By Lee Belligner
While gas is so cheap, you might feel tempted to stock up for later when it — inevitably — goes up in price again. Here are a few tips of my own.
A few years back, certain large regions of the Southeast United States suffered from a significant gas shortage that lasted almost six weeks. I was prepared – I had a 100-gallon spare gas tank on my truck that was disguised as a large tool kit.
Frankly, it was awesome driving by all those frustrated motorists caught in long lines, scratching and fighting for a few miserable gallons of gasoline. I admit I felt there was some justice in this situation.
My hope was: Maybe the driving public will finally wake up and tell Congress to undo the regulatory and legal mess that has left the U.S. totally dependent on a very old, antiquated energy infrastructure. (The excuse for the disruption was a break in a critical gas line in the Gulf region.)
Fast forward to today. Well, forget the foolish public, they have not learned anything.
Perhaps you’ve thought ahead and are stocked up on some extra fuel. Suppose you have enough gas stored to get you around town or to reach your relatives in the next state should an emergency requiring evacuation arise…
There Are Pitfalls to Storing Gasoline
You Need to Know About
You don’t expect such a thing to happen, but it does. You can throw your gas cans in the back of your car along with your E-Pack evacuation kits and a few other things of sentimental value, and you and your family start driving.
You’re glad you’ve got your gas cans, because the lines at the gas stations you pass are impossibly long. But, then on a long stretch of empty highway between your home and your destination, the unthinkable happens.
You refuel your car from one of your gas cans. At first it runs fine. But, after a few miles, the engine begins knocking and sputtering and finally quits altogether. Now you and your family are stranded with a car that won’t run, miles from safety and shelter.
Fuel Stores are Essential to Being Prepared,
but They Are Useless if Not Stored Properly
No matter the season, it’s important to have a supply of fuel on hand. You want gasoline (or diesel) to run your car and your generator, if you have one. You also want propane, white gas, or kerosene to power your camp stove, gas grill, and indoor heater.
Having fuel on hand can give you the means to stay warm and comfortable, to prepare a hot meal, and even to sterilize water should the need arise. It can also give you the means to escape a bad situation.
But, improperly stored fuel can become a safety hazard. And, many types of fuel, including gasoline, lose stability over time, making them difficult to ignite. That means that even if you store your fuel safely, if you don’t take proper steps to ensure its long-term stability, you could just be storing canisters of useless liquid – liquid that will let you down when you need it most.
Avoid Fuel Storage Safety Hazards
- You should not store fuel in your home or attached garage. If it does ignite, having it that close to your living space presents an obvious problem. Instead, store your fuel some distance from your home in a well-ventilated shed. Storing your fuel in an outbuilding of some sort helps to protect it from heating up due to direct sun exposure and from moisture due to weather conditions. By preventing solar heating, you slow the evaporation process. And by protecting your fuel stores from moisture, you help ensure your fuel isn’t contaminated with water.
- Keep a fire extinguisher near your fuel tanks. If you run electrical wires in the outbuilding that you’re using for storage, make sure the wiring is in a sealed conduit. The last thing you want is for fuel vapors to come in contact with an electric spark. That would be the end of your fuel stores and your outbuilding!
- Make sure you always store fuel in a container designed for it. Gasoline, for example is corrosive to many plastics. Storing gasoline in a plastic drum that hasn’t been rated for fuel storage will destroy the drum and render the gas useless.
- If you’re storing more than one type of fuel, make sure you have a system for keeping track of which is which. You don’t want to accidentally use gasoline in a diesel engine or to run a propane or kerosene stove!
- Also make sure to keep your fuel stored in watertight, airtight containers. Excess moisture can ruin the performance of most fuels. It can also gum up the engine you burn the fuel in. It’s important to have an airtight content, with a venting valve, because most fuels evaporate quickly even at low temperatures. If your container isn’t airtight, you’ll lose your fuel to evaporation.
Additives That Will Preserve Your Fuel for Longer
If you want to know with confidence that your fuel will burn when you need it to, you may need to add chemical stabilizers to it, depending on how long you plan to store it.
Some fuels have a longer shelf life than others. Gasoline, for example, will expire within a few weeks without added stabilizers. Propane, on the other hand, will last indefinitely.
Check into the long-term storability of the fuels you plan to keep on hand, and add stabilizers as needed. There are many options. Two of the most common are Sta-bil and Pri-G (for gasoline) or Pri-D (for diesel). Diesel fuels often also need to be treated with a biocide to keep anaerobic bacteria from ruining the fuel.
Set Up a Rotation Schedule for Smarter Fuel Storage
Another option for making sure your fuel is always good-to-go and ready to burn is to set up a rotation schedule for your storage. First, decide how much fuel and what types you want to keep on hand.
Then, purchase three containers for each type of fuel. (You can buy color-coded containers to help prevent fuel mix-ups.) The size of your containers will depend on your storage needs.
Use the fuel, as you need it, from one of the containers. When the first container is empty, make a note to take it in and refill it. Then start using your next container to meet your fuel needs. Make sure you get your empty container filled before you have to start using your third container. This way, you’ll always have at least one full container of fuel on hand for whatever you need, and your fuel will stay fresh, so you don’t have to worry so much about spoilage.
Another idea is to install a fuel storage system in your pickup truck, or use a jerry-can carrier mounted to your bumper or trailer hitch. Then, it’s a quick and easy thing to take at least part of your fuel stores with you if you should have to leave in a hurry.
Check Into Legal Issues
One of the safest ways to store fuel is in an underground container. However, in most areas, it’s likely to require a costly permit, if allowed at all.
There are plenty more legal issues to consider when it comes to fuel storage, and they vary from state to state and city to city.
You may be limited in how much fuel you can store, where you can store it, and what you can put it in. If you don’t want to run the risk of local citations and the fines that go with them, contact your local city officials and ask them to provide you with a list of the regulations regarding residential fuel storage. Have a friend or a workman do this for you if you don’t want to tip off authorities to your plans.
Two More Tips
I have two final thoughts for you when it comes to safe fuel storage. First, if you’re storing gasoline, shop around for gas that doesn’t contain ethanol. The ethanol will retain moisture as it sits and that can gum up your engine later.
Second, don’t stock up on fuel and simply put it in proper containers located at a safe distance from your home – thinking your job is done. Safe fuel storage is like having a smoke alarm in the house. You should test your smoke alarm once a month to make sure it’s in working order, and you should check on your fuel containers at least once a month to make sure nothing is leaking. A fuel leak can cause all sorts of problems above and beyond wasted fuel. Make sure you take good care of your fuel supply, so it’s there for you when you need it and so it doesn’t become a safety hazard.
Having fuel on hand when you need it in an emergency is a blessing, and it can even be a lifesaver. But, make sure you’re smart about your fuel storage. Only then will you be certain that you’re ready for anything.