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The Dos and Don’ts of Propane Tank Storage

Whether you use it for grilling, heating, or powering appliances, the chances are high that a propane tank is a critical component of your day-to-day operations. However, improper storage of these tanks can be both illegal and incredibly hazardous.

The risks associated with incorrect propane tank storage range from environmental hazards to life-threatening explosions. As with all things combustible, a little knowledge and precaution can go a long way. Therefore, understanding the dos and don’ts of propane tank storage is not just recommended; it’s imperative for safety.

In today’s article, we’ll walk you through the crucial steps and precautions for safe and efficient propane tank storage. Whether you’re a homeowner, a camping enthusiast, or a business operator, our tips can help you store propane tanks securely, ensuring peace of mind and compliance with safety regulations.

Stay tuned as we delve into best practices, common mistakes to avoid, and expert insights that could potentially save lives and property.

propane tanks on travel trailer tongue
Because propane tanks contain flammable gas, they should be handled and maintained with care.

What Are the Dangers Involved in Storing Propane?

Propane tanks are safe if you store them correctly; they aren’t known for exploding on their own. However, a leak in a propane tank stored indoors or in an area with little or no air circulation can cause the dangerous gas to build up.

Raw Video: Propane Tank in Truck Explodes

This highly explosive gas can ignite with the slightest spark and generate a massive explosion. Many of the propane explosions that occur are often a result of user error or failure to maintain the equipment. The actual tank has many safety mechanisms to prevent an explosion, so issues with the tank can happen but are extremely rare. 

Propane is a highly flammable but non-toxic gas. While it’s not toxic, it is an asphyxiating gas, which means that when exposed to high concentrations of propane, it replaces the oxygen in your lungs and makes it nearly impossible to breathe. So if you smell propane, open the windows, turn off the flow, exit the building, and immediately call 911.

remnants of an RV fire
Don’t take risks with your propane tanks. One spark could leave your RV in ashes. This RV was not so fortunate.

You might not notice a propane leak right away, which is why it’s always a good idea to have a propane detector installed inside your RV. Learn more here: Avoid Disaster With an RV Propane Detector

How Should You Store Your Propane Tanks?

There are a few things to know about storing your propane tanks. Let’s look at the dos and don’ts of propane tank storage.

Don’t Store It in Living or Non-Ventilated Areas

This is one of the most important “don’ts” on our list. You should only store propane in a well-ventilated area that’s not a living space because small amounts of propane can leak into the air. 

Propane tanks are built to release pressure when necessary to avoid overpressuring the tank. That puts propane into the air. Storing your tanks in a living space means you could be breathing in this gas, which could become dangerous if propane levels increase in the atmosphere. Plus, keeping them in non-ventilated areas can allow the gas to accumulate and ignite at a spark.

Keeping a tank in an enclosed space that gets hot is particularly dangerous because heat buildup could cause the tank to vent. This is normal but if the gas is enclosed, its more prone to ignition.

correct RV propane tank placement
Never store a propane tank inside your living space.

Pro Tip: If you’re using an RV propane tank cover to protect your tanks from weather damage, make sure the cover is well-ventilated too.

Do Store It Right Side Up

Propane tanks use a relief valve that responds to the pressure of the propane tank. Storing your tanks upright lets this valve read the tank pressure correctly and work with the gas instead of liquid propane. With proper readings, it can release pressure as necessary and in gas form.

If you store your tank on its side, the valve can’t do its job properly. The pressure can reach unsafe levels for the tank and damage the relief valve. At this point, you’ll need a pro to replace the relief valve or simply purchase a new propane tank.

If the valve opens due to pressure and its on its side it will release liquid instead of gas. The liquid will vaporize and may be a significantly larger amount of propane making the danger much worse.

correct RV propane placement - right side up
Always keep propane tanks right side up.

Do Ensure the Valve Is Off

Make sure the valve is off before disconnecting your tanks from any hoses or attachments. Otherwise, you could have a propane leak if the safety mechanisms in the tank fail. You want to create the safest possible scenario for storing your propane tanks, and this is a simple step to take. 

