Saturday, July 18, 2015

Long Term Fuel Storage

I have to deal with several types of fuel storage up here.


I cook, heat my buildings, and run my hot water heaters with propane.  There's a reason for this. Once it's in your storage tanks, you are not dependent on anyone "outside" for energy that depends on propane. None of my controls or appliances that use propane need electricity. (except the clothes dryer, which I can do without if need be.)   I do need electricity to run my water pump, but I can do that with the generator.

So, if the power fails, be it short term, or for an extended period, I can still cook, wash, keep the buildings climate controlled in cold weather and "get along."

Propane tanks come in various sizes. I have one 250 gallon tank on the apartment, and two 500 gallon tanks that fuel the shop, and the main house.  I have one 500 gallon tank on a cut over switch that is my emergency reserve.  I try to keep these all topped off, which gives me a total of 1750 gallons, maximum capacity, though 250 of that can only be accessed by the apartment. The apartment has a full kitchen and bath, but like the set up in the main house, the hot water heater , stove and oven do not require electricity to function. 

Propane tanks have a cut off valve on top, that you can use to shut off the gas in an emergency. They also have a gauge, not very accurate, that tells you what percentage of fuel you have left. At about ten percent you are in the red, but the system will function down to about 5 percent (on a 500 gallon tank) before there isn't enough pressure to keep your pilot lights lit.

There is also a "step down" valve between the tank and the appliances. Be sure you know where it is. Usually it's hidden in some out of the way place. Mine is built into the field-stone foundation of my house and it's covered with a slab of field stone, like a little door, so you can't see it. The "step down" valve lowers the pressure of the gas so it doesn't just whistle into the appliances with such force it blows out the pilots, fills your house with gas, and then explodes.

I put my tanks 50 feet apart, minimum.  They are all in deep shade , so that in summer the heat doesn't build up.  Most tanks are painted silver, to reflect heat, but mine are a pale green, because I painted them. Remember, a propane truck can usually reach a tank 100 feet from the truck, but not more. So if you happily put your tanks 200 feet from the nearest the big truck can get to them, you get to pay to have them reset. If you are putting a tank in for the first time, and you are having it set, where it is set is up to you. Don't expect the guys delivering it to care if the truck can't reach it. They get paid to come back and fix your mistakes, so they aren't, in general , going to help you to avoid making any mistakes.

You can buy the tanks, or lease them. If you buy them, you can choose which propane company you want to buy from when it comes time to resupply. However, although the propane companies here vociferously deny it, they fix the prices so that they all sell at about the same price.  Some companies give you a small price break on the per gallon price if you own your own tanks. If you lease, you have to buy from the company you lease from.  Company A won't put fuel in a tank that belongs to Company B.  If you own your own tanks, keeping them in good shape and maintaining the line of copper tubes that move the gas around is your problem. If you lease, usually $35.00 a year per tank, the company has to fix any leaks and they come out once a year and do an inspection. You want them to do this, because you don't want any slow leaks. Propane is expensive, and it can blow you sky high in extreme circumstances. Propane has "rotten eggs odor" added to it so you can usually smell leaks. If one of your tanks develops a leak through the casing, you will smell the gas, but there's also an icicle that forms around the leak. I have no idea why, maybe somebody out there who doesn't have a history degree like me knows. But , if you smell propane, do a walk around the tank and look for that icicle.  If you don't see one, the value on top of the tank or the gas gauge is probably leaking. If you own the tank, tighten it. If you lease, call the gas company and let them do it.

By the way, don't think just because two guys come out from the gas company, they know what they are doing.  When I switched from an electric hot water heater to a propane heater, they initially installed one in my basement with no blower. The first really cold night, the air flow reversed and freezing air came roaring back down the ventilation pipe from outside.  In the middle of the night, the hot water heater came on. The exhaust was going right into the basement, rather than out into the external air. I had carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house and they all started going off. It took more than 30 minutes after I shut off the hot water heater, with all the windows and doors open, before we dared go back to sleep again. Without the alarms, we'd all have been dead.  I had that cheaper heater replaced with a commercial hot water heater that used a blower, and we've had no trouble since. Don't assume that Joe S**t the Ragman knows what he's doing because he drove out in a gas company truck. Most of them, the older guys, do.  But some of the younger guys are marginal because they are inexperienced.

