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The Care And Feeding Of Your LP Tank

As Published In WBCCI Blue Beret Magazine
The Care And Feeding Of Your LP Tank

When I first got my RV, I sort of assumed that propane bottles (the physical containers themselves) lasted forever — then came one day when (while at-tempting to buy LP gas in Maine) I was informed that mine were out of date. They either had to be re-certified or replaced before I could have them filled. Who the heck knew?

Gasping That Last Breath

I’d honestly never thought about the age of my tanks until that moment — but I soon discovered that obsolescence comes in many different forms. The first issue to consider is valve construction. Tanks made after October 1, 1998 have a triangular knob equipped with an Overfill Prevention Device (OPD) — a little floatie thing that closes the valve when it hits about 80% capacity. Why is this important? Well, a couple of reasons. Turns out that a too-full bottle is prone to exploding when dropped, dented, or exposed to even moderate levels of heat. And while your daddy’s connectors had to be tightened with a wrench to prevent leaks, OPD valves can be fully secured by hand. Best of all, they don’t require a plug to keep the gas inside when not hooked up to your rig. (Opening the valve on an unattached old-school LP container was a great way to end up with an unintended release of propane and a serious fire hazard.)

Sound like a pain in the butt to switch over? There’s good news! If your tanks aren’t up to code, they might be eligible for valve-replacement surgery — but only if they’re young and spry enough to survive the procedure. It’s true that these sturdy steel cylinders can last a good long time before going the way of the dodo — however, any bottle older than 12 years of age is generally considered too decrepit to remain in service without being re-inspected and re-qualified. (Of course, I’d bought an almost-20-year-old Airstream Excella complete with the original LP containers — those tanks were classed as “senior citizens” before I even got my rig home!) Dealers are technically required to look at the date before refilling your propane, but no one had ever thought to actually do that until several years after I took off full-timing, when I finally landed in New England. (God bless those law-abiding Yankees!) According to some teeny little etching that only the gas man was able to decipher, my good fortune had expired in 2005 — I’d been functioning outside of the law since the day I’d acquired my rolling tin can. So now I either had to buy replacement canisters or figure out what was involved with getting a new seal of approval before I could shower or boil water again. Fun!

Assessing The Damage

Fortunately, the cylinder re-certification process is a fairly benign one, similar to updating the inspection sticker on your car — although certainly less time-consuming than waiting in line at the DMV! Be forewarned that LP containers must be empty for examination, so do your best to run those suckers dry before taking them in. Then simply hand your bottles over to an authorized propane technician (one with a “requalification identification number” issued by the DOT) for review — if your little metal beauties pass muster, you’ll earn a shiny new expiration date for each.

But what exactly are these people looking for? Is there some trick to getting a passing grade? Not really — as long as your tanks can continue to operate safely for the next five years without putting you or others at danger, you should be good to go:

  • The paint and exterior are examined for excessive rust or pitting – and of course, obvious maladies (like dents or bulges or cracks) are considered immediate red flags.
  • Fittings and seals are checked for possible leaks — but each valve must also be surrounded by a protective cap or collar. Without said neck ring, a hard impact would cause the knob to snap right off, spewing liquid propane at a dangerously fast rate (which then acts as a sort of “jet propulsion” for the cylinder, sending this heavy projectile flying off in god-knows-what direction and doing all sorts of physical damage). You may have seen this kind of thing happen in a cartoon and thought it was a joke, but it ain’t — imagine Wyle E. Coyote zooming over the edge of a cliff with a rocket pack on his back, and you’ll get an accurate picture of the potential danger here.
  • Finally, the bottom needs a solidly-welded foot ring to stand on so the cylinder itself doesn’t touch the ground (where something sharp could puncture the metal). This also keeps the entire unit in an upright, level, and flammable-safe position. Sure, RVers tend to store their LP inside a housing at the proper angle – but containers must occasionally be taken out for service. And sans “legs,” that round-bottomed bottle will tip right over on its side. (Who cares? Well, you might care if it fell while in use and gas flowed back up into the valve/hose where it accidentally ignited – really, our goal while traveling is to NOT have your rig consumed by a giant fireball.)

However, I discovered that the bill for requalifying a tank is fully half what it would cost to simply replace the darn thing — and that certification only lasts five years (where a new container would be good for more than a decade before needing inspection). So from a purely economic standpoint, replacement was a better option. I also had a trip to Canada planned, and worried that my hoser friends in the north might play by different rules — that I’d have a propane dealer in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia refuse to fill my bottles without some additional paperwork or expense. So I chose to start fresh (which I probably should have done when I bought the rig in the first place) and remove that worry from my mind for the next dozen years.

Infusing New Life

But a goodly part of this decision was also due to the extreme age of my equipment. Had those puppies been a bit younger (say, only one extra certification past the 12-year limit), I prob-ably would have spruced them up and gone the requalifying route – honestly, refurbishing a functional-yet-aesthetically-unappealing cylinder can be a great option if your issues are purely cosmetic.

Start by emptying the canister, closing the valve and disconnecting it from any hoses. Then hand-sand away visible rust spots with 60-grit sandpaper — do not (I repeat DO NOT) use a mechanical sander. Wipe everything down with a clean damp towel, dry it thoroughly and tape off the valve. You’ll want to use metal paint specifically designed for propane tanks — always in a light color (dark hues can cause the gas inside to heat up and create a boom-boom risk). Just be careful not to cover, alter, or remove either the tank’s original warning labels or date plate (indicating the container’s age and recertification status) — or you’ll destroy any possibility of being able to refill that cylinder legally in the future.

Disposing Of The Corpse

When replacement time finally comes around, your last challenge is figuring out what to do with those obsolete LP bottles. Of course (being a Professional Organizer), I knew it was illegal to throw empty propane tanks in the trash. (We’re talking hazardous materials here — I didn’t want to be responsible for the inadvertent deaths of two innocent garbage workers when they unknowingly squashed a pressurized container and the residual gas inside blew their truck sky-high!) But I’d envisioned simply dropping my discards off at some sort of recycling facility — I had no idea it would be so difficult to find someone who would take them off my hands!

Some dealers offer trade-in programs, but mine charged an awesomely inflated disposal fee. (How’s that for punishing folks who follow the letter of the law?) I found out that the local refuse collection service picked up hazardous waste one day a month, but only for regular residential customers — and the city levied a hefty bill for toting anything containing a potentially toxic substance directly to the dump. Fortunately, the kind managers at my RV park offered to make my problems disappear — legally, eco-responsibly and at no cost to me. So I guess getting rid of an old LP tank is a lot like everything else in life — it’s all about who you know!

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Copyright 2001 RamonaCreel.com

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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