Sometimes a little bit of communication prevents a lot of headaches.
Take the tankless water heater installation that Chris Kowalski, marketing manager for Osterman Propane, witnessed at a customer’s home in Connecticut. After a contractor from a big-box retail store installed the water heater, the customer complained it wasn’t running properly, and when it did run, the customer was constantly running out of gas.
When Kowalski visited the home to determine the problem, it was immediately obvious. The contractor had put both space and hot water heating on a single 50-gallon propane tank. “The line wasn’t sized right, and a tank that small in winter can’t really vaporize that much gas,” Kowalski explains. “And if it could vaporize that much gas, it’s going to suck that tank dry.”
The lesson, he says, teaches the importance of contractors and construction professionals communicating with their propane retailer before installing major appliances that run on the propane system. “The propane company wants to help you so that both of us can avoid those problems,” Kowalski says. The water heater installation is an example of a situation where the retailer should have been involved, he says.
“We were able to fix it,” Kowalski says, “but if they had called us from the get-go, we could have worked with them to make sure it was correct. If you’re looking at propane on the site, call the propane retailer just to make sure. Sometimes nothing needs to be changed, but that way at least you know it’s correct.”
With upfront communication, the local propane retailer can help professionals with other common installation concerns:
- Planning for winter. A home’s propane tank might be easily accessible in summer, but the propane professional can help prepare for snowy winter months that can limit access. For example, Kowalski says, if a customer’s home is on a main road that’s frequently plowed for snow, the installer can sensibly use a smaller propane tank because snowstorms are less likely to interrupt delivery. But if the home is on a country road that could be impassable for several days in a snowstorm, Kowalski would upsize the storage so that the home can ride out the weather. Many propane retailers offer remote tank level monitoring technology that provides frequent updates on the level of propane remaining in the tank so that refills can be planned accordingly. The retailer can also help with siting the storage tank to ensure that it is accessible without having to shovel a long path through the snow.
- Placing an appliance. Propane tanks must be at least 10 feet away from sources of ignition, but Kowalski has seen instances of electricians installing air conditioning condensers, pool heaters, or standby generators right next to the tank. Propane retailers are experts in safety and fire codes, and they can ensure appliances are placed in a safe location. The retailer can also help confirm that the propane tank location is accessible by the propane delivery truck without the addition of an expensive gas line.
Propane professionals have the experience and know-how to install a system smoothly and correctly, but they can also help if the builder or a plumber is placing the tank, Kowalski says. “We do that a lot. We’re happy to work with subcontractors. We’ll guide them as to where the tank and the lines can and cannot go. I just want to make sure that it’s done in a way that we can service the customer.”
The Propane Education & Research Council publishes several reference guides to help construction professionals learn more about building with propane. The Build with Propane Guide is designed to help you learn more about how propane fits into a home building project, and it includes a variety of information on jobsite planning for propane. The Propane Technical Pocket Guide is an easy-to-use reference for construction professionals ready to start building with propane. It includes frequently referenced facts and data about propane systems, such as gas properties, vaporization rates, pipe and tube sizing, and fuel load estimates for popular applications.