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Thread: Propane as cabin heat source?

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    Default Propane as cabin heat source?

    I was wondering who out there uses propane as a heat source in their cabins? I am thinking about plumbing our very small cabin (8x10) to run on an external bottle. We would have propane lanterns on the inside, a small RV propane furnace that is vented outside. It is very economical and easy to install, and since we don't have power in the ground makes more since to do it this way.... I don't want to deal with a generator either. My main question is: Will my propane freeze up in the winter if it is running the furnace and one lantern? I have a 25 lb tank right now, and may switch to a 75-100 to lessen the chance of it freezing up. Thoughts? Cabin is in Talkeetna.

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    Moderator bkmail's Avatar
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    Yes it will frost up when it gets extremely cold. A larger tank helps though. That said, are you planning to stay at the cabin when it's -40*?
    I honestly doubt you will have any issues....
    BK

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    Supporting Member Old John's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MTfisher View Post
    I was wondering who out there uses propane as a heat source in their cabins? I am thinking about plumbing our very small cabin (8x10) to run on an external bottle. We would have propane lanterns on the inside, a small RV propane furnace that is vented outside. It is very economical and easy to install, and since we don't have power in the ground makes more since to do it this way.... I don't want to deal with a generator either. My main question is: Will my propane freeze up in the winter if it is running the furnace and one lantern? I have a 25 lb tank right now, and may switch to a 75-100 to lessen the chance of it freezing up. Thoughts? Cabin is in Talkeetna.
    MT
    I heat my 12x16 cabin with a vented propane furnace. I plumbed my cabin for two propane lights (one at each end so to speak) and I have a 2 burner propane cook stove. I started off using a 100 lb propane tank, but after the 1st winter gave that up and switched to 2 40lb tanks. -25 or -30 is the coldest we've ever experienced at the cabin and we had no trouble with the tank or lines freezing. The reason I switched to smaller tanks is because the tank went dry in the middle of a cold night in february.. I'm getting a little long in the tooth and not as stout as I used to be, so wading through 4 ft of snow to get to the back of the cabin where the tank was took some fight out of me. Unhooking the big bottle and sliding it over to the storage shed on the snow was no problem, but wrestling the full bottle back, getting it in place, and hooked up was a bit of a challange. the next spring I sold the big tank, bought 2 40's and a double hook up so when one bottle goes dry all I have to do is turn the empty off and the full tank on, go back in side and re-light the furnace.. the next day I can unhook the empty, bring it back to town to refill. My cabin is above the Big Bend a ways on the Yentna.

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    Propane can be a problem at -30 temps and colder. There are a few things you can do though, IME. Bigger tanks and keeping them full in cold weather helps, install a REAL 2 stage regulator, dont use a cheap home depot BBQ regulator. That is the component that freezes. Having two tanks hooked up together seems to help, as does covering the tank/regulator with an old sleeping bag when it gets cold. I've considered building a small insulated shelter against the house with an access door, but havent done so yet.

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    We heat our 12x16 cabin near Talkeetna with propane. Itís the way to go for a small weekender cabin in my opinion. We have a direct-vent heater (pulls combustion air from outside and exhausts to outside) that does not require electricity to operate. It takes up far less space than a woodstove does. We show up Friday night, open the tank valve, light the heater and usually donít have to mess with it again until we shut it down on Sunday afternoon.

    The coldest weíve been out there was -28F and the heater worked fine. I normally donít bother going to the cabin if it is going to be that cold, but that weekend it got far colder than the original forecast Ė go figure. We have two 100 lb tanks. When one runs out (always in the middle of the night) I switch over to the other and then haul the empty one back to town to get filled. We also have a propane stove top but that runs off a separate 40 lb tank. Our lights are electric off a battery bank that is recharged by solar/gas generator.

    Propane is more expensive to heat with than fuel oil or wood, but for a small recreational cabin the difference isnít that bad. The convenience is well worth it to us.

