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The Cabin That Runs on Propane

By Pat Faherty
Published: February 1, 2005
Photo by AmeriGas,
They could have called it “genie in a bottle,” this portable fuel that’s carted around in delivery trucks and over-the-counter containers ranging from small steel bottles to various sizes of refillables.
Its uses run from convenience to backup to sheer necessity.               

Tired of chopping firewood? Poof!  Install a gas fireplace.
Frequent power outages? Use it to power your refrigerator, water heater, stove – even your backup generator.
Miles from the nearest electrical line? Power the entire cabin with this genie.

Reliable, Clean and Versatile
This “genie in a bottle” (discovered in a chemistry lab) has been around for 91 years and is known as propane.
In the nine-plus decades it has been around, this workhorse has given legs to dreams of living in remote areas in complete comfort – and with a clean, dependable energy source.
Propane, also known as liquified petroleum gas, fuels cabin living around the country and has become the successor to kerosene, coal, charcoal and wood. Now it’s giving competition to electricity in some areas.
Nontoxic and nonpoisonous, propane can’t harm soil or water, which makes home storage tanks – above or below ground – a popular option.
How safe and clean is it, really? Propane is an approved alternative fuel listed in both the Clean Air Act of 1990 and the National Energy Policy Act of 1992.
Besides being nontoxic, propane is insoluble in water. And because it is released as a gas, it doesn’t spill, pool or leave a residue.
As far as safety, propane won’t ignite when combined with air unless the source of ignition reaches 940 degrees Fahrenheit.
And in the past two years, it has emerged as a high-profile alternative to residential reliance on electricity, even in non-rural areas.
According to the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC), Americans are increasingly looking for more reliable and cost-effective primary and backup energy sources. Having a home storage tank and a propane-powered generator can provide a reliable “off-the-grid” energy source – especially useful in areas where electric service is undependable or easily interrupted.
A single propane tank – possibly underground – can power all the accessories and appliances that make for easy living at the lake, on the deck or in and around the cabin. The tank can operate a hot tub, water heater, gas grill, pool heater, space heater, dock heater or winter boot dryer. It can also heat the house, dry your clothes and keep the garage warm enough to work in year-round.

Outdoor Power for Outdoor Rooms
As for the propane industry, it seems to be paying attention to the interests and needs of cabin, cottage and lakehome owners. The growing interest in outdoor rooms, decks and patios has heated up demand for propane-powered appliances. There has been an especially strong demand for propane-powered fireplaces and stoves.
“It makes sense for homeowners in the process of building an outdoor room to consider propane,” says Jim Hitzemann, chairman of PERC’s Homebuilder Subcommittee.
“An entire outdoor room can be fueled by a single propane tank, decreasing complications caused by multiple energy sources,” says Hitzemann. “And fewer complications means more time for friends and family.”     
The most popular of the outdoor appliances remains the outdoor grill with the familiar white gas bottle. Other popular appliances include cook-top stoves, patio and deck heaters, torches and lanterns, refrigerators and, for those uninvited guests, mosquito control units.
Manufacturers keep coming up with propane-powered appliances and equipment to meet almost every indoor and outdoor need. Who knows? In the future propane may even fuel the vehicle that takes you to the cabin.

Freelance writer Pat Faherty prefers propane-powered products at his place.  He recently converted his cabin hot tub from wood to propane.

What exactly is propane?

Propane is a hydrocarbon (C3H8) and is sometimes referred to as liquefied petroleum gas, LP-gas or LPG.  It is produced from two sources – natural gas processing and crude oil refining – in roughly equal amounts.
About 90 percent of the United States’ supply is produced domestically. It exists as both a liquid and a vapor. Propane is usually shipped and stored as a liquid and burned as a clear gas. It is naturally odorless, but that famous rotten egg smell is added so you can easily detect leaks.

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