Some 5.5 million U.S. households heat with propane, mostly in the Midwest and South, reports the U.S. Energy Department.
That's a good source of clean energy - when you can get it.
Unfortunately, we are currently experiencing a severe propane shortage.
Propane supplies throughout the Midwest, including Wisconsin, have been in short supply this winter.
Colder than normal temperatures, a month-long loss of a supply pipeline in Iowa and Minnesota, rising exports and constrained rail service, and a late corn harvest combined with heavy rains which created a higher propane use for corn drying, have all contributed to the shortage, said Marinette County Emergency Management Director Program Assistant Eric Burmeister.
According to The National Propane Gas Association, the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri are the worst hit. Few are willing to predict how long this supply squeeze will last.
Prices have skyrocketed and many propane dealers are limiting deliveries to ensure their customers continue to receive fuel for the long term, Burmeister said.
A survey of propane dealers in Marinette County revealed that most are not taking new customers, and are also restricting amounts to existing customers.
"It may also take longer for you to get your delivery because of the high demand," Burmeister said. "Many of the restrictions are because they themselves are getting limited supplies. So contact your propane vendor when your tank reaches 30 percent full to help ensure you don't run out before they can deliver."
As with any fuel shortage, there are things area residents can do to conserve and extend your fuel supply. Marinette County Emergency Management offers the following tips.
- Lower your thermostat and wear more layers of clothing.
- Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations. Check where cables (TV, phone) and pipes enter the house.
- Ensure adequate insulation in walls, attics and crawl spaces.
- If you use an alternative heat source (space heater, wood stove, etc.), ensure proper ventilation and care are used.
"Unfortunately, there are few resources available to alleviate the problem," Burmeister said. "Unlike wide-spread electrical outages, there are no repair crews to fix the problem in a matter of hours or days. The primary concern is not having heat. Make preparations in advance if you believe you may not be able to heat your home. Check to see if you can stay with family or friends. Also, check on your family, neighbors and friends who you know are at risk."
"Florence County officials have declared a State of Emergency in the area," reports Jen Steber, Director of Florence County Human Services. "While many continue to work effortlessly to find alternative resources to problems, local officials want to make sure you remain safe in your home during this emergency."
Steber urges propane users:
- Check your tank level to determine the level of propane available. If you are unable to check your level, please contact a neighbor, friend, or the Sheriff's Department at 1-800-235-9897.
- If you experience a heating emergency, please contact the Sheriff's Department at 1-800-235-9897.
- Do not stay in your home if you do not have heat. Contact the Sheriff's Department immediately.
One of the major concerns when temperatures drop is freezing water pipes. Open cabinets to expose pipes to warmer room temperatures. If pipes are vulnerable to freezing, such as in exterior walls, you should consider allowing a small trickle of water from both the hot and cold faucets.
Make sure everyone knows where the main shut-off valve is for the house. If pipes freeze you need to shut off the water immediately.
If you have no heat and need to leave your home you should drain the water from pipes to prevent freezing.
- First, turn off water at the main shut-off valve.
- Next turn on all faucets (sinks, tubs, showers) to drain the water out of the pipes.
- Remove the hoses to your washing machine and open those faucets as well.
- Flush all your toilets at least twice and remove as much water as you can from the toilet bowl and tank.
- Pour RV anti-freeze into all areas that may have water in them such as toilet bowl and tank, sink drains, floor drains, laundry box drains, etc. Do NOT use automotive anti-freeze because it is a biological poison which kills the bacteria in septic tank and sewer treatment systems.
- If you know how, drain your water heater tank.
Steber also offers the following tips:
- Do not attempt to connect a small propane tank to your furnace. This is extremely unsafe and may cause serious damage to your home and result in death.
- Do not heat your home with a gas or electric cooking stove.
- Do not heat your home with kerosene lanterns, portable heaters (commonly used in deer stands), or other appliances that are not for indoor use.
- Never run a car in an enclosed space.
- Never run a generator in the home or garage, or right next to windows or doors.
Leaving Your Home:
Although the Florence County understands that you do not want to leave your home, the reality is that some may have to due to the propane shortage.
- If you have to leave your home, please be sure to winterize your home to avoid property damage (broken water lines, etc.).
- Contact a local plumber to assist you in draining your water pipes.
- If you have a well, please be sure to shut the well off.
- If you are leaving your home due to a no heat situation, please contact the Florence County Sheriff's Department at 1-800-235-9897.