Store 10 Common Fuel Sources Safely
Gasoline prices are at their lowest level in years and you may be thinking about stocking up for emergencies. In the event of a power outage, even if it just lasts for a few days, you will not be able to buy fuel. Most fuels require pumping and all pumps operate on electricity.
Most of us could survive just fine for a few days without fuel. But an extended power outage, or an extended disruption in distribution channels, could cause major problems for most families. NOTE: Always be safe and aware of fire hazards when storing any kind of fuel long term.
What Are Your Fuel Storage Needs?
There are several reasons that you might want to stock up on fuel and not all of them are about your car. Maybe you want to have fuel storage for emergencies so you can:
- Run a generator.
- Use a chain saw for wood cuts or downed limbs.
- Run your lawn mower without going to the station frequently.
- Use it in your car in case of evacuation.
- Run a tractor.
- Cook if the power is out.
- Heat your home during winter emergencies.
- Have lighting during power outages.
A Few Cautionary Words When Storing and Using Fuel
You’ve got to understand carbon monoxide poisoning and how to recognize it if you want to be safe. The American Lung Association says that:
“Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, but dangerous gas. It is produced when a fuel such as natural gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. Exposure to CO reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Fuel-burning appliances used indoors must be maintained, used properly and fully vented to the outdoors to prevent dangerous levels of CO. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances.”
Breathing high levels of CO can cause: Headache, Nausea, Dizziness, Weakness, Confusion, Disorientation, Vomiting and Sleepiness
Many of these symptoms are similar to the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses. So you may not suspect CO poisoning. It is important to have a Carbon Monoxide Detector (Amazon) with an audible alarm installed in your home. If you are going to burn oil lamps in your home, this small investment can save a life.
Approximately 450 people die each year from CO exposure related to fuel-burning, residential appliances. Thousands more became ill or sought medical attention. CO poisoning is estimated to cause more than 50,000 emergency room visits in the United States each year.
Gasoline for Running Machinery
Gasoline is essential to have in storage for running chainsaws, mowers, and generators. In the event of a severe storm, a chainsaw may be the only way you will get out of your property. Gas is highly flammable, so beware of fire hazards and always keep an ABC Fire Extinguisher (Amazon) nearby.
Gasoline has a shelf life of 3-6 months without a fuel stabilizer additive . With the stabilizer, you can expect at least 12 months, and up to 15 months, of storage time. You can purchase stabilizer at any home improvement or automotive store.
How much to store: For a generator, look at what you plan to run and how long you plan to run it. 30 gallons could last on average about a week as long as you use the generator for necessities only. Of course it depends on the time of year and your generator. Everyone should have at least one can of gas stored for emergencies and maybe even store a minimum of one tank of gas for your car. This is roughly 25 gallons – 15 for the car and another 10 for the generator.
Verify that it is legal to store fuel in your area and follow these guidelines:
- Use the right kind of container, never store or transport gasoline in anything but a red plastic container. (Red=gasoline, Blue=kerosene, Yellow=diesel)
- Keep it isolated from other fuels and do not store it in the house.
- Keep it in a cool, dark, ventilated area like the garage or an out building. Never store gasoline in the house.
- Rotate your supply yearly every July (because they use a different blend in the winter). Fill your car with any leftover gasoline, go refill your storage cans, treat with fuel stabilizer and mark the date. The new batch will be good for another year.
- Be sure and check gas cans regularly for leaks.
Mixing Oil for Small Engines
Two-cycle engines, like chainsaws, snow blowers, and weed eaters, run on a mixture of gasoline and oil. Each engine type is designed to run on a specific gas-to-oil mix ratio. To confirm the correct ratio for your equipment, check your operator’s manual.
IMPORTANT: Do not use any mixed fuel/oil that is over 30 days old. You can prevent this by not mixing more fuel than you are likely to use in a month. You can also purchase Pre-Mixed 2-Stroke Fuel and Oil for Engines that has a longer shelf life. Click here to learn about issues related to old fuel and how to overcome it. Check the MTD Products website for more information about mixing ratios and technique.
