What is Propane?
In 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 propane dealer with questions that you have about propane.
Properties and Characteristics of Propane
- In its natural state, propane is an odorless and colorless gas.
- 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 propane dealer 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.
Ask your propane dealer to demonstrate the smell of odorized propane and provide an explanation about the odorant.
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 propane supplier and the fire department for help from a telephone away from the home and nearby area.
Propane Gas Detectors
- Propane gas detectors are available as an extra measure to detect leaks.
- Gas detectors are only an aid and are not intended to reduce or eliminate proper safety procedures when a person smells the odor of gas, even when the alarm on the gas detector has not been activated.
- It is extremely important to follow manufacturers’ instructions when installing a detector.
- When selecting a gas detector, you should choose only detectors that are listed with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Maintaining Your Propane System
The propane system at your home or business should be installed, maintained and repaired only by qualified personnel.
Call a qualified service technician to light or re-light pilot lights on your appliances.
- DO NOT bleed gas lines into enclosed areas.
- DO NOT tamper with gas controls on your appliances.
- DO NOT use appliances that have been flooded or have become wet, since the controls can be damaged or become rusty and malfunction, causing the safety feature built into the controls to permit a dangerous leak of propane.
- DO have wet or flooded appliances and controls serviced immediately.
- DO NOT let your propane system run out of propane. If it happens, turn off the gas valve on the tank or cylinder and call your propane dealer.
- DO have your propane system and all appliances periodically checked by a qualified service technician for proper operation and safety.
- 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 may sound an alarm to warn you of the presence of carbon monoxide.
Small Cylinder Safety
- Use only DOT-approved cylinders that are in good condition.
- When using a new cylinder for the first time, insist that your propane dealer purges the cylinder to remove air and moisture in the tank.
- Propane will expand and contract depending on the temperature.
- Cylinders should only be filled to 80% of capacity. Propane is a flammable gas that has been odorized.
- Know the odor of the gas. The odor is for leak detection.
- Leaking propane may cause fires and explosions.
- Before lighting propane gas appliances, check all connections for tightness using a leak detection solution.
- Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions before operating gas appliances.
- Never use propane from a cylinder without a regulator.
- Do not use matches or lighter to check for leaks.
- Turn off the valves on the cylinder when not using.
- Never store a cylinder indoors or in an enclosed vehicle.
- When transporting a cylinder, make sure that it is secured and in the upright position, so that the valves are in the vapor space.
- Never smoke or have open flames near propane cylinders.
- When filling cylinders attached to your vehicle, be sure that all sources of ignition are shut off; this includes pilot lights and vehicle engines.
- Call your propane dealer for more cylinder safety information.