“Should I buy my own propane tank?”
It’s a question we get frequently from customers. How often, in an article like this, will someone come right out and give you a straight answer without requiring you to read from start to finish? Not very often, but here you go, “It depends.” (Sorry, now please read on.)
As you can imagine, there are many different considerations that go into determining the right path to take. What makes matters complicated is the realization that different propane companies have different policies, different states have different regulations/laws, and every customer’s situation is different.
Fear not, friends, we’ve been around the proverbial propane tank long enough to have some advice to help you navigate this topic and make the best decision for you and your family.
Owning your propane tank
In most cases, owning things feels great. It provides a sense of pride, control and empowerment. Propane tanks are no different, but tank ownership also comes with certain obligations.
Tank ownership provides a sense of “freedom”
The main benefit that most people see in buying their own tank is the ability to be a propane “free agent”. When you own your tank, you can order propane from essentially any propane provider. If getting the absolute lowest price on propane refills is the most important factor for you, you’ll have the ability to call around each time you need to place an order and check pricing. You can even decorate or paint your tank if you’d like.
Great power comes with great responsibility
However, when you own your own tank, you are also responsible for all tank maintenance (system/safety checks, washing/painting, other upkeep) and equipment (regulators, fittings, gas lines/piping from the tank to the house, and any other parts required for installation). Tank owners are also responsible for paying for any service/labor needed to detect or make necessary repairs. Think about gas leaks, severed gas lines, storm damage and more.
A possible price break?
Because a propane supplier won’t have to provide, service, repair or maintain a customer-owned tank, some suppliers will pass along a modest discount on the price per gallon.
Large upfront cost
Even before the recent supply chain challenges and spikes in steel prices, owning propane tanks for home heating was never a “cheap” proposition. These days, depending on the size, condition, age, and type of installation (above ground, underground, etc.), you can expect to pay between $1,500 to $12,000, or more, for a propane tank and installation for your home.
Tanks in short supply
When considering a purchase of a propane tank, you may need to keep an open mind when debating new vs. used. While even used tanks can be hard to come by these days, it’s not uncommon to expect delivery lead time for a new tank to be a year, or even longer.
Leasing a propane tank
When you use a propane tank provided/owned by your propane company, many of the considerations listed above become simplified and, and in some cases, safer.
Only the company that owns the tank can fill it
Some propane customers lament that they are obligated to order propane from the company who installed/owns their tank, but in Michigan, it’s the law. There are several reasons why that’s actually a good thing, but for purposes of this comparison, most customers would likely put this one in the “undesirable” column.
When you’re using a company-owned tank, the costs associated with equipment, maintenance and repairs lies with your provider. If/when problems arise within your propane system, from the tank to the point where it enters your home, there is no question who is responsible for repairs. And that’s not you.
No upfront costs
Some propane companies (Crystal Flash, for one) do not charge customers tank-set fees or a fee to lease a tank as long as the tank is actively using propane on a regular basis. But in some cases, propane providers will charge a fee to customers who don’t meet a certain annual usage threshold/amount. It’s important to always ask about extra fees when considering which provider to use.
We assume that all propane companies take safety seriously. However, when the supplier owns the tank and equipment, they are better positioned to take extra precautions with the integrity of their tanks and related equipment and will replace parts and equipment as needed.
Caveat: There’s actually a third option, tank rental
Tank rent fee
A third option sometimes presents itself, depending on the propane provider you choose to work with. It’s becoming more common for companies to charge their customers “tank rent”, which generally applies no matter how much propane you use each season. Tank rent is typically a recurring fee that customers pay to use the company’s tank each year. This is another important question to ask about when considering which propane provider to do business with.
Note: Crystal Flash does not charge its customers tank rent — with the exception of a recently-launched program for customers interested in smaller-sized tanks which does offer tank rental as an option.
So which option is right for you?
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, whether you should purchase your own propane tank or not really depends on your unique situation or circumstances.
- Customers supplementing their home heating with alternate sources (burning wood, the use of a pellet stove, etc.) may see some advantage in tank ownership. This especially holds true if you choose a propane provider that otherwise would have charged you “low usage fees” or tank rent. In fact, given the expense and limited availability of propane tanks, some providers will decline to provide a company-owned tank in these situations.
- Customers who only use propane to power pool heaters or emergency generators (i.e., not for heating a home) may also benefit by owning their tank for the same reasons mentioned above.
- Customers who heat their homes and/or power a water heater, cook top, etc. with propane generally see more benefit by leasing a tank from a provider. This is especially true when the provider (like Crystal Flash, for example) does not charge tank lease fees or rent. Again, it’s always important to ask about any fees when choosing a propane company.
- Do the math! Ultimately, you will have to weigh the options and decide which route is best for you. Try asking yourself, “How many years would it take for my investment to pay for itself?”
A few final tidbits about propane tanks
- If you do decide to purchase your own tank, it is important to ensure that you receive an official bill of sale to serve as your proof of purchase/ownership. Without this documentation, reputable propane providers will not refill your tank with propane. This is in accordance with the laws of the State of Michigan.
- Upon sale of the home, it’s also important to provide this ownership documentation to the new homeowner(s) as part of the sale, unless you’re taking the tank with you.
- Propane tanks come in assorted sizes. When leasing a tank, your propane company will help you determine the size best suited for your needs and assess appropriate tank placement.
- No matter what size the tank is, all propane tanks are designed to safely store 80% of the total gallons of that tank’s capacity.
- Tanks for underground installations are rarely leased. If an underground installation is what you desire, you should plan on a significant investment for not only the purchase of the tank, but other installation-related expenses (excavation, fill sand/dirt, labor, parts, etc.)
- A permit is required whenever a new propane tank and line is installed. In most cases, you will be asked to cover the cost of the permit which is determined by your local county or township. At Crystal Flash, we will acquire the permit for you, and, at the time of scheduling, our service department will let you know the exact cost and when the payment will be due.
- Crystal Flash services/fills both customer-owned tanks and tanks that we own/lease out for customer use.
In summary, when it doubt, talk to us!
Helping people understand propane and all the available options is what we do every day. We pride ourselves at looking for the best solution for each individual customer’s situation. If you’ve got a question about any of these scenarios, call the employee-owners of Crystal Flash at 855.774.9318 and we’ll be happy to walk you through some of the decision points and considerations. We’re here to help!