarks a second time, I’m reminded of wooden fence posts that rot off at ground level. Fence posts don’t rot off down in the ground. The rot is always at the interface of soil and air. Same thing?

  63. We have natural gas in our household, however every gas stove also has the ability to run off propane if you attach the adapter. This comes in handy if for some reason the gas ever gets shut off to your neighborhood. You can put the adapter on and continue with propane.

  64. Sir:

    I have had some difficulty obtaining clear information regarding the fuel that stores best in large tanks, such as a 500 gallon tank. I have looked at diesel, bio-fuel, propane, and gas. However, my preference is to use bio-fuel, since it is the only alternative fuel that allows me to produce myself with my own processor and crops, in the event of any catastrophe that interrupts supplies that must be provided by others. If biofuel can be stored for a reasonable period of time, it will affect my decisions regarding the cars I drive and the generator I buy for my home and outbuildings. Your thoughts please.

    • Joe, at its best, bio-fuel offers you, the individual, the possibility of being energy independent on an ongoing basis. It’s a control issue, no? Bio-fuel would allow YOU to be in control of your own destiny.

      But does bio-fuel give the biggest bang for the buck where land use is concerned? You’d be converting (1) acreage to (2) corn to (3) ethanol to (4) miles driven. Is that a better return than (1) acreage to (2) corn to (3) cash to (4) gasoline to (5) miles driven?

      Will you really be energy “independent?” Or will your DEpendence simply shift from Mobil to Mother Nature. Drought and floods and swarms of bugs come to mind.

      Health. When you get old and can’t do it any longer. To whom do you pass the baton?

      On a macro scale, we already use 10 petroleum calories to produce one food calorie. If we reverse the process, how many food calories will we consume in the production of one petrol-equivalent calorie?

      We have drifted off-topic here, haven’t we? 😀

  65. A galvanic corrosion blog post wold be nice to read someday. A kerosene one, too?

    ANyway, for whomever might like to know, RE: “wooden fence posts that rot off at ground level” I heard somewhere there’s a company which makes a substance that prevents this from happening. Utility companies are using it for wooden electrical poles (a.k.a telephone poles). I wonder if it would be helpful with propane lines and such? Sorry, I can’t recall the brand name of the substance.

  66. I have done this a few times.
    Put the one pounder cylinders in the freezer for half and hour before refilling them.
    This will close to the 100% fill rate.

    • Thanks for your interest but I strongly recommend AGAINST chilling a one-pounder in the freezer. I have used the freezer method myself and it has always resulted in overfilling. Granted, it’s what you’ll see most often on YouTube but I personally believe that the people recommending it are wrong. Gas (headspace) in the cylinder can be compressed. Liquid cannot be compressed (not liquid water and not liquid propane).

      Let’s say you fill your one-pounder FULL (leaving no headspace) then leave it in the parking lot in the back of your SUV in the summer with the windows rolled up. The cylinder gets warm. The liquid expands. The cylinder vents some propane through its safety relief valve but then ruptures if the valve is not up to the task. Tell me it ain’t never gonna happen.

      Installment #5 of this series will discuss the dangers of overfilling in more detail.

    • The “chillin'” method is what was recommended by the manufacturer of the filling device that I bought from Cabela’s MANY years ago. It works well. I don’t put mine in the freezer, I just sink them in an ice chest full of ice for about 15 minutes before filling.

    • Regardless of your refill method, it is most important that you check, with a scale, the weight of your one-pounder after refilling. Otherwise, you are just guessing. I hate to be hardnosed about this, but propane is not something to estimate or guesstimate. I’ve come to have a very healthy respect for the stuff.

      Just because you’ve done it for years without checking on a scale and without incident is not proof of its safety. After all, you might cross the road without looking for years. And get away with it for years. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to do so.

      I use an inexpensive plastic scale (Salter brand) with a 0-7 lb. weight range capability. As mentioned above (in Part 3 of Propane for Preppers), anything above 865 grams or 30.5 ounces gross weight indicates overfilling. The excess needs to be bled off. If you’ve been estimating all along, please buy a scale and check out your actual results. You might be surprised.

