We teach emergency preparedness classes to a wide variety of audiences. One of the questions we are asked most often is “Where is the safest place to store gasoline (or diesel or kerosene or Coleman fuel or butane or propane or alcohol) for an emergency? The answer is … it depends. The answer varies by individual fuel and living circumstances.
If you live on a 10-acre farm you have significantly more options than if you live in a one bedroom apartment. The problem is that fuel is critical for survival for everyone. You need it to boil water, cook your food, power communications, and to keep from freezing to death. Let’s tackle each of these fuels one at a time.
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet when it comes to safely storing fuel. Be sure to conduct your own research to ensure that your information is accurate. Improper fuel storage could result in poor performing fuels at best and loss of life and property at worst. Don’t risk it!
Safety Data Sheets Provide Accurate Information
One of the best ways to research accurate information on fuel is to study the Safety Data Sheet for each fuel. This information comes directly from the manufacturer and is the most accurate information available. I have included a link to an SDS sheet for each of the fuels we discuss.
As a general rule, a detached shed is the safest place to store fuel. Let’s explore specific storage conditions and requirements for each of these fuels along with suggested storage locations.
Best Way to Store Gasoline
The safest place to store gasoline is in the tank of your car. We recommend that you always keep your tank at least half full. If you need to evacuate, one-half tank of gasoline should be able to get you out of immediate danger.
Gasoline is a dangerous fuel to store. It should be stored in a cool, well-ventilated area in an approved red container. Containers that are not approved may dissolve and release flammable gasoline liquid and vapors. It is important to only used approved containers for gasoline. Be sure that the containers are tightly closed and clearly labeled.
Gasoline is sensitive to fire, heat and static discharge. It should be stored away from flame, sparks and excessive temperatures. A partially full or empty container may still contain explosive vapors. Do not store near oxidizing agents, like chlorine or acids. Click here for a Safety Data Sheet on gasoline.
A prepper friend of ours let us take a peek at his gasoline storage system and has given us permission to share it with you as long as we do not reveal his name or location. Easily done. Let’s call him Bob.
Bob wants to store enough gasoline to be able to bug out to a location that is 800 miles away. He has a gasoline generator and needs to be able to run that generator for at least 48 hours. His goal is to have 50 gallons of gasoline ready to go at all times.
Bob knows that storing this amount of gasoline in his garage or anywhere near his home is extremely dangerous. He chooses not to do stupid things. Gasoline stores best when it is not exposed to temperature extremes. He solved his gasoline storage dilemma by salvaging a used chest freezer and burying it in a shady location away from his home.
Ventilation was the next hurdle that needed to be addressed. He drilled 2 holes to accommodate 2-inch vent pipes (lower front on one end and the upper back on the other) to provide cross ventilation through the freezer. The vents are screened and elbowed down to keep them dry and to prevent critters from getting in.
Custom pallets keep the gas cans off of the floor of the freezer and encourage air flow. The gasoline is stored in the buried freezer inside of approved 5-gallon gas cans. The freezer is kept covered to help insulate the contents from temperature changes and to provide a bit of operational security.
A safe option for storing larger amounts of gasoline is in an above-ground gasoline storage tank. These tanks are used in farming and commercial operations to refuel equipment on site. Check out regulations and restrictions in your specific area if this option interests you.
Gasoline should be rotated or stabilized every 9-12 months to maintain quality. A quality fuel stabilizer should be added at least annually to extend the life of the fuel for several years. Gasoline represents a huge part of the energy we use for life. Storing a reasonable amount of gasoline makes sense for many people.
Best Way to Store Diesel
Diesel has many of the same storage requirements as unleaded gasoline. It is a flammable liquid and should not be stored near an open flame, heat, sources of ignition or in direct sunlight. It must be protected from static discharges. Diesel can accumulate a static charge which may cause a spark and become a source of ignition.
