Their propane “froze”! Wait … Can propane freeze?

10

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!

Related:
Propane: Do you know these safety basics?
Propane safety devices on Amazon

##RVT988

Subscribe
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

10 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

David Hagen
5 days ago

One winter morning in Denver I walked outside and heard hissing from my motorhome. Some water in the propane line froze in the regulator and broke it. The hissing was from the propane coming out of the hole in the regulator.

Montgomery Bonner
5 days ago

Propane by law can have as much as 5% water in it, water will freeze. Recommendation, never let tanks go below 50% empty/full, depending on how you look at things, get it filled. If built in tank (motorhome) keep it as full as often as you can, never know when emergency happens, not only cold snap. Accident you are stuck someplace, and need propane to cook/heat. Always fill up gasoline/diesel tank every evening in travel status, before stopping for night, again, never know when “you will have to move in middle of night because of something”.

john
5 days ago

At -55 F propane in any size tank will not freeze but quit making vapor which is what your pilot light operates on. You burn vapor not liquid. In the early 90s in Mn. It got down to over 50 below in central MN, embarrass Mn. Was 60 + below. We had a 1000 gal propane tank and lost vapor. Created a heat source underneath to restart our 2 furnaces. We owned a store with living quarters upstairs.

SGT
5 days ago

Living in Wisconsin, I have had propane tanks freeze several times. It has always been the small green tanks. We had a couple propane heaters that we used in the deer blinds. When you needed them the most, they would be froze up. If you took them home and thawed them out, they would work fine. Some ice fishermen have propane ice augers. They have learned to bring them indoors overnight. If you leave them in the truck they will freeze and not work the next day.

littleleftie
5 days ago

Is this the same as when the outside of the propane tank gets all frosted? That has happened to us when using a propane firering. It frosted the entire outside of the tank.

Bob P
5 days ago
Reply to  littleleftie

This caused by the temperature inside the tank creating condensation on the outside to freeze, this is also an easy way to check the gas level in your tank by slowly pouring hot water down the side of the tank you can see where condensation forms that’s the indication of the gas level inside the tank.

Roy Christensen
5 days ago
Reply to  littleleftie

This cooling is caused by the expansion of the propane gas. When a gas expands, it cools (called adiabatic cooling) when the gas is compressed, it heats up. This is how an air conditioner and a heat pump works. The gas expanding in your propane tank caused the temperature of the tank to cool to the freezing point of water (or below) and humidity in the air condensed and froze on the tank outside. The change of state from water vapor directly to ice (solid) is called sublimation.

Hank
5 days ago

Vapor to solid state is crystallisation. Solid to vapor state is sublimation.

Gigi
5 days ago

After freezing for any reason will it work when it warms up again ?

J.R.
5 days ago
Reply to  Gigi

yes