      This really is important.

  67. Outstanding article! One of the BEST, I’ve ever read or seen on any preparedness website. Well Done! (and thank you!!)

  68. I have stored for years the 1 pound cylinders in a 4″ piece of PVC pipe and have not had any problems at all. I capped and glued one end of the pipe and put a screw type clean out cap on the other end for removal purposes. You can even bury them if you first put some pipe putty on the threaded end before screwing it closed.

  69. Thanks Dean. I’ll have to try that. If I may ask, what results do you get? What’s the longest you’ve stored a cylinder (months? years?) and what shape was it in when you took it out of storage? Any rust or corrosion? How much does it cost? Sounds like maybe the pipe, end cap, glue, and screw-type clean-out cap might cost more than the one-pounder itself. But it sure would be nice to safely store a couple of one-pounders from one camping trip to the next…..

    • I don’t remember the actual cost because it was a long time ago. I went to Lowes and bought everything I needed. I cut the 10′ piece of 4″ pipe in half and I am able to store five cylinders in each section. I have had some of them stored for about four years and they still look brand new, even the ones I have buried look new, I dug them up after about a year to check on them and can’t tell any difference between the ones kept indoors.

    • Great! Thanks for sharing. As I said in the article, storage of one-pounders is a troublesome topic for me. Your first-hand, hands-on info is the very best kind.

  70. Gaye provides a lot of detailed information here. This will come in very handy since BBQ’ing is one of my favorite activities. It’s getting a bit cold this time of year so using the propane to light up some fire will also be nice.
    Thanks again for the insightful post Gaye. Look forward to more of this.

    Carlos Alvarez

  71. I’ve been storing propane 16oz. containers since before Y2K – initially, in plastic flip-lid file containers beneath my deck. After 5 years I found the bottom stack of containers 5″ deep in drainage water. Dried ’em off, had a master carpenter build a 6’x6’x6′ locker out of 4″x4″ hardwood, insulated inside; waterproof roof and triple-padlocked locked steel door. That’s where I store my propane now. This locker backs up against a ten-inch concrete foundation wall and is bolted into the wall so that no one can tip it over. The locker is disguised and is labled as a “chemical toilet” from the outside. Please note that the once-rusty containers worked just fine – I’m still using them 16 years later! If one or two bottles should fail and vent propane, it seeps out of the locker and into fresh air. No sources of flame nearby, no electricity in the locker either.

  72. Very interesting and informative series. Couple questions for Ron…So from what I took away from your posts, I am better off getting my 20# tanks refilled at the local mill or Tractor Supply as opposed to doing the exchange, as I will actually be getting what I pay for? And DH (who has some more experience with this than me) has mentioned needing to ‘burp’ the tank before refilling…with all the safety features in the newer tanks, I’m thinking this is safer than it used to be, and may result in a fuller tank? We use natural gas/electric to power our home, but we are campers and regularly use the one pounders and 20#ers…learning to refill the one pounders for use with the appliances we have from a 20# is useful information, I will be printing off all of this series. Thank you!

  73. Thanks for your interest. Are you better off getting your tanks refilled at the local mill as opposed to the exchange? Probably. Blue Rhino (for example) only puts in 15 lbs. of propane whereas your local mill stops filling at 20. But some dealers charge by the pound and others charge a flat fee to top off the tank. So it’s really a case-by-case problem. You’d need to weigh the tank before after filling and see how much you got versus the price paid. It’s a nuisance but not rocket science. Most times, dollar-wise, you’re better off going to the mill. The exchange is more convenient but you pay for the convenience.

    Not sure what “burping” is. If you open the one of the new OPD (Overfill Protection Device) tanks without any appliance being attached, no propane comes out (by design). Will burping (whatever it is) result in a fuller tank? I hope not. You MUST leave some headspace. Don’t put in more than 20 lbs., even if you can.

