Of the four basic needs of survival–food, clothes, shelter, and fuel–the latter is usually overlooked. That is, of course, until there is a power outage resulting from a natural disaster or any other unforeseen circumstance. That is when people realize how much they are dependent on fuel and wonder how they should have stored fuel for emergencies.
Is it possible to store fuel for emergencies? Yes, fuel can be stored once you understand safety precautions required for storage. How you store fuel depends on several factors, including your needs and type of fuel, fuel availability, and safety.
Buying, storing, and maintaining fuels requires a thorough understanding of what you will need and how to store it properly. This is to ensure that the quality of stored fuel does not deteriorate over time. After all, you’re only switching from conventional means of going over to a gas station to store fuel at home because it’s due in an emergency.
This is a complete guide to storing fuels, maintaining it, and above all – understanding which fuels are needed where and how in case of an emergency.
Before Storing Your Fuel, Check its Quality
Fuel of lesser quality will not only damage your engine but might be life-threatening. There is a need to differentiate between good quality and poor quality fuel and if you aren’t up for a lesson in physics, then here’s one simple rule:
Good quality fuel will combust without black smoke. Black smoke, in turn, would leave deposits on your engine and hinder their capacity to work as well.
This is an important consideration in both emergency and non-emergency situations. In the former, you would require fuel to power generators and engines in case a hurricane or a tornado has disrupted the main power source. The gist of which is, stored fuel needs to function properly without emitting harmful by-products.
According to the Center for Disease Control, carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for thousands of emergency room visits each year. They estimate that between 400 and 500 people die every year due to carbon monoxide poisoning. What is even more dangerous is the fact that CO poisoning is quite often misdiagnosed, and professionals are consulted only after symptoms have exasperated to the point of no return.
General Guidelines For Fuel Handling:
- Keep out of reach of children.
- Provide adequate ventilation: the amount of chemicals released is linked with the amount of oxygen present.
- Install smoke detectors.
- Keep fire extinguishers handy.
- Attend to leaks at once.
- Follow manufacturer’s guidelines for engines beforehand.
- Store fuel following local laws and guidelines.
Storing Fuels: Guidelines for Emergency and Non-Emergency Use:
In everyday situations, you fulfill your fuel needs by going over to the gas station, paying your bills on time, and so on. However, now that you’ve decided to store fuel with yourself, there are a few necessary guidelines to look over. Please remember that it isn’t as easy as you might have expected it to be.
Great caution needs to be exercised when storing fuel. Storage conditions have to be ideal and differentiated based on flammable or combustible fuels. As such, it is recommended for stored fuels:
- Stored in tightly closed containers.
- Containers should be out of direct sunlight.
- Stored in dry locations.
- Temperature fluctuations should be at a minimum.
- The area should be well-ventilated.
- Take into consideration the amount of time you’d need the fuel for, the sort of situation you’re preparing for.
- Implement conservation strategies.
IMPORTANT: NEVER STORE FUEL IN YOUR GARAGE.
People would often assume that anything worth storing, even fuels, would be stored in the garage. It’s become synonymous with storage. However, this association might work well with anything except fuels.
Why? Unless your garage is a detached building, you’re potentially risking your property and life by having a combustible or a flammable container in a space attached to your home.
Where To Store Fuels:
Storage guidelines, as well as local laws, dictate that fuels are to be stored in detached buildings with fuel storage cabinets. These cabinets are specifically designed to contain fumes and protect the fuel from pre-planned ignition.
There are numerous different sizes for fuel cabinets available online. The quantity of fuel inside them would depend on local laws. For example, some local regulations dictate that only 25 gallons of fuel can be stored in any one fuel cabinet.
Additionally, it is essential to note that fuel has to be stored away from your home in case of an unforeseen ignition. Professionals and authorities recommend constructing a separate shed a few feet away from your living space for storage purposes.
Storing Different Types of Fuel:
Different types of fuel have different storing requirements, and there is a reason for this. Continue reading the section below to understand the different types of fuels and the appropriate guidelines for storing them.
Storing firewood is probably the most common and time tested form of storing a means of generating personal energy. It is abundant, inexpensive, and requires almost no maintenance. Traditionally, firewood has been used for cooking and heat. However, its energy can be harnessed to move engines as well.
