What is Propane?

Propane -- Clean, Efficient & Abundant logoIn its natural state, propane is an odorless and colorless gas that is widely used to fuel appliances for heating, cooking and other uses. While propane is used as a gas for fueling appliances, it is transported and stored as a liquid under high pressure in specially designed containers referred to either as tanks or cylinders. When liquid propane changes into a gas vapor, it expands in volume by about 270 times, meaning that propane is very economical to store and transport as a liquid rather than as a gas vapor. However, this characteristic also means that even a small leak of liquid propane can result in a much larger quantity of propane vapor, which can be especially dangerous in a confined space.

Similar to any other flammable gas or flammable liquid, propane is very safe when stored and handled properly. However, if propane is not properly and safely stored and handled, it can cause property damage, injuries, or even death. For this reason, it is important for the safety of the members of your household that they have a thorough understanding of the properties and characteristics of propane, and the hazards and risks associated with its use. Contact your local branch with questions that you have about propane.

Properties and Characteristics of Propane

  • A chemical odorant has been added to propane to give it a distinct smell
  • Propane is stored as a liquid under pressure in tanks and cylinders
  • In most residential applications, propane is used as a vapor
  • If propane comes in contact with your skin, it can result in frost burns
  • Concentrations of propane may cause flash fires or explosions
  • Propane vapor is heavier than air, and it may collect initially at floor levels or in other low areas before it begins to dissipate; therefore, to check for the presence of propane, carefully smell all over a room, especially in low spots
  • Even a slight gas odor may signal a serious propane gas leak, and you should take immediate action if you smell gas or suspect a leak
  • Consult your local branch for detailed information about using propane safely

Know the Odor of Propane

In its natural state, propane is odorless and colorless. A chemical odorant has been added to give a distinct smell to the propane. The purpose of the odorant is to help people detect the presence of propane. It is important that members of the household are able to distinguish the smell of odorized propane. Under certain conditions, a person may be prevented from smelling the odorant such as:

  • Colds, allergies, congestion or other similar medical conditions
  • Use of tobacco, alcohol and/or drugs
  • Decline in a person’s sense of smell
  • Olfactory fatigue from being exposed to the odorant for a period of time
  • Odor masking where strong odors can overpower the smell of the odorant
  • Leaking gas passing through soil may reduce the smell of the odorant
  • The odorant in the propane may not awaken a sleeping person                                                                                                                                     

If You Smell a Leak

  • Do get everyone out of the home and away from nearby areas
  • Do not attempt to find the leak
  • Do not attempt to repair your appliance or light your pilot light
  • Do not turn on or off light switches inside the home
  • Do not use a telephone inside the home or in nearby areas
  • Do not light matches anywhere inside or near the home
  • Do attempt to shut off the valves at the tank
  • Do call both your local branch and the fire department for help from a telephone away from the home and nearby area

See our Valve Shut-off Diagram (PDF) for more information.

Propane Detectors

Propane detectors are available as an extra measure to detect leaks. Propane detectors are only an aid and are not intended to reduce or eliminate proper safety procedures when a person smells the odor of propane, even when the alarm on the propane detector has not been activated.

It is extremely important to follow manufacturers’ instructions when installing a detector.

When selecting a propane detector, you should choose only detectors that are listed with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Energy Partners does sell a detector that can detect propane,

methane and carbon monoxide. Please call your local branch office for more information.


Carbon Monoxide

Not maintaining all of your appliances in good repair can result in potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning. Improperly vented appliances can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include one or more of the following: eye irritation, headaches, dizziness, sleepiness or excessive moisture buildup on the inside of windows. If you identify any of the above-noted symptoms, ventilate immediately (i.e., open windows and doors) and call a qualified service technician for help. Never use camping equipment or portable heaters that are not designed for recreational vehicles. Consider installing one or more carbon monoxide detectors inside of your home or recreational vehicle, which should should an alarm to warn you of the presence of carbon monoxide.

Snow & Ice

Countryside with mountain in the backgroundHeavy accumulations of snow and ice on regulators, piping, tubing and valves can cause damage that could result in gas leakage. Keep snow and ice from accumulating on tanks, regulators, piping, tubing and valves on the outside of your building. Regulator vents must be kept clear of snow and ice to work properly. When removing snow, exercise care around tanks, pipes, tubing, valves, regulators, and other equipment to prevent damage. It is suggested that a broom be used instead of a shovel when clearing snow from the above-mentioned items.

To assist us with providing safe service when filling your propane tank, please remove as much snow as possible from the walkway and tank area so our driver will have ready access to the tank. Please note that if conditions to access your tank are marginal, you may be charged a “chain up” fee. Deliveries may also not be made if the truck cannot safely access the tank. If you have your driveway plowed, please note that our trucks need to have at least 10 feet of width to be able to drive. Turn around areas need to be at least 40 feet in diameter. Do not shovel snow off of roofs and onto propane tanks, regulators, valves, piping or tubing on the outside of buildings. The weight of the snow could damage the propane equipment. Appliance vents, chimneys and flues must be kept clear of snow and ice so appliances can vent properly. This is especially critical on the roofs of mobile homes.