Propane Safety Tips

Tips for Propane Safety

Safety is always the number one priority when dealing with any kind of fuel, energy, or heating system. Propane is no exception.

While propane’s safety record is comparable with other energy sources and accidents are rare, care should still be exercised when handling, transporting, servicing, and using propane.

To help you better understand how to approach propane safety in and around your home, we provide the following research modules (adapted from materials developed by the Propane Education & Research Council) for your reference.

Five Quick Tips Every Propane User Should Know

Before we get into more specific examples of everyday propane safety, here are five quick propane safety tips that you should always keep in mind.

  • Make sure all your propane appliances are properly vented. All combustion fuels (including propane) can produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct if there is an inadequate supply of oxygen for combustion.
  • Know where your gas lines are. You do not want to damage or disturb them accidentally.
  • If you paint your tank, use only white or a bright color. They deflect more external heat.
  • DO NOT under any circumstances attempt to modify or repair valves, regulators, connectors, or other parts for appliances, cylinders, or tanks. An improperly connected tank or appliance can cause a gas leak. If you want to move your tank or appliances, contact your propane company and let them handle it.
  • Know the smell of propane. Although natural propane is odorless, manufacturers deliberately add a chemical compound that gives it a “skunky” odor that many people compare to rotten eggs or a dead animal. If you notice this type of smell, you may have a leak.

Safety

Table of Contents

What is Propane 

What Do I Do If I Smell Gas? 

Maintaining Your Propane Appliance

Carbon Monoxide Safety

Lighting Pilot Lights 

Running Out of Gas

Using Space Heaters Safely

Safe Grilling

Small Cylinder Transportation and Storage

Power Outages

Flood, Thunderstorm, and Hurricane Preparedness

Winter Storm Preparedness

Wildfire Preparedness

What Is Propane?

Propane is a safe and widely used fuel. It is a hydrocarbon (chemical formula C3H8) and is a naturally occurring byproduct of natural gas and petroleum extraction and refinement. It is sometimes called liquefied petroleum gas, LP gas, or LPG.

Although it is a gas at standard pressure and temperature, propane is transported and stored under pressure as a very cold liquid. It can cause “freeze burn” or frostbite if it contacts the skin. It is delivered to a home as a liquid, then pumped into the storage tank. The liquid changes into a gas vapor before it leaves the tank.

Propane:

  • Will not ignite when combined with air unless the source of ignition reaches or exceeds 920 degrees Fahrenheit (493 degrees Celsius)
  • Is nontoxic and produces minimal emissions
  • Is not harmful to soil or ground water

Over 95% of the propane used in the United States is produced in North America.

What Do I Do If I Smell Gas?

Manufactured propane has a skunky smell similar to rotten eggs. Every member of your family should be aware of what propane smells like and know what to do if a leak is suspected.

Although leaks are rare, they represent a safety risk. Propane is flammable when mixed with oxygen and can be ignited by many sources, including open flames, smoking materials, sparks, and static electricity.

If you smell gas:

  • No flames or sparks! IMMEDIATELY put out all open flames or smoking materials. Do not operate lights, appliances, telephones, or even cell phones. Flames or sparks from these sources can trigger a fire or explosion.
  • Leave the area immediately. Get everyone out of the building or area where you suspect a leak.
  • Shut off the gas. If safe to do so, turn off the main gas supply valve on your propane tank by turning it to the right (clockwise).
  • Report the leak. Call your local propane retailer from a neighbor’s home, or from a mobile phone once you are clear of the area of the leak. If you can’t reach your propane retailer, call 911 or your local fire department.
  • Do not return to the building or area until a propane retailer, emergency responder, or qualified service technicians determines it is safe to do so.
  • Get your system checked before reuse before you attempt to use any of your propane appliances.

Unfortunately, some people may have difficulty smelling propane due to certain medical conditions, effects of medication, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc. Additionally, in rare circumstances the odor concentration of propane may be reduced due to air and moisture getting into the tank or underground leaks.

Consider purchasing propane gas detectors as an additional safety measure, especially if some members of your family have trouble smelling or if appliances are in little-used areas of your home.

Maintaining Your Propane Appliance

All appliances using propane must be properly maintained in order to operate them safely, properly and efficiently. Contact a qualified service technician to perform an appliance inspection once per year. Only qualified service technicians have the proper training to install, service, maintain, and repair your appliances.

Be sure that your appliances can “breathe” properly:

  • Regularly check the vents of all propane appliances to ensure that flue gases can flow easily to the outdoors.
  • Insects, birds, and small animals sometimes build nests in vent pipes. Additionally, snow and ice during the winter can create an obstruction that prevents proper venting.
  • If you see any evidence of a blocked vent, call a qualified service technician.
  • Clear the area around your appliance so that plenty of air can reach the burner for proper combustion.
  • NEVER store combustible materials near appliances.

