How to store propane in winter and other safety tips

Published: October 21, 2019

Propane cylinder valve Photo by William Hager/Shutterstock

The exploding propane tank—common in Hollywood action films, rare in real life—is almost always a result of an already burning, hot fire. Millions of people in North America use propane safely every day, but it’s always smart to minimize the risks. Here are some tips:

• Store propane cylinders outside in the open, even over winter. Propane is heavier than air; in an enclosed space it will sink and collect. In a bedroom, it could potentially asphyxiate someone by displacing air; in a basement, it could reach an ignition source (a water heater or a furnace, perhaps) and ignite.

• Never modify the cylinder, the regulator hose, or anything else that isn’t supposed to be adjusted. No homemade flamethrowers, hot-air balloon heaters, or propane-powered bicycles.

• If you ever smell gas indoors, get outside and call 911. Don’t go inside again until you get the all-clear from emergency services.

• Start your barbecue with the lid open, lighting it immediately after turning on the control valves. If you wait too long, propane will collect in the base of your grill. And if the barbecue doesn’t light quickly, turn the valves off, leave the lid open, and wait for the propane to dissipate before starting again.

• Leak test your barbecue annually (and whenever the regulator trips). Squirt soapy water on the cylinder and regulator connections and the hose, then slowly open the cylinder valve. Bubbles indicate a leak. A leaky connection could just need gentle tightening, but if the leak persists, shut everything off, and call your barbecue’s manufacturer.

• Hire a licensed heating contractor to install propane appliances—venting a wall furnace properly, for example, isn’t something to leave to your handy cousin. And don’t buy the ventless propane appliances available in the U.S. They aren’t legal in Canada.

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