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Underground Propane Tank vs Above-Ground Propane Tank: Pros and Cons

underground propane tank

When it comes to choosing a propane tank for your home, you’ll encounter various types. One of the most common are above-ground tanks, which can be either horizontal or vertical in shape. But, you also have the possibility of selecting an underground propane tank. So, how do you make the right choice for your home?

Opting for an underground propane tank can be an excellent decision. To help you determine which tank is the best fit for your needs, let’s explore key factors and characteristics of each type of tank. Lastly, we’ll go over important pros and cons for both underground propane tanks and above-ground tanks.

Underground propane tank vs above-ground propane tank

Underground propane tanks come with a distinct set of regulations and prerequisites that must be adhered to when installing them. These specialized tanks are designed to store propane beneath the surface of a homeowner’s yard. It is crucial to know that propane tanks intended for above-ground use cannot be buried underground.

An underground propane tank shares similarities with its above-ground counterparts. These components include the installation setup, a manufacturer’s nameplate for identification, a vapor return valve, a liquid withdrawal valve, a fill valve, a safety relief valve, a service valve, a fixed liquid level gauge (with a bleeder valve), and a regulator designed specifically for underground tanks.

While the tank fittings, valves, and connections are the same across propane tanks, their placement on the tank differs. Above-ground propane tanks typically have relief valves and liquid withdrawal valves situated externally. Usually on opposite ends of the tank. 

In contrast, underground tanks position all fittings and connections centrally. This ensures they are sheltered by the tank’s dome walls and cover. You need to stick to these specifications. Why? Because it is not permissible to bury a propane tank designed and designated for above-ground use. Doing so raises tons of safety and regulatory concerns.

Protecting your underground propane tank

To ensure the longevity and safe operation of underground propane tanks, you need to implement specific precautionary measures due to the unique conditions and environmental factors they face.

Propane tank cathodic protection

Underground propane tanks are exposed to natural electric currents present in the earth. This can lead to a process called electrolysis. This electrolysis can gradually corrode and damage the metal tank.

To safeguard the tank from electrolysis, a sacrificial anode bag is attached to the tank via a wire before it is buried in the ground. This anode bag serves as a decoy. It diverts harmful electrical currents away from the tank and prevents corrosion. Essentially, it absorbs the detrimental effects that the earth’s electrical currents could have on the tank.

Propane tank coating and backfill

The outer surface of an underground propane tank is constantly in contact with potentially corrosive elements. Therefore, it is crucial for the tank to have a protective coating to prevent corrosion.

During installation, the choice of backfill material is critical. If the backfill contains rocks or abrasive materials, it can compromise the tank’s protective coating. For instance, gravel can cut through this coating. Once it does that, it renders it ineffective in shielding the tank.

You should use sand or firm, rock-free earth for covering an underground tank after installation. This choice of backfill material safeguards the tank’s exterior and maintains its protective coating intact.

Underground tank location

When you choose a location for an underground propane tank, safety and compliance with regulations are paramount.

Underground propane tanks should never be placed beneath areas subject to vehicular traffic, such as driveways. Doing so is not only ill-advised but also against legal requirements.

The tank’s location should be carefully chosen to avoid being positioned under anything other than soil and natural earth. This will help prevent any potential damage from external factors.

Benefits of underground propane tanks

Underground propane tanks offer several advantages over above-ground propane tanks. One significant benefit is their inherent safety for the environment, as propane does not harm soil or water, making it a safe option for installation below ground. Furthermore, in the event of a tank leak, the surrounding soil acts as a protective barrier. This helps minimize any potential damage.

While propane is considered a green gas, it still carries a fire risk. However, an underground propane tank mitigates this risk significantly. Underground propane tanks are less exposed to extreme weather conditions and temperature fluctuations. These can not only damage the tank itself but also affect the amount of propane it can safely hold.

Security is another advantage of underground propane tanks. They are less susceptible to intentional damage or removal. Prior to installation, it’s essential to ask any questions and address concerns to ensure peace of mind regarding the safety of your new tank.

Aesthetic concerns should not deter homeowners from considering underground propane tanks. When properly installed, they are barely noticeable, with only a small dome above the ground to allow for propane delivery. Reputable propane tank installers take care to minimize the tank’s visual impact.

In contrast, above-ground tanks pose security risks. This is particularly true in high-crime areas where they can be susceptible to vandalism. Tanks located near roadways or parking areas may also be vulnerable to vehicle collisions. What’s more, underground tanks are better equipped to handle extreme temperatures, especially in colder climates. Their proximity to the earth allows them to function even in freezing temperatures. This is a capability that above-ground tanks lack.

