Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fuel - if it's today, I don't have enough

A couple of days ago I had my propane tank refilled. I get it filled twice a year. It's a 500 gallon tank that I try to only run down to about half before I get a fill-up. I was thinking about getting it filled every couple of months rather than twice a year. I talked to my delivery driver in January and he said that propane was running over $3.50 a gallon. He told me to wait. I filled it up in March and it cost $2.04 a gallon. Since I purchased over 200 gallons I saved about $150. Last September I paid $1.40 a gallon and this year $1.75. I spent about $50 more this fall than last.

Those are things that need to be thought about, of course, since I am on a budget. But more importantly, I need to deal with the amount of propane that I have on hand. I own a 500 gallon tank, which when "full" holds about 450 gallons since they don't like to completely fill it. I have used 480 gallons since last September. I used 250 gallons from September to March and 230 gallons from March to September.

We use propane to heat the water, run the drier, the stovetop, and to heat the house. I figure we average about 1 1/2 gallons of propane a day, each and every day of the year. It doesn't change that much between summer and winter which surprises me.

I'm thinking about having a second tank placed on the property. I figure that it will only be a one time cost to fill it, as I plan on still filling the tanks every six months and I don't expect to use more than 250 gallons per six month period. It would then give me a two year supply on hand rather than a one year supply.

A tank is supposed to last about 20 years. It costs about $50 a year to rent the tank and about $1200 to purchase it outright. The purchase cost for a tank is more than the rental cost for the tank over those 20 years. It's the only thing that I know of that is absolutely a better deal to rent than own.

Whether I rent or buy I have to weigh whether I really want or need it. It will cost about $850 to fill. I'll have to put down a cement pad for this tank and have the two tanks plumbed together. But, do I need it? If life changes we will be making several changes at home which would really reduce the need for the propane. I envision not using the drier and not using the heaters.

If I didn't heat the house at all the house would get into the 40s and 50s during the worst of winter. I know because during a house remodel many years ago in the middle of the winter the house was completely open. No windows and in some cases, no walls. We dressed warm. I'm not saying I don't plan on heating the house. I certainly don’t want to live in a 50° house but I have the ability to heat the house with wood. I could cook on the wood stove, but I don't want to. I can also upgrade the water heater to take advantage of solar water heating. If I invest the money in the water heating, then the only reason I'd need the propane would be for cooking. The 500 gallons I have on hand would really be all I'd need.

Knowing my luck, TEOTWAWKI will happen the week before I'd expect my fall delivery, when I have 250 gallons of propane on hand. For that reason alone, it will be a good idea to get a second tank!

Work provides me a vehicle to drive. It's always a four wheel drive pick-up. The one previous to the one I drive now was fueled by both gas and propane. I loved it. I could go 500 miles on a fill-up, even though I wouldn't. There were days that some of the off-roading I did caused the gas mileage to drop to about 8 mpg from the usual 17 with gas and 16 with propane. Those things need to be taken into account when you think about how much extra fuel you need to carry to get you back home. I'm getting away from my point...One day I was driving from San Diego back home. I was running propane and the valve broke. The truck died on Interstate 5 in Orange County on Friday at 17:00 in bumper to bumper traffic.

Fortunately it was the work truck and not my own. Work sent two people over in two vehicles. They gave me one of the vehicles to continue with my drive home and then they got to deal with my truck. They complained a bit when I said that I wasn't leaving my gear in the back of the truck. Even the work truck has a two week supply of food, water, clothes, medical kit, boots, tools, etc. It was coming with me, not staying in the broken vehicle that they were towing away. They had to wait for me to transfer the load before I let them take the truck.

There are a couple of points to this story. First is the need to be prepared and have some sort of back up plan. The other point is to know your vehicle. The valve breaking wasn’t something that I could have foreseen. The problem is it’s something that I couldn’t easily repair. The vehicle was towed to a Ford dealer. Then they said they couldn’t repair it and said it would need to be towed to another Ford dealer. Instead our company mechanics went back to get the truck and brought it to their shop. The valve itself cost over $1000 to purchase. The mechanics weren’t authorized to put it in and bringing it to a dealer was going to cost $1500 for the repair, plus the part. Instead our mechanics disconnected the propane completely and I ran the truck on gas only for the next year. The truck has since been replaced.

Why am I discussing this? It’s because I’ve read on a lot of sites that people should pick one main fuel that can run equipment and vehicles. Many sites have been suggesting propane since gas doesn’t last too long, diesel is next, and propane I’ve been told is the longest lasting. Because of this experience, I wouldn’t run out and get a duel fuel propane vehicle and intend to rely on the propane. You are much better off with a gas or diesel vehicle that can be repaired.

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