Patio Heater Propane Tank Freezing—What To Do?

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If you live in a place that can get pretty cold and you have a heater on your patio, chances are you've encountered this problem. If you don't know what to do about it, we're here to help you out. We've asked the experts what to do when the heater propane tank in your patio is freezing, and here's the advice that they gave us.

When your patio heater propane tank is freezing, you need to stop using it. Install your spare tank in the meantime to power your appliances that run on propane. Remove the snow from the tank's exterior and wait for it to completely unfreeze before you can use it again.

Don't pour hot water or use a flame to hasten the thawing process. It could lead to accidents or serious damages. Just give your tank sufficient time to thaw until it's safe to use it again.  

Continue reading so we can give you more safety tips on what to do when your propane tank freezes. We'll also tell you why patio gas heaters freeze up. This article will also answer if a frozen propane tank will explode. Lastly, we'll share things that you can do to prevent your propane tank from freezing. Let's begin!

Propane Cylinder tank in the backyard of a House, Patio Heater Propane Tank Freezing—What To Do?

What do you do when your propane tank freezes

Your patio is a safe place to store your propane tank since it is a cool and well-ventilated area. However, having it outdoors exposes it to different weather conditions and temperatures that could affect its performance.

A source of clean energy. Gas tank for heating the house.

When winter comes, the tank can freeze. Experts always advise us to make sure that propane tanks are clear of any snow and ice. But if it has already happened to you, here's what you can do.

  • Stop using the propane tank in the meantime. Use your spare tanks to be able to run your propane-powered heater or other appliances. Give the frozen tank sufficient time to thaw or absorb heat from the outside.
  • Do not use flame or anything that is extremely hot as it could cause an accident. Do not pour hot water on the tank to help it thaw. This can also lead to damages to the regulator, piping, and other issues in the tank.
  • Use a broom when removing the ice or snow that has accumulated on the surface of the propane heater. If you use something hard against it, the propane tank can be damaged and it could lead to a more serious concern.
  • Take care not to put snow on the exposed meters, pipes, and valves as you clean the propane tank.

Don't worry because a frozen propane tank is not dangerous. But you would have to wait until it is completely thawed before you can use it again. There's nothing much to do but remove the snow and ice and wait.

Why do patio gas heaters freeze up?

Gas heater for patio.High outdoor gas heater isolated

When you see ice forming around the external walls of your propane tank, it means that the rate of vapor withdrawal of propane-powered appliances is greater than the conversion rate of liquid propane inside the tank.

Propane is at the lower portion of your tank. For it to power your appliances, it draws heat from the tank's walls so that it can boil and turn into gas. Propane vapor then rises to the top to power the appliances.

If the appliances continuously draw propane vapor, the liquid propane would need to draw more heat from the walls of the tank. But since the tank itself is affected by the outside temperature, it can't meet the demand anymore because there's no more heat. That's when the exterior surface begins to freeze.

Propane's freezing point is at -44 degrees Fahrenheit. Even if the temperature doesn't get this low to freeze propane itself, it can still be affected by the cold temperature outside. Propane expands when it is hot and contracts when it is cold. Once it contracts, the volume in the tank shrinks, which also means that there's reduced pressure inside.

Herein lies the problem. The propane tank needs an adequate amount of pressure to function well. Pressure is needed so that propane can reach the burner and the heater can do its job.

With insufficient pressure, the heater won't be able to heat the water well or can't heat it at all. You won't be able to stay snug and cozy on your patio.

Can a frozen propane tank explode?

Large propane tank in the yard of a rural home, with a house in the background and space for text on the right

One of the most common concerns about having a frozen propane tank is the possibility that it can explode. To ease your worries, experts say that frozen propane tanks will not explode. They are relatively safe and won't harm you. Just give them enough time to unfreeze, and they should be safe to use again.

Propane tanks are very strong. They also have built-in safety mechanisms to prevent explosions or rupturing. And remember, a frozen tank causes the propane to shrink or contract. There's also reduced pressure inside the tank that's why it is safe to say that it won't explode.

The very rare instances when tanks do explode are when they are subjected to very hot temperatures. This situation will cause the liquid propane to expand, and there will also be greater pressure inside the tank. When the amount of pressure becomes too much, the safety valve will be expelled, and the tank can rupture.

If there's a heat source near the tank, that's when an explosion is expected. But then, the possibility of this happening is very rare.

Consequently, this also answers concerns about the safety of putting propane tanks outside our homes. They are perfectly safe outdoors. Just make sure that you put them on a solid and flat surface.

How do you keep a propane heater from freezing?

Outdoor Heater at Upscale Tampa, FL Bar and Grill

Although propane tanks will not explode when frozen, the cold temperature causes the pressure inside the tank to become too low. When this happens, the propane won't be able to reach the gas burner, and it won't be able to run your propane-powered heater. Now, this will be very problematic during freezing weather, right?
That's why you need to be proactive in making sure that your propane heater won't freeze when winter comes. Here are some tips to keep your heater from freezing:
  • Make sure that your tank is full so that the pressure inside is stable. If it isn't full, the pressure inside will get too low when the weather is cold, so you won't be able to use your heater.
  • Experts don't recommend the use of a blow torch or space heater to keep your tank from freezing. It's best to cover your propane tank with a heating blanket instead.
  • Check the vents of your regulator if they are full of snow. If they are, you would need to have the regulator vents repaired by a professional.

Final Thoughts

outdoor gas pyramid heater working on terrace

When your patio heater propane tank freezes, there's not much you can do about it. Just remove the snow and ice from its exterior surface and give it enough time to unfreeze. Next time, be proactive in making sure that your tank won't freeze during cold weather so that you can avoid the inconvenience of not being able to use your propane tank.

For more related reading, you may visit the following links:

Does A Propane Garage Heater Need To Be Vented?

10 Best Heaters For A Screened Porch

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