Diesel must be stored in a cool location. When diesel is stored in a hot environment the pressure in sealed containers will increase. Make sure that you store it only in the approved containers, most of which are yellow. Keep the container tightly closed in a well-ventilated location.
Diesel is frequently stored in above ground tanks when used for construction or farming. When storing in smaller quantities, store in the same locations you would store gasoline only be sure to store in containers approved for diesel fuel.
Kerosene is available for purchase in K-1, K-2, and Klean Heat. Some varieties may be dispensed similar to gasoline or it can be purchased in containers.
Kerosene should be stored in a cool, well-ventilated location. It should be stored in original containers or blue, approved vented containers. Do not store near strong oxidizers. It is less temperamental about storage locations that gasoline and diesel.
Kerosene has a long shelf life of 5 years which can be extended with the use of fuel stabilizers designed to treat kerosene. Click here to see a Safety Data Sheet on kerosene.
Best Way to Store Coleman Fuel or White Gas
Coleman fuel should be stored similar to unleaded gasoline, except it should be stored in the original container it was purchased in. Store the original containers in a cool, well-ventilated area away from heat, sparks, open flame or oxidizing materials.
White gas has a shelf life of about 2 years if the container has not been opened. Once opened you have less than one year to use it up. Click here for a Safety Data Sheet on Coleman Fuel. Store in a detached shed or outbuilding whenever possible.
Best Way to Store Butane Cartridges
Butane cartridges are a popular prepper fuel. Compressed fuel in a can may be a dangerous fuel to store in large amounts. The can will degrade over time and may release the butane. We recommend that you limit the number of canisters you keep on hand and keep them rotated.
The can must be stored in a cool location and not exposed to temperatures exceeding 50°C/122°F. You should avoid heat, sparks, open flame, oxidizers, and direct sunlight. Storage in a well-ventilated area is highly recommended. Butane is heavier than air and should never be stored in basements, cellars or other low-level points where vapors can accumulate. Do not store in vehicles or similar environments where extreme heat can create explosive risks.
A woman approached us after participating in one of our classes and explained that she has stored a significant number of these canisters sealed in 5-gallon buckets in her garage. There are 2 serious problems with this approach according to manufacturer safety recommendations explained in the Safety Data Sheet.
- Sealed 5-gallon buckets do not provide good ventilation for the butane canisters.
- Most garages will experience significant fluctuation in temperature and may get dangerously close to exceeding 50°C/122°F.
Butane canisters are kind of like little bombs waiting for the right conditions to explode. I personally would limit the number of canisters that I store to no more than 8-12 and store them in my pantry where the temperature is controlled. While not an ideal location, a small number in this controlled environment would not make me uncomfortable.
Remember basements are not an option for storing butane canisters so don’t store them in a basement food storage room.
Propane is one of my favorite fuels for emergency preparedness. We make a serious effort to keep all of our propane bottles full. The propane tanks are safer to store than liquid fuels, which is a significant advantage.
One pound disposable propane containers are quite handy for emergency preparedness purposes but are not as safe to store on a longer-term basis as the larger propane tanks. I would not recommend storing disposable propane bottles in large amounts. The seal on the container may degrade over time and release propane into the air.
These containers should be checked periodically for leaks. Like butane, propane will not dissipate but will accumulate in a low lying area and create an explosive risk.
Propane should be stored in a well-ventilated area away from flame, sparks ignition sources, heat, strong oxidizers, and excessive temperatures. Chlorine dioxide near propane will result in an explosion hazard. Store only in approved containers and store with the valve closed. Empty propane containers may contain explosive vapors. Be careful where you store your propane containers whether they are full or empty.
We personally store our 20-pound propane tanks in a popup tent trailer away from our home. This keeps them out of direct sun and weather. Not the best option, we are just doing the best with what we have.