Don’t Store It in Direct Sunlight

While it’s wise to find outdoor propane tank storage, it shouldn’t be in direct sunlight. The sun can quickly heat your tank walls and increase the pressure. If the pressure increases enoughh, it’ll activate the pressure relief valve, and propane will leak into the air and possibly even ignite in certain conditions.

RV propane tank outdoor storage
Avoid direct sunlight when storing your propane tank. Place it in a shady or covered area instead.

Don’t Store Propane Tanks on Wet Ground or Surfaces

Avoid storage spots with a wet ground or surface. The tank’s metal is prone to rust, which eats at the tank and compromises the tank’s structure. And you should never use a compromised tank. Store your tank off the ground and in an environment free of excessive moisture.

rusty propane tank

Do Keep It Between 120 and -40 Degrees

The temperature of your tanks in storage is also something that you need to keep in mind. You don’t want to store your propane tanks in an area that will exceed 120 degrees or dip below -40 degrees Fahrenheit. This includes sunlight or wind chill.

Pro Tip: As temperatures drop, you’ll want to know Can Propane Really Freeze? The Cold Truth and Care Guide for Tanks and Lines.

LP tanks in extreme temperatures
Extreme temperatures can interfere with your propane tank’s internal pressure.

The propane tank’s relief valve will help ensure that the internal pressures remain safe despite external changes. However, avoiding extreme temperatures helps prevent issues if the valve fails. 

Pro Tip: Use our guide on How to Buy the Right RV Propane Regulator for your RV.

Can You Leave a Tank Outside in Winter?

Propane tanks can withstand temperatures as cold as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the boiling point for propane and if it gets any colder it will not produce any gas. A vast majority of the country won’t experience temperatures anywhere close to this, so it’s not an issue for most people. 

propane tank outside in winter
Average winter temperatures will not harm your propane tank.

However, if you plan to spend winter in an area that experiences extremely cold temperatures during winter, insulate your tanks before storing them. If you are going to be using propane for larger appliances like generators or furnaces, you may even need to heat the tank. This is because as the propane boils inside the tank, it gets even colder, and in cold temperatures, you may get near -40F when running your appliances. If you find your gas output is not adequate, you will need to heat your tank.

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What are The Common Legal Requirements for Propane Tank Storage:

As an electrical engineer, I work with a lot of public codes and requirements for electricity, but like electricity, propane is a potentially dangerous energy source. This means that there are lots of legal codes around its use and storage. These codes will differ depending on your location (State, US, Europe etc… ) but there are many general things that are usually similar. Here is a general list of legal requirements for propane tank storage.

  1. Location: Tanks often must be stored outside, a specific distance away from buildings, property lines, and ignition sources.
  2. Ventilation: Proper ventilation is typically required to avoid the accumulation of propane in case of a leak.
  3. Labeling: Tanks usually must be clearly labeled as containing propane.
  4. Orientation: Some jurisdictions specify the positioning of the tank (vertical or horizontal).
  5. Surface: Tanks may need to be placed on a certain type of surface, often non-flammable and level.
  6. Capacity: There might be limitations on how much propane you can store on your property without specific permits.
  7. Protection: Some regulations require barriers or protective casing around the tank.
  8. Inspection: Regular inspections by certified individuals may be required.
  9. Expiration: Propane tanks have expiration dates, and it is often illegal to fill an expired tank.
  10. Transportation: There are also legal guidelines for transporting propane tanks, such as keeping them in an upright position and ensuring they are properly secured.
  11. Permits: Depending on your jurisdiction and the size of your tank, you may require a permit.

Where to Find Legal Guidelines:

  1. Local Fire Department: They are a good resource for local storage regulations.
  2. National and State Codes: These are often available online and are followed by local governments.
  3. Propane Suppliers: They usually have comprehensive knowledge of local, state, and national guidelines.
  4. Local Government Websites: These often provide information on storage and permit requirements.
  5. Legal Consultation: When in doubt, it may be beneficial to consult with an expert in legal matters related to hazardous materials.
  6. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): For business-related storage, OSHA regulations may apply.

It’s crucial to stay updated on the laws and regulations in your specific area, as non-compliance can result in hefty fines, legal action, and can pose significant safety risks. Always err on the side of caution and consult authoritative resources or experts when in doubt.