Watch for yellow flames or soot build-up. When operating properly, propane burns with a blue flame. If flames appear yellow, or you notice significant soot build-up on any equipment, the gas may not be burning completely. This can create carbon monoxide. If you notice evidence of incomplete burning, contact a qualified service technician immediately.

Properly install and maintain appliance connectors. A qualified service technician should do this work, using ANSI-approved connectors and gas piping/tubing. Do not move an appliance yourself to check the connector, as this might damage the connector and create a leak.

If you have an appliance that is more than 20 years old, contact a qualified service technician to inspect the connectors as soon as possible. He or she will make sure they are still safe and meet current safety code requirements.

DO NOT under any circumstances attempt to modify or repair valves, regulators, connectors, or other parts for appliances, cylinders, or tanks. An improperly connected tank or appliance can cause a gas leak. If you want to move your tank or appliances, contact your propane company and let them handle it.

Carbon Monoxide Safety

Every year, hundreds of Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is odorless, colorless, tasteless, and can strike quickly—individuals who are sleeping can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

High levels of CO can be produced when fuels are burned incompletely due to lack of oxygen to mix with. This might occur when appliances are defective, improperly installed, or not maintained. CO can also enter a home if an appliance venting system has been obstructed.

CO poisoning can produce flu-like symptoms such as:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea

In extreme cases, exposure to CO in high levels or over an extended period of time can lead to brain damage or death. Young children, the elderly, and those with certain medical conditions or medications are the most susceptible.

If you or a family member shows physical symptoms of CO poisoning, get everyone out of the building immediately and call 911. If safe to do so, open windows to allow fresh air in, and turn off any appliances you suspect may be releasing CO.

To reduce your risk of CO poisoning:

  • Have a qualified service technician check all appliances and venting systems annually, before the heating season begins.
  • Keep chimneys, flues and vents free of debris, snow, ice, and other obstructions. Check exhaust vents regularly for blockages.
  • Install a UL-listed carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding installation, location, and maintenance.
  • NEVER use a gas oven or range-top burner for space heating.
  • NEVER use portable outdoor heaters for indoor heating.
  • NEVER use a barbecue grill indoors.

Additionally, the following examples of improper appliance operation can generate high CO levels:

  • Soot on appliances, vents, and warm air registers
  • Unfamiliar or burning odors
  • Increased moisture inside windows

Lighting Pilot Lights

A pilot light is a small, constantly burning flame within an appliance that ignites the main burner when needed. Not all appliances have them, but many do.

If your pilot light repeatedly goes out or is very difficult to light, this may signal a problem with either the appliance or with your propane system. If this occurs, DO NOT try to fix the problem yourself. You could cause a fire or explosion and risk severely injuring yourself. Instead, contact a qualified service technician to evaluate the problem.

To restart a pilot light, the following rules must be strictly followed:

  • Carefully follow all manufacturer instructions and warnings concerning the appliance
  • Thoroughly ventilate the area before lighting the pilot, especially if the appliance is in a basement or closed room.
  • Be alert for the smell of propane. Sniff at floor level before lighting a pilot.
  • If you smell gas, DO NOT LIGHT THE PILOT LIGHT. See the “What Do I Do If I Smell Gas” module for more information.
  • DO NOT smoke or have any flames, spark-producing materials, or sources of ignition in the area before lighting the pilot light.
  • DO NOT allow any unnecessary people (particularly children) to remain in the same area of the building when lighting the pilot.
  • DO NOT try to light a pilot light if other odors are detectable in the area, as this can make it difficult to detect the smell of a propane leak.
  • DO NOT apply force or use tools on the pilot light or its control. This can damage the system and cause gas leakage. Use only your hands to operate knobs, switches, or buttons.
  • DO NOT attempt to let air out of gas lines by opening a valve of fitting inside a building or enclosed space. You may release gas and not be able to smell it.
  • DO NOT apply oil to a sticky knob or button on a gas control valve. Oil can cause the valve to mechanism to stick or malfunction.

Running Out of Gas

Running out of gas is dangerous. Air and moisture can get into an empty or depleted tank and cause rust to build up inside. This can decrease the odor concentration of propane, making leaks more difficult to smell. Furthermore, if your propane tank runs out of gas, any pilot lights on your appliances will go out and will need to be restarted by a qualified service technician.

If you run out of gas, a propane retailer or qualified service technician must perform a leak check of your propane system before turning the gas back on.

