Storing propane tanks in the garage can be safe if certain precautions are taken. The key factors to consider are:
- Proper ventilation – Propane can leak and accumulate in enclosed spaces, creating a fire/explosion hazard. Ensure the garage is well ventilated.
- No ignition sources – Eliminate all ignition sources like pilot lights, sparks, and open flames. Propane is highly flammable.
- Upright position – Always keep propane tanks upright to avoid leaks. Never store tanks on their side.
- Away from heat sources – Keep tanks away from heat sources like hot water heaters that could cause the relief valve to open.
- Protected from damage – Store propane tanks where they won’t be damaged by vehicles or equipment.
- Not exceeding capacity – Don’t overfill the garage with too many propane tanks. Follow local fire code limits.
With proper precautions, propane tanks can be safely stored in residential garages. But inappropriate storage creates risks of fire, explosion, and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Understanding Propane Tank Storage Risks
Propane (also called LPG or liquefied petroleum gas) is a popular fuel source for appliances like outdoor grills, fire pits, and portable heaters. It’s also used as a fuel for vehicles like forklifts. When properly handled, propane is safe and convenient. But as a flammable gas, propane creates unique risks when stored in enclosed spaces like garages.
Some key risks of propane tank storage include:
- Fire Hazard – Leaking propane can accumulate in the air and ignite from sparks or open flames, creating an explosion risk. Propane is highly flammable.
- Asphyxiation – Propane leaks can displace oxygen in the air leading to asphyxiation. The gas is denser than air.
- Poisoning – Incomplete propane combustion produces carbon monoxide, which is poisonous. Headache, nausea, and dizziness can occur.
- Tank Explosion – Excess heat can cause a BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion), rupturing the pressurized tank.
- Unconsciousness – Inhaling concentrated propane can lead to lightheadedness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness.
These risks are exacerbated by storing propane tanks in an enclosed, poorly ventilated space like a garage. Propane can accumulate, increasing the danger. That’s why careful precautions are necessary when storing tanks indoors.
Key Precautions When Storing Propane Tanks in Garages
Here are some best practices to safely store propane tanks in a residential garage:
Ensure Adequate Ventilation
The first priority is ensuring the garage is properly ventilated. This allows any small propane leaks to dissipate before accumulating. Failing to ventilate is one of the most common garage propane mistakes.
Leave the garage door open when possible or install ventilation fans. Cracked open windows can also improve air circulation. Avoid completely blocking ventilation openings.
Eliminate Ignition Sources
Propane is highly flammable, so it’s critical to remove all potential ignition sources from the garage. This includes:
- Open flames – candles, lighters, matches
- Pilot lights – on water heaters, furnaces, etc.
- Sparks – from power tools, electric motors, switches
- Static electricity – can ignite propane
- Smoking – cigarettes, vaping devices
Post clear “No Smoking” signs as a reminder. Avoid operating vehicles, motors or tools that could create sparks in the garage when propane is present.
Keep Tanks Upright
Always store propane tanks in an upright, vertical position. Never place tanks on their side. This can damage valves and allow propane to leak out, increasing explosion risk.
Secure tanks upright to the wall or place on a shelf. Don’t just set tanks on the garage floor where they can fall over and leak.
Locate Away From Heat Sources
Avoid placing propane tanks near heat sources in the garage, such as:
- Water heaters
- Space heaters
- Clothes dryers
Excessive heat can cause the pressure relief valve on the propane tank to open, venting gas. Maintain a clearance of at least 10 feet between tanks and heat sources.
Protect Tanks From Damage
Make sure propane tanks won’t be impacted by moving vehicles, equipment or other objects in the garage. A damaged tank can leak. Ideally, store propane well out of the way of traffic flow.
Consider placing tanks in a reinforced cage or enclosing them on shelves with a rail. Always re-secure tanks after use.
Follow Code Limits on Tank Capacity
Most local fire codes limit the total propane capacity allowed in a residential garage. Common caps are:
- 10 gallons
- 25 gallons
- 125 gallons
Going over code limits increases risk in the event of a leak/fire. Check local regulations and don’t overfill the garage.
Recommended Safe Propane Storage Locations
Based on the above precautions, here are some of the best places to store propane tanks within a garage:
Near Exterior Garage Door Opening
Locating propane tanks near the exterior garage door opening has several advantages:
- Maximizes ventilation when door is open
- Allows quick removal of tanks outside in an emergency
- Less risk of damage from vehicles
- Easier to access/return tanks after use
Just ensure tanks aren’t so close to the door that they block ventilation or get hit when the door opens.
Upper Level Shelves or Racks
Storing propane tanks on upper shelves or racks has benefits like:
- Tanks less likely to be struck by vehicles/objects
- No risk of getting tipped over
- Less accessible to children
- Protects tanks from floor moisture/flooding
Use sturdy, reinforced shelves that won’t collapse under the weight. Include rails to prevent falling. An upper wall rack also works well.