Firewood for Cooking and Heat
When I was a kid my dad converted our furnace to run on wood. It was a lot of work to gather the wood and split it, but his efforts completely saved us during a major 2 week ice storm when I was a teen. Many homes store cords of wood for heating and cooking purposes. It is an easily accessible fuel source but must be protected from the elements. It often becomes wet and unusable in a disaster. It may take up a lot of space. What can you use it for?
- Good for indoor cooking, a wood burning stove or open fireplace are considered essential to many that live in cold climates. Make sure you stove is properly vented to outside and it checked yearly.
- Outdoor cooking in an open pit fire
- Firewood may be hard to get depending on your location. In rural areas wood may be readily available at relatively low cost but local permits may be necessary.
- It’s shelf life is virtually unlimited as long as you keep it dry and covered from the elements. See WoodHeat.org for ideas about slitting, stacking and preparing your wood.
- How much do you need? Generally speaking, the answer to the question, “How much firewood do I need to heat my home during the cold winter months?” is anywhere between five and eight full cords. A cord of firewood is 128 cubic feet that is four feet high, four feet wide and eight feet long. How many cords you need depends on a few factors: The size of your house, your home’s insulation, what you will use it for, and the quality of the wood. The better seasoned the wood, the more heat it produces. Consider keeping a cord for cooking emergencies.
Propane for Cooking and Heat
Propane is readily available and comes in container sizes ranging from 1 pound to very large containers. It is a good source of fuel for both heat and cooking.
- When using propane to cook indoors you can ONLY use a natural gas stove that has been adapted for propane use. Without proper alterations it is extremely dangerous to use inside.
- Propane can be readily used for outdoor cooking. You probably do it all the time with your barbecue grill, Propane Camp Stove, or Volcano Cook Stove.
- You should never store propane indoors or in an attached garage. It should be stored in a location that gets little to no direct sunlight and has ventilation such as a storage shed or unattached garage. Limitations on amounts you are allowed to store generally apply, due to its explosive nature. Check with your local fire department for specific storage restrictions in your area.
- The shelf life is virtually indefinite as long as the tanks do not leak, or the valves do not become damaged. Most big containers have a use by date; they need to be recertified 12 years from that date and every 10 years after that
- A small canister will last a couple of days if cooking intermittent meals. Using one burner and lower settings you may get 4 or 5 days of use.
- Two standard BBQ grill tanks is probably sufficient for a 1 Month Supply.
Coal/Charcoal for Cooking
You may consider storing charcoal bags to be used for outdoor cooking. These are especially good to have around if you are planning on cooking with cast iron dutch oven pots. Some people also purchase coal for fireplace heat. It is may not be readily available in your area. Both coal and charcoal are fairly easy to store without safety concerns.
- A coal burning stove can be used for “one pot cooking” with proper ventilation. Charcoal should NOT be used indoors.
- Charcoal can be used for dutch oven cooking or in a small barbecue grill.
- Both charcoal and coal must be kept dry and you can plan on an indefinite shelf life. Store indoors or outdoors.
- To store a one 1 month supply for 3 meals a day you will need about 120 lbs.
Kerosene for Heating and Lanterns
Kerosene can be stored safely in 5-gallon containers. To do it properly, you should buy blue containers, in order to distinguish the fuel from other fuels such as gasoline. If you must store it in red gasoline containers, at least mark the containers with the word KEROSENE using a permanent black marker.
Kerosene does not produce explosive vapors like gasoline does, so it is much safer to store. It is an oil, so the danger of storing it in a garage or basement is about the same as storing a case of engine oil. It is flammable, of course, so you need to take some care in your storage, but it just isn’t as dangerous as gasoline, white gas, liquid propane, etc.
Camp Fuel (White Gas) for Cooking/Lamps
Coleman Fuel is ideal for small stoves and lanterns due to its refined purity and high heat output. It doesn’t give off the black smoke and toxic fumes that regular gasoline or kerosene does. Though it’s almost as flammable as gasoline, don’t put it in your car’s tank as the lack of some additives will cause engine knocking and eventually destroy your engine valves.
- White Gas is not recommended for indoor cooking but works great for outdoor cooking and lanterns. Learn more here.
