The Complete Guide to Propane Tank Sizes

The Complete Guide to Propane Tank Sizes

Propane is a form of liquified petroleum found in natural gas deposits deep in the earth. 

The substance is a gas under moderate temperatures but transforms into a liquid as temperatures decrease. Propane’s liquid form is far lighter than its gas form, allowing us to store significant amounts of it in fuel tanks.

This ability has gained propane the nickname “portable gas” and made it one of the top energy sources for homes, businesses, and agriculture in the United States.

This article will focus on propane use in residential settings. We’ll go over different propane tank sizes and how they fulfill different fuel needs for homeowners.

We’ll explain:

  • What a propane tank is, and how it works
  • Different propane tank sizes and common uses
  • How to determine the propane tank size you need

What Is a Propane Tank?

Propane tanks are containers that store liquified petroleum gas. 

These tanks can power:

Small portable tanks called propane cylinders are used to power forklift trucks and gas grills. 

Stationary tanks are larger and non-portable. They’re typically installed and filled at a residential or commercial location. After propane tank installation, these containers can fuel various systems and appliances.

Most homeowners store aboveground propane tanks several feet from their houses. However, larger tanks take up considerable space, so some people store them underground to conserve their usable property.

No matter the tank’s size, it will have the following parts to ensure safety and functionality for users and service providers:

Tank Part Description and Function
Liquid Withdrawal Valve
  • A tube that dips into the liquid propane.
  • Used to empty the tank before service or transportation or to refill a portable propane tank.
Vapor Return Valve
  • A safety device that controls the pressure of the tank.
  • If the tank becomes too pressurized, the return valve will open to release the gas or direct the propane back into another storage container.
Float Gauge
  • A device that floats atop the liquid propane and measures the approximate percentage filling the tank.
Fixed Level Liquid Gauge
  • A tube that helps propane delivery personnel know when the tank has reached its maximum fill.
Service Valve
  • The part of the tank that allows propane to flow into a home’s pipes as fuel.
  • You can shut off this valve in the event of a leak or emergency.
Safety Relief Valve
  • A spring-like device that keeps the tank from building up excess pressure.
  • Opens up under high pressure to prevent the tank from bursting.
Fill Valve
  • A hose fitting that delivery personnel use to fill up the propane tank.
  • Fill valves have gaskets and caps to prevent debris from entering the tank and gas escaping.

Before jumping into size options for your propane tank, note that tanks can only hold 80% of their capacity. For example, a 2,000-gallon tank holds 1,600 gallons when full.

Propane liquid expands as the temperature increases, so this design feature allows for swelling and prevents the tank from bursting. You’ll encounter the 80% rule no matter what size tank you select.

Propane Tank Sizes and Their Uses

The following sections will cover some common propane tank sizes and their residential and commercial applications.

20-Pound Propane Tanks

A 20-pound propane tank – or grill cylinder – is a portable container often used for small appliances like grills, patio heaters, and generators.

These tanks hold a little more than 4.5 gallons of propane when full.

420-Pound Propane Tanks

420-pound propane tanks are one of the smallest stationary tank options.

These containers, often called 120-gallon tanks, stand over 4 feet tall and hold up to 96 gallons of propane. 

420-pound tanks are best suited to power a couple of appliances like clothes dryers, stovetop ranges, gas fireplaces, or water heaters. Some mobile homes might use a couple of these tanks for whole-house heating.

250-Gallon Propane Tanks

250-gallon propane tanks are 7-foot-long containers that hold up to 200 gallons of propane.

These tanks can fuel additional heating systems or two home appliances such as water heaters, pool heaters, or a generator.

500-Gallon Propane Tanks

500-gallon tanks hold up to 400 gallons of propane at total capacity.

These containers generally heat smaller homes of around 1,500 square feet. In addition to providing whole-house heating, 500-gallon tanks can fuel a few propane appliances. 

A homeowner might use their 500-gallon tank to power a generator, water heater, or space heater.

1,000-Gallon Propane Tanks

1,000-gallon tanks are large containers primarily used for agricultural and commercial applications. These 16-foot-long tanks hold up to 800 gallons of propane.

Although rare, this tank size sometimes fulfills residential purposes – often buried underground on the property of a large home. 

They’re primarily used to fuel a home with only propane-powered appliances or heat sizable square footage.

How To Determine What Size Propane Tank You Need

Choosing the right propane tank size for your home can help you save money on fuel. 

If you select a tank that is too small, you fork out more money each year on fill-ups and deliveries when you could’ve just purchased a larger tank. At the same time, you don’t want to pay for a tank that’s too big for your property or fuel needs.

When determining the propane tank size to best suit your needs, you should consider several factors.

Where You Live

Your area’s climate will affect how much propane you use throughout the year. Homes heated with propane will use much more fuel in colder months.

If you live in an area that’s cold year-round, you’ll need propane refills more often. In this case, you’ll want to go ahead and purchase a larger tank to last you through the seasons. 

The Inter-County Community Council suggests checking your propane tank every month during the winter to prevent it from getting too low. You can check it a couple of times during the summer. If you notice it’s below 30% full, refill it ASAP.

The Size of Your Home

Your home’s square footage determines the propane tank size you should install. 

If you plan to use your propane tank for home heating, you must calculate the amount of propane it will take to heat your home’s square footage.

If you purchase a tank that can’t keep up with your heating needs, you’ll have to refill the tank more frequently – leading to higher costs. 

A 500-gallon tank is usually the best option for homes using propane for heat and powering appliances. If your home exceeds 3,500 square feet, you should consider buying two 500-gallon containers or installing a larger underground propane tank.

How Often You Use Propane

In addition to the size and location of your home, your typical propane usage is perhaps the most obvious factor to consider.

If you just need to power your grill every once in a while, you won’t need a stationary propane tank in your backyard. 

In this case, you’ll simply need to purchase a 20-pound propane tank from a home improvement store or supermarket for infrequent uses.

On the other hand, if you require power to heat your swimming pool for an entire season, you’ll need a bigger tank. A 120-gallon propane container is better suited for needs like this.

A 500-gallon tank is the most popular size for residential homes that use propane as the primary fuel source. These tanks require fewer refills and can heat entire homes or multiple appliances. 

If you anticipate using propane as your main heating or power source, we recommend the 500-gallon tank size. You’ll pay less per gallon of propane and get more bang for your buck in the long run. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the different size options for propane tanks, you can find the best option for your home.

Along with various sizes, you can choose an aboveground or underground tank model to save space and preserve your landscaping. Propane doesn’t go bad or expire, so you won’t have to worry about using it by a deadline.  

Once installation is complete, you can sit back and enjoy long-lasting, reliable fuel for the seasons to come.

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