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

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

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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.


clip_image016 clip_image018

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. “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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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

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