Different homes require different amounts of firewood. However, as a general estimate, it would require about five to eight cords of firewood to provide enough energy to one household. This amount might differ based on the size of your home, insulation, needs, and type of wood. A ‘cord’ is a hundred and twenty-eight cubic feet of wood; four by four feet in height and width.
Contrary to popular belief, acquiring firewood is not the same as chopping a tree down and expecting it to give you your required energy. It differs based on the type of wood and its burning properties.
Softwood: Softwood burns quickly, but poorly. It is not recommended for long term use. Most people would disregard their use for energy purposes completely. Softwood is used to make paper and other commercial products. Hence, it isn’t the best (or even close to) source of fuel.
Hardwood: Hardwood comes through in all the ways softwood couldn’t. It burns slowly and produces a higher heat output. Hardwoods can be more easily maintained and are not as prone to damage by insects. They also give off less pungent smoke.
Another common practice is to season firewood. To better understand the term concerning firewood, think of it as you would in cooking – you have to enhance properties using other materials as accessories to firewood.
The process includes chopping, splitting, and then storing wood for a period upwards of six months before use. Storage is done for an extended period to enhance the wood’s burn qualities.
Charcoal holds a few properties that make it more desirable than wood; it burns much more efficiently and produces more energy. However, there is one major setback: charcoal can never be burned indoors. The fuel emits high levels of CO and consumes a large amount of oxygen while doing so.
When storing charcoal, differentiate between lighter fluid and crude charcoal. The former is rarely ever recommended for storage purposes since it tends to evaporate over time. It’s more of a ready to use fuel form.
Crude charcoal can be stored easily and for longer periods. It is recommended that they are stored in airtight containers with moisture absorbents to avoid impurities tampering with the material.
Perhaps one of the first forms of fuel that you considered storing was coal. It is a traditionally used material that makes for a stronger and warmer flame. The material, however, consumes a lot of oxygen as it burns and produces high levels of carbon monoxide.
In terms of storage, coal is a low maintenance form of fuel. It can be kept for an indefinite amount of time with minimum requirements. It is, nonetheless, important to maintain dry and moisture-free conditions for the fuel.
Using coal is similar to using charcoal. The fuel form burns slowly and gradually catch flame. It produces somewhat of pungent smoke and might burn darker.
- Fuel Tablets:
Fuel tablets are storage solutions. They were specifically designed for immediate use with indefinite storage time. Fuel tablets are small cubes capable of generating upwards of 1400 degrees of heat. The material burns quickly and will continue to burn for approximately 15 minutes.
Fuel tablets are usually preferred over other forms because they were designed for an indefinite storage life and are relatively inexpensive. They can be left in their original packaging with minimum maintenance requirements.
A common type of fuel tablet is the Esbit tablet. These tablets produce little to no smoke and leave no residue behind. However, they have to be burnt outdoors because they produce many toxic gases.
Batteries – of course! Batteries are the most common and most used the single mist used forms of fuel. They are chemical-based products that can be stored anywhere from a few months to upwards of decades.
It is important to understand that batteries mentioned over here are not conventional television remote batteries. Batteries stored for immediate or emergency use are usually alkaline and primary lithium batteries that can be stored for ten years with minimum chemical loss.
Nickel-based batteries are conventional batteries that can be stored for five years or longer based on storage conditions. Another type is lithium-based batteries that can be stored in a charged state (as opposed to Nickle-based batteries stored in discharged states).
Other common storage and safety precautions when it comes to batteries are pretty much what your parents have been telling you all along: remove batteries from your equipment when not in use. Conventional batteries are to be stored in a cool and dry place when not in use.
Kerosene is a common oil-based fuel used for cooking and heating purposes. The fuel comes in a variety of different ‘grades’ based on sulfur content. These grades, in turn, determine the properties of kerosene. For example, Klean Heat is a premium grade of kerosene and burns the cleanest with minimum debris.
Kerosene can be safely stored in 5-gallon containers. These are commonly seen as those big blue containers. The color is particular to kerosene to differentiate it from gasoline, which is highly volatile. The fuel has a shelf life of two to five years and is recommended to store in its original, blue container with stabilizers (such as PRI-D) added every year to extend its shelf life.
On that matter, kerosene is seen as safer to store than gasoline. It does not produce explosive and toxic vapors. However, it is flammable and must be kept away from heat sources in storage areas.
