In some parts of the country, propane isn’t something you use just to fire up the BBQ, it can be the single source of fuel for cooking and heating. When you’re living off the grid, or when there isn’t a grid, propane is an option to keep you cooking and free from frostbite. I just returned from a trip to rural Idaho by the Sawtooth Mountains, where it was not uncommon to see cabins with a nearby propane tank. With winters that sometimes hit the low temperature records for the nation, and access to luxuries like municipal services few and far between, propane can be the difference between uninhabitable and a great spot to stake out your retreat in the mountains. Here at the slightly more urban global headquarters for Home Fixated, in southern California, propane isn’t about survival, it’s all about lifestyle.
If all that comes to mind when you hear the word propane is those little gas cylinders for your camping stove, it might be time to take a closer look at what propane powers these days. As a byproduct of oil refining and natural gas processing, propane is in greater abundance these days, and so are the options for using it. You can find propane powering everything from forklifts and trucks, to water heaters and generators. In this post sponsored by Proudly Propane, we’ll dive into some of the more “recreational” uses for it – specifically outdoor living.
BBQ – Propane Style
Several years ago, I installed a Weber BBQ and connected it via natural gas. However, hooking up to a natural gas line isn’t practical or desirable for everyone.
Here Are a Few Reasons You Might Want to Consider Propane over Natural Gas for your BBQ:
- You don’t have a natural gas line
While this may seem slightly obvious, not everyone has a natural gas line.
- Running natural gas for your BBQ would be impractical or too expensive
Even when you have natural gas, if your BBQ location is 100 yards from your gas line, running a connection can quickly get impractical and expensive
- You take your BBQ with you
If you’re known to throw your BBQ in the back of your pickup, propane is the obvious way to go
- You like to move your BBQ to different locations on your property
Sometimes the ideal spot to BBQ is a moving target. One day it might be under a shade tree, another it might be closer to the party. Propane keeps you mobile.
- Your BBQ only has a propane connection
Because of the popularity of propane, many BBQ’s are only designed for propane.
Propane doesn’t have installation costs and generally provides for more flexibility for your choice of BBQ and location. In many parts of the country, outdoor cooking is just part of the equation to enjoying life outside. The other part is outdoor living.
Outdoor Living with Propane Patio Heaters
In San Diego, it’s not uncommon for BBQ enthusiasts to grill it up year-round. However, contrary to popular belief, it sometimes gets chilly. Rather than put on a thick winter coat for comfort (something few San Diegans own), many in San Diego and elsewhere in the country choose to adapt their environment to be more comfortable. Enter the “mushroom-style” propane patio heater.
First popularized as a way for restaurants to extend their outdoor seating season, mushroom-style patio heaters soon became an appealing option for people to entertain outdoors when it would otherwise be too chilly. In San Diego, “too chilly” equals any temperature below 66 degrees. In Minnesota, anything above freezing may still be balmy enough for outdoor partying sans supplemental patio heating. Whatever your standard for “chilly” might be, these popular propane heaters can now be seen around many homes. A dedicated natural gas line is exceedingly rare for this style of heater. Propane gives people the flexibility to move the heaters to wherever they’re needed most. You can also scale the number of patio heaters to your crowd size if you like entertaining for larger groups. You can find this style of propane heater for under $100, and even the more expensive models rarely exceed the $500 price point.
If you’re looking to step things up a notch in terms of heat output and style points, the Bromic Portable Heater makes mushroom-style heaters look like they were designed by Papa Smurf:
The Fire Pit 2.0 – Propane Fire Pits
Propane has also changed the way we look at outdoor fire pits and fireplaces. While cooking up smores or enjoying the ambiance of a fire outdoors used to involve burning wood, polluting the air heavily, and inhaling smoke as the wind inevitably follows you around the fire, propane fire pit alternatives have multiplied. Thanks to some cool designs and non-burning media (glass, stones, volcanic rock, or artificial logs), propane fire pits can keep the party going outside without you smelling like a campfire afterward. Propane burns far cleaner than a piece of wood ever will, and it creates a much more civilized and user-friendly fireside experience in the process. Guests can also retain their seats, without dodging plumes of smoke as the wind shifts.
While old-school fire pits typically involve a circle of soot-laden rocks or bricks, many new propane fire pit options are downright stylish. From rustic to modern, you can find clean-burning propane fire pits in a multitude of styles. Options range from burners you can tuck into a traditional fire ring, to fire pits that convert back to a nice-looking and utilitarian patio table during daytime activities or warmer evenings.
Dial in the Ambiance with Tiki Torches
While not appropriate for every backyard, Tiki torches can dramatically change the ambiance in your yard. While Tiki torches are often fueled by oil or dedicated natural gas lines, options do exist for propane as well. Companies like Beachside Lighting in Hawaii offer tiki torch heads that you can attach to standard gas pipes sourced locally. They offer solutions that work with natural gas or propane. Either way, you or your plumber will need to figure out a location to safely and securely mount the pole (not included) and tiki torch head. A strategically placed tiki torch or two can add some major wow factor to your yard.
Getting the Gas or in Propane’s Case – Liquid
There are a couple different approaches to keeping your outdoor heaters, fire pits and tiki torches fired up. Many people get a tank at a big box store like Home Depot or Lowes and then exchange the empty tank for a full one when the time comes. Here in San Diego, Lowes charges $22 for a standard size tank exchange and Home Depot charges $21. This approach is convenient and fast, but also means you get tanks of varying condition. Personally, I like the approach of refilling at a local business that offers that service. If you take proper care of your tank, you’ll have the reassurance the tank hasn’t been abused or damaged, something worth considering when you’re storing and transporting a flammable product.
With the refueling approach, you buy the tank size you need new and empty (also available from big stores for roughly $30-$60) and then have it refilled at your local propane dealer. Although this policy might be different in other areas or States, the big box stores here in San Diego will not refill your tank. . . you’ll need to do that at a propane refilling station. Here in San Diego, you can get a refill for as low as around $10 for a typical tank. If you live near a refueling station and don’t mind waiting a few minutes, refilling your own propane tank will definitely save you a few bucks over time. Wherever you happen to live, chances are there are relatively convenient options to refilling or exchanging your propane tanks.
Whether you’re looking to retire your sooty wood firepit, stay toasty with an outdoor heater, or cook up some tasty BBQ without the expense of running a dedicated gas line to the grill, propane-fueled options can help you continue to enjoy the great outdoors with some of the comforts you normally expect indoors.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Propane Education & Research Council. The opinions and text are all mine. Reference to any product brand name, corporation, or price appears at the author’s discretion and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or approval by Proudly Propane.