Regardless of the fuel in question, all liquid fuels should be handled in the same matter as the most volatile, which is either gasoline or LP gas.
Fuel should be stored in an isolated area, downhill and downwind from any other buildings. Fuel vapors are heavier than air, and will flow downhill.
LP tanks should be left in the open and not enclosed in any way.
Liquid fuel tanks can and should be stored in a well-ventilated building or open lean-to to prevent solar heating from evaporating the fuel.
If the storage location is permanent and you can afford it (all those environmental regulations will cost you big time), consider using a buried tank. If set below the frost line, temperatures are stable at apx 55° F, which will inhibit evaporation. The tanks will be safe from everything, including stray (or aimed!) gunfire, brushfires, and just about everything else except the EPA. If buried fuel tanks offend your sense of environmental responsibility, then consider an underground vault. This gives you the added advantage of being able to inspect the tanks from time to time. However if you go this route, be sure the vault is well ventilated.
Regardless of the tank location, a dry chemical or C02 fire extinguisher should be hung on the outside of the building or near the pump.
Any electrical fixtures should be “explosion proof” (sealed) and wired in sealed conduit to prevent fuel vapors from coming into contact with electrical sparks.
Prohibit smoking or carrying of smoking materials within 50 feet of the fuel pumps.
Electrical fuel pumps should have a heat sensitive shutoff to stop the pump in the event of fire.
Always shut down the engine of the machine being fueled.
Promptly clean up any spills and be certain to use only the equipment that is approved for the fuel in question. (Some fuel pumps are approved for diesel only, and are unsafe to use for gasoline.)
Here are some other points to remember for your short or long term fuel storage:
- Keep fuel in a cool area and avoid wide temperature swings; store downhill, downwind and well ventilated.
- Avoid wide temperature changes to the tanks. Either put in the shade or paint with reflective paint.
- When a large fuel tank is exposed to wide temperature swings, it should have a 2-way check valve to relieve pressure and vacuum.
- Keep storage containers free of water and harmful metals.
- To keep fuel free of water: Above ground tanks should have no contact with the ground. Underground tanks should be set in soil and rock for improved water drainage. (Right, like us average citizens can afford underground storage tanks.)
- Be sure the tanks are clean. Most fuels produce microorganisms or algae when water begins to collect in tanks and can be a real problem. The fuel contamination plugs filters and causes fuel system corrosion. Biocides have been developed to kill and prevent algae, bacteria, and fungus in fuels.
- Storage Containers: Metals such as copper and galvanized/zinc should not be used in fuel storage. If you use plastic, fiberglass, or other epoxy composition tanks, be sure they will stand up under the long-term hydrocarbon contact; they must be designated as liquid fuel containers.
- When using fuels that have been in long term storage, don't just pump from the tank, especially avoid the very bottom of the tank and always filter the fuel.
- Set-up a storage maintenance plan that includes scheduled testing (get a test kit or eyeball it), assessment and periodic maintenance of the fuel storage system and not just the fuel-powered equipment. The plan should consider the conditions under which the fuel is stored, the types of stored fuel and the special requirements and usage of the fuel.
- Check with your local Fire Department concerning any local ordinances about how much gas or fuel you can store in your area, be it residential, suburban, urban or rural. In some places storage of large amounts of fuel in certain areas can lead to criminal and civil penalties.
- ALWAYS keep any fuel away from children, pets and a safe distance from your most occupied structures.
- Don’t ever forget that by its very nature, Fuel Storage is DANGEROUS.
All liquid fuels use the same storage systems. LP gas is normally stored in pressurized tanks supplied by the LP dealer.
The most basic fuel storage system is the common portable fuel can. If you are still on the grid and have a job “off the property,” then this is a workable and economical method of fuel storage. A minimum of three cans will be required: one full at all times, one for use as needed, and one to be refilled at the first opportunity.
Rotation of the cans will ensure some amount of reasonably fresh fuel at all times. This storage system has the added advantage of portability in the event that the storage site must be abandoned. Use only approved containers, and use caution not to mix up containers.
The standard color code for portable cans is blue for kerosene, red for gasoline, and yellow for diesel fuel. However, this is not cast in stone. Use whatever color scheme you like, but be consistent with it. Gasoline introduced into a diesel tank will make the diesel engine hard to start when hot. Gasoline in a kerosene heater will explode like a Molotov cocktail. Diesel #2 in a kerosene lamp will smoke and stink and soot up the globe. If you use all three fuels, it may seem like you are filling a fuel can every time that you go out. Delivered fuel is much more convenient, and usually cheaper.
The next storage system is the 55-gallon drum used with a hand pump or horizontally on a rack. This is a highly flexible storage system, as drums may be added as needed to suit individual requirements. Most fuel dealers have a 100-gallon minimum delivery, so at least two drums will be needed. You can even load one drum in your truck, drive to the service station and fill it, then bring it home and pump the fuel into your storage drum. Drums are also portable enough in the event that the storage site must be abandoned. The only disadvantages are the negligible cost of the drums and that the drums will eventually rust and leak. Drums are commonly used for kerosene and gasoline storage. Label each drum clearly or color code them like the small portable containers, if you are storing more than one type of fuel.
If you wish to store large quantities of fuel, then the built-for-the-purpose fuel tank is the system of choice. Tanks are available new in capacities from 100 to 10,000 gallons in above ground and underground types.
The most commonly used tank in the Northeast is the standard residential 275-gallon fuel tank. These are available new at plumbing and heating suppliers for about $150. Used tanks are usually available free for the hauling, including whatever fuel is