  74. I am wondering why you only use propane? Coleman fuel/white gas uses 1 gallon to 5-1 lb tanks. The fuel, if left sealed, can easily last 20+ years. If smaller amounts of fuel are wanted they make 1 quart plastic bottles. If necessary the Coleman fueled equipment can run on regular unleaded gasoline. 1 lantern can run for 12+ hours on high without a refill. The stoves are just as nice and boil water faster. Just seems easier to bring 1 backpack stove and 1 small lantern and 1 gallon of fuel and have it last 2+ weeks of use instead of hauling around 5 tanks as back ups and 2 on the equipment for a total of 2-1 lb tanks.

    So a 5 gallon gas can of white gas (filled in Amish country for less than $20) would equal to about 25-1 lb cylinders. See the space savings too!

    • Hi Ben. I do not “only use propane.” I have a YouTube video, for example, explaining how to convert a gas pressure lantern (that is, Coleman fuel) to kerosene. And I personally have lanterns that run on Coleman fuel and propane and kerosene and diesel and alcohol. I don’t belong to a propane religion or a Coleman-fuel religion. When TSHTF, whatever fuel is available, I want a lantern that will run on it. When it comes to prepping and survival, redundancy is the name of the game.

  75. Interesting read for sure, thank you Ron, I really enjoyed it!


    As you said: “On the other hand, if you are not mechanically inclined and do not have an outside area in which to work, refilling-one pound propane tanks may not be for you.”

    This should cover 80% of the population.

    I’m easily capable of refilling the cylinders, but why?

    A new one pounder from Wally is $2.97. If as you said you save $1.97, there is a difference of One dollar. To save the one dollar, you need to buy an adapter (Sears $ 8.95) a cap and O-ring if there is a leak (about $3.65), and a scale to check proper fill. And of course there is a question how much your time is worth.

    So in recap: 80% of the population should not try this, and for the other 20% this is not a saving.

    It is still a fun read!

    • Thanks for your input, Magyar, but your 80% figure should, in my mind, be more like 10%. For example, I know a lady who was brought up in a house full of servants. She literally had never changed a light bulb before she was married. She laughs about it today, telling how she sat on the bed and cried when her new husband forced her to do it. In my mind, SHE is the kind of person who has no business refilling propane one-pounders.

      And I agree, the cost savings are small. TODAY. But there’s comfort in knowing how to do things. I no longer change the oil in my car, for example. But I’ve done it and I know how. And if you take that little capability and multiply it by a hundred – or a thousand – other things that you know how to do, it gives you some independence. When TSHTF, I would prefer to feel I can cope as opposed to feeling helpless.

      Being able to refill a propane one-pounder could, in the right circumstance, be priceless knowledge. I have a book out on Amazon (“The New 2000-Hour Flashlight”) where one reader commented, “I live in South Florida and wish I had had this information when after Hurricane Wilma we were 3 weeks without electricity.” THAT is when you need to know how to refill propane one-pounders. TODAY, I agree, saving $1.97 is a “who cares?” But THEN, it means you’ll have light; it means you’ll be able to cook supper. I guess maybe it’s a prepper thing

  76. I heat my house and cook with propane, have for the last 35 years. I love it. I have used “Camp stoves” indoors when I let my big tank (500gal) run out. I have never had a problem with CO. However, I live in a leaky old farm house. I don’t have a problem with CO collecting in my house. I CAN see a big problem in a “tiny house” that is well built and sealed. That’s why you find sailing vessels have Alcohol stoves rather than propane. The products of combustion in an Alcohol stove do not include CO, only Carbon Dioxide and water vapor.

