Lessons From A Propane Tank

My husband and I were first-time homeowners when we bought our house in July, 2009, and there were plenty of things that we were completely clueless about. Heating a home with propane was one of those things. We knew there was a propane tank on the side of our house, and that a local propane provider owned it. We knew that our heat, stove, hot water heater, and gas fireplace were powered by propane. What we didn’t know was how quickly we would use propane in the winter, what a good price for it was, and just how much of an advantage the propane company had over us, by owning our tank.

Our first few months in our house were a blur. I was seven months pregnant with our daughter when we moved in, so we were pretty focused on preparing our home and our lives for the arrival of a baby. It was also the summer, a time when we used very little propane. But we knew we had a nearly full tank, because we had reimbursed the seller of our house for what was in the tank at the time of our closing.

Lesson 1: Keep An Eye on The Level in the Tank

We learned our first lesson in November, about a month after our daughter was born. A friend from out-of-town was in the area, and she stopped by to catch up and meet our daughter. We hung out with her on the couch in our living room, with a fire going in the gas fireplace. A little more than an hour into her visit, I noticed that the room felt cold. Then I noticed that the fireplace was off, and the room temperature was lower than the temperature I’d set on the thermostat. We had run out of propane. On a Friday night in late November. InĀ upstate New York. A space heater and lots of blankets got us through that chilly night, and we received an emergency delivery the next day.

We’ve never run out since then, but I check our tank level regularly throughout the fall and winter, and occasionally request a delivery, when it looks like we could run out before the propane company has our next delivery scheduled.

Lesson 2: If You Don’t Own Your Tank, The Propane Company Owns You

The propane tank that was at our house when we bought it, was owned by a large propane provider in our area. This meant that we could only fill it with their propane. There are many home heating fuel providers in our area, but we were locked into using this one.

After a couple of expensive winters, we started asking other people who provided their propane, and how much it cost them. From those conversations, we learned that (1) we were paying more per gallon than most people, and (2) the people with lower rates owned their own tanks and/or belonged to a local co-op.

Lesson 3: Threatening to Leave Gets Results

Learning that we were over-paying motivated me to negotiate with our propane company. (Somehow this had not occurred to me before.) I called them before the next rate lock-in period, and asked if they could lower our rate. I was told that we were already paying a low rate, and they simply couldn’t go any lower. Then I told them we would be leaving for a new provider, and suddenly they were able to discount our rate by $0.25 per gallon.

I was so excited that I had secured a lower rate, I didn’t really consider that it was still higher than our research told us we should be paying. Actually, this did cross my mind, but the thought of leaving our existing provider, buying our own tank, and starting with a new provider felt really overwhelming. We took the lower rate, and stayed with our provider.

Lesson 4: It Feels Really Good to Say Buh-Bye

Even with the lower rate, we were still paying at least $600, every time our tank was filled. (During most winters, our tank is filled about six times.) After another season of this, my husband and I sat down and took a hard look at the numbers. We researched the price per gallon paid by members of the local co-op who owned their own tank, and we were shocked. Our “discounted” rate was more than a $1 more per gallon than the co-op price. We felt like complete fools for having overpaid for so long, and resolved at that moment to purchase our own tank, and switch to the co-op.

We did just that early the next fall, and I gleefully made the call to our old provider to tell them the news. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t ask why we were leaving, or at least try to get us to stay. Still, it felt great to say goodbye to those greedy bloodsuckers.

How do you heat your home? Are you happy with the rate you pay?