How to Read a Propane Tank Gauge

When you think of reading any type of gauge, you likely think that the reading reflects the total available amount of whatever is being gauged. For example, if your car’s gas gauge is at three-quarters, your gas tank is three-quarters full.

However, not all gauges are created equal, and this principle does not apply when it comes to propane tank gauges.

Propane home use depends on having a storage tank on your property. If you’re using propane to power your heating source and appliances such as your clothes dryer, you have anywhere from a 120- to a 500-gallon propane storage tank in (or buried somewhere beneath) your yard.

Whatever the size of your propane tank, it has a gauge on it so you can always know how much propane gas you have on hand and when it’s time for a propane delivery. But remember, reading gauges on propane tanks is not the same as reading the gas gauge on your car. So, what makes them different and how do you read them?

It’s important to know how to properly read a propane tank gauge, so if you’re a residential propane user, read on and get vital information you’ll need to get an accurate reading.

propane gauge

Propane Use

In 2017, the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) reported that about 50 million American households employed the use of propane; nearly eight million of those homes utilized propane for in-home heating purposes.

So, when it comes to propane home use, what else besides heating is propane used for? Well, anything from cooktops to water heaters. Ovens, fireplaces, grills, generators, and pool heaters are some appliances that can be powered by propane.

Of course, the more appliances you’re powering, the more propane you’re using. That’s where propane tank size options come into play.

Propane Tanks

You have choices when it comes to propane tanks.

The main influence on what size propane storage tank you need will be how much you’re powering. Heating your water and cooking your food with propane? A 120-gallon tank will do. But what if you own a 3,000-square foot home where you’re relying on propane as your main energy source? Then chances are you’re going with a 500-gallon tank.

All but the 120-gallon configuration are horizontal-only; the 120-gallon storage tank can be either horizontal or vertical. If you feel that you don’t want a propane tank visible on your property, installing your propane tank underground is an option.

If you choose an underground installation, remember that this is not a do-it-yourself project. It’s important to understand that you need licensed, trained professionals such as those employed by Diversified Energy to handle this type of installation.

large gas tank

How to Read a Gauge

Okay, back to our opening topic: how DO you read that gauge on your propane tank?

One of the most important facts to remember about your propane tank gauge is that it reflects the percentage of your tank’s capacity, NOT the available gallons of propane.

Another important fact is that your gauge reads 80% when full: this is because that’s the maximum fill percentage of any propane tank. Since stored propane is in liquid form, it will expand and contract due to temperature changes. Thus, a filled propane tank puts the gauge at 80.

So, when your gauge reads 20; this reflects that your tank is 20% full. If you have, say, a 250-gallon tank and you’re at 20%, then you have 50 gallons of propane left.

When to call in for a propane delivery? Basically, it’s a good idea not to let the tank get below 20%; that’s a good marker to go with when it’s time for a refill and gives you a few days’ cushion. Less than 10%, and you’ll need to get propane delivered as quickly as possible to avoid running out.

Safety

Knowing how to read your propane storage tank gauge is essential to identifying when you need to get a refill and avoiding potential problems associated with letting your storage tank run totally out of gas.

Running out of propane means your appliances don’t work; if you rely on propane for home heating, for instance, and you’ve used up all of your propane supply then your furnace doesn’t operate.
But beyond the obvious, there are safety issues involved with letting your propane tank completely empty itself. First, a valve could be left open, so when a propane delivery company like Diversified Energy shows up to fill your tank, an open valve could result in a gas leak.

Also, any pilot light will go out if you completely run out of propane. This can be dangerous, so you’ll need to make sure that is addressed properly to avoid any problems.

Finally, federal regulations call for a leak test to be performed for any storage tank that has been drained of propane. There is a charge for this test, and it falls on the homeowner to foot that bill.

At the end of the day, knowing how to read your propane tank gauge will save you both money and aggravation. A short walk outside and the application of a simple math formula is all it takes!