If you live in a hard to get to place, like I do, most of the propane companies will try to avoid having you as a customer. They don't like places they have to use four wheel drive to get into (like mine). You'll have to have a small, sturdy delivery truck to get into difficult access locations because the big ones just can't make it, and the propane companies don't want to risk damaging them. If you own your own tanks, sometimes the propane companies just say no.  

In 1986, propane cost about sixteen cents a gallon.  Today, summer of 2015,  Propane is running around two dollars and sixteen cents a gallon, retail.  Wholesale to the Propane Companies is about thirty two cents a gallon right now. The markup is significant.  During the high gas prices a few years ago, the propane companies all added a ten to twenty dollar "fuel delivery surcharge" to their bills. When gas got cheap, they "neglected" to take the surcharge away so we are still paying it.

However, it would be unwise to live way out in the sticks and depend on the grid. It would also be a strange thing for a person to do if they are looking at the location as a survival retreat.


I have two above ground tanks for diesel, each 250 gallons.

I have two pieces of equipment that use diesel fuel. One is my generator, the other my truck.

The generator is high priority, since I rely on it to supply my minimal power needs during extended power outages.

The truck is important, because in a long duration grid down situation, I'd be hauling firewood, water, and anything else I needed in it.  My truck gets about 15 mile per gallon, but it's big and heavy. I keep the tanks full, so I have enough fuel to go about 400 miles on board when I am topped off. I keep a 5 gallon jerry can in the back of the truck, in case the transfer switch from the forward tank to the aft tank fails. That's enough to get me to the shop.

Diesel is used as home heating fuel.  So, you can buy it at "off road" prices, much cheaper than buying "on road" which is very heavily taxed.  BUT.... off road has a red dye added to it so the "authorities" can run a tube down into your tank and see if you are driving using "off road" fuel. If they catch you doing that, the fine is hefty. That wouldn't matter in a disaster, because the little guy in his little white crown Victoria that says "transportation inspection" would have other things to do, like staying alive.

Diesel has to be "stabilized" for long term storage but that doesn't present any problems, any good auto parts store sells the chemical mix you need to do that.

Here's a quote from a diesel fuel stabilizer company on how long you can store diesel.

"The key is keeping the fuel cool and keeping the fuel dry. Under ideal conditions, diesel fuel can be stored between six and twelve months. To extend the life past twelve months, even under the best conditions, it needs to be treated with fuel stabilizers and biocides."

I've actually used diesel fuel that was two years old in the generator, and had no problems. It was stabilized and the tanks are under the trees, but fuel is my tanks is still subjected to temperatures from +110' f above to -12' f below.


Here's a link to the topic of how long Kerosene lasts from the Back Woods Home Journal forum.
My own experience is that Kerosene stored in a sealed metal can was still good 4 years after I bought it. Kerosene stored in a plastic jug remained good at least 3 years. Maybe longer, but I used it up so I can only attest to that point.

What is the Shelf Life of Kerosene

  I keep about 30 to 50 gallons of kerosene , in Jerry cans, out in the fuel shed.

   Kerosene costs $5.00 a gallon now, for the second grade with the red dye in it.  That will burn just fine in kerosene heaters and in kerosene lanterns. The purest grade of kerosene, usually bought in sealed metal cans, runs about $12.00 a gallon.

  Kerosene heaters were an absolute necessity here in 1986. Every gas station had a kerosene pump and kerosene went for under $1.00 a gallon. Today, only one station in the entire county still carries kerosene, and they are usually out. It's hard to come by if you wait til it gets cold.

    I use kerosene heaters as emergency heat sources in extreme conditions. I also have my old supply of kerosene lanterns. I don't use them anymore, as I have LED lanterns, but I kept the old kerosene lanterns so I need to keep fuel for them.

  Some people put diesel stabilizer in it. Some argue for gas. The general consensus seems to be that if you plan to use the kerosene within 3 years, don't bother. I stabilize all my fuels, regardless of when I plan to use them, and I personally use diesel stabilizer , although you can buy purpose made kerosene stabilizer. Costs a lot though.


