Propane 101

When we lived in Portland, our furnace and stove ran on natural gas. They were connected to a network of pipes that brought gas into our house any time we needed it. Out in Enterprise, we’re still running on gas, but this time it’s propane. It’s in a tank in the yard. And we have to monitor it so we don’t run out.

We heated our house in White Salmon with wood, and the stove and hot water were powered by electricity, so propane is a new thing for us. When we started renting this house, part of the deal was buying the existing propane in the tank. It’s a 500-gallon tank, so this was no small bill! But when we leave, the owners will buy whatever is in the tank back from us, so it will all work out.

Propane is actually a by-product of mining natural gas; it has more BTUs than natural gas and, of course, is therefore more expensive because you can use less of it.

I called the propane supplier shortly after we arrived; the man who drove his big tanker up the hill to our house, Archie, was more than happy to take the time to answer my questions. In fact, he was rather pleased that I was asking any.

“Usually, people just want me to fill their tank and get going,” he said.

Archie explains how to read the dial

Archie explains how to read the dial

The lid of our tank is green to signify which company services it. Archie showed me the dial that indicates the amount of gas left. He explained that the gas is liquid under pressure; they leave “expansion room” in the tank (about 50 gallons’ worth) to accommodate hot weather. There is also a relief valve, which he said might pop every once in a while during the summer.

 

 

Archie carries a notebook in which he tracks all his customers’ usage records. From this, he could estimate that we might use 30 to 40 gallons a year for cooking, but 80 gallons a month from October to April because of the furnace. This year, propane cost $1.79 a gallon, but Archie said the price went up to $2.76 last year. At that price, propane is kind of an expensive way to heat a house!

Some people fill only a couple times a year; some have Archie come by once a month for a “top-off,” so it’s a more manageable and predictable expense.

Siting a tank is important: Near-but-not-too the house, near the road, not somewhere that a visitor will accidentally back into it with their truck.

This willow cleaved in a recent storm—luckily it was this half

This willow cleaved in a recent storm—luckily it was the far side

I wax in Get Your Pitchfork On! about the joys of heating with wood. If I had my druthers, this house would also have a wood stove. But, it doesn’t, so in the meantime I will enjoy not ever having a cold house because the fire went out!

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