Dedicated Exterior Locker or Shed
For larger propane tank quantities, consider an exterior locker or shed adjacent to the garage. Benefits include:
- Isolates tanks from ignition sources
- Reduces fire code capacity issues
- Allows unlimited ventilation
- Keeps garage free of obstruction
Ensure the locker is weather-resistant and secures tanks upright. A chain link cage is another option for safe outdoor storage.
Interior Wall Away From Hazards
An interior garage wall away from water heaters and vehicle traffic may work for smaller tanks. Consider:
- Use corner of garage for ventilation
- Install brackets to secure tanks upright
- Add physical barriers for protection
- Keep minimal tanks to reduce risk
This option is less ideal than exterior storage but may be necessary in some garages.
Safe Propane Handling and Use Practices
In addition to proper tank storage, also adopt safe propane handling practices, including:
- Conduct leak checks – Apply leak detector solution.
- Secure tanks during transport – Prevent tip overs.
- Follow maximum capacity limits – Don’t overfill.
- Consider OPD valves – Help prevent overfilling.
- Verify appliance/line condition – Check for wear, cracks, etc.
- Turn off propane when not in use – Limit risk.
- Keep fire extinguisher accessible – In case of emergency.
Careful propane use reduces the dangers from any tanks that are stored in the garage. Never presume propane is completely without risk.
Warning Signs of Improper Propane Storage
Watch for the following warning signs which may indicate improperly stored propane tanks:
- Tanks not secured upright
- Tanks overturned or damaged
- Visible corrosion or rust
- Accumulation of spider webs
- Tank valves left open
- Propane smell present
- Tanks moved from original location
- Tank paint fading or peeling
Take immediate steps to properly secure any improperly stored tanks and eliminate ignition sources if propane odors are detected.
Dangers of Storing Propane Tanks in Closed Areas
Storing propane tanks in a completely enclosed area without ventilation poses serious dangers. Risks include:
- Gas accumulation leading to explosion hazard
- Oxygen depletion causing suffocation
- Carbon monoxide poisoning from combustion
- BLEVE risk from excessive heat
- Fire/explosion casualties if people are present
- Asphyxiation of pets or animals
Never keep propane indoors in a basement, crawl space, RV or other enclosed area. Always ensure adequate airflow around tanks.
Example of Propane Storage Gone Wrong
In one alarming example, a homeowner stored propane tanks in a basement closet to hide them before a home showing. The enclosed space allowed a leak to accumulate. When the homebuyer’s 9 year old child entered the closet with a flashlight, the bulb ignited the gas, creating an explosion. The child suffered burns, and structural damage occurred.
This demonstrates how easily closed, concealed propane storage can lead to disaster. Even small tanks warrant proper precautions.
Special Considerations for Garage Workshops
Garage workshops with power tools and combustible materials require extra precautions for propane storage safety. Consider:
- Eliminate all ignition sources
- Add extra ventilation fans
- Mount tanks away from workshop area
- Isolate tanks in blast-proof cabinet
- Limit propane quantities allowed
- Store tanks externally in shed if possible
- Avoid working with propane present
Flammable solvents, sawdust and sparks from tools mean workshop garages are high risk areas. Take every precaution when storing propane tanks.
Fire Code Regulations for Garage Propane Storage
Most local fire codes impose specific limits on the quantities of propane allowed in residential garages. This helps reduce risk to acceptable levels. Limits may prohibit propane entirely. Typical fire code rules include:
- Limits on total propane stored, like 10-125 gallons
- Limits on the number of tanks
- Limits on tank sizes, such as no more than 42 lbs
- Limits on the type of tanks, ruling out large cylinders
- Minimum distance required from tanks to structures
- Restrictions on storage locations like floors or balconies
- Requirements for enclosure, ventilation, signage, etc.
Always check local fire codes for any propane garage storage restrictions. Failing to comply can void homeowners insurance or warrant fines.
Key Factors in Assessing Garage Propane Risk
When determining if propane tanks can be safely stored in a particular residential garage, consider factors like:
- Garage size – total volume of enclosed space
- Ventilation options – windows, doors, fans
- Nearby ignition sources – flames, heat, sparks, etc.
- Types of flammable materials present
- Quantities of propane to be stored
- Tank locations – proximity to hazards
- Fire code limits for the area
- Vehicle traffic patterns
Evaluating these factors helps determine overall risk levels. Smaller, well ventilated garages with minimal propane represent lower hazards.
Storing propane tanks in a residential garage carries inherent risks due to the flammable gas hazards. However, these risks can be minimized with proper precautions.
Key safety steps include providing adequate ventilation, eliminating ignition sources, securing tanks upright, locating away from heat sources, protecting tanks from damage, and limiting quantities to fire code limits.
When these precautions are followed, propane tanks can often be safely stored in home garages. But the storage location and setup should be carefully considered to reduce the chance of fire, explosion or poisoning.