Propane can be found on jobsites year-round, keeping workers warm and powering tools and equipment. And just as with any fuel or material for construction, following code and manufacturers’ instructions is key to ensuring workers stay safe and are productive. Your propane supplier can help you pick the right type of tank for each application and correctly size, place, and use it. But construction sites are busy places and change is always happening. That means you need to know the rules, too.
Below are six tips to help you and your site crew keep proper propane use top of mind.
Where to put the container
Even temporary propane containers can’t be placed just anywhere on the site. Aboveground American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) stationary tanks between 125 and 500 gallons w.c. (water capacity) must be kept at least 10 feet from ignition sources (such as smoking, sparks, and open flames), combustible materials (such as lumber and drywall), building vents or air intake points, property lines of adjacent sites that can be built upon, and key buildings (including the one you’re working on).
Smaller Department of Transportation (DOT) stationary cylinders filled on-site must be 10 feet away from ignition sources and air intakes. Aboveground tanks larger than 500 gallons w.c. should be at least 25 feet from property lines.
Remember that as the project evolves, you might need to move the propane container to maintain these distances. Check with your propane supplier before moving stationary ASME tanks around a site or development. The local authority having jurisdiction, general contractor, or propane supplier may have additional requirements as to where the container can be placed and if it must be secured. Refer to NFPA 58 for more information on proper container placement.
Preventing tank damage
Busy construction sites are full of opportunities for dents and other damage to occur on containers of all sizes, especially portable cylinders. If you notice a dent in your propane container, turn off the supply and contact your propane supplier, who can thoroughly inspect and replace the tank if needed.
To lower the risk of damage and ensure continued, safe use, store portable cylinders and ASME tanks upright on a flat, stable, and fireproof base. Portable cylinders and tanks may need to be secured with an anchoring system. You can also fence off the area around the tanks to reduce the risk of damage from regular site activity or tampering. Cylinders should have caps and collars as well.
Using propane heaters indoors
Propane heaters are popular on jobsites, and they do more than keep the space warm so your crew can work safely and efficiently. They also remove moisture from the air that can hinder critical project tasks such as curing concrete, drying paint, and setting drywall. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and applicable codes to ensure the heater is the proper distance away from the propane cylinder it’s connected to as well as other heaters and cylinders. Some suppliers recommend putting sawhorses over the hose to protect it as it runs from the heater to the cylinder.
Below are a few examples of code requirements pertaining to propane-fueled temporary construction heat:
- Place heaters at least six feet from any propane cylinder.
- Direct heaters designed to be cylinder-mounted away from the cylinder. If more than one such heater is used on the same level of a project, they should be separated by at least 20 feet.
- Do not point a blower or radiant heater toward a cylinder that’s within 20 feet.
- Cylinders manifolded together to supply a single heater should not exceed 735 pounds w.c. (300-lb. propane capacity).
- Only propane containers under 245 pounds w.c. (100-lb. propane capacity) should be used indoors.
Refer to building code and manufacturers’ instructions for more information on safely handling, using, and storing propane containers for temporary heat in buildings under construction.
Bringing propane into the project
Many projects aren’t large enough to safely bring propane containers indoors. In those cases, the gas supply should be piped into the project to protect the feed and ensure consistent output.
Portable cylinders should be kept at least three feet away from the building opening below the level of discharge, while larger stationary tanks should be kept five or more feet away. In both cases, containers can be located against the house to avoid a tripping hazard created by running the hose across an open area.
Protecting the tank during storms
Most construction crews have a checklist ready to help quickly prepare a jobsite for bad weather. As with other materials that could be kicked up by high winds or washed away in floodwater, propane containers may need to be secured or removed from the site during storms, with the assistance of your propane supplier.
When appropriate, anchor large tanks to the ground, and secure and store small portable cylinders upright against a building, facing the direction opposite the storm’s approach. Additionally, remove materials and equipment that could fall on and damage the container.
Do not bring propane containers of any size indoors. Once it is safe to return to the site, work with your propane supplier to confirm that the containers and regulators are safe to use.
Propane is naturally odorless and nontoxic, so processors add a chemical odorant called ethyl mercaptan to help users detect leaks. If you’re getting whiffs of rotten eggs, you likely have a leak. Turn off the propane supply and call your propane service professional. They will spray a noncorrosive leak detector solution on the connections to the valve and regulator and watch for bubbles indicating escaping gas.
Connections should also be checked at the start of each shift when the supply is turned on, as well as any time the container is moved, disconnected, or reconnected; when temporary heaters are connected; or when the propane supply is turned off and on again.
There are many types of propane tanks and cylinders used in construction to perform a variety of specific tasks — from fueling a temporary heater to powering a forklift. One container size does not fit all jobsite needs. Therefore, you should never try to change a container’s fittings or valves to use it for a purpose it is not suited for. If you have a gas piping connection that doesn’t fit, contact your propane supplier.
Your propane supplier is your No. 1 resource for using propane safely and effectively on your construction project. Additionally, be sure your team is familiar with all appliance manufacturers’ operating instructions as well as common guidelines for propane use, including NFPA 58: Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code and OSHA’s Standard 1926.153 covering propane use in construction as well as the wide array of safety and compliance information from the Propane Education & Research Council.
Illustrations by David Preiss