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Saving Big on Propane. It’s A Gas Gas Gas

tankexchange It’s grilling season, and Triangle residents are doing a little spring cleaning and getting their equipment ready. For most, having a good portable propane tank is key. There are several options to consider, however, regarding how one supplies the gas.

The most convenient method for keeping stocked with propane is a tank exchange program. The customer takes their tank to a home improvement or grocery store, and takes home a different, filled tank. If there are any problems with the tank itself, the tank exchange vendor will pull the tank from circulation. The tank refills at Home Depot run in the $22 neighborhood, but the customer doesn’t have to purchase a tank, pay a membership fee, or pay a tank deposit fee.

Another option is refilling an existing tank. Places like U-Haul on Capital Blvd (just beyond Peace Street) and Costco can fill a tank, as long as it is in working condition and hasn’t expired. Tank refills are $10.50 at Costco, and are in the $15 neighborhood at U-Haul. This is a considerably less expensive option thank trading, but there are risks and difficulties.

In order to get propane at Costco, you park near the tire center, and take your tank to the propane island for inspection. (There is a call button if the attendant is not present). Once the tank passes inspection, you go into the store, wait in a cashier line, and tell the cashier that you are buying a 20 pound propane refill. After paying, you present your receipt outside at the propane station, and take your tank home.

Tanks can only be filled if they pass inspection, however. The valve must appear to be in working condition, and the tank should not appear rusty. The handle of the tank has a date imprinted, and this date must not be more than 12 years ago. Any tank that fails the inspection is denied and the customer must find another solution.

That risk doesn’t seem so great, however, when one considers the long term costs. Comparing a season of using an exchange program vs. Costco’s refill program, the Costco program is staggeringly cheaper. I use roughly 3.5 Blue Rhino tanks per year, which ends up costing around $77. Even though the tank is a 20 lb tank, Blue Rhino and RapidXchange only put 15 lb worth of material in the tank. Therefore I have used 53 pounds per year at a cost of $77, or $1.47/lb.

Costco’s refill delivers 20 lb of propane at a price of $10.50, or  $0.53/lb. This would cost me $27.83, resulting in an annual savings of about $50. That’s almost enough to buy two brand new unfilled tanks ($27.50 each) inside Costco. Each tank has its own gas gauge and has a 12-year lifespan. Over that 12-year lifespan, a tank exchange program would likely cost me $924 while a pair of Costco tanks with refills would likely cost $389.

The Costco system of selling propane is a hassle, for sure. However the long term costs are so much less, they are worth considering versus a tank exchange program.


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  • gogoraleigh Said:

    Just to note, also, that Costco’s price on gas is 30 cents less per gallon than the gas at North Hills Exxon. If you drive 15K miles per year and average 20 mpg, that difference translates to ~$225 per year. For a Prius driver, the savings is about $95/yr.

  • Hobbes Said:

    I think if you already have a blue rhino tank, or other branded exchange tank, you can still get it filled at Costco. Then if you’re tank fails inspection, you just go exchange it one time for a newer one.

  • Randy Said:

    A couple years ago when the price of fuel was going up, they started putting less propane in the pre-filled tanks in order to avoid a price increase. A filled up tank from Costco or U-Haul will go a lot further than one of the pre-filled tanks.

  • Kayla - Thinkheat.com Said:

    Although refilling a tank sometimes needs waiting a bit, I guess for the long term, I prefer to use this method. If it is necessary, buying a spare tank will be a wise option too.

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