Underground propane tanks offer a safer, more secure, and aesthetically pleasing solution for propane storage. They reduce environmental risks, fire hazards, and vulnerability to vandalism.  They also withstand extreme temperatures more effectively. This makes them a preferable choice for many homeowners. Plus, you can get quotes from up to 5 propane dealers in your area today to get the best pricing on propane delivery.

Drawbacks of underground propane tanks

Your budget is very important to consider when choosing underground propane tanks versus above-ground propane tanks. Going for an underground propane tank does come with certain drawbacks. This is primarily related to the installation process.

Installing an underground propane tank typically is more labor-intensive and complex compared to above-ground tanks. This complexity can result in higher installation costs. But, it’s crucial to look at the bigger picture, considering the long-term benefits. Underground tanks offer extended durability. They are protected from external elements, which can lead to cost savings over time. Moreover, you won’t need to worry about the tank affecting your landscaping or home aesthetics, since it remains hidden beneath the surface.

When assessing costs, it’s important to factor in propane delivery expenses. Various delivery options are available, and selecting the right one can help you optimize your budget.

Installing an underground propane tank involves specific requirements and safety considerations. The propane company will conduct a thorough assessment of your yard to identify suitable locations that won’t interfere with other home systems or pose risks. For instance, regulations typically dictate that the tank must be placed at least ten feet away from buildings or adjacent property lines. Additionally, the dome of the underground tank should be positioned in a protected area to minimize the risk of gas leaks, such as away from areas with high traffic.

So, you must be flexible regarding its placement to adhere to safety regulations and ensure the well-being of everyone in the vicinity. Ultimately, the choice between an underground and above-ground propane tank should consider both the upfront costs and the long-term benefits, including safety and aesthetic considerations.

Benefits of above-ground propane tanks

Cost is a crucial factor when deciding between an underground propane tank versus above-ground. Above-ground tanks are generally more cost-effective to install and maintain. In contrast, underground tanks require additional protective measures to prevent corrosion and potential groundwater contamination. This includes excavation, backfilling, and anti-corrosion components. All of this can significantly increase the total cost of an underground tank. In some cases, the expense of an underground tank can be up to three times that of an above-ground unit.

In certain situations, underground tanks can pose the risk of “floating.” This occurs when the water level in the excavation hole rises above the level of the propane fuel inside the tank. To mitigate this risk, underground tanks are sometimes installed on a concrete slab. But, for areas prone to flooding, above-ground tanks provide a more reliable solution since they are not susceptible to floating.

Above-ground propane tanks are generally easier to maintain compared to their underground counterparts. Underground tanks contain anti-corrosion components that require regular inspection and testing, incurring additional costs for the owner. An improperly functioning anti-corrosion system may also necessitate costly replacements.

So, above-ground propane tanks offer several advantages. These include cost-effectiveness, reduced risk of floating in flood-prone areas, and ease of maintenance. These factors make above-ground tanks a practical choice for many homeowners, especially when considering the overall cost and maintenance requirements associated with underground tanks. However, the choice ultimately depends on individual circumstances, including the specific needs and environmental considerations of the property.

Drawbacks of above-ground propane tanks

One of the most noticeable drawbacks of above-ground propane tanks is their visual impact on the property’s aesthetics. These tanks are typically quite prominent and can be an eyesore. Homeowners often find it challenging to integrate these tanks seamlessly into their outdoor landscapes. For instance, a large, unsightly propane tank in a backyard can detract from the overall appeal of the outdoor living space.

Above-ground propane tanks are more exposed to various environmental factors. These include extreme temperatures, weather conditions, and physical damage. In regions with harsh winters, freezing temperatures can affect the performance of above-ground propane tanks. This leads to decreased efficiency or even service interruptions. Moreover, severe weather events, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, can pose a significant risk to above-ground tanks, potentially causing damage, leaks, or displacement. For example, a powerful storm can knock over an above-ground tank, resulting in dangerous gas leaks.

Above-ground tanks are visible and accessible. This makes them vulnerable to vandalism, theft, or tampering. In high-crime areas, these tanks may become targets for malicious activity. Vandals may attempt to damage or steal propane tanks. This not only poses safety risks but also results in additional costs for repair or replacement. In contrast, underground tanks are hidden from view and offer enhanced security, reducing the likelihood of intentional damage.

Above-ground propane tanks can limit the use of outdoor space on a property. This can be particularly tough for homeowners who want to maximize their outdoor living areas for activities like gardening, recreational activities, or landscaping improvements. The placement of an above-ground tank can restrict the layout and design possibilities for these spaces. For instance, a sizable propane tank in a backyard may hinder the creation of a patio or garden layout that homeowners desire.

Is a buried propane tank safer than above-ground?

This question depends on the situation. Underground propane tanks offer a higher degree of safety compared to their above-ground counterparts, primarily due to their protective placement beneath the earth’s surface. Here’s a closer look at why underground tanks are considered safer.