Set up regular delivery to ensure you always have enough gas. Between deliveries, check the fuel gauge on your propane tank—if it dips below 20%,call your propane retailer.

During and after a major weather event, propane and other types of fuel may not be as readily available if roads are inaccessible. Be prepared and make sure you have an adequate supply of propane in your tank if a major storm is predicted in your area.

Using Space Heaters Safely

Always be aware of the following potential hazards when using space heaters:

  • Do not place yourself or flammable objects in contact or close proximity with a flame, heating element, or hot surface area.
  • Always place heaters at least 3 feet from objects such as bedding, furniture, and drapes. Never place heaters where towels or other objects could fall onto it and start a fire.
  • Flammable fuels or defective wiring can cause fires, or even explosions. Flammable vapors can flow from one part of the room to another and be ignited by the heater.
  • Never use heaters to dry clothing or shoes.
  • Never leave a space heater on when you leave the area or go to sleep.
  • Improper venting of appliances can cause carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

Many propane space heaters are approved for outdoor use only; others are designed for indoor use only. Check your owner’s manual or contact a qualified service technician to be sure you are using the correct heater. NEVER use an outdoor heater indoors, as these can generate high levels of CO.

When selecting a heater, check for one that has been tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Read the instruction manual thoroughly before use and keep in a convenient location for future reference.

Keep kids and animals away from space heaters at all times. Never allow children to adjust the controls or move the heater.

If you smell gas or suspect CO, please see the appropriate modules for instructions.

Safe Grilling

Before starting your grill:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and keep written materials accessible.
  • Keep the top open when lighting the grill until you are sure it is light.
  • Never use an accelerant (for example, lighter fluid or gasoline) on the grill.
  • Never use matches or lighters to check for leaks. Instead, use a leak-detection solution or thick soapy water to check connections for tightness before connecting or lighting a propane grill burner.
  • Never store spare cylinders under or near a barbecue grill. The heat builds up pressure inside the cylinder, which may cause the pressure relief valve to release propane. Flash fires of explosions can result from exposing cylinders to heat.
  • Do not allow children to tamper with the cylinder or grill.

When finished grilling:

  • Turn off the burner controls
  • Close the cylinder valve.
  • Cover disconnected hose-end fitting with plastic bags or protective caps to keep them clean.

Small Cylinder Transportation and Storage

Follow these safety tips for cylinder storage:

  • Never store or place a propane cylinder indoors or in an enclosed area (basement, garage, shed, tent, etc.). This includes outdoor portable heaters, barbecue grills, and portable generators.
  • Never store or place a propane cylinder in an area of excessive heat (120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) or near a stove, fireplace, or other heat source.
  • Never store or place a spare cylinder under or near a barbecue grill.
  • Do not smoke or have any ignition sources or spark-producing electric tools in the area when handling or transporting cylinders.

Follow these tips for transporting small cylinders safely.

  • Transport and store cylinders in a secure, upright position where it will not fall, shift, or roll.
  • Always close the cylinder valve and, if required, seal with plug—even if the cylinder is empty. Ask your propane retailer of a plug is required.
  • Place the cylinder in a well ventilated part of your vehicle.
  • Proceed directly to your destination and remove the cylinder from your vehicle immediately.
  • NEVER keep a filled cylinder inside a hot vehicle.

You should inspect your cylinder and gas appliances for leaks regularly. Do this before using them for the first time each season, and on a regular basis thereafter. To do this, use the “bubble test”:

  • Apply leak detector solution or thick soapy water to the connection(s) between the cylinder valve and regulator outlet.
  • Slowly open the cylinder valve and watch for bubbles.
  • If bubbles appear, close the cylinder valve, tighten the connection, and repeat the process. If bubbles appear again, call your propane retailer immediately.

Make sure your cylinder is equipped with an overfill prevention device (OPD). Most cylinders with OPDs have special triangular handwheels with the letters “OPD” on them. Ask your propane retailer if you are unsure if your cylinder has an OPD valve.

Never use a damaged cylinder or one that has been in a fire. All cylinders must be inspected before being refilled. NEVER under any circumstances attempt to modify or repair valves, regulators, or other cylinder or appliance parts yourself.

Never dispose your cylinder in the trash. Check with your propane retailer for guidance on safe disposal. There may be a municipal collection program in your area.

Power Outages

Power outages cannot always be predicted, but they can be planned for. Make sure you know what propane smells like, and how to turn off the propane to your outdoor tank and all appliances. Review all safety information provided by your propane retailer and create an emergency preparedness plan.

