Effect of cold on Propane?


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Old 08-22-14, 06:58 AM
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Effect of cold on Propane?

As I have posted before my central heat propane heater takes longer to ignite when it is really cold. Would it be advisable to insulate the gas line? It is exposed on the north side of the house, black pipe and regulator and runs up into the attic and another flex goes into the crawl space. I wonder if I could just use pipe insulation like I put on my AC condensing line, the foam split kind, and if I should insulate the regulator and shut off valve? Has anyone done this in the northern climates? It was a cold winter last year and when it warmed up the system worked properly and that is why cold propane seems to be the culprit.
 
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Old 08-22-14, 08:29 AM
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Insulation without a heat source for heating or a cold source for cooling is of no value. If the pipe is to be warmed attach a heat trace cable then insulate.

Propane pipe / lines that are within the house living area will be close to room temperature at ignition time so the propane within the pipe will be similar so that temp. That room temperature gas is there to be ignited at the furnace so I can't see any advantage to heating the gas for ignition.

I might be inclined to look at the ignition system for faults and if there is a drip leg in the piping system check it for water..
 
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Old 08-22-14, 08:35 AM
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Unless you can heat the tank & lines I don't think insulation will help. As you approach -45f the propane in the tank vaporizes less and less readily. Having more fuel in the tank will help. 20 gallons of propane simply cannot vaporize and provide the volume of gas that 200 gallons can.

I would also see if your regulator is freezing up. If there is any water in your tank it's vapor can condense and freeze in the regulator. Even in NC we see single digits at night and I've had water freeze my first regulator (the one on the tank). When it freezes there is only a trickle of gas coming through. Warming it to that the internal ice quickly gets it working. If you suspect water in your tank contact your gas supplier. I think they put alcohol in the tank to absorb the water.
 
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Old 08-22-14, 09:41 AM
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1000 gallon tank that never gets below 50%. Furnace is in the attic so it never sees room temperature, closer to outside temps. Gas pipe and regulator are mounted on the north side of the house and we did have wind temps of -50 last winter, predominantly north wind. I was just wondering if the insulation would protect from the wind chill on those exceptionally cold blustery days. I don't think anything is freezing up because it just takes more time to ignite so I thought it may be the lack of vaporization during extreme cold.
 
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Old 08-22-14, 09:50 AM
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Wind chill does not factor in, only actual air temp. A blowing wind of 0 degrees will not cool an object below 0 degrees. The wind only carries heat away faster. It may FEEL like -50 to a person (and have the same effect on your skin and comfort) but it's still only 0 degrees.
 
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Old 08-22-14, 10:58 AM
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Not sure I would recommends it but in a very old book I have on prospecting in Alaska it suggests to keep water pipes from freezing to put a mixture of straw and fresh manure around them before burying and to rebury each year. Maybe build a double wall bunker around your tank with compost between the walls and then each spring use the compost for your garden.
 
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Old 08-22-14, 11:13 AM
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Use a subterranean propane tank below the frost line. That way the tank will never drop below ground temperature.
 
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Old 08-22-14, 11:43 AM
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Two things enter in: The outdoor ambient temperature and the latent heat of vaporization of propane (as propane vaporizes, the remaining liquid is chilled, even below ambient). Commercial and industrial propane installations often have fueled or electric vaporizers, but not common for residential units.
 
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Old 08-22-14, 04:07 PM
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I remember once calling my brother in law up in Alaska to wish them a happy something. They were unable to cook dinner with the stove because it was too cold. They could only get a weak flame on the stove and they used the oven as a warming box.
 
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Old 08-22-14, 06:03 PM
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Use a subterranean propane tank below the frost line. That way the tank will never drop below ground temperature.
That could help, but the latent heat of vaporization would still chill the liquid propane in the tank.

Burying the tank might present issues with refilling the tank and with checking for leaks? I'd worry that any tank leaks might snake their way into the house before being detected. But, propane does have an odor, although different from natural gas.
 
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Old 08-22-14, 07:37 PM
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It doesn't take a genius to realize that a 45-50F underground tank is going to perform better in the winter than a surface tank would when it's -20F. It does take a special tank, you don't just bury an above ground tank.

See: Underground Propane Tanks
 
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Old 08-24-14, 07:30 PM
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If you have an outdated regulator that could be part of the problem as well. Newer 2 stage regulators are less susceptible to problems due to cold temps.
 
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Old 08-25-14, 07:37 AM
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This regulator would be about 20 years old so a new one may be in order. Thanks for the suggestion, cheap fix if that is the issue.
A below ground tank would be a major project since I keep my 1000 gallon tank full so it would have to be pumped and moved.
 
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Old 08-25-14, 08:41 AM
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I don't want to go down a rabbit hole here so need to know a few things: There are two regulators in series, one at the tank and one at the house. Are most regulators the same? Reason I ask is that there are no specs on the units, no part numbers that I can see. I also have an extra regulator that is mounted on my shed and we do not use it anymore, it looks like the one on the tank. How do I find out if what I have is the latest greatest? Do I just get with my propane guy and trust his expertise? He seems like a decent sort so I have no qualms about his integrity.
 
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Old 08-25-14, 10:15 AM
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A propane guy will not use an outdated regulator due to the liability. The regulator should have some numbers on them and/or and date.
 
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Old 08-26-14, 07:21 AM
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I have used the same guys/company for over 15 years so what you are saying is if there was a question about the regulators they would have addressed it? I don't think I really have a problem, I think it is just when it gets so cold the system does not instantly ignite, properties of the propane.
 
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Old 08-29-14, 06:10 PM
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Regulators are supposed to be replaced every 7(?) years. Not sure of the exact time but there is a certain frequency at which they are supposed to be replaced. If the regulators belong to the gas company it is their resposibility to replace them.
 
 

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