Blog    |    Emergency Blackout Preparation and Fuel Storage

Blackout preparation and fuel storage.

Many of us store gasoline on a regular basis. We store it for lawnmowers and chainsaws. We keep it for golf carts and recreational vehicles. We also maintain a supply of fuel for special outdoor events to power generators. Those same generators get a lot more usage during emergency situations. Whether it is hurricanes or earthquakes, massive thunderstorms or traffic accidents that take own power lines – many disasters cause blackouts of varying lengths.

These blackouts require emergency power from generators, and those generators require gasoline. In fact, when the power is out, many gas pumps will not work, so not only is gasoline required… pre-purchased and stored gasoline is needed to power those generators until the gas pumps can be restored. If the road systems have been affected by the disaster, communities may be limited to the small supply of fuel they have stored in the gas pumps and may not receive additional fuel until the roads can be restored enough to send fuel trucks.

The Cost of Not Storing Gasoline

Gasoline fluctuates in price but rarely is it cheap enough for long enough to justify stockpiling fuel by price alone. Instead, it is better to consider the consequences of prolonged blackouts. For example, without a quick return to functioning power, refrigerators and freezers begin to rise in temperature and defrost. The food they hold must be eaten quickly, or it goes to waste.

This can be a problem in a blackout because you are often limited in your ability to cook without using microwaves, ovens, toasters, or any other electric cooking equipment. That leaves many people stuck either eating raw, cold food or throwing everything perishable out if the blackout lasts more than a couple days. They then incur the cost of resupplying their food once power is restored. That is the cost that stored gasoline for generators can help reduce or eliminate altogether.

Local Regulations

If you decide to start storing gasoline, the first thing you should do is to find out what the local regulations are regarding gasoline storage. Those regulations were created for reasons. They help prevent fires, and they help prevent massive explosions, serious injury, and deaths in the case of fires. You don’t want to be the cause of damage to your neighbor’s property or the severe injury or death of a fireman who tries to put out a fire near the place you store your gasoline. Find those regulations by looking up the “fire code” for your area, it will clearly tell you how many gallons of gasoline you can store, where to store it, and how to keep it maintained.

The other agency you need to check with is your insurance provider. They will likely have policies set up regarding the storage of hazardous material, which is what gasoline is rated as, and if you do not abide by these policies, it will give your insurance company grounds to deny any claims you make. Again, you won’t save any money if you are not storing fuel legally. If you are planning to transport fuel from one place to another, especially if you are going out of state, you need to look up the regulations for all states you pass through as well as specific instructions for transporting gasoline.

Choosing the Right Container

There may be fire code instructions about how to store gasoline, but if there are not, you should be aware of what will and will not work. Your two options are metal and plastic gas cans, and nothing bigger than five gallons at a time. Some places even limit you to two separate five-gallon containers total (more on this later). You can always get smaller plastic gas tanks.

Plastic gas cans have taken over much of the market because they weigh less and are therefore easier to carry and transport. However, not all plastic gas tanks will work.

Most plastic containers will slowly be dissolved by the gasoline you put in them, so make sure you are using a fuel-ready grade of plastic. This is easily remedied by purchasing plastic gas tanks for generators or that are specifically made for holding gasoline.

Metal gas containers are usable, but they are not as prevalent nowadays unless they are older containers. They are stronger and will not dissolve by holding gasoline, but if they are not grounded properly, they can build up static electricity which can then ignite the gasoline fumes and cause an explosion. One common mistake people make in not properly grounding their gasoline containers is that they attempt to fill them up at the gas station while the tank is sitting on the back of their truck. Always fill gasoline containers on the ground. Plastic gas tanks for generators are safer and much easier to find anyway.

DO NOT, under any circumstances, store gasoline in glass containers. Gasoline is naturally unstable, continuously releasing fumes around it, and if your container does not have the proper “give” to it, it will eventually burst the container, risking explosion and fire. Trying to create proper venting for harder containers is not an option because the fumes that are released are more flammable than the liquid is itself.

Stabilize and Rotate Your Gasoline

Since gasoline is naturally unstable, you need to add stabilizer to help it last longer in storage. If you do not, it will dissipate into a varnish-like material within a couple of months. If you try to use this gasoline, it will ruin your car, lawnmower, chainsaw, or generator motor.

Gasoline stabilizer is easy to find, and it is not expensive, but even with the addition of a stabilizer to your gas, it is only meant to be stored for one season. At the very best it can be stored for two years, but most gas will dissipate by then. The best practice is to use a stabilizer and rotate the gas out every four months.

Where to Store Your Gasoline

Again, your local fire codes can help you determine this, but the first thing to keep in mind when choosing a place to store your gas is to keep it away from heat sources. (No heaters, stoves, furnaces, etc.) Ideally, you should not even keep it in the same building as anything with a pilot light. This means that you should not keep plastic gas tanks in your home. They should always be stored in an external building, and if you have a built-in garage, you should not store them there either.

If you are thinking about burying the gasoline tanks underground, think again. In most places, this is illegal and also very dangerous. Plus, if you are frequently changing out the gas in the tanks, it is very inconvenient to have to dig it up every 3 or 4 months. Additionally, if the tanks were to spring a leak it would become an environmental hazard, so just don’t do it. Storing gasoline in basements external structures is ok, but do not bury your gas tanks underground.

Also, make sure you do not mix gasoline with any other chemicals (other than gasoline stabilizer) it is even preferable to mix the oil and gas for chainsaws just before you put it into the chainsaw rather than storing it that way. It is a bad idea to mix gasoline with anything else.

Finally, you may not think about this as a source of heat, but it is important that you keep your gasoline tanks away from windows and out of direct sunlight. Sunlight can build up enough heat over time to ignite the fumes and cause explosions and fires on your property.

Don’t Forget Your Car

If you need more storage for generators and are looking for additional ways to store more fuel, it is probably helpful to think in terms of multiple locations. I am sure there will be some kind of cap on how many gallons of gasoline you can have on your property in total, but I know you will be able to hold more if they are spread out between 3 or four different external buildings or places. Just make sure those places are not your house and are not anywhere near a heat source (or buried underground).

While you are thinking about places to store extra gasoline, don’t forget about your personal vehicles. Cars and trucks hold multiple gallons of gasoline at a time, and some trucks even have an extra tank. It is certainly not the most convenient place to store gas to be used in a generator during an emergency, and you will probably want to keep enough gasoline in the vehicle itself. However, it is a possible option if you are in need of another place to store gasoline.

If you choose to use your vehicle as a backup option, you will need to be sure you keep its plastic gas tanks full. There are some other benefits to doing this, even if you do not choose to use it as a backup source of gasoline. Most areas do not count vehicles toward the amount of gasoline you can store. The gasoline in it will get rotated regularly without much effort on your part. You do not have to worry about the type of plastic gas tanks or where to store it when it is housed in your vehicle. On top of all that, your vehicle will get better mileage if the tank is full.

Be informed and be safe as you prepare your home for the possibility of blackouts and disasters.

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