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    Old John - It sounds like our cabins are exactly the same just yours is bigger. We have two lanterns, a double burner cast iron cook top and a small furnace. I was thinking two 40lb tanks would be better, that way the wife can get them filled if im not there to do it. Another thought was to build a small enclosure for the tanks and making it fairly tight, and insulating it with blue board and then drilling a hole from cabin and running a pipe into the propane tank enclosure. Thinking this would give it a little heat on a cold night. the hole would be pluggable as well so if the temps aren't too cold it won't need to be open and when we are gone and not there for a few weeks. 14.jpg

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    Member Queen of Kings's Avatar
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    I have used propane for my cabin (original a 2 story 12 x20 and then added on a one story 16 x 24 additon) for over 25 years up in the Eureka area. The coldest I have done was -32 below, and that was only after I was there and it dropped that low. Certainaly when it gets lower than -20 the propane flow slows and reduces the heat output. That being said I have never looked back and am glad I use propane. I also have a kerosene back up, if I should be caught up therefor any extreme minus temps.
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    Supporting Member Old John's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MTfisher View Post
    Old John - It sounds like our cabins are exactly the same just yours is bigger. We have two lanterns, a double burner cast iron cook top and a small furnace. I was thinking two 40lb tanks would be better, that way the wife can get them filled if im not there to do it. Another thought was to build a small enclosure for the tanks and making it fairly tight, and insulating it with blue board and then drilling a hole from cabin and running a pipe into the propane tank enclosure. Thinking this would give it a little heat on a cold night. the hole would be pluggable as well so if the temps aren't too cold it won't need to be open and when we are gone and not there for a few weeks. 14.jpg
    MT
    my son and I have talked a lot about building an enclosure around the tanks, to shelter them, and somewhat insulate them... To date, talking is all we've accomplished. Our setup has worked very well for us.. only real setback is when you first arrive at the cabin, getting the furnace lit off and the place warmed up. Even though the cabin is well insulated, it takes a little while to get the cabin warmed up to comfortable.

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    I have a insulated shed that holds two 100# bottles. I have a metal frame work between the two bottles that I have fire bricks that set between them. I can warm them up on the wood stove as I do not heat with propane but I do have a bunch of propane lights . I have a switching valve plumed to the tanks and when I see the lights going low I just step out and switch the valve to the full tank. Then later I can pull the empty and put in a full one . I keep several on hand.I also have a insulated out house with a propane light in there. With that I just use the BQ size and it is mounted high so that it is always warm. I just leave the light going for however long we are at the cabin. Then there is the pink foam board that helps a lot. That is the one with the hole in it,I also have a solid piece that I lay over the hole when not in use.

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    Personally propane heat would be my last choice. Fuel oil is way easier to transport for me. I do use propane for the fridge and stove. And I do have a direct vent propane heater for one room. I haven't used it for several years. I retired my propane lights long ago. I still keep two 100# bottles on an automatic regulator switch. The switch has manual override so changing out an empty bottle is simple but I don't run out at inconvenient times. Even with my low demand the propane works fine at -45*. No blankets, no tricks, no shelter. See Suburban Propane for the auto switch. If you use propane it's great to have.

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    If it were me I think warthog nailed it. I would build an attached shed just big enough to house two bottles. Keep it insulated but with ventsmof some sort near the bottom. Iirc, propane gas sinks and would vent out the bottom if leak occurred. With this there has to be a way to have the inside heat warm the propane tank shed just enough to keep anything from freezing.

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    It's Talkeetna, not Fairbanks. I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about how to keep propane tanks warm. It isn't going to get -30F and colder that often there. Even when it does, how often are you going to go and spend time in your 8x10 cabin at -40F?

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    Low demand is usually not a problem in low temps. It's running a heater that will cause you issues. And what do you need most when it's 40 below? A heater...

    Sure talkeetna is a local warm spot, but not unusual at all for me to hit -40 overnight for weeks at a time and I don't live far from talkeetna. Put in a system that will work when you need it if you think it may get cold in the winter, because it probably will.

