As temperatures plummet across the country, one question I get asked by beginner RVers is: Can propane freeze?
Propane is the preferred fuel source for many RVers out on the road who rely on it to power appliances like the stovetop, oven and hot water. Many RVers use propane-powered generators because propane is ‘clean burning’ – emitting low amount of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide relative to other fuel sources such as gasoline.
The answer to “does propane freeze?” is a bit more complicated than you think – let’s explore why below.
Can Propane Freeze? Yes, But …
There is a lot of confusion around the boiling point and freezing point of liquid propane.
The freezing point of propane is a frosty -306.4°F (-187.7°C). Propane will solidify below this freezing point, but since we don’t live on Uranus it’s not something to worry about.
“Great news! So I never have to worry about my propane freezing,” Well, yes, you don’t have to worry about your propane freezing … but it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Counterintuitively, it’s actually the boiling point we need to be concerned about when we are talking about propane. The boiling point of propane is -43.6°F (-42°C). At any temperature below the boiling point liquid propane can no longer vaporize – a big uh-oh because propane needs to vaporize to burn and provide heat.
Luckily, most of us never have to worry about hitting -43.6°F temperatures (sorry Antarcticans) but that doesn’t mean we are totally in the clear …
The Low Pressure Problem
Speaking generally, propane pressure should be between 100 and 200 psi to ensures that propane gas remains in a liquid state.
|< 100 psi||Low|
|> 200 psi||High|
Even when ambient temperatures do not reach -43.6°F, outdoor propane tanks can reach extreme low temperatures during the winter. Snow accumulation on tank handles, valves or regulators can melt during the day – then re-freeze at night – causing the tank or its components to freeze.
As the temperature of your propane tank drops, pressure drops. At temperatures above -43.6°F the pressure inside the propane tank maintains the propane in a liquid state, but like all liquids propane contracts when it gets cold.
When propane contracts due to cold, the volume of liquid propane in the tank shrinks, resulting in a loss of pressure. Propane won’t be able to reach your gas burner when pressure gets too low. When this occurs, you will not be able to operate propane-powered appliances such as your stove, water heater or oven.
What Can I Do To Prevent Pressure from Getting too Low?
There are certain winterization precautions you can take to make sure your propane tank pressure does not get too low:
- Always keep your tank filled greater than 30% – the more propane in your tank, the more positive pressure there is preventing contraction;
- Make sure to clear snow and water away from your tank, piping, valves and regulator. Water will quickly turn to ice during the winter and can cause damage leading to a gas leak;
- Use non-electric blankets to shield your tank. Propane is extremely flammable, so you never, ever want to use anything that can cause a fire. There are certain propane protectors that are especially made to wrap around propane tanks that are safe and effective.
The Final Word
I hope this helps answer your question: “Can propane freeze?” If anything, I hoped you learned that your main worry is low pressure, rather than the liquid propane actually freezing.
The good news is that it’s not very difficult to keep your propane tank safe and well-maintained during the winter. Some simple maintenance can ensure that your appliances operate during the cold winter months.
Thanks for reading. I always love to hear from readers. If you have any comments, questions or tips on how to maintain your propane tanks please leave them below!