During a power outage:

  • Turn off any lights and appliances that were operating before the outage, except for one light (so you know when power returns). This reduces the risk of a surge when power is restored.
  • Portable generators should never be used indoors or in enclosed areas, as this can lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
  • Outdoor propane appliances should never be used indoors, for the same reason.
  • Never use a gas oven or range-top burners for space heating.
  • Never store or place a propane cylinder indoors or in an enclosed area.
  • Never turn on a light switch, use any power source, or even inspect household appliances while standing in water. This can result in electrocution.

If safe to do, inspect your propane appliances for damage, including water damage. Electric components exposed to water are a fire hazard and should be evaluated by a qualified service technician.

After the power returns:

  • If you turned off your gas supply, do not turn it back on until your system has been inspected by a qualified service technician.
  • If you suspect any of your propane appliances, equipment, or vehicles were under water or damaged, do not operate them until they have been inspected by a qualified service technician.

Flood, Thunderstorm, and Hurricane Preparedness

Make sure you know what propane smells like, and how to turn off the propane to your outdoor tank and all appliances. Review all safety information provided by your propane retailer and create an emergency preparedness plan.

Before a flood or storm:

  • Make sure you have an adequate supply of propane in your tank. Future deliveries may be delayed if roads are impassible.
  • Make sure large propane tanks are fastened down securely.
  • Make a list of instruction on how to turn off electricity, propane, and water.
  • Install carbon monoxide and propane gas detectors in your home.

If you remain in your home during a storm, never store propane cylinders or use outdoor propane appliances indoors. Do not use a gas oven or range-top burners for space heating. If the flood threatens your safety turn off the main gas supply on your tank and all supply valves located near individual appliances.

After the flood or storm is over, check for safety hazards such as downed power lines or trees and report them immediately. Do not enter any buildings on your properly unless it’s safe to do so, and never turn on any switch, use any power source, or inspect any appliances while standing in water.

Floods and storms can move, shift, or damage gas lines, tanks, and equipment. Always check your tank, appliances, flue pipes, and vent connectors after the storm. If your propane tank is dislodged or missing, or other components are cracked or obstructed, call your propane company or the fire department immediately.

Do not turn your gas back on or operate any equipment or appliance that you suspect may have suffered water damage until your system has been examined by a qualified service technician.

Winter Storm Preparedness

Make sure you know what propane smells like, and how to turn off the propane to your outdoor tank and all appliances. Review all safety information provided by your propane retailer and create an emergency preparedness plan.

Important things to do before an upcoming winter storm:

  • Mark your propane tank location with a flag, pole, or stake that is higher than the expected snow cover depth.
  • Make sure you have an adequate supply of propane in your tank. Future deliveries may be delayed if roads are impassible.
  • Make a list of instruction on how to turn off electricity, propane, and water.

Clear snow and ice from around your propane tank. If pipes freeze and crack, gas can leak. Also, clear snow and ice away from all outdoor vents, chimneys, and flues. Use a broom (rather than a shovel) to minimize the risk of damage to your propane system.

If you remain in your home during a winter storm, never store propane cylinders or use outdoor propane appliances indoors. Do not use a gas oven or range-top burners for space heating.

After the storm, check for safety hazards such as downed power lines or trees and report them immediately. Do not enter any buildings on your properly unless it’s safe to do so. Once again, clear heavy snow and ice from regulators, regular vents, piping, tubing, valves, appliance vents, chimneys, and flues.

Check your tank, appliances, chimneys, flue pipes, and vent connectors for evidence of freezing, cracking, shifting, or other damage. If you suspect a problem, do not attempt to fix it yourself—contact your propane company immediately.

Wildfire Preparedness

Make sure you know what propane smells like, and how to turn off the propane to your outdoor tank and all appliances. Review all safety information provided by your propane retailer and create an emergency preparedness plan.

Before a potential wildfire:

  • Clear at the area (minimum 10-foot radius) around your propane tank and gas grill. Remove all debris and anything combusted (leaves, brush, vegetation, rags, etc.)
  • Make sure your grill and all cylinders are at least 10 feet from any structure.
  • Make sure you have enough propane in your tank to last a few days.
  • Make a list of instructions on how to turn off electricity, propane, and water.

Never store propane cylinders or use outdoor propane appliances indoors. Do not use a gas oven or range-top burners for space heating. If the flood threatens your safety turn off the main gas supply on your tank and all supply valves located near individual appliances.

After the fire is over, check for safety hazards such as downed power lines or trees and report them immediately. Do not enter any buildings on your properly unless it’s safe to do so.

Check your tank, appliances, chimneys, flue pipes, and vent connectors after the fire. If you see any damage or blockage, call your propane company or the fire department immediately.

Do not turn your gas back on or operate any equipment or appliance that you suspect may have suffered water damage until your system has been examined by a qualified service technician.