A gentleman in one of our classes suggested storing the 20-pound propane bottles in a 150-gallon deck box that is frequently used for garden tool storage shed. The deck box should be stored in a shady area out of direct sunlight. The deck box would need to have cross ventilation provided (large holes drilled on both sides of the box). It just might be a great way to store 20-pound bottles of propane safely away from the home and protected from the elements.
Propane is a better choice to store in a garage than gasoline or diesel fuel. However, it is always important to avoid storing large amounts of fuel in a garage.
Best Way to Store Alcohol
Alcohol is a great storage fuel because it is not explosive like many of the other fuels. Recommended precautions for storage are simple. Do not store near sparks, open flame, strong oxidizing agents and keep the container tightly closed. Alcohol should be stored in the original container.
Alcohol has an indefinite shelf life. We store a reasonable amount of Everclear, SafeHeat and denatured alcohol in our basement storage room with our food storage. That way it is handy and ready to use when we need it. Alcohol is the only fuel I would be comfortable storing in my basement next to food. The fact that it never goes bad is a serious advantage when used as a prepper fuel. Always limit the amount of any fuel, including alcohol, that you store indoors or in your garage.
According to the Safety Data Sheet on denatured alcohol, you may be able to safely store alcohol in your garage, unless you live in a climate with extreme temperature changes. Requirements for storing alcohol are significantly more flexible than other fuels.
Alcohol is a great option for cooking and heating indoors because it produces very little if any, carbon monoxide when burned. Check out our post, Best Alcohol Cooking Fuels for Campers and Preppers to learn more about alcohol as a fuel source.
Best Storage Locations for Fuels
The ideal storage location for any fuel is in a detached, insulated shed that is protected from sunlight, and temperature extremes on either end. Temperature stability is ideal. Never store fuel in any building that you can’t afford to have burn down.
Fuel is critical for survival, yet most of us have to do the best we can because we do not have the ideal environment for storing fuel. Safety must be a top priority when storing fuel. It is possible that storing fuel incorrectly may negate your homeowner’s policy if you ever have a fire. Check with your insurance agent to ensure you are complying with the requirements on your specific policy.
A flammable storage cabinet is a fantastic way to store fuel and keep it contained in the event of a fire. The storage cabinets are ventilated and have self-closing hinges. These metal cabinets are quite pricey, but it makes safely storing fuels in a garage a possibility. It is important to ground storage cabinets to prevent static build up.
Always store fuel in containers designed specifically for that fuel and comply with all of the manufacturer storage recommendations on the Safety Data Sheet.
Legal Restrictions and Common-Sense Practices
We strongly encourage you to follow all legal guidelines for your area and use common-sense as you store your fuel. The legal restrictions for fuel storage will vary depending on location. The best place to get accurate information for your area will be at your local fire department. An example of legal guidelines can be found on our post Safe Emergency Fuel Storage Guidelines.
Fuels are dangerous and deserve our respect. Always think about the people who may be potentially impacted by the fuels you store. Make them your first priority.
How Much Fuel Do I Need to Store for Emergencies?
Just how much fuel do you need to store for emergency preparedness? That depends. What are you preparing for? How long do you anticipate you may potentially be without public utilities?
The photo shows an impressive back-up generator, complete with diesel fuel storage for a local public utility. Chances are you do not need something this impressive to take care of your needs in an emergency. You can install incredible backup systems for your home if money is not an object. Most of us are just looking at storing enough fuel to survive until life returns to normal.
Check out this Action Plan – Fuel Safety and Storage to help get you started calculating just what your family needs to make it through a crisis. Spending a little bit of time and resources now may go a long way to ensure you have the fuel you need to cook your food and stay warm when you are left without power or natural gas.
You need 4 basic things to survive; water, food, air, and fuel. That places fuel high on the priority list. Fuels are much more dangerous to store than wheat and water. Be sure to invest a little additional time
in learning about the fuels you store and best practices for safely storing them. You may want to read our post How to Safely Store Fuel for Emergencies for additional information on a wide list of fuels.
Thanks for being part of the solution!