I really don't like storing gasoline, but I have to.  When I was a little boy, living in Seminole County down in South Georgia, my dad had a friend named Mr. Rabbit. That was his real name.  He had a boat and he used to take us out fishing.

One day Mr. Rabbit was going to burn a bunch of scrap wood he had bulldozed into a burn pile. My dad was helping him. I went along for the ride.  Mr. Rabbit poured gasoline all over the pile, and he got out his lighter and lit a piece of newspaper. My dad told him he was too close but he didn't pay any attention.

The heavy gasoline vapor had been moving along the ground and Mr. Rabbit was standing in the middle of it. But he didn't know it because the smell from the piled up lumber soaked in gas was too strong. When he threw the paper, the vapors on the ground lit and he was standing in a cloud of flame.

My dad ran out and got him because it was a "flash", just boom and it was over. But he was all burned. That was the first time I ever saw a person burned so that their skin was falling off. I never screw around with gasoline, and one of the things that was always in the back of my mind when I was flying was all that high octane aviation fuel around me.

I have a "fuel shack." It's really a shack.  I made it intentionally "loose" so there's plenty of ventilation. Built up fuel vapors are very dangerous. Especially in places where it gets really hot.
If the fuel shack ever goes up I'm in deep kimchi because it'll set the woods on fire. So I am as cautious as I know how to be.  I don't overfill the metal Jerry cans. I don't stack them so that there's metal to metal contact, the sunlight never gets on them.

gasoline stabilizer

I keep about 15 gallons of gas.  That's for the tools like the chain saw.  My jeep uses gasoline, but I keep it topped off, and it can go 360 miles on what's in the tank.  I'd keep more if I wasn't so paranoid about it blowing up some hot day, or going up in a thunder storm.

What's the shelf life?  Even the big companies don't agree. Here's a thread from a survival forum that will let you read the actual experiences of some people who have stored gasoline.

Storage life of gasoline

One last thought. Don't mix up your color codes.

Red is always gasoline.

      Yellow is always diesel.

 Kerosene is blue. Sometimes Kerosene containers are see through or white, with "kerosene " written on them in blue print.

I generally use metal Jerry cans. This is because I have had the bottom seams split enough to leak on the plastic ones, with results you can imagine.  To each his own.

Be sure you have the appropriate spout for your cans.   These are known in the service as "donkey dicks" (sorry, I know that's a bit crude,  but I want to be absolutely sure people know what I am talking about.)

Yes, one size should fit all cans, but guess what?  They don't!  Try pouring gasoline out of a Jerry can and having it leak all over everything. Nicht gutt.

Make sure the D.D. you have mates property to the can, and that the spout is not too long or too short for what you plan to do. ESPECIALLY if you are going to be carrying it in a vehicle, be sure the spout will fit down the tank neck without being blocked by an anti-siphoning device.  Out on a mountain road in a blinding snow storm with night coming on is not the time to find you got a D.D. that won't work with your vehicle.

That's all I can think of off hand.  I welcome any other thoughts and suggestions on the topic, because if you are really thinking ahead, it's a very important one.


  1. I've often thought that, given the secretive nature of our lifestyle, that a solution to the privacy issue of propane deliveries might be to have the tank mounted on a small trailer and drive it to town when you need it filled and then park the trailer and tank at it's 'station' when you get home and use some sort of quick connect to attach it back to your system. I don't think this would be feasible with the larger tanks, but I wonder if it might not be an option with the smaller 250 gallon tanks. Thoughts?

    1. I guess you could, but from a logistics standpoint, 250 gallons would not last me long here. If you just had a little cabin and only used propane for cooking, it might work. One thing I know you would run into is that the propane company wouldn't put gas in your trailer without hassling you about it. They don't like innovation, and I'll bet the guys I buy from wouldn't do it. Maybe if you had a buddy in the business, or maybe if you live in a state without all the bureaucratic drones and excessive laws and regulations that mine has.

      The only person who comes up here regularly is my gas truck driver. He never goes in the house, and he isn't talkative. He just fills the tanks, while I keep the dogs off him, and then gives me the ticket and leaves.