Throughout the years, numerous fuel stores have been introduced. However, gasoline still predominates as more than 80% of all vehicles are gasoline-powered. It is an essential fuel stored typically to power tools such as chainsaws, generators, and lawnmowers. However, it is one of the most highly flammable forms of fuel and needs to be stored under specific conditions.
It has a shelf-life of only a few months, less than six in most cases without stabilizers. Using a stabilizer can increase the shelf-life up to a year, but that’s as far as you could expect it to last. It deteriorates over time, and the longer you store it, the less useful it becomes–until eventually, it isn’t.
Typically, homeowners tend to store gasoline only when gas prices drop to a remarkable extent. Hence, they do not usually store it for long term emergency use, rather for quick and easier needs. Stabilizers are one way of increasing their shelf life. They may be periodically added to containers to preserve their ignition capacities.
Store gasoline away from your electrical appliances such as TVs, fridges, cookers, air conditioners, heaters, and many more. Such appliances can be sources of heat or sparks which may make the gasoline explode.
Similarly, you can rotate gasoline. The term refers to the process of pouring gasoline from your container into your car and then refilling it from the local gas station. It makes you whole. However, needless to say, it isn’t a fuel you would use in an emergency.
With such a short shelf life, the question arises: How much should be stored? It is recommended to store enough gasoline to reach a destination or carry out an intended purpose for single use, with upwards of not more than 25% extra. Several laws require homeowners and businesses to store gasoline in red containers for specification purposes.
Again: Gasoline is a flammable gas, easily deteriorates, and has a short shelf-life. Stabilizers are to be added periodically to extend its durability. However, the longer it’s left unused, the less likely it will ever be used.
Diesel fuel is another oil-based fuel, although not nearly as popular as gasoline (for reference, only 3% of US vehicles are diesel-powered). However, diesel is less flammable and can be stored for a longer duration, 18-24 months without stabilizers. They produce several harmful and toxic gases. Diesel containers are differentiated from gasoline and kerosene as yellow containers.
Storage considerations depend on whether or not your vehicle is diesel-powered and whether an emergency is predicted or not. For the second part, gasoline has a shorter and less predictable shelf life, which does not make it ideal for extended use. Diesel, on the other hand, has an indefinite storage time with stabilizers and nitrogen blanking.
Nitrogen blanking is the process of injecting nitrogen into diesel to keep it from decreasing by replacing space in the container with nitrogen. It creates a more favorable environment by destroying microbes and fungi.
- Lighter Fluid:
Charcoal comes in two types; crude charcoal (the conventional image of the material), and lighter fluid. The latter is a form of liquid fuel and can be either alcohol or petroleum-based. Lighter fluid is a volatile fuel source, and several safety precautions must be exercised in its use.
Lighter fluid is highly flammable and should be stored in closed containers away from sunlight or direct heat sources. They are not intended for long-term use and should only be stored if needed immediately.
TIP – MIXING OILS: There are many different types of oils, each with some unique qualities and setbacks. Oil mixing is a technique that balances out unique abilities and setbacks in two different oil forms to create safer and more useful energy fuel.
Mixed oil cannot, however, be stored for longer periods. Oils that have been mixed and left for more than a month should be disposed of. There are several ‘pre-mixed’ commercial variants available with longer shelf lives.
Propane is a liquid fuel that is conventionally stored in the form of gas under high pressure. It is a common source of stored fuel and easily available in case of an emergency compare to other fuel. Storage containers come in several sizes: 1 pound to 30 pound tanks, as well as fixed non-disposable tanks that can hold upwards of hundreds of pounds of fuel.
The fuel in itself can be used and stored indefinitely. However, the tank is damaged in most cases and must be routinely inspected for signs of rust or dents.
Storage is simple, and the gas is low maintenance, but propane is prone to ignition and must be tightly secured with a valve when not in use. As with kerosene, propane can be stored safely for the long term without deteriorating and also is very versatile in uses. It can be used for stoves, lights, heaters, and even your refrigerator
Butane is similar to propane in many ways, but it is a much more dangerous variant of gas fuels and requires some specific maintenance protocols. Butane is a highly flammable gas used for cooking and heating purposes.
It is supplied and stored in butane cylinders or cartridges. Temperature fluctuations take a particular toll on butane as near-freezing temperatures (32 F) deteriorates its properties. Temperatures have to be kept between 120-32 F. Do not store near any oxidizing materials (chlorine or concentrated oxygen) in a cool, dry location with adequate ventilation.
