Propane is a popular fuel option, but many people use it each day without really understanding what the invisible heating source is in the first place. If you’re a propane user or thinking of making the switch, you may be curious about what propane is and if it’s a safe alternative fuel. Here are some thoughts on propane safety and its uses to put your mind at ease the next time you char a few patties on the grill or switch on your dreamy fireplace.
The Skinny on Propane
The definition of propane, provided by PERC (the Propane Education and Research Council), “is a gas normally compressed and stored as a liquid.” The non-profit adds that propane is nontoxic and colorless (we wish we could say that about our own gas after a big meal). It even lacks a detectable odor compared to the gas you use in your car and can only afford by dipping into your 401(k).
While it can come from a few different sources, propane is primarily a byproduct of natural gas, something we have plenty of in North America. It also has an endless shelf life when stored properly and handled with care.
Is a Propane Tank Safe?
One of the most glaring concerns about using propane is if the tank in the yard could suddenly explode. Fortunately, the dramatic concern is more fiction than fact.
The possibility of a tank exploding is extremely rare. Why? Because it takes a unique combination of circumstances for a tank to explode, such as prolonged exposure to extreme heat.
In other words, we aren’t talking about a balloon waiting to pop. On the contrary, tanks are built following stringent standards that ensure high-quality, safe end products, which is why you never hear of incidents involving propane tanks. Manufacturers also equip them with safety features like pressure relief valves.
Exploding concerns aside, if a propane tank leaks, the propane will vaporize. From there, it dissipates into the air, in most cases eliminating any danger, especially in the case of an outdoor tank. Only in closed spaces where propane fumes are present in high volumes can it become a genuine threat to breathe or possibly ignite — which leads us to our next question: is it safe to use propane inside your home?
Is It Safe to Use Propane Indoors?
Knowing that a propane tank outside your window isn’t going to detonate any minute is one thing. But is propane safe to use indoors, too?
Many concerns about indoor propane use come from its colorless and odorless nature. Of course, it goes without saying that this isn’t a “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” kind of scenario. On the contrary, an undetected leak can be harmful.
Breathing propane can take the place of oxygen in your lungs. Like most gases, this can be harmful; if inhaled long enough, it can kill you. This is why manufacturers add an odor to help identify the gas if its leaks.
Another common question is if using propane indoors can be a fire hazard. The good news is, compared to other forms of heating, there’s nothing unusually dangerous about propane.
Is it combustible? Sure. Can it be hard to notice at times? Yep. But concerns like these are the case for anyone heating their home.
An electric baseboard heater can start a fire. An oil furnace can churn out black smoke if something goes wrong. Do we even need to bother explaining how dangerous a wood stove can be?
Propane also has its fair share of safety concerns, but none of these are worse than any other heating option. In fact, propane has a flammability range (the amount of propane in the air required to ignite) of just 2-10%. This makes it difficult to truly put your home in danger, especially if you are aware of and practice propane safety.
Tips for Propane Safety
If you’re using (or are considering using) propane, there are simple steps to take to make things even safer than they already are:
- Install a propane gas detector to detect any possible leaks quickly.
- Familiarize yourself with the signs of propane poisoning, like lightheadedness and a headache.
- Have your tanks professionally installed and serviced by a reputable company like Paraco.
If you take steps like these, propane can be a safe fuel for your home. Add in the fact that it’s affordable, reliable, and a clean form of fuel to burn, and using propane becomes a no-brainer.