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Safety and Insurance: propane vs. gas torch


#1

I am setting up a small jewelry making shop in the garage of my home
and am concerned with the safety and insurance liability of having a
torch set up in my home. I am taking a fundamentals metal smithing
class at a local arts and crafts college where they have natural gas
for most torch stations, and acetylene and ? tanks for other uses.
When I talked to the instructor about the difference between the
fuels with regard to my torch set up at home, which is a Mecco Midget
torch using oxygen with propane (a 15# BBQ size tank), she said that
the insurance company will deny any claim involving a propane tank
stored inside. This prompted me to actually read the label on the
tank - which directs that the tank not be stored in a building,
garage or enclosed area - for outdoor use only. Since I’m pretty sure
that jewelers that use propane don’t do their torch work outside, I’m
wondering what they do to get around this. Or do most jewelers not
use propane? Do I need a special insurance rider? Should I tag onto
my natural gas fuel line and forget the propane? Would using natural
gas be more safe than using propane? And if I do switch, do I need to
get new hoses or change anything for my torch?

Thanks,
Doreen


#2

In many places, it is permissible to use a SMALL 5 to 10 pound
propane tank indoors. These are often available from the same place
that distributes the BBQ tanks to the retail outlets, and supplies
propane to commercial and rural residential installations. Check
with your local city or county inspector of building codes about the
maximum sized of these tanks. A friend who was living in a rental
unit did this for a time.

Even though it cost me a bit, I had a plumber put in a black iron
pipe from the outside to the bench area specifically for propane. In
Memphis and Shelby County (Tennessee), the tank cannot be within a
certain distance of windows or foundation vents. Again, check with
your building code inspector. There is a hole drilled in the
foundation, and another in the floor. The pipe is only about 8-feet
long. If you are setting this up in a garage, you would likely be
able to drill a hole through the wall, and run the pipe straight
through it, with some arrangement to keep the pipe from moving
around.

I have a regular BBQ tank outside connected by a hose to the pipe.
There is a “first stage” regulator on this tank set for a higher
pressure than your torch requires, about 15 to 20 pounds. Most
hardware stores won’t have this regulator. Even the local propane
tank distributing company didn’t know about (or admit they knew
about) such a regulator. Go to the company which supplies the
hardware store. They should have this regulator, and will likely
provide advice as well. The regulator isn’t terribly expensive. I
paid about $30 for mine. They are usually rated for semi-exposed or
exposed exterior use. As an extra protection, I keep a bucket upended
over mine. As propane is heavier than air, any vented gas flows
downward through the “top” of the bucket. This regulator and tank
are left on, just as if you were feeding a kitchen appliance or
heater with it.

On the inside I have a gas-rated ball valve to cut off gas flow into
the house. Attached to this is a regulator which would normally be
attached to the tank used as a “second stage” regulator. When I stop
working, I cut the ball valve off, and drain the hose, just as I
would if the torch was attached directly to a regulator and tank.
This regulator is set exactly like it would be if it was attached to
a tank for the use of your torch. I keep the oxygen tank chained to
the wall next to the pipe coming from the outside.

While this setup cost me a little - about $100-$150 over the cost of
the tank and regulator, it makes things a lot more convenient! It
also meets local building safety codes, which means it is acceptable
to insurance companies. Right now, I don’t have insurance, but the
next time I can afford it, I’ll be “legal”! When I decided to install
this, I spoke with a representative of the insurance company I’ll
likely use. As I am not using this as a “primary” source of income,
they classified this as a “hobby” installation. Depending on your
insurance company, you may need an additional rider. The ones I
talked to did not require it, as the installation is the same as for
a gas stove or heater.

I’m actually using this setup to feed two torches - One on my bench,
and one on my wife’s bench. One set of tanks. this has worked quite
well for us for several years. If I can be of any further help, you
are welcome to contact me off-list

BTW, propane is gas, just a different kind from “house gas”.


#3

Doreen,

Natural Gas is somewhat safer than Propane, for two reasons. Natural
gas will dissipate (naturally) because it’s lighter than air and will
float upwards. Propane is heavier, and will sink to the lowest level
of a house or a garage. Propane can collect in drains or sumps, and
could possibly accumulate enough that it might ignite from a flame or
spark like the pilot light on a water heater or a furnace. I have
take classes in places that parked the propane outside a convenient
window, and then pulled the hose inside when necessary. I substituted
a plastic panel for a glass window in my basement, drilled a hole,
and ran the hose inside to my torch from a propane tank. On the other
hand, my insurance agent told me acetylene inside was acceptable.