Pro Tip: Propane can be dangerous. Make sure you know What to Do (and NOT Do) If Your Neighbor’s RV Catches Fire.

Should Propane Tanks Be Stored Full or Empty? Does It Matter?

As long as you follow the proper steps for propane tank storage, it doesn’t matter if it’s full or empty. Close all valves and store it in the proper environment. Other than that, you don’t need to worry about filling or emptying your tanks before storing them.

How Long Can You Store a Propane Tank?

While gasoline and diesel have shorter shelf lives, propane has an indefinite life. This makes it a great option for heating and running appliances; you don’t need to worry about it going bad, especially if you’re buying it in bulk.

While the gas itself may not have a shelf life, the tanks aren’t quite as lucky. A propane tank is certified for the first 12 years after the manufacture date. However, after this date, you’ll need to have it recertified every five years. The reason for this could be tank degradation. Over time, the metal of propane tanks can corrode, especially if they are exposed to moisture and other environmental factors. This could lead to leaks or other failures. Having an educated and certified set of eyes look over the tank at 12 years can help determine the condition. Over time, the rubber seals and the valves on propane tanks can degrade or wear out as well, leading to potential leaks. And lastly, with prolonged storage, especially in partially filled tanks, it’s possible for oily residues to accumulate. These residues can clog regulators or affect the performance of appliances. Trust us, you don’t want this to happen, its a real pain.

Overall a periodic inspection makes sure tanks are in safe operating condition and keeps everyone safer.

Propane Safety Tips

To have your tank recertified, take it to a qualified inspector, usually at your local propane supplier. The inspector will look for rust, dents, or severe defects that can cause leaks or other problems. They’ll also put the pressure relief valve through testing and replace it if it fails. If the inspector can’t certify your tank, you must dispose of it. You may get lucky, and they’ll offer to dispose of it for you.

Because of how dangerous propane can be, always use a certified tank. You’ll likely have a difficult time finding a propane dealer willing to fill a non-certified propane tank.

Store Your Propane Properly All Year Long

Whether you use propane for RVing, grilling, running a portable fire pit, or for some other recreational use, understanding proper tank storage is paramount. It also doesn’t matter what season it is. Following the simple dos and don’ts we covered above can extend your tank’s life and keep you safe.

LP tank valve
Proper storage will extend the life of your propane tank.

You might be wondering: if propane tanks should be stored outside or in well-ventilated areas, is it safe to use propane heaters inside? Find out here: Are RV Propane Heaters Safe?

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Martin

Saturday 21st of October 2023

Great advice as always from you guy's. Handling propane tanks around the RV is a serious subject. The bottom line is use a GasStop, the only device on the US market that gives you maximum protection, 24/7. With GasStop you also can do a minor leak test very easy. Check regulary if you have a leak with GasStop. Within 5 minutes after arrival you can be sure you didn't created an leak while traveling, thats a great peace of mind. Any questions about propane safety, please reach out to us! www.gasstopusa.com

Eddy

Wednesday 13th of September 2023

I live in Metro Atlanta and needed two small tanks re inspected - these are tiny tanks for tailgating and camping- 5&10 gallons each in brand new condition no visible wear. I only found one place that inspects tanks , their charge was close to the price of 2 new tanks in each size . Needless to say the tanks remain un - inspected and properly stored! Good luck in finding a propane store that will inspect a tank for a reasonable charge.

Pam

Friday 24th of February 2023

Should the valve be kept closed or open on an Empty tank?? Or does it matter??

Mortons on the Move

Sunday 26th of March 2023

Doesn't matter because the internal valve will prevent any ingress.

Ava Murphy

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

The best part of your blog for me is when you said that a propane tank is a great option for heating because it has an indefinite life. With this in mind, my husband and I will consider having a propane gas tank installed later this month. We want to find a cost-effective option to run our appliances at home, so your tips are helpful.

Tex Hooper

Wednesday 4th of May 2022

I like what you said about refilling cheaply. I need to get a propane tank for barbecuing. I'll have to consider ordering them online.