Off Grid Living: Propane Gas

July 10, 2014, by Ken Jorgustin

off-grid-living-with-propane

I’ve recently moved and now have propane gas. I couldn’t be happier about it. Why? Because it is a stand-alone energy system that will provide me with heat, hot water, cooking, and whatever else I adapt to it. While it’s not my only energy source, it augments the others – and there is a certain peace-of-mind surrounding the notion of less reliance on external systems.

While my propane tank does require refilling, and is still a ‘dependent’ source, 1,000 gallons will store quite a-lot of energy – which can last a long time…


 
Living partially or totally off-grid-living presents its challenges. If you wish to maintain a standard of living in your home or retreat, and maintain a comfort level not terribly different from ordinary modern living, then one of your biggest decisions will be choosing what will be your fuel sources (plural) for energy.

You will need to answer questions like, What will I cook with? How will I refrigerate? Light my home? How will I heat my home? What about energy for appliances, the water-well pump, and everything else that ‘plugs in’?

There are many questions when you consider all of the modern conveniences that make our day-to-day lives easier. I believe that an approach of power diversification is the best consideration. Having multiple sources of energy will provide you a backup in some areas. If one source of energy is lost, then at least you won’t lose ‘all’ of your sources – and living conditions.

One source of energy that could play a significant role in an off-grid-living environment is propane gas. Unlike ‘natural gas’ which is often available in suburban homes from gas lines which are piped underground throughout cities and many suburban areas, ‘propane gas’ is stored in stand-alone tanks sitting (or buried) right on your property. The gas is piped into the home and is drawn upon as necessary until the tank needs to be refilled. It’s refilled by a delivery truck, similar to how an oil truck will deliver home heating oil for your furnace (if you have that type of heating system).

Propane is one of the cleanest burning fuels and burns with no soot and very few sulfur emissions. The gas evaporates quickly at normal temperatures and pressures, and is usually supplied in pressurized steel gas cylinders.

The most common tank (for typical portable home use – like a BBQ grill) is a 20 pound tank (also sometimes referred to as a 5 gallon tank). This is the kind of portable tank you would find at a Home Depot, Lowes, etc.

Propane tanks also come in larger sizes, designed for more of a permanent installation, and can be installed large enough to keep you supplied for quite a long time. Generally, 500-gallon tanks easily accommodate an average four-bedroom home while 1,000+ gallon tanks can fuel very large homes.

Propane can power most types of home appliances that we are accustomed to, so long as the appliance is designed for propane. Propane gas powered appliances include refrigerators, freezers, ranges, cook-tops, outdoor grills, room heaters, central heating, water heaters, generators, clothes dryers, and more.

 
Propane gas is measured and distributed in gallons, pounds and cubic feet, and is usually sold by the pound when dispensed into portable tanks, and sold by the gallon when weighing the tank isn’t feasible.

Propane tanks are typically filled to 80% capacity to leave room for expansion.

1 Gallon of Propane = 27 kWh (Kilowatt Hours) of electricity.
1 Gallon of Propane = 91,600 Btu’s.
1 Gallon of Propane = 4.2 pounds as a liquid at 60-degrees F.
1 Gallon of Propane = 35.97 cubic feet.

1 Pound of Propane = 21,810 Btu’s.

 
“How long will my portable tank of propane last?” This is easy to figure out if you know the number of pounds of gas that’s in your full tank and the btu/hr demand of your burner or other gas appliances. One pound of liquid gas in your tank has 21,600 Btu/hr fuel value.

If you have a typical portable 20# tank, and if you have a typical low pressure burner gas grill, for example that is rated at 40,000 btu/hr maximum output, then you can run that burner at full blast for 10.9 hours:

(20# x 21,810 Btu/# = 436,000 Btu’s in the gas in a 20# tank)
(436,000 Btu ÷ 40,000 Btu/hr = 10.9 hrs)

 
For off-grid-living, or to be more self-sufficient without relying solely on an electric utility service for most of your energy needs, consider using propane gas and appliances. If you are planning or designing an off-grid-living location or retreat, consider propane as an alternative energy source.