The other is that natural gas in a home is usually fairly low
pressure. Probably high enough for jewelry; lampworkers sometimes
find it inadequate. The studio where you took classes probably has a
higher-pressure service. Your gas supplier might be willing to
provide a higher pressure to your property, but then you must install
regulators on your other appliances to reduce the pressure back to
normal. Not cheap.

If you’re working in a garage, you might consider punching a hole in
the wall and running the hose through that to a propane tank outside.

There are special hoses necessary for either propane or acetylene
(it’s late; my mind is muzzy), but natural gas can use anything. Talk
to a local gas supply house. you’ll be there a lot anyway to refill
your oxygen tank.

David Stitt


#4

My tank is outside. I punched a hole through the (brick) wall to run
the hose into my workbench, put the hose through a tight PVC pipe,
then sealed around that with expanding insulation foam.


#5

My tank is outside. I punched a hole through the (brick) wall to run
the hose into my workbench, put the hose through a tight PVC pipe,
then sealed around that with expanding insulation foam.

Check your local codes before doing this. A friend in NC has a
similar set up, and I wanted to do this at my studio in SC. Was told
it was illegal in SC. Do your homework first! You don’t want to go to
the expense and trouble of getting it all set up just to have to tear
it out again…

Although WHY SC won’t let me do it that way escapes me completely!
Would sure make my life easier!

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio
http://www.bethwicker.com


#6

Hi Doreen,

To address part of your question, I told my insurance company I was
setting up a metals studio in my garage and they were ok with
acetylene but not with oxygen so I just used an acetylene/air torch.
If you plan to use propane, why not put the tank outside, drill a
hole into the garage and just use it inside…like a propane stove
would be set up. They say that you cannot ‘store a propane tank
inside’, not use propane inside…right?

Esta Jo Schifter
in Philly planting working hard


#7

Hi Doreen,

For years I had a shop that used propane (now it’s natural gas). We
were in B class office buildings and both my insurance company and
the fire inspector signed off on it. The only restriction was that
the tanks be the 5lb size, like miniature versions of the one people
use for their grill. We always had several in the shop, 3-4 in use
and 3 full ones as backups. None of the buildings I was in had
natural gas, if they had I would have used that with a booster.

At home it seems to depend on your insurance carrier and your agent,
I think it’s important to clear it with your insurance company (and
building inspector if running a natural gas line) to make sure you’re
covered. It seems to be all about presentation. If it’s presented by
your agent to the underwriter as a tiny torch that you use for a
hobby or very small business, that it has a flame that’s no more
dangerous than a gas stove or a candle and that all safety
precautions will be taken, it will likely be approved. If the agent
doesn’t understand what it is and overstates the risk or just doesn’t
explain it well, it won’t be. It’s a little tricky. Underwriters are
not big risk takers and if they hear about a torch in your garage or
basement they think about big dangerous flames, flammable gas
explosions and big insurance claims. You really need to make sure
your agent gets it or explain it in an e-mail yourself that is then
forwarded to the underwriter by your agent.

Natural gas is safer to use inside the house than propane, it’s
lighter and won’t pool if it leaks. If you use natural gas it’s even
safer if you get a gas booster (like an air compressor for natural
gas, G-Tech sells them) because you can increase the pressure enough
to use flashback arrestor (a necessity). You’ll also need a flashback
arrestor on your oxygen tank.

Some who use propane keep the tank outside and run a line into the
building… Usually these are larger tanks. It works and it makes the
insurance company happy (usually) but it can be unsightly and a bit
of a job and expense to set up properly.

Hope that helps a bit,
Mark


#8

I have had my 20#, 5 gal. propane tank plumbed into my studio from
outside for 10 years or more. The tank is stored in a "propane hut"
that I built outside. It has an open slat bottom to allow for gas to
pass.

Like another poster, I have a regulator on the tank which runs to a
hose and then black iron pipe, through the wall of my studio.
(Without that length of flexible hose it would be impossible to line
up the regulator with the fitting on the rigid black iron pipe.) The
tank is left on and the gas controlled inside via a UL rated gas ball
valve. The gas continues in lack iron pipe to a splitter fro two
torches.

The standard red/green gas hose is used, with the green hose running
to my O2 which is kept inside. Actually, the hose is not standard:
When using propane, a “Type T” hose is required. It looks just like a
standard acetylene /oxygen gas hose but is stamped with the words
"Type T" on the red hose. The length of hose that runs from the
regulator to the black iron pipe on the propane tank outside is also
Type T but is a single hose and is black…

I did this myself with advice from my gas supplier. They suggested
the flexible hose and informed me about type T hose.

It is not recommended to run a hose through a wall. Most codes want
a hard pipe.

Take care, Andy