- Natural Gas:
Natural gas holds a distinct additive that makes it easier to store – it gives off a pungent, rotten egg-like smell, which makes it easy to detect. Natural gas is a common source of energy, and most appliances such as heaters and generators require the fuel.
The gas can be stored in disposable containers for extended periods and fixed with valves. However, it is extremely dangerous, and nearly half of emergency room visits related to fuels were because of natural gas. When inhaled, the vapors displace oxygen resulting in dizziness, lightheadedness, and drowsiness – sometimes leading to death.
How To Keep Stored Fuels Safe:
No matter how long you store the fuel, if proper precautions and maintenance requirements are not carried out, the fuel quality will be compromised, and it won’t perform well, if at all4. There are several mechanical and chemical considerations homeowners need to be wary of before storing fuel. All of which have been mentioned in response to specific fuels above.
However, a few general solutions can be used to extend any sort of fuel quality. These chemical or mechanical solutions help with fuel stability deficits. They’re seen as ‘fuel treatments’ intended to prevent impurities and sludge from clogging into containers and damaging fuel.
Similarly, fuel polishers are reactive mechanical solutions that remove water and sludge by filtration. Both mechanical and chemical means are a part of the fuel preventive maintenance program (fuel PM).
- Chemical Treatments:
Of chemical treatments, fuel stabilizers, water controllers, biocides, and sludge dispersants are most well-known and used. These chemical treatments are used to store fuels for longer duration by either removing existing damage or preventing damage. For example;
- Fuel stabilizers are anti-oxidant solutions that prevent reactions from starting within the fuel. Most fuels deteriorate in their inherent ability to produce energy because of by-products that have formed over extended periods during which they haven’t been used, or placed in unfavorable conditions. Stabilizers prevent oxidative processes from occurring within the fuel, most commonly in liquid-based fuels such as diesel or gasoline.
- Water-based chemicals control the buildup of water within the stored fuel. Water can alter combustion properties to produce weaker and denser flames. Common treatments of the sort include; Bell Performance, such as Dee-Zol, used particularly for diesel fuels. They break down water emulsions in the fuel. Forcing water to separate from fuel and collect it at the bottom as free water can be easily removed.
- Sludge Dispersants are more recent innovations. They prevent sludge buildup or destroy existing sludge in storage containers prone to clogging or less resistance to fungal attacks. Sludge dispersants clean storage tanks and enhance the effectiveness of biocides. Furthermore, they inhibit corrosion in fuel tanks by protecting its surface from corrosive elements within the fuel.
- Mechanical Treatments:
The mechanical process to extend the quality of fuel and prevent harmful buildup involve filters and separators. These treatments remove particles such as debris, sludge, etc., and water from the storage tank.
Filtration is a time-tested technique of separating impurities from fuel. While mostly associated with a large scale, commercial applications – filtration methods have since evolved to simple means enough for the average Joe to make use of them.
Mechanical processes are also the best way to handle the sizable amounts of water that many fuel storage tanks accumulate over time if they are not diligently watched.
- Hybrid Treatments:
Both chemical and mechanical treatments have many advantages – as well as limitations. A modern approach to eliminate these limitations is the hybrid treatment. This practice calls for using mechanical treatments to filter out and clean existing impurities and then follow chemical treatments that polish and enhance the quality of fuel.
Periodic mechanical servicing eliminates sludge, water, debris, and microbial growth. Whereas chemical treatments scavenge leftover water, remove sludge and asphaltene collections. In addition to these treatments, biocides may be added to extend quality and shelf life.
What sort of fuel is best for storage plans? It depends on storage availability, the amount of time you want to keep it for, and the situation you’re planning on using it for. Several different types of fuels have different maintenance needs and shelf lives. While additives and treatments are provided, it is important to estimate the cost to gain ratio with all of them.
Fuel is volatile and dangerous, not to mention expensive. There are several reasons why you don’t want to have more fuel than you need, but suffice to say that too much is a waste of space and money.
Different needs and wants call for different fuels. Those fuels call for specifications of their own. Given the volatile nature (pun intended) of these fuels, it is necessary to exercise safety precautions to avoid unfavorable (possibly life-threatening) outcomes.