  77. I have found your artical rather informative, all five, but for the generally public without any knowledge results could be devastating. NFPA, AGA, and CGA all aid in the safety of propane equipment, storage, transportation, sizing, and installation. I have spent 30 years in the HVAC field to include natural and propane work. Common scenes needs to prevail along with a working knowledge. The young tech was right. NFPA thing. Codes do change over time so was it required when new tank installed. Probably. Do we like to conform? Usually not. I like to think of it as a safety issue. Will concrete eventually corrode copper? Ever have a oil line in concrete leak? The old radiant copper systems are of ridged pipe and not soft tube. And yes I have seen concrete encased piping develops leaks. Nothing is really designed to last forever. In short when not familiar find some one who is. Safety first.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response. To me the dilemma is whom to believe when the “experts” disagree. I guess that’s the crux of the matter. You say that you have seen concrete-encased piping develop leaks. No doubt you have. But was concrete-to-copper corrosion the problem? Or did a shady contractor bury some defective piping in the cement. “Ah, it’ll be years before it fails. And when it does we’ll blame the concrete.” Tell me it ain’t never gonna happen. You say “the young tech was right . . . codes do change . . .” I challenge his “rightness.” Is a new code/rule/law always better than the old? And in this case, there are different codes in effect in different sections of the country. The new tech was simply citing what he was familiar with. But my tank was installed in keeping with the code in my area. So again, which code do you trust? Which expert do you trust?

  78. really Great Article, since it’s very cold weather -Hoping some will heed to the warnings & survive the winter,
    Thanks again.

  79. I managed to got whump education once years ago. We were out camping and I lit the burner on the stove in our pick up camper to warm some food up. I set the pan on the burner and stepped outside for a minute. When I came back in the camper I noticed the burner was out. I removed the pan so I could light the burner and struck a match, whump. Hair on the arm gone and eyebrows smaller. I am sure the only reason I am still here is because of the gas that got vented out of the camper when I opened the door to get back in it. I now have a very healthy respect for it and always keep a very close eye on it. Since then I have had burners go out on grills and stove several times. Every time I made sure to ventilate enough before trying to re-light to insure I don’t even get a poof from it. To date, eyebrows and arm hair remain intact. Lesson learned.

  80. Thanks for the article. I have the adapter for emergencies, but have never used it. I feel much more confident about it now. Thanks a TON!!!!!!

    • Thanks, Kevin, for your interest. The fact that you have an adapter? Super! Because there’s no substitute for it. In fact, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! But I would urge you to use your adapter and actually refill a one-pounder. As I have said so many times, like sex, reading about it and doing it are two different things.

  81. I have Worhtington brand 1 pounders and no where on them does it say anything about “Never refill this cylinder.”

  82. 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.

    • Diane – I have a newer five-part series that you might want to read. The information is more thorough with lots of photos and safety tips


  83. @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.


  84. Thanks for your interest, Mark, and for your time to write up your remarks. In fact, I have a Worthington one-pounder setting on the desk beside me as I write this. Under HANDLING AND STORAGE the label says “4. Never refill this cylinder.” If your Worthington cylinders do not say that, then it is most likely that you are looking at older cylinders. You yourself may have owned them for several years OR they may have been setting on a store shelf for several years. To the folks who rebuild antique cars, this would be called “new-old stock.” Picture a car headlight, brand new, still sealed in the factory box. But manufactured in 1921. Mom-and-pop hardware stores are full of new-old stock. Propane one-pounders are no exception. I assure you that Worthington one-pounders made and sold TODAY are labeled, “Never refill this cylinder.”

  85. This comment is on filling one pound propane cylinders. I put the cylinders in the freezer before filling. I don`t how much more propane goes into the frozen cylinder but not having to go thru the bleeding process that to me just adds more danger to an already bad hair day possibility. Using the ol hillbilly weight scale. A store bought cylinder in one hand and a refill in the other the refilled one is close enough. For me the time saved on the bleeding process is more time I have to work on other ways to burn down the neighbor hood
    Like always try at your own risk !!!


  86. I have been doing this for at least 25 years. It is easy. I reuse the cylinders for my propane fogger. I just fill them at equalized pressure and keep another on hand when it runs out. (I don’t worry about getting them filled 100%)

  87. Electric fences were not around in Mark Twain’s day. The quote came from Will Rogers

    “There are three kinds of men: The ones that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” ~ Will Rogers

  88. I have always kept a small supply of non leaded gas with stabilizer and changed it out yearly. It is in sealed DOT approved containers tightly capped and stored in a large plastic covered 4 x 2 foot snap lid also sealed to keep out rain etc. Why with all my care to keep my emergency fuel ready do I lose a portion of they fuel to evaporation. Any ideas on keeping this gas whole.

