June 28, 2022
Many of us enjoy barbecuing on our grills or getting cozy near an outdoor fireplace or heater all year long. Propane is a safe, clean, affordable way to power these appliances. But as you extend the outdoor living season, how can you avoid running out of propane? And, what do you do if it happens?
Fortunately, it’s easy and convenient to exchange your propane tank or pick up a spare at a gas station or local retailer like Costco or Canadian Tire.
Here’s what you need to know about your portable propane tank.
What’s the standard propane BBQ tank size?
The standard propane barbecue tank you’ll use for your grill and other outdoor appliances is a 20-pound cylinder. Don’t worry if your new tank feels a little light. Propane tanks are legally only allowed to be filled up to 80% for safety. Twenty-pound cylinders come with an overfill prevention device that restricts the amount of propane to about 17.8 litres. This safety measure is important because propane expands and contracts in different temperatures, so the extra space acts as a buffer for pressure buildup on hot days.
How do you check your propane tank level?
Before you get to grilling, you’ll want to know how much propane is in the tank. You can purchase a small gauge to read tank levels, but here’s a quick and easy tip to get a general idea. Simply pour warm water down the side of the cylinder and then feel down the side. The point at which the cylinder becomes slightly cooler to the touch is the level of propane you have left inside. That part of the tank becomes cooler because the propane inside your tank absorbs the heat from the warm water.
How long does a BBQ propane tank last?
If you’re new to a propane barbecue or you don’t use it much, you might be wondering how long your tank will last. Fuel consumption varies dramatically based on the size of your barbeque grill. Typically, a 20-pound propane tank can last 18 to 20 hours with a medium-sized grill, or up to 10 hours with a larger one. That’s a lot of cookouts. While you can have your cylinder refilled many times over the years, they do expire and must be replaced or requalified every 10 years.
Why can’t you refill a propane tank on your own?
In Canada, propane cylinders must be replaced or inspected and requalified by a trained technician every 10 years. That’s because the tank is pressurized to store flammable propane gas as a liquid, and if any mistakes are made in filling or if your tank is compromised, it could result in a fire or explosion. It’s a safety hazard to fill an expired or damaged cylinder, especially on your own, and it’s against the law.
While you can’t refill your own tank, you can exchange it using self-serve at big box stores like Canadian Tire.
It’s easy to get your tank refilled or replaced when you’re out running errands. Steps can vary slightly between Costco, Canadian Tire and other retailers, but usually you can expect to pay inside, bring a receipt out to show payment, take your new propane cylinder, and leave your empty one behind.
How to exchange your BBQ propane tank:
- Leave your empty or old propane cylinder outside the store to make an exchange.
- Tell the cashier you want to make an exchange or purchase a spare tank.
- Take your receipt to a designated kiosk.
- Type in a code on your receipt to open the cage.
- Take your new cylinder and if it’s an exchange, put the empty one in its place.
- Close the cage and be on your way.
- Be sure to transport and store the propane cylinder safely.
Storing your propane cylinder
Propane is largely safe to use, but there are a few steps to remember to avoid potential risks:
- Store propane cylinders outside whenever you can, away from things that could cause ignition, such as heat or matches.
- When storing, disconnect the cylinder, ensure it is securely capped or plugged, and do not store under or near your barbecue.
- Instead, store the cylinder upright in a secure, well-ventilated space. Keep it off the ground if you can, as long as it’s on a non-combustible surface.
Since it’s important not to transport propane in an enclosed space, place the cylinder on the floor in the back of the car with windows open or prop open the trunk when on the move. Just be sure that it’s not rolling around.
How to tell if your BBQ propane tank is expired
You can check when your tank expires by looking at the markings on the collar that show the date it was made or requalified. The manufacture date shows the month and year the cylinder was made, sometimes separated by an inspector’s seal. For example, a marking of "04 19" would mean the cylinder was manufactured in April of 2019. It would expire and be due for requalification or replacement by April, 2029.
How to requalify or recertify a cylinder
If the date of manufacture on your cylinder is more than 10 years old, look for a requalification stamp instead. That means it has been inspected by a certified requalifier. Identify the mark as a set of numbers and letters that ends in an E. There may be more than one of these marks, so pinpoint the most recent one to then find the expiry date.
Example: 05 PD3 13 E
This requalification stamp means:
05 – Month of requalification (i.e. May)
PD3 – Requalifiers registered mark (this is an identifier that Transport Canada assigns all requalifiers)
13 – Year of requalification (i.e. 2013)
E – Procedure Symbol E (stands for External Visual Inspection)
Propane cylinders have a range of identifying marks on the cylinder collar. Click here to view a full list of cylinder markings.
When it’s time to get rid of your propane cylinder, remember that it must go out with hazardous waste, never with your household recycling or garbage. You can often return or exchange a used tank you no longer want to local retailers such as Canadian Tire or Rona.
Don’t miss a single day of BBQ season. Visit your local big box store for a propane tank refill.