Many preppers have some kind of fuel as part of their short-term and long-term preps. For many short-term situations and crisis, fuel can be a good idea to include in your preps. A fuel like propane can last longer than other refined fuels due to its nature of being used a vapor in some applications and a liquid in other applications.
I deal with propane every day. I work for an agricultural cooperative, but my primary responsibility is dealing with propane and other refined fuels. We advise customers every day on uses of propane, safety procedures, and general maintenance. We set tanks, deliver fuel, service systems, perform leak checks, and install some heaters and small appliances. We all have to take classes on handling propane safely as well as being able to respond to emergencies. We are not only accountable to our customers, but insurance companies as well.
For this post, I am concentrating heavily on propane. However, this advice and information can be applied to other refined fuels also.
Propane is an odorless, colorless gas. Mercaptan is added to propane to give the gas its trademark rotten egg smell. Propane is also denser than air which makes it explosive because it accumulates in low areas or closer to the ground where more ignition resources are generally located. Propane and natural gas are not the same things. Propane can be compressed to a liquid and delivered by truck where natural gas needs very high pressures for storage and are generally piped directly into homes.
For short-term needs, propane is a good idea. You can run a camp stove, grill, or a small heater off a 20 pound or larger cylinder with the right hoses and regulators. The cylinders cannot be realistically measured for length of usage time as that varies from person to person and for what the cylinders are being used for. A heater in the winter may only last 30-40 hours on high due to the load on the heater to produce heat. A cylinder in the summer on a grill or a camp stove may last two weeks or longer depending on how much you use it and how long you use the cylinder at one time. You can keep track of this for yourself and get a better idea of how long a cylinder will last for you.
As always, be safe. Many items using propane are not safe to use indoors unless they are marked as such or you have the proper ventilation to use them indoors. If they are marked safe to use indoors, they will also have an oxygen sensor which will shut off the appliance or heater when low oxygen levels have been detected. In any case, you should always, always, always have a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home, garage, shop, and ten feet away from any bedroom. Because of power outages, you will want to have a carbon monoxide detector with a battery back-up and extra batteries.
Other common sense safety procedures should also be followed. If you have a fire while using propane, shut off the source. You should also know where the shut-off valve is on every line going into your home and on your tank. If you do not have shut-off valves on your lines, spend the money and get them installed. You should also have regular leak/pressure tests done on your system to make certain everything (including regulators) are working properly with no leaks. You should know how to mix soap and water and apply to your system to check for leaks (if there is a leak, the soap mixture will bubble when applied). If you have natural gas or propane, be sure to have a gas shut-off wrench in your preps and where you can find it easier to use. If the supply (tank or line) has been damaged or disrupted, you will need to shut your tank off or shut off the source of the fuel.
If you are planning to use propane as your fuel for your furnace, generator, or indoor appliances, you need to understand something. Propane and other fuels are a finite resource. When your tank runs out, you are out of propane. You can have multiple tanks (100 gallons and higher) hooked together to increase your storage, but once the fuel runs out, it is out. The same goes for other fuels because if the gas stations run out or use electronic pumps, you will not be able to get any more.
If there is a power outage or a long-term event, more than likely delivery trucks will not be able to make it to you. If they can even get propane once their supply runs out. Most propane retailers rely on bulk transportation (semis with special tank trailers or trains) which loads propane at pipeline terminals. If the terminals cannot get propane, you will not get propane.
Another issue with using propane for long-term usage is that many of the newer furnaces, water heaters, and appliances no longer have a standing pilot. They now have an electronic ignition which sparks the appliance on which means it needs electricity to continue running. Unless you have a generator hooked up and ready to go, you will be without those appliances in a power outage. You can search for older appliances that have standing pilots, but replacement parts are not always easy to find.
For a long-term event, propane is not your best fuel to rely on for your heating and cooking needs. The unreliability of the supply and the finite use of the product does not make it an ideal solution for your needs in terms of a long-term SHTF or TEOTWAWKI. You will want to look at using wood or resources much closer to home for heating and cooking or come up with something else entirely.
Thanks for reading,