  89. I am a certified propane gas service tech and trainer. I recover gas from the larger storage tanks you refer too here and I would like to come on your article from two perspectives
    first safty
    there is,a reason we put the label on the liquid withdrawal valve on those thanks. You can and I have been severely burned from the liquid gas (-44 deg) also if you just take the cap off and the spring 9n the excess flow valve in side the liquid withdrawal valve is bad (more times than good) then you will have an explosive release of liquid gas and a vapor cloud that could blow,up an entire block.
    Second legal issues. Unless you purchased the tank it is the property of the propane company and tampering with any part of the tank could land you in hot water and if injury occurs because of your tampering with the tank you are liable for any and all damage or loss of life or injury just like the propane company.

    This is exactly why your articles are putting people at sever risk of legal actions and possibly death of themselves or their families and loved ones and entire neighborhoods.
    I have had to have whole subdivisions evacuated because of a gas leak.

    I seriously would reevaluate your legal responsibility by posting these tips that are both legally wrong and pose a possible serious safty risk.
    Are you willing to take a law suit because you gave people a drop of information that in reality takes a minimum of 2 years to become certified in. I would reassess these “helpful tips”

  90. I’d like to point out that CO is lighter than air and so will accumulate from the top of an enclosed space downwards.

    CO has a mass of 12+16=28g/mol, while the mean mass of air is 28.8g/mol

    Additionally, the CO is generated during combustion, and is therefore likely to be warmer than the air in the room.

    CO2, on the other hand, should accumulate from the floor upwards, once it has cooled, since its mass is 44g/mol.

    • Thank you, Alex. That is information that I looked for and could not locate online. And it confirms my personal experience: CO readings at the ceiling, nothing at floor level. Thanks again.

  91. Just bought a Coleman PerfectFlow One-burner Propane Stove from Amazon. I note that it comes with a “3 year limited warranty”, not a “lifetime warranty” as you mention in your listing of it. Minor detail, you might want to correct it. Great series of articles, I learned a lot from it.

  92. Ron do you or anyone else out there for that matter, have any information on the gas-fired propane toilets that Ron mentioned in this article.

  93. I have a small teardrop camper with one 20 lb tank. When dry camping it heats with an Atwood propane furnace. Not having room to carry a large spare tank I was wondering if I could use a one pounder in an emergency if the big tank ran out. Would it work? With an adapter of course. Someone on a forum said no because of “small tank surface area would cause a freeze up”. No a clue what he meant.

  94. Thanks for all your good works. Your site is very appropriate seeing it appears we are walking on WW3. Being a baby boomer, I grew up with idea that life could end in a “flash”. Thought that was the old days, I guess not. Again, I enjoy your work, especially solar info.

    By the way, what is an adult coloring book?


    • Adult coloring books are a current rage and one that I subscribe to LOL. They are books with doodles, drawings, and scenes that are filled in using colored pencils, gel pens, makers, or even old fashioned crayons. As I have written, I am somewhat addicted and use coloring to relieve stress. Here is my current fav (to give you an example): Link

  95. Hi, great article and very helpful. Question: Should I be using teflon tape on all connections made with 1lb green bottles to appliances? If so, how about Try-Blu stuff? Is that ok for temporary connections?


  96. I have not done this yet, but I was wondering if: Instead of using the brass piece of wire, you just remove the adapter from the 20# tank, and gently screw it into the 1# cylinder until the gas starts to vent off. Then remove the adapter from the 1# cylinder and install it back on the 20# cylinder and finish the refilling process. A little more effort maybe, but I won’t have to be looking around for the brass wire every time I do this.
    Liked your article and photos. Thanks, JPM

  97. Hi, JPM. Interesting suggestion you make. The real purpose of “releasing pressure” is not to release pressure at all but to chill the 1-lb. receiving cylinder. Once it’s chilled you want to keep it chilled. My procedure says to (1) chill the 1-pounder by releasing pressure via a brass wire (or rod) and the Schrader valve, then (2) as quickly as possible (so it doesn’t warm up) screw the 1-pounder back onto the adapter which is still mounted on the 20-pounder, then (3) install the insulated sleeve over the 1-pounder.

