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Propane Cylinder Basics


Should I refill my propane canister or use a tank exchange?

Often when using propane tank exchange services, you have two cost issues working against you. First, anything left in the tank you are exchanging is lost. Second, though you're paying for a "full" tank, you're actually only receiving about 3/4 of a cylinder full of propane. If you do the math, you'll often find you're losing $10 or more per tank every time you exchange over refilling your own tanks.

We offer refills at filling stations all over the central coast in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties for your convenience. If you grill a lot, or have multiple propane powered appliances, it's a great idea to have a spare propane cylinder. We sell empty cylinders at our office in Santa Maria in all sizes.

My propane tank is getting old. How do I know it's still safe?

Each propane cylinder is qualified for twelve years from the date of manufacture. You can find the date of manufacture on the collar at the top of the tank. You should see MFG DATE - the first two numbers are the month and the next two are the year. If your tank is getting close to twelve years, you can stop by during regular business hours and we'll check it out. If we have time, we can take care of it right away, or you can leave it and we'll give you a call when it's ready.

When you take your tank to a refill station, the attendant is required to do a safety inspection. Ask them if you have any concerns, and they should be able to advise you. We offer a recycle service for old tanks for a $5.00 disposal fee and have new cylinders available. 

How do I know when my propane cylinder is getting low?

gauge.jpgA propane level gauge is easy to install and you can find them at most hardware stores for $15 - $25. Simply hook up the gauge between the propane tank and the fuel line of your grill and make sure all connections are tight. (See How to check for leaks, below - link) Then simply read the gauge to see when it's time for a refill. Some propane cylinders are available with gauges on them and we often have them at our main location.

If you don't want to spend the extra money for a gauge, take your bathroom scale outside. Look for an imprint on the tank of the tare weight. Weigh the cylinder and subtract the tare weight to determine how much propane is left in the tank.

Here are the steps to determine the approximate cook time left in your tank by bathroom scale:

  • Find the empty weight of your tank - look for TW and a number engraved near the neck of your cylinder.
  • Take your bathroom scale outside
  • Weigh the tank on the scale
  • Subtract the cylinder tare weight from the weight on the scale
  • Multiply the number of pounds by 21,600, the number of BTUs per pound of propane, to determine the approximate BTUs left in the tank.
  • Find the BTU per hour of your appliance, usually found in the owner's manual. Divide the approximate BTUs left in the tank by the number of BTUs per hour for your grill to determine the approximate number of hours of remaining grill time remaining.

Another free, easy method is to fill a cup with hot water and pour it down the side of the tank. The cooler propane in the tank will make the water frost up at the propane level.

See an example: 

Having a spare tank reduces the worry over running out in the middle of a barbecue! Just be very careful in storing your spare tank. Store them away from heat sources and don't store them inside or in an enclosed location like a shed, basement or garage. Keep them outside in a dry, open area, not under the grill, and keep away from children.

Posted: August 16, 2013