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Propane Principles for the New Homeowner

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Propane tank

Propane tank. Leslie Hagen /Flickr

If you just puchased a home that has a propane heating system, and you don't have a clue about propane, best to become familiar with the basic principles fast. You want to ensure that your home is heated safely and in the most cost-effective manner possible.

During the walk-through, the inspector or realtor should have reviewed the basics of the propane heating system with you. You may have even received a report conducted by a professional home inspector.

You also need to ensure that the propane heating system is operating properly.

Check out the Propane Heating System

Besides the information provided during the walk-through, it’s a good idea if you also check-out the condition and become acquainted with the operation of the propane heating system:

  • Determine the location and owner of the tank - If the tank is above ground, look for obvious condition problems, like rust or physical damage. Check the fuel gauge to determine how much propane is in the tank. You should also locate the sticker with the name of the vendor who provided the tank. If you do not find any contact info, check with the previous homeowner. It’s important to know if the tank was included with the purchase of your home. If the tank is leased, by law, you must purchase propane from the same vendor who is leasing you the tank. If you own the tank, you are free to choose a vendor.

  • Become familiar with the location of the underground lines - It’s important to know where the delivery lines are located, especially if you plan to enlarge your home or re-landscape the yard. Contact your city to find out if they offer this service. If not, you can hire a company that locates underground lines.

  • Set the thermostat - Try setting the thermostat to different temperatures to see how the furnace responds.  

  • Find the vents and registers - Open and check the airflow from the vents, and remove any obstructions from both the vents and registers.

If any part of the propane heating system appears to be faulty or not operating properly, you should have it inspected by a heating system professional.

Ensure Safety

Propane is a clean source of energy. It carries absolutely no health-related risks, and will not harm the environment, pets, or plant life.  

Propane is stored safely under pressure. However, if the system develops a leak, a flame or spark could ignite the propane. These instances are rare, but should one occur, it could cause a fire or even an explosion. Consider the following steps to keep your home safe:

  • Become familiar with the smell of propane - Because propane is odorless, manufacturers routinely add an unpleasant smelling chemical, mercaptan, so you can easily detect the odor. The smell is often compared to rotten eggs.

Should you smell propane, immediately put out all smoking materials and other open flames. Do not operate lights, appliances, telephones, or cell phones. Leave your home, and if it’s safe, shut off the main supply valve on the tank.

  • Check the date the tank was last inspected - Find the most recent date stamped on the collar (raised piece of metal surrounding the tank valve) of the tank, and note any letters printed immediately to the right of the most current date. The date and letters indicate when and how the tank was last inspected.
  • Purchase a propane alarm monitor - Propane is heavier than air, so you should locate the monitor within 4 to 20 inches above the floor near the furnace. Only use monitors that are recommended by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Routinely have the propane heating system inspected - Typically, have the system inspected in the late summer or early fall, before the cold weather sets in.

Research and Decide on a Vendor

Finding and deciding on a propane vendor is daunting at best.

There are so many ways you might find a vendor: a recommendation from a neighbor, the yellow pages, or an Internet search.

You might do a search on current propane prices, fuel providers, or home propane prices. All of these search terms will bring up a long list of vendors, but frequently you won’t find pricing on their websites.

Often, the search results are not terribly helpful.

Regardless of the research you do on the Internet, you will end up calling several or more vendors in attempt to get the best price. Of course, propane prices fluctuate daily, depending on the market. You’ll also find that many of the vendors will negotiate. Besides pricing, consider these other issues when choosing a vendor:

  • Fuel contracts - If you choose a contract, the vendor may offer a better price-per-gallon. However, beware, should you cancel the contract early, you will very likely have to pay an early-termination fee.

  • Scheduling - Consider whether you want the propane delivered on an automatic basis or on “will-call.” Automatic scheduling helps ensure you’ll never run out of propane.

  • Discounts - When you call for pricing, ask about the discounts the vendor offers. Senior and electronic funds transfer (EFT) discounts are most common.

  • Maintenance - Depending upon the contract you choose, it can help reduce the cost of repairing and maintaining your propane heating system.

You need to consider all of these issues and potentially more when deciding upon the best vendor for you. Pricing is not always the most important factor.

Click here to see current prices and reviews of local heating oil companies provided by real customers.


Helpful links to additional information about heating your home with propane:

Article that explains Propane 101 principles

Website that sells and provides information about propane alert monitors

Instructions for checking the inspection dates on a propane tank

Find a better deal on heating oil or propane from local vendors in 30 seconds or less:

Fuelwonk recommends comparing local vendor propane and heating oil prices before you make the decision to fill up your home tank - use our online comparison tool to find the best offers in your area.

Have questions about heating oil or propane, choosing the right vendor, or heating your home economically?
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