When a home near Knoxville, Tenn., began consuming more propane fuel than normal, a key piece of technology jumped into action. SkyTracker, a remote tank-level monitoring device, recorded the anomaly and alerted the local propane provider, who sent a service technician to check the integrity of the propane lines.
The technician found no faults in the propane line, but he did find a leak in the hot water line from the crawl space, causing the propane water heater to run 24 hours a day and creating a spike in the propane usage. The customer was thrilled that the propane retailer had found the issue before it became a bigger problem.
Safety and homeowner assurance are two major reasons why propane retailers are increasingly employing remote tank-level monitoring technology. At its most basic level, tank-level monitoring allows propane retailers to track their customers’ tank levels and average usage to ensure they schedule propane deliveries when needed. But today’s advanced monitoring systems also integrate with other smart devices in the home and allow homeowners to track their fuel usage, making them more informed and satisfied with their home purchase.
Installed on a homeowner’s propane tank, tank-level monitors record usage and transmit the results to a computer database via satellite, cellular signal, phone line or Internet network. The propane provider can then receive a daily report of their customers’ tank levels, as well as custom alerts when a tank hits a predetermined level. When a tank drops to 30 percent full, for instance, the retailer might schedule a delivery. And if a tank hits a critically low point, perhaps 15 percent, the retailer might send a delivery truck right away.
“It’s a continual comfort knowing that, if I’m the homeowner, I don’t ever have to worry about my tank volume because I’ve got an electronic device on there that’s notifying my provider when I need gas,” says Brian Kline, owner of Silicon Controls North America, which provides remote monitoring systems. “As a home builder, if you can incorporate the monitor into the process in the beginning, then you’ve already made your home more salable, and you’ve provided better service to the customer.”
Homeowner assurance can be particularly critical in high-end homes, vacation homes, and cold-weather installations, says Hank Smith, vice president of sales for the East Region of remote-monitoring provider Wesroc. Many northern propane retailers use the technology to prevent a costly freeze, he says.
Homes with backup generators or pool heaters are also good candidates. “If a homeowner invests thousands of dollars into a generator system and they have no propane in the tank, it doesn’t do them much good,” Smith says. “For a very small percentage of what the tank and the pool heater and the generator cost, it’s good protection.”
Remote monitoring also provides important safety insurance, detecting problems like the hot water leak in Knoxville, says Rick Humphrey, founder and CEO of SkyTracker. In addition to observing a customer’s usage history, SkyTracker records degree-days on site to predict fuel consumption. That way, if the customer’s usage is out of the ordinary, the system can flag it and alert the retailer.
From the fuel-monitoring dashboard of the Toyota Prius to energy-monitoring dashboards in homes across the country, the popularity of energy monitoring only grows. By making your customer’s propane tank “smart,” tank-monitoring technology allows you to provide the same energy-gauging features to customers with propane-fueled homes.
Wesroc’s base unit can monitor indoor or exterior temperature sensors, such as those in a pool or spa, Smith says. The unit can also monitor alarms on standby generators so the homeowner doesn’t need to open the generator panel to investigate any issues.
SkyTracker provides a password-protected website where homeowners can view a cutaway of their propane tank, the history of their usage and deliveries, or accumulated degree-days, as well as opt to receive text messages or email alerts for events. “If these are vacation homes, they can also allow the caretaker or the propane dealer to receive the alerts,” Humphrey says. “A builder has that option to sell with the home.”
The units can also be equipped with smart-home capability so they can monitor and communicate with other devices, such as carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, and leak detectors.
All of these features provide more ways for builders to provide desirable amenities in propane-enabled homes. “As more homeowners realize the benefits that they get from not having to worry about their tank volume, they’ll tell their friends about it,” Kline says. “Their friends will want the same thing when they build a house. It’s a relatively small piece of technology that can have a pretty large impact.”
Start the Conversation
Remote tank monitoring is one of the options for you and your customer to consider when the propane retailer installs the propane system. The propane provider will handle installation and set-up of the device, whether it is monitored by the retailer only or by both the homeowner and retailer. Contact your propane supplier to see what type of monitoring systems they offer.