  2. Wow - you certainly keep a of of fuel on site. I'm glad you store diesel not gas (petrol) as petrol has a limited lfiespan.

    We have a petrol genny - diesel ones are very expensive here. And few and far between.

    Looks you're set for whatever comes your way.

    1. Dani, I added a tank not long ago. Since I lease all but one of them, it didn't cost me much. It gives me more flexibility. Fuel prices fluctuate here considerably, especially during the summer. The more storage capacity I have, the more I can take advantage of lows in the price curb. Also, I get a price per gallon discount for large purchases, and that can add up as I use a lot of propane, during the winter months in particular as I am using it as a primary source for heating multiple buildings.

      Diesel generators cost more, it's true. I went diesel because they have a longer operational life and because diesel is easier to store long term.

      There's always something you overlook, but I think my basic planning is sound. Only time will tell.

  3. have you had issues with leaks around the lines and connectors on your propane tanks? Dad has two large tanks and I've tried to get him to top them off in case of a collapse. He won't do it and having worked for a propane company at one point, he uses possible leaks thus wasting the fuel.....

    I'd fill them in a heartbeat if it was me, and I've explained my concerns about an economic crash but he won't listen, somehow changing a diaper as a child makes parents immune from listening to you as an adult.

    1. No, and I check them frequently. If I have leaks like that, the propane company has to compensate me for lost fuel, since the lease tanks are their responsibility to maintain. That being so, they use high quality materials and they send their experienced personnel to do installations and the monthly checks. I keep a daily log of propane consumption on a spread sheet, and having done this for so many years, I would immediately notice if anything looked out of kilter.

      I don't remember ever having a serious propane leak. I did have a pilot light go out in the oven in the apartment kitchen once, but I inspect the apartment daily if I'm not in there for something else, so I caught it early on.

      Given the huge fluctuations in fuel prices of every kind whenever some event happens overseas that affects fuel production, having a good bit on site alleviates the constant worrying about "do I have enough" or "will the price go through the roof." I got caught in the crack a couple of years ago, as I was working on something else and the money for fuel went to another project. The cost of propane doubled in a week due to panic buying, just as I had to buy 500 gallons. That will never happen to me again.

  4. Great information that I need to know. Thank you for writing it all down. Jana

    1. I've been meaning to do a post on fuel storage for some time, since a South African friend asked me a related question. Today it's already too hot to go outside so it seemed a good time to get it done. I'm glad it was helpful to you.

  5. We try to keep enough fuel on hand to top off any one vehicle 3 times. This gives us a good driving distance or enough idling power for a few weeks or more of running the fridge and freezer in a power outage.
    Dropped in 10 gallons of fuel to a vehicle last night and those are waiting to get refilled when I hit town later today or tomorrow.

    Great post.

    1. Logistics is all about management. If you can accurately estimate consumption over a specific duration, and develop a system or a routine that meets or exceeds minimum requirements, you should be able to get by in a pinch. I tend to put on hand quantities of consumables minimums higher than they really need to be, but it gives me peace of mind.

  6. Hey Harry,


    That's ironic. I topped off two five gallon plastic jugs of ethanol free gas yesterday.

    I purchase my fuel for all vehicles and gas cans at a place that sells ethanol free fuel mostly to boat owners. I found out from the manager who knows me (and is somewhat like minded) that the refinery that makes the ethanol free fuel was having problems with a tank and they may not have any ethanol free fuel for a month.
    I topped off the fuel in the truck. Drove home and got two gas cans and topped them off before he ran out of fuel.

    I usually drive one truck a week and drive the other the next week. Every week I top off the tank in the one I have been driving and repeat the process always keeping at least one tank topped off.
    I have three five gallon Plastic Cans. They are several years old and I guess I will swap them out with metal cans sometime soon before one them splits open. I add stab bil fuel stabilizer and keep the fuel about a year. I also date the cans by adding tape on the can with the date written in permanent marker on the tape so I know how old the fuel is.

    I keep the fuel in the garage which is open and closed frequently and semi-ventilated. I have never noticed a fuel/gas smell in the garage (knock on wood) I would like to store the fuel in a better spot, but its all I have and I never have had a problem (again, knock on wood)

    The Generator I pull out and fire up about every month or two and run for awhile. I always shut off the carb and let it run dry to run out of fuel before I put the generator back into storage.

