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Can Propane Freeze? Are Propane Tanks Affected by Cold Weather?

propane tank covered with snow

Propane, also known as liquid petroleum gas (LPG), is a safe, eco-friendly, and cheap option for powering up home appliances and business operation tools. It is versatile in application, has easy storage, and has a long shelf life. Since it is stored in a tank under pressure in liquid form, many people are concerned about whether the gas can freeze in extremely cold conditions. Yes, propane can freeze, but only at temperatures of -188 °C (-306.4°F). Below this level, the gas will solidify.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be worried that your propane will freeze during the winter season because these temperatures do not occur anywhere on earth. It can only freeze in a laboratory situation and the process is very complicated. While it’s unlikely that propane will freeze in winter, it is still affected by cold weather conditions. Also, the components that move, regulate and store propane can be affected by ice and frost forming on regulators, supply lines, and cylinders.

Without an effective solution to these freezing problems, all your appliances that rely on propane will be rendered unusable. Therefore, it is pertinent that you understand how to handle propane in cold weather conditions. In this article, we will discuss why propane freezes and how to prevent the gas from freezing. We will also discuss whether propane tanks are affected by weather and highlight tips to protect your propane tanks during winter.

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Why Does Propane Freeze

As earlier mentioned, propane exists in a liquid form inside gas cylinders. As the liquid leaves the tank, it can reach temperatures of -44 degrees Celsius¹, the point that the liquid boils and returns to a gaseous state. This is the state used in heating systems and home appliances. In very cold weather conditions where temperatures remain below zero, propane can retain its liquid state, making it impossible to use on appliances that rely on gas. The low temperatures can also create pressure differences inside the storage tanks.

propane tanks in snow
Image Credit: Noel V. Baebler, Shutterstock

Generally, freezing usually happens on the pressure regulators that ensure that propane is at a level that is usable by home appliances. As the liquid reaches its boiling point, it expands to a gaseous form and freezes the humidity around the regulator. However, this type of freezing shouldn’t be a bother. But on very rare occasions, propane can freeze and retain its liquid form as it flows through the regulator.

This is usually caused by a storage container filled to the brim, reducing the space required for propane to reach its boiling point and release vapor used as fuel. Freezing also occurs in portable cylinders that aren’t stored at an upright angle, preventing fuel sucking from the vapor space inside the tank.

Are Propane Tanks Affected by Cold Weather?

Storage cylinders store propane in its gaseous state under very high pressure. Even though propane cannot freeze under normal circumstances, what you should be concerned about is the freezing of propane tanks.  The storage tanks can freeze¹ and lose pressure, making it hard to power LPG-powered appliances. Snow and ice can also damage the vents. Regulators and piping cause leakages.

Even when the ambient temperatures do not reach -43.6°F, propane tanks stored outside can reach low temperatures during the cold winter months. When snow falls and accumulates on the tank’s components, it can melt during the day and freeze at night causing the propane tank to freeze.

man checking propane tank
Image Credit: Charles Knowles, Shutterstock

When the temperature in the propane tank drops, the pressure drops too. If temperatures inside the tank are above -43.6°F, the pressure will maintain propane in its liquid state. However, propane will also contract when it gets cold. The contraction will cause the volume of liquid propane in the tank to reduce, consequently reducing the pressure. When this happens, you can’t be able to operate your propane-powered machines and household appliances.

A propane cylinder can even freeze in warm weather if you release too much gas at once. When you draw propane from the tank, the temperatures inside will drop. This is because the conversion of propane from a liquid to gaseous state is an endothermic process that draws heat from the surrounding area. Freezing in warm weather is usually caused by regulator problems that allow too much gas to escape at one.

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How to Protect Propane Tanks in Cold Weather

As it gets cold outside during winter, you can depend on propane tanks to efficiently provide heat for you and your loved ones. These safety tips can help you prevent damage to the tank and emergency repairs, especially during the cold winter months when you need it the most.

1. Refill Your Propane Supply on Time

At least once every week in the fall, you should regularly check the meter level of your tank before ambient temperatures begin to drop. There could be half a tank of propane left when you check, but it could all be gone by the time the winter arrives.

Once you notice that your tanks are below the half mark, call your propane supplier to refill your gas so that you have enough fuel to last you throughout winter. You wouldn’t particularly be thrilled by the prospects of refilling your propane tank in the middle of a snowstorm.

man working on propane tank
Image Credit: Jackthumm, Shutterstock

2. Make an Annual Maintenance Appointment

Also, consider scheduling an inspection to ensure that your propane tanks are in excellent condition before winter. If you use propane as a heating source, you may not have used the tank for several months during summer. It may probably have developed problems that you weren’t aware of. However, a technician can do a thorough inspection of all the tank components and perform minor repairs to prevent emergencies.


3. Make Sure the Tank Is Visible in the Snow

In case of a massive snowstorm that falls several inches deep, you should ensure you know the exact location of your propane tanks outside. To make the tanks visible, consider putting a stick, flag, or pole on your lawn next to the tanks so that a technician can have easy access for repairs or refilling in the middle of winter.

Besides making your propane tanks visible, you should make sure that they are also accessible. You can clear a way to the tank by changing the position of your trash cans or clearing away shrubs and bushes.

Grey propane gas tank
Image Credit: LIGHTITUP, Shutterstock

4. Clear Any Debris from Your Propane Appliances Vent

As earlier mentioned, propane tanks produce carbon monoxide, hence they need adequate ventilation to push CO out of your house. If you haven’t used your tank all summer, debris from nearby trees and animal droppings may be accumulated inside your vents. If you notice any obstructions in the piping, contact a professional; to inspect and clean the system.


5. Clear Ice and Snow from the Tank

Snow that falls during winter can accumulate on the tank, cooling it down and blocking it from the sun. You must remove snow and ice from the tanks and other components to prevent damage that could result in a gas leak.

man shoveling snow
Image Credit: nieriss, Shutterstock

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In Summary

Propane has been helping different households to stay warm during the cold winter months. Because it is stored in liquid form, most people worry that it might freeze during winter. While propane can freeze in temperatures of -188 °C (-306.4°F) in a laboratory setting, it cannot freeze in real life because nowhere on earth can experience such low temperatures.

However, you should be concerned about the freezing of propane tanks. In extremely cold conditions, the tank components including; piping and regulator can freeze and get damaged during winter. When ice falls on the storage tanks, it can also create a pressure difference, limiting the amount used by household appliances.

During winter, ensure that your tank is atheist 30% full because more propane means more pressure. Also, don’t let snow and ice accumulate on the tank components, clear them so that sunlight can keep your propane tank warm.


Featured Image Credit: Wild As Light, Shutterstock

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