    I have the automatic switchover valve/regulator combo. If I try to run a 35k btu heater when it's -40, it's hit or miss whether it will fire or sputter and die. That's why I heat with wood 100% and use the propane as a backup. Also, I've seen liquid propane come out of my propane light mantles and land on the floor and burn. It was -55 F when that happened, and the line ran under the cabin where it was exposed to the cold air. At atmospheric pressure, propane is a liquid at about -55 F. Fun stuff...

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    Snow is a great insulator for your propane tanks.
    Also bigger is better as the pressure will stay higher at low temps.
    Our weather here in Yellowknife is similar to Fairbanks & I heat my home with propane and have had no issues in the 7 years I have been here.
    My tank is quite large 1300 liters and it is at the base of a small hill so it gets almost completely covered with snow that helps keep some warmth in there when the temps drop into the -50's.

    I am in the process of desiging and preparing to build a 12X16 cabin and I will be running my fridge, stove top and a small gas furnace off 100# tanks (probably 2 off an auto switching regulator). I will most likely only use the furnace to help getting the cold out of the building when first getting there as I will be putting in a wood stove as my primary heat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dkwarthog View Post
    Low demand is usually not a problem in low temps. It's running a heater that will cause you issues. And what do you need most when it's 40 below? A heater...

    Sure talkeetna is a local warm spot, but not unusual at all for me to hit -40 overnight for weeks at a time and I don't live far from talkeetna. Put in a system that will work when you need it if you think it may get cold in the winter, because it probably will.

    I have the automatic switchover valve/regulator combo. If I try to run a 35k btu heater when it's -40, it's hit or miss whether it will fire or sputter and die. That's why I heat with wood 100% and use the propane as a backup. Also, I've seen liquid propane come out of my propane light mantles and land on the floor and burn. It was -55 F when that happened, and the line ran under the cabin where it was exposed to the cold air. At atmospheric pressure, propane is a liquid at about -55 F. Fun stuff...
    Your in Willow, and although it is not that far from Talkeetna, it's usually way colder there. When we drive up the Parks on cold days, there is a noticeable 15 degree drop in temps between Wasilla and Willow and then a noticeable jump back up 15 degrees around where the Parks goes over the Su. Also, you don't need a 35K btu heater for 8X10. And, as I said, if it is a recreational cabin, you typically won't go if it's -40.

    We do nothing insulation or heat wise for our propane tanks at our cabin near Talkeetna. It's always been plenty warm inside when we are there using only the propane heater for heat.

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    No worries, "I'm not arguing the fact that talkeetna is a warm spot relative to surrounding areas. That doesn't mean it doesn't get -40 there or that the OP doesn't live south or north of talkeetna.

    if it never gets cold while he's at his cabin, then there's nothing he needs to worry about. Propane works great until it doesn't. I had to replace every fixture and my pex manifold in my home to learn the lesson, so I tend to err on the side of caution.

    Honestly, if I was visiting my 8x10 cabin and it got to 40 below, I'd probably fire up the truck and head to town. I've not had great recreation "fun" at 40 below, ever, lol. And being stuck in an 80 sf box watching ice buildup on the inside of windows would get old, especially if kids are in the mix...

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    For some of us the truck is far away. You ride the snowgo in at -20 or so with a promising weather report. Saturday might be nicer or more of the same. No big deal. Wake up Sunday to -45. Do you suit up and go or do you huddle up and stay? There's a question I've faced a few times. With kids in the mix.

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    Member Hunt'N'Photos's Avatar
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    In our 16x24 half loft cabin we use an Empire direct-vent propane furnace and a blaze queen wood stove. When we first get to the cabin in the winter we fire both up and set the furnace to 55 deg. That way it warms up fast. When the temp gets above 55 the wood stove heats the cabin for the remainder of the day, but when it burns out at night the furnace kicks in and keeps it comfortable all night. We have been there as cold as -30 and with a 100lb bottle sitting on the front deck it has never had any issues freezing up. We go through a 100lb bottle about every year and a half. In the fall if we just need to take the chill off or dry out, we just fire the furnace up as the wood stove would get it too hot.
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