    Your suggested method concerns me. If, after chilling, you spend time removing the adapter from the 1-pounder, re-installing the adapter on the 20-pounder, and then re-installing the 1-pounder on the adapter, the 1-pounder will be warming all the while. Of course, the only way to know for sure if it works (or not) is to try it.

    Just remember that you are responsible for your results (not me or Coleman or the propane supplier). The explosion hazard is small but not zero and you are coloring outside the lines. You might consider leaving your cell phone behind . . . parked safely on the kitchen table, say. Please don’t text and drive.

  98. The LP gas servicman’s manual is at a new link: //

  99. This is some really good information about propane. I liked that you pointed out that I should try to check for leaks in the tank. It does seem like you would want to make sure that there wasn’t a leak. It might also be smart to have a backup tank just in case you do get a leak.

  100. Very good article.
    I just have one comment where you mention that;
    “All tanks from 4 to 40 lbs. have left-hand threads, are refillable, and do have the 80%-refill safety feature (called OPD or Overfill Protection Device).” It would be helpful to clarify that all tank valves have INTERNAL left-hand threads and since 1994 have EXTERNAL right-hand threads.

    Also, the following additional triva could be helpful.
    Before you travel with a newly-filled tank, instead of screwing a plug into the internal threads, you should press the optional dust cap over the external threads. If you screw a plug into the valve, as used to be the case with non-OPD valves, you defeat the built-in safeguards that prevent the escape of gas when the tank is not attached.

  101. This article has some serious problems. The chemical formula for natural gas, i.e., methane, is CH4 (the “4” is subscripted), not C1H4. Natural gas is never delivered to the end-user as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and it isn’t sent through transcontinental pipelines as LNG. About the only places you’ll find LNG is in shipping terminals or on LNG tankers, where it is contained at around 4 psi and extremely low temperature (−260 °F) in spherical vacuum-insulated (Dewar) containers. Therefore, there are no household appliances that operate on LNG. Natural gas is delivered in gaseous form to household appliances at very low pressure, about 11 inches of water or 0.4 pound per square inch. The main pressure to distribute natural gas to end-users in towns generally doesn’t exceed 50 pounds per square inch. This is done with uninsulated pipes buried in the earth, which is around 55°F, far above the temperature at which LNG would revert to gaseous form.

  102. On the topic carbon monoxide, it’s slightly lighter than air by specific gravity (search ‘engineering toolbox for specific gravity for gases’ to get a detailed chart). The numbers are so close that arguably it will just mix with ambient air instead of rising to the ceiling. The big issue with humans and how their oxygen intake/processing works biologically is that carbon monoxide will attach about 200 more strongly to the haemoglobin in our blood than oxygen does (search for human physiology topics around oxygen and CO absorption). So over time when inhaling CO polluted air there is less and less capacity in our blood stream to attach oxygen molecules and effectively getting the much needed oxygen to our brain and muscles, eventually causing death. It is not necessarily the absolute PPM to worry about, but the mere presence of it for an extended amount of time! On the bright side, oxygen deprivation causes tunnel vision and brings you into a state of euphoria, so it’s probably the best way to go!
    For CO detector placement I’d say about eye height be a good place to stick them so they’re easily noticed visually (as early warning as you can get) and will also be quite close to the height where you inhale the air!
    Also had a few questions about prepping and propane which I might have missed reading all the great practical advice above: How long would a 200lb tank last in a full on off-grid situation? Are there any larger tanks available? Would it be advisable to stick a large tank underground? Where to turn to when your biggest tank is emptied out and society has broken down to a point that you can’t order a refill? I feel propane is a nice and easy short term convenience (weeks to months perhaps) but for extended periods will just run out forcing you to find other solutions to heat, cool, cook and light your surroundings.

  103. “Propane fridges use very little gas”

    My 7.8 cubic foot Consul used over a pound per day so approximately $1.50/day in Canada.

    Not cheap so one of the reasons I went with an electric fridge.

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