There are several things to consider when planning your DIY propane gas fire pits, such as BTU output and capacity; type and location of the tank; and basic propane safety principles. In this article, we’ll walk you through the options for portable propane tanks and help you determine which is best for your DIY project.
We’ll also take a closer look at how propane tanks operate, so you’ll have a better understanding of how to work with this fuel source. Using propane for your fire feature is the fastest, easiest way to create a fire feature.
Take a few minutes to look over this article, and you’ll soon have the confidence to choose the best propane tank for your gas fire pit design and the confidence to use it safely.
3 Options for Propane Gas Fire Pits
- Standard 20 lb. (Vertical) Tank – This is the easiest and most popular option. Most people are familiar with it because it is used for BBQ grills. The standard 20 lb. propane tank is easy to hide and is a manageable weight. Also, because it is the tank used for gas grills, there are many places to swap your empty tank for a full one. It is by far, the most convenient of the three choices.
- Horizontal 20 lb. Tank – This is the second most popular choice. This style works well in low-lying fire features if you’d prefer not to run a hose to a tank stored off to the side. The horizontal propane tank design also increases the liquid surface area aiding the vaporization process (how fast liquid propane can be transformed into gas). The downside is this tank costs more than a vertical tank, and it must be refilled at a gas supplier. You won’t be able to take this to a tank exchange location.
- Large Capacity 40 lb. Tank – A 40 lb. propane tank can accommodate burners with higher BTU/hr. ratings and it has a longer burn time. The good news is you won’t have to worry about refilling it as often. The bad news is you’ll have to take it to a gas supplier to refill it. It will be more cumbersome to handle and transport (must be upright). And it will take a bit more creativity to hide it out of sight.
Output Capacity of Propane Tanks
It’s important to size the burner BTU/hr. in accordance with the fuel source. For instance, it is possible for a standard 20 lb. propane tank to support a burner with a rating up to 125,00 BTU/hr. (or with perfect conditions, perhaps higher), but that’s under very specific circumstances and will decrease burn time estimates.
For optimal performance and consistency, we recommend choosing a burner with a rating no higher than 90,000 BTU/hr. if using a 20 lb. tank.
However, if you really want a burner with more capacity and a 40 lb. tank is not a viable option—it is possible to use two 20 lb. tanks to supply gas to your fire pit. You can connect the two tanks with a “Y” connector to your gas fire pit. This will give you more “firepower” and longer burn times.
Alternatively, a 20 lb. horizontal tank will provide a greater BTU supply than a standard 20 lb. tank because it has a greater surface area on top of the liquid propane. Greater surface area speeds up the vaporization process.
Horizontal tanks are specially designed to be safe in that position. Vertical tanks are not safe on their side. Laying a vertical propane tank on its side can result in a dangerous explosion.
How Long Will the Propane Tank Last with a Gas Fire Pit?
Another thing to consider when determining what type of tank is right for your build—is expectations for the duration of the flame.
There are many variables that affect the burn time of a propane tank. Burner size is one of them. Although just because your burner is rated for 90,000 BTU/hr., doesn’t mean you have to crank it all the way up. Adjusting flame height and output will adjust burn time.
As we mentioned earlier, the weather also affects burn time. If it’s really cold outside, your flame will start dropping as the liquid surface to tank side ratio decreases. Also, if it’s really windy outside, the flame will have to work harder to stay lit using more gas.
WIND/FLAME GUARDS protect your flames from wind, allowing the gas to burn efficiently. You’ll get more time from your tank and spend less money.
To get a general idea of how long a 20 lb. tank will last using a particular burner, check out our article, “How Long Does a Propane Tank Last on a Fire Pit?”.
Where to Locate a Propane Tank for a Gas Fire Pit
The size of the tank you choose will dictate where you can put it. The most popular place to locate a 20 lb. propane tank is under the surface of the fire table or fire pit if height allows. Keep in mind, that you need at least 6 inches of clearance between the tank and the underside of the burner pan. This should also give you enough room to access the on/off knob on top of the tank.
When it comes to low-profile fire features such as a coffee table, you have two choices. You can use a horizontal tank or locate a standard (vertical) tank a short distance away from the fire feature using a hose to connect them.
Some fire features even come with a coordinating end table to house the tank. Other options include hiding the tank behind lush vegetation or a privacy fence.
This cedar composter/fence (right) offers an easy-to-assemble privacy fence. The pieces simply slide into place. No nailing, no digging. And you can use however many sides you’d like—2, 3, or all 4. The wood can be stained or painted to match your design.
An outdoor rug not only defines the space but also covers over the connecting hose so no one accidentally trips over it.
NEVER place, store, or transport a vertical propane tank on its side.
Orient tanks in the way they were intended. All propane tanks have a pressure relief valve, and that valve must always be on the highest point of the tank. So, for a standard, 20 lb. propane tank, that valve is at the top of the tank.
For a horizontal tank, that valve will be on the top of one of the sides–whichever side is meant to be upright based on the construction of the support.
If propane tanks are not stored with the valve in the proper position for their style, they will bleed liquid propane. That can quickly vaporize into a huge amount of propane and if ignition occurs, it can result in heavy damage and perhaps loss of life.
Therefore, it is important to pick the right tank for the job and use it properly.
Keep these rules in mind as you plan your DIY gas fire pit or feature.
- Never lay a propane tank on its side, unless it’s been designed to do so.
- Do not expose a propane tank to excessive heat (avoid storing it in direct sunlight).
- Make sure the valve at the top of the tank is turned OFF when storing. (Always a good practice as it will save you the gas if there is a leak.) Make it easy to do with ample access.
- Make sure you have the proper venting in place.
- As you gather your supplies, remember that you should never store a propane tank in your house or vehicle.
Summing it All Up
Now that you know more about the various propane tank options available to you, it will be easier to select the type that best suits your vision and desired convenience level.
The easiest way to do a fire table or fire pit is to use a standard propane tank.
If you are planning a low-profile fire pit or coffee table and you don’t want the hassle of running a hose and hiding the tank elsewhere, maybe the horizontal tank is worth a bit more expensive upfront and the inconvenience of taking it to the gas supplier to be refilled.
If you’re someone with lush landscaping that makes it easy to hide a taller tank and you have a way to painlessly refill it, then a 40 lb. tank gives you the most options and longer burn times.
The Tech Team at Celestial Fire Glass is always happy to talk about fire pits and the many options available. Contact us and we’ll help you get the right equipment for the result you want.