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Having an outdoor propane barbecue is one of the finest pleasures. There is nothing like having a wonderful, relaxed BBQ with friends on a warm summer night. But what happens when the weather turns cold? Can a BBQ propane tank freeze?
A barbecue propane tank can freeze at extremely cold temperatures that you won’t come across. However, if the temperature reaches below -44 degrees Fahrenheit propane will not vaporize. Other issues can present themselves well before freezing becomes an issue.
It is important to keep your propane tanks warm, especially in the winter. Thankfully there are a few easy steps to keep your tanks safe and sound.
Can A Propane Tank Freeze?
Propane is a durable gas that seems to be able to withstand all sorts of conditions thankfully. That is why so many people use propane to heat and power their homes and barbecues. But it does have its breaking points.
The science behind propane and freezing is simple. You have to remember that when propane is inside the tanks in your backyard, it is in liquid form. Like all liquids, it can turn into a solid when things get cold. Propane will convert into a solid form at -306 degrees Fahrenheit. You may see that number and think you are in the clear because no place on Earth gets that cold. You are correct, our planet never reaches those lows.
However, the boiling point of propane is -44 degrees. If the temperature gets colder than that, the liquid inside your tank will not vaporize and you will have a very hard time using your barbecue or getting the propane to work at all. And while -306 degrees can only be found on other planets, you can find -44 here on Earth. Worst still, other issues present themselves even before you reach -44 degrees.
The Effects of Cold on Propane
While your neck of the woods may not reach -44 degrees even during the worst winters, other propane problems may plague you before you hit that threshold.
Propane contracts when it gets cold, even before it hits -44 degrees. When it contracts, the volume of the propane inside your tank will shrink which will lead to a loss of pressure. If your pressure is low, any propane will not reach the gas burner. That means that no matter what propane device you are using – barbecue, heater, furnace – may not work if the propane is lacking pressure.
Some people have been shocked to find their tanks acting as if they are completely or nearly empty even when they are full. This will happen often in the coldest months of the year if you do not take proper precautions. You haven’t lost your propane, it is still in the tank. It is just lacking in pressure and reacting poorly to the ultra-chilly conditions.
If you have above-ground propane tanks, you may have noticed before that your propane is more stubborn the colder it gets outside. The dead of winter may make your propane near impossible to use.
You should think of propane like you do water. Like water, it will get thick and sluggish the colder the weather is. At a certain point, it will stop being liquid entirely and will convert to its solid-state. If you keep that in mind, you will be better prepared for the cold winter months and ready for the effect it may have on your propane tanks.
Other issues may present themselves aside from freezing. If you keep your propane tanks above ground outside, that means they may be exposed to some nasty precipitation. Heavy snow and ice can be a real headache if you use propane. You will need to make sure you keep your tanks clear of any sticky snow or hard ice because it may prevent the tanks from venting properly and in a worst-case scenario, could cause leaks. A leak in your propane tank is an awful situation any time of the year, especially when it is cold outside.
How to Keep Your Propane Tanks Safe
So what do you do to keep your propane tanks safe and warm during the wickedly cold winter months? How do you avoid them freezing up and slowing down?
Thankfully, there are quite a few ways to ensure that you and your propane will make it through Winter and onto brighter and warmer days ahead. Your next barbecue won’t be too far off if you take these suggestions seriously.
Keep Them Full
As we said, the pressure becomes an issue as the weather gets colder and chills your propane tank. When the tank gets cold, the tank loses pressure and you will not be able to release it as easily as you normally can. There comes a point where your tank may be utterly useless even if you haven’t hit -44 degrees outside.
One way to combat the loss of pressure is by keeping your tank full. That’s right, you can fight off the effects of the cold winter months by filling your tank more often. This is an expensive route. It can be a hassle too. You don’t have to fill your tank daily, even weekly. But if you make sure to keep it filled more often than you normally do, it will go a long way to prevent pressure loss when it gets chilly outside.
Keep Them Warm
If you don’t want to spend the money on refilling your tanks often, you can do something even better: keep them warm. This approach makes total sense. When you get cold, you wrap a blanket around you. So why not do the same with your propane tank?
There are many products on the market that are made specifically for this task. Propane heating systems are quite common and can easily get the job done. There are heating blankets you can wrap around your tanks that also retain warmth and fight off the cold. One that I like is the Powerblanket (Amazon link), This is perfect for keeping the winter chill away, there are others worth checking out but this is one i reccomend.
No matter how you keep your tanks warm, it is paramount that you do not expose them to flames – ever. No open flames near your propane tanks, no matter how cold it gets or how far away you feel you are. That is a recipe for an instant disaster. If you expose your propane tank to an open flame, you will soon have a problem much larger than being cold.
Some people have taken the extra step of burying their propane tanks to keep them safe from the elements. This is a good way to keep them away from the bitter cold above ground but it is also an expensive route to go too. It is a pretty intensive project so it may not be ideal for you if you don’t have the time or money.
Unless you are something of a propane expert, you should let professionals do the digging and installation of any underground propane tank. This isn’t something you want to take lightly. They will know exactly how far away to bury the tank (at least ten feet away from any building) and how to keep the important parts exposed so you can easily refill.
Keep Them Exposed to the Sun
This suggestion makes a lot of sense. The sun warms everything it touches, even during the Winter. Too many people keep their propane tanks completely hidden or under an awning that prevents the sun’s natural power from getting to them.
While you may want to cover your tanks with blankets, make sure you use special insulated ones created specifically for propane tanks. And make sure you leave some space for the sun to touch. If you completely wrap the tank in a blanket, you will prevent the sunlight from getting in.
Do Not Bring Them Inside
There are plenty of smart ways to keep your propane tanks warmer during the winter seasons and there are even more not-so-smart ways to keep them warm. Unfortunately, some people do not think things through and come up with ideas that are not only unhelpful but downright dangerous too.
One of the most dangerous ideas to keep your propane tank warm is to bring it inside. On the surface it makes sense, it is warmer in your home so why wouldn’t you take your tank inside when the snow starts to fall? But that is one of the worst things you can do. The pressure inside is different from what’s outside and the change in pressure could cause your tank to quite literally explode. Do not do this one ever.
Other people have thought exposing a propane tank to heat from a blow dryer or space heater is a smart idea. Those aren’t smart because anything but natural heat from the sun and insulated blankets are too risky. You may think they are safe but you do not want to risk it, not when propane is involved.
All in all
Winter can be a harsh and unforgiving time of the year, especially on your BBQ propane tank. Keeping the propane in an optimal liquid state is essential. With winter, comes the cold, and your propane tank should be taken care of to protect it from the bitter winter nights.