By Gail Marsh
This winter’s weather problems have really impacted RVers, especially those who find themselves in the path of snowstorms, ice storms, and record-breaking freezing temperatures. Friends of ours were forced to leave their RV fifth wheel last week when temperatures in Kansas dipped below zero. Frigid temps caused their propane to “freeze.”
Wait… Propane can freeze?
That was news to me, so I did a bit of research to find out more. What I found out is that liquid propane can’t actually “freeze” (like we think of water freezing) unless outside temperatures hit minus 306 degrees Fahrenheit! I know Kansas can be cold in the wintertime, but I also know that temps last week were not nearly that low! (Only laboratory conditions could reach such an extreme level.)
So what happened?
- Maybe a pressure problem: As temperatures drop, the propane inside the tank “shrinks” or contracts. This causes the pressure in the tank to drop as well. If your propane tank is low on fuel, the low vaporization rate may not be enough to power your furnace, water heater, and other necessities.
- Another problem may have to do with the moisture inherently found in propane itself. This moisture can freeze in extremely low temps and form ice crystals. These ice crystals can plug the tank valve and/or regulator, preventing the vaporized propane from passing through.
- If you bought your propane in the South, butane may be the problem. Because temperatures in the southern United States are generally warmer year-round, some companies will mix butane with propane. The problem is that butane freezes quicker than propane. Once temperatures dip below 31 degrees Fahrenheit, butane stops vaporizing. A butane-rich fuel mix will not vaporize properly.
Prevent propane tank “freeze up”
- Use larger propane cylinders. A larger tank takes longer to cool down, and has more area in which to generate vapor.
- Make sure to keep your propane tank filled. It will help keep the tank pressure stabilized.
- Maintain and check the regulator. Make sure it’s working properly. If the regulator is more than ten years old consider replacing it. (Industry norms suggest 15 years, while some manufacturers recommend replacement at 25 years.)
- Ask a propane dealer to purge your tank (remove water condensation and air).
- Use a heating blanket.
Have additional questions? Check with your local propane supplier.
Have you ever had trouble with propane tanks “freezing”? Tell us about it!