Saturday, February 06, 2010


My subject is partly about propane but is more about options, freedom, suspicion and distrust of corporations, sustainability, self-reliance and independence.

Two years ago I decided to reduce our need for propane. We were using it for heat, hot water, drying clothes and cooking. As much as possible Julie hangs clothes outside to dry. The hot water heater is insulated and we use little hot water. We replaced the kitchen range to eliminate standing pilots on the burners and in the oven. Our major need for propane was for heat.

To exclude the propane furnace we built an addition of 480 square feet with south facing glazing. The extra floor space is divided into a sun room and a utility room. These rooms have ceramic tile over concrete and twelve barrels of water mass to store heat. Heat from these rooms circulates throughout the house. In spite of 240 square feet of glass these rooms are consistently the warmest on cold winter nights. As a backup for cloudy days and extreme nights we installed a wood burning stove. We no longer use propane for heat so we don't need a large propane tank.

In 2007, give or take a year, the company that provides propane mailed us a small-print brochure. Using a magnifying glass I read it. I learned the revised agreement was one-sided and not to our benefit. One of the items stated the company will not be responsible if delivery personnel damage our property. We would be required to purchase two tanks of propane per year. That would be 400 or 500 gallons per year depending on interpretation. Another item stated that if we accepted the next delivery of propane then we consented to the "agreement". Every item in the agreement insured the company would make money without risk or responsibility and that we would be indentured.

Three things happened. We phoned the company and told them we would not be paying for propane up front for the year. By paying several hundred dollars in late summer or early fall the company would guarantee a rate for the year. We assumed incorrectly that we would phone for delivery and pay cash for propane if we needed it. Not long after that we arrived home and discovered the tank has been filled. My intention has been to run the tank low on propane and have it removed and provide my own cylinders.

Second, a delivery driver hit the corner of a fence, forced the fence to the west and broke a line post some distance from the corner. He put a note on our door expressing his sorrow for the accident and hoped the repair was adequate. He had attempted to straighten the fence and had leaned the broken post against a section of the fence. But, since we had accepted delivery of propane that we had not ordered the company was not responsible because acceptance of delivery was also acceptance of the agreement.

Third, when we decided to have the tank removed before the annual tank rental fee was due I learned something new. The tank could not be removed without an additional fee if it was more than 20% full. In the end it was cheaper to pay another year's rental fee of $60 and use the propane in the tank rather than pay the fee to have it removed. Fortunately, we have not been confronted with the fact that we are not purchasing two fillings per year. We haven't bought propane since 2008.

Yesterday I put a tee in the propane line, insalled an auto-switching pressure regulator and connected hoses to two 100 pound cylinders. I tested the new installation, turned off the cylinders and restored service from the large tank. Within the next month the tank will empty and I'll open the values to the new cylinders, light the pilot on the water heater and call to have the tank removed.

In the future I'll take each cylinder to town and have it filled as needed. I'll have the option of choosing which company to use. I'll not necessarily look for the lowest price because customer service, friendliness and honesty are important. I'll install solar hot water and further reduce the need for propane. In the end I'll not have to refill the cylinders often.

I prefer not to be indentured to one company by a one-sided agreement. I like having the option of shopping for propane, the freedom to select a company without long term commitment, a fair and equal exchange for both myself and the company. However, these options weren't free. The cost of cylinders, regulator, hoses and fittings was about $300. But, in five years I'll break even by saving the annual tank rental.

Another benefit is health. Full cylinders weigh about 138 pounds. Good exercise!


Blogger Buffalo said...

I don't see how such a contract could be legal and binding - especially if the tank is filled without your consent.

2/06/2010 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

Ever see a phone, credit card, or satelite TV "contract" lately? If you even LOOK at them you agreed to be put over a barrel and screwed!

2/07/2010 05:50:00 AM  
Blogger graceonline said...

Like you, I read the microscopic print in service agreements. It's been years since I read a contract or service agreement that left me feeling I had any rights other than to pay and pay and pay. Some of the rights we sign away, especially when we use an online service and hit that little ole' "I agree" button, are downright scary, if we can understand them at all, that is.

Thank you for sharing this experience. The more people who speak up about these issues, the more chance we will build a movement to take back decent, fair, trustworthy human exchange

2/07/2010 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger Beardedoverland said...

I agree with your assessment we use three 100lb bottles and two 30lb bottles, we have one of each hooked up at anytime, and use them to keep positive pressure in the line at all times, even when changing bottles. Last winter we went through one 100lb a week, and 1 30lb every two weeks... all in all it cost us in the month of December almost $300 for heat, cooking, and power (propane genset) Needless to say, a lot of changes have come are way, including more solar and wood heat for the winter months.

4/12/2010 09:29:00 PM  

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