Underground propane tanks are shielded from the adverse effects of extreme temperatures. The earth itself acts as an insulating barrier, helping to maintain a more stable temperature within the tank. This insulation minimizes the risk of temperature-related issues that can affect the performance of propane, such as freezing or excessive heat. Consequently, propane remains in a more reliable state for use in appliances and heating systems.

In the event of a propane leak from an underground tank, the safety benefits are significant. Unlike above-ground tanks where leaked propane can dissipate into the open air, potentially leading to a fire hazard, underground tanks release the gas into the surrounding soil or nearby water sources. This containment drastically reduces the risk of a fire or explosion resulting from leaked propane, as the gas is diffused more safely underground.

Notably, even if propane does escape into the soil or local water due to a leak, it does not pose harm to the environment. Propane is considered a non-toxic fuel option and is also insoluble in water. This means that it does not contaminate or pollute the soil or water sources it comes into contact with, ensuring minimal environmental impact in the event of a leak.

Get quotes from up to 5 propane dealers in your area today to get the best pricing on propane delivery.

How deep do you bury an underground propane tank?

When it comes to burying an underground propane tank, there are specific guidelines and safety measures that must be followed to ensure safe installation and compliance with regulations. Here’s an expanded explanation:

Underground propane tanks should not be placed directly under or against buildings. This precaution is essential to prevent potential safety hazards and to allow for proper access and maintenance. Keeping some distance between the tank and structures ensures that any maintenance or inspection work can be carried out safely without compromising the building’s integrity.

The depth at which an underground propane tank should be buried is a critical consideration. Generally, it should be buried at least 6 inches below ground level. However, if the tank is located under a parking lot, it should be buried at a depth of 18 inches. The increased depth in parking lots provides additional protection against vehicular traffic and potential damage.

When the underground propane tank is situated within 10 feet of traffic or a roadway, it’s recommended to add protective bollards around the tank’s valve cover. Bollards act as a safeguard, preventing accidental contact with the tank and enhancing safety, especially in areas with high traffic volumes.

Maintaining a safe distance between the tank’s valve cover and exterior sources of ignition is vital. This includes factors such as air conditioning units, transformers, generators, openings into direct-vent gas appliances, and mechanical ventilation air intakes. A minimum distance of 10 feet is typically required to reduce the risk of ignition.

No part of the underground propane tank should be located less than 10 feet from any building, including its foundation. This distance helps ensure the safety of nearby structures and minimizes the risk of damage to the tank during construction or excavation work. Also, it’s important to maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet from well systems, septic systems, or adjoining property lines that may be developed in the future.

Do underground propane tanks last longer?

Propane tanks are designed with durability in mind. When properly cared for, they have an impressive lifespan. On average, a well-maintained galvanized above-ground propane tank or cylinder can last for 30 years or more. Some tanks made from materials like aluminum or composite have an even longer lifespan. However, the longevity of a propane tank depends on several factors, including its size, usage, and maintenance.

The size and usage of the tank play a significant role in determining how long it will last. Tanks used for heavy-duty applications or those subjected to frequent refills might experience wear and tear more quickly. In contrast, smaller tanks used for occasional grilling or heating purposes can endure for several decades.

Maintenance is another crucial factor. Regular inspections, leak checks, and corrosion prevention measures can extend the life of a propane tank. Proper care can help detect and address issues before they become serious problems.

It’s important to note that underground propane tanks typically have a somewhat shorter average life expectancy of 20 to 30 years. The lifespan can vary based on factors such as the type of soil in which the tank is buried and whether it was installed correctly. These underground tanks face unique challenges related to soil conditions and potential corrosion, which can impact their longevity.

The lifespan of a propane tank can vary based on its size, usage, material, and maintenance. Well-maintained aboveground tanks can last 30 years or more, while underground tanks typically have a somewhat shorter lifespan due to specific environmental factors. Proper care and attention can help maximize the life of any propane tank, ensuring safe and efficient use over the years. So, get quotes from up to 5 propane dealers in your area today to get the best pricing on propane delivery.

The bottom line on underground propane tanks vs above-ground propane tanks

The choice of an underground propane tank versus above-ground tank ultimately boils down to individual circumstances, preferences, and the specific needs of the property. But, one overarching advantage of utilizing propane as a fuel source in either type of tank is its efficiency and long-term cost savings.

Propane is renowned for its efficiency in various applications. From heating homes and powering appliances to fueling vehicles and grills, propane is a clean-burning energy source. Its high energy density means that it produces a significant amount of heat for a given volume. This makes it an economical choice for homeowners and businesses alike. Whether stored in an underground tank that minimizes aesthetic impact or in an above-ground tank offering ease of maintenance, propane provides reliable and consistent energy, reducing overall utility costs and carbon emissions.

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