If you have regular conversations with your clients about fueling their home with propane, then you know homeowners often have questions about safety. In some regions, the uncertainty is focused around disasters and severe weather scenarios such as flooding, wildfires, and heavy snow.
Homeowners won’t feel confident utilizing the comfort and efficiency advantages of propane if they’re not confident in the safety of the fuel source. You’ll want to have straightforward, honest answers about what happens to their propane system during a disaster or weather event and the precautions you and the propane provider take to ensure their safety.
We’ve assembled a comprehensive suite of safety materials on propane.com to help guide those conversations. The Propane and Weather Safety page includes safety guidelines and tips for five types of severe weather threats, with a video overview of the most important safety tips provided by propane expert Eric Kuster, vice president of safety, education, and compliance for the Propane Education & Research Council.
Here are a few of the most common questions you’ll get about propane and weather safety, with guidance for both your projects and your construction activities.
What happens to propane in a flood?
While a home’s propane storage system is itself very robust, the risk during a flood comes from the fact that propane tanks can float in water. If they were to become dislodged, they would pull on the piping system, which could cause a failure. That’s why the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code NFPA 58 requires tanks and containers in flood-prone areas to be strapped down or secured so they’re prevented from floating. “Your propane professional will know if the tanks needs to be secured, and they’ll know the best way to secure the tank,” Kuster says.
Of course, flooding can cause damage in plenty of other ways, so your clients should check for damage to their propane system alongside the rest of their home after a flood. Floating debris could hit piping or a meter, and if the propane regulator becomes submerged, it can malfunction. Likewise, appliances that are underwater could get electrical shorts or corrosion damage. If they see any damage to their propane system, they should contact their propane supplier and have it checked out. And if for any reason they smell propane, they need to evacuate the area and call 911.
Builders using temporary tanks should also be aware if heavy rain is expected. Small cylinders used on construction sites can also float, so you may want to move them to higher ground or make sure they’re tied down.
What happens to propane in a wildfire?
During a wildfire, propane storage tanks are protected by an important safety feature called a relief valve. If there’s too much flame impingement on a tank, the propane heats up and expands and, when it reaches a certain pressure, vents off through the relief valve. The concern, of course, is having propane vent when there’s also a fire nearby. So construction pros can work with the propane provider and their clients to place storage tanks away from combustibles.
“They don’t want to place them near a pile of pallets or near old scrap wood that they’re piling up,” Kuster says. “You don’t want it in areas where there may be tall, dead grass or weeds. Give that tank about 10 feet where there’s no paper or high grass or piled wood.” It’s also beneficial to provide a bit of distance between the tank and the building so that if the structure catches fire, the tank doesn’t become part of the incident.
On the construction site, Kuster has a simple recommendation: when you’re not using propane appliances, turn the tank off. You don’t want to create more of a problem if you left the tank on and the rubber hose on your site catches fire. (In fact, Kuster says, it’s always a good idea to turn off the tank on your construction site when it’s not in use to avoid other damage, such as a collision with construction equipment.)
What happens to propane during heavy snow?
Nothing beats the comfort of propane heat during a frigid winter storm, but there are several considerations for builders and their clients during heavy snow events. The primary concerns are snow sliding off a roof or awning and damaging gas piping or high snow packing in around a regulator or relief valve and preventing them from working correctly.
Consider those snow scenarios when working with a propane provider on the design of your system, Kuster suggests. For the second-stage regulator, you may want to place it on the gable end instead of the long end of the house, since snow is less likely to fall off the gable end.
Builders and their customers should also be sure to mark the tank so they and their propane provider are able to easily find it if there have been several feet of snow. That’s especially true if it’s near a driveway, to make sure a plow doesn’t hit the tank or damage the system. Homeowners should try to keep at least the top of their tank clear of snow and ice to prevent safety issues.
Work with your propane supplier
For construction pros, the common factor in each of these scenarios is that early discussion with the local propane supplier can help avoid future issues. “They’ve worked in those areas,” Kuster says. “They understand those things; they know how the deliveries need to be made. A quick meeting with your propane supplier will just make everything work much easier if you go into it knowing where you want to put the storage system.”
Have those conversations early, if possible, such as during the framing stage of the home. Your supplier can alert you to any setbacks or restrictions that might affect where the tank can be placed, so you don’t end up having to move things around later in construction. “If you’ve decided that you want to use propane, bring that propane professional in and talk with them and have them as part of the plan,” Kuster says. “That way, the construction professional knows right out of the gate what they need to do.”