- By carrying the fuel in small refillable fuel bottles, you don’t have the disposal considerations you do with empty propane or butane cylinders. But unlike appliances that use those fuels, you do need to fill liquid-fuel appliances.
- An un-opened container of Coleman Fuel stored in a dry area, with no extreme changes in temperature will remain viable for five to seven years. An opened container stored in the same area will be usable for up to two years though, it’s best if used within a year.
- It can be relatively expensive to use.
- You will need to store 3 gallons of Coleman camp fuel to run a 2 mantle lantern, for 5 hours a day, for one month.
- See Coleman’s page: Choose a fuel for more information.
Lamp Oil for Lighting
Liquid Paraffin Ultra Pure Lamp Oil burns longer and cleaner than regular lamp oil. It is sootless, smokeless, odorless and the cleanest burning fuel, but one of the most expensive. Oil lamps as great as backup light for power outages.
- Liquid paraffin can be used indoors without worry about CO poisoning.
- It can be used outdoor as torch oil
- Store lamp oil at or near room temperature. Protect from freezing. Frozen oil that defrosts too quickly is explosive.
- It has an indefinite shelf life.
- You will need 1 gallon of oil to power an oil land for 5 hours a day for 1 month.
Butane for Cooking
Coleman Butane / Propane Mix Fuel canisters are resealable and easily connect to stoves and lanterns. Most canister appliances are lightweight and simple to use, so if you are a backpacker who counts ounces and appreciates convenience this fuel is for you.
- Indoor Cooking is not recommended
- Outdoor Cooking is your best bet. Be sure you have proper ventilation and be careful in tents.
- The canisters may not work as well in cold weather.
- Storage in the house is safe and sealed canisters will last indefinitely
- Each canister burns approximately 3 hours. For a 1 month supply, cooking 3 meals a day, you will need about 1 canister per day.
Batteries for Everything Else
Batteries fuel our world and there are many conveniences we would be sore to do without in an emergency. Alkaline and primary lithium batteries can be stored for 10 years with only moderate loss capacity.
You should remove batteries from your equipment when not in use and store them in a dry and cool place. Avoid freezing temperatures. Batteries will freeze easier if in a discharged state.
Nickel-based batteries can be stored for five years and longer, even at zero voltage; they need to be primed before use.
Lithium-ion batteries must be stored in a charged state, ideally at 40 percent. This assures that the battery will not drop below 2.50V/cell with self-discharge and fall asleep.
How many batteries should you store? You decide! We like to keep a big pack of batteries in various sizes (we get them at Costco) on hand at all times. I keep them in the emergency storage trunk that we use as an end table.
This information is provided as a guideline for your family. You should do your own research before using any fuel. What other fuels do you store for emergencies? Share your ideas in the comments below.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How long can gasoline be stored before it goes bad?
Regular gasoline has a shelf life of three to six months, while diesel can last up to a year before it begins to degrade. On the other hand, organic-based Ethanol can lose its combustibility in just one to three months due to oxidation and evaporation.
How much gasoline can you store?
The EPA discourages people from storing more than five gallons of gasoline because it could create a fire hazard. Similarly, the National Fire Protection Association proposes a limit of 25 gallons, which is far greater than the EPA but has the same purpose of limiting the potential of a fire hazard.
Should gas cans be vented when stored?
Fuel vapors can expand and contract thanks to temperature fluctuations, so it is always a good idea to vent your gas cans when storing them. All of your gas cans should ideally be stored in a well-ventilated location to prevent buildup of gas fumes.
Is it legal to stockpile gasoline?
Even though the EPA recommends storing a maximum of 5 gallons of gas and the National Fire Protection Association recommends a maximum of 25, both of these are, at the end of the day, mere recommendations. They are not the law so you shouldn’t be affected directly.
However, the US is a big country and certain laws can differ from one state to another, or even from one county or municipality to another. For example, in New York, anyone with more than 110 gallons of gasoline in an underground storage tank must register. In California, gasoline must be stored in an approved container. If you want to be safe from the law, it is best to call your local fire department and ask them about the laws in your area.