    1. Sounds like a good routine. Fuel storage is a problem. My shed isn't ideal. If it blows it will fire the woods and that will be it for me. But I can't do without any gasoline at all, so I take the precautions I can and hope for the best.

      You've got a good routine going there. Sounds to me like your set up is good, as long as your neighbors don't try to roll you if anything goes wrong down the road.

    2. I own a 500 gallon underground propane tank I fill once a year. Usually buy 350 to 400 gallons right at 2 $ a gallon. Did have a leak once cause the delivery driver did not properly tighten down the bleed valve they open to let air out when they fill it. Lost about 100 gallons before we caught on. On the plastic vs the metal Gerry cans thing both have their pros and cons. Metal ones can rust out especially if they sit a long time and have ethanol fuel in them. Ethanol will concentrate and precipitate along with any water it absorbs out of the gasoline and rust out the bottom of the can. With the plastic ones I always worry about a static spark especially when it is cold. I make a habit of grounding myself out to discharge any static before I touch them.

    3. I hope the company made good the 100 gallon loss.I usually go out after a delivery with a squirt bottle full of soapy water and check everything, connections, joints, etc for small leaks.

      I don't store gasoline containing ethanol for two reasons. One, it screws up your tools, like your chain saw, eventually. The second is the impact on metal storage containers, as you point out. I watched a video put out by Home Depot once and they emphasized using ethanol free gasoline in the things like weed eaters, chain saws, etc when it was humanly possible. Fortunately for me, there's a gas station on the way to town that sells ethanol free gasoline.

      What happened to me with plastic Jerry cans was a small split in the mold seam on the bottom. I went out to find 5 gallons of diesel all over the floor. And that was when I stored diesel in my shop. It was a real disaster.

      I think probably either metal or plastic would be ok, I'm sure plenty of people could cite instances where a metal can leaked. I just like the metal, they seem more robust and less apt to leak of the cuff.

  7. Thanks Harry, this is a really interesting post.

    1. Kirsty, I don't know if it has much practical application there, but I appreciate the kind comment. Even though I spent a good bit of time in England between 1982-1985 I never really was inside a rural persons home so I don't know how they heat or what fuel they use over there.

  8. Excellent informative piece - thanks for taking the time.

    1. Marty, I try to think of subjects that might be of use to people moving out of the urban and suburban environment, and coming out to the countryside. I know a lot of people are doing that now, although overall the rural population is declining dramatically in the United States as people leave for the cities. My own kids, who were raised here, left and have lived in Vancouver, Canada, Jacksonville, Florida and in another city up North where they currently reside. It's almost impossible to earn a living in the countryside now for young people, and there's really nothing for them to do out here and hardly any social life. Still, a lot of middle aged and older people are getting away from the congested areas and if I can help them I'm glad to do it.

  9. I used to have a 250 gallon propane tank and a monthly bill. Then the price went up and up and I starting calling it profane gas as it was f**king expensive. Over time I swithed things to solar and wood and elimintated the 250 gallong tank and the monthly bill. Now the only thing left is the old propane drying. That's powered by little 20 gallon portable tanks that I can get filled at the corner store.

    During my time as a firefighter I got to see a number of propane tanks explode. There's a relief valve that makes a whistling noise. When the pitch gets higher and higher it's time to take cover. They blow up with some amazing fire balls.

  10. Harry,

    Great post! We make sure to have gas on hand for emergencies, and the equipment around the house. Each can has a label with the date, type of fuel, and treatment information. Daily we go out and release the valve to ensure there's no pressure build up in each container. The containers are store in a well ventilated area. As for our vehicles, they're always full because you just never know where there's an emergency.

  11. This is great information to read. I’ve been considering getting another tank but I was wondering about the size I should get. Now I know I also need to consider the color because it gets hot where I am. I also need to think about placement so that I’m not so far the delivery truck won’t be able to reach.

    Abraham Yates @ Apache Oil Company

    1. Ever so often, something useful pops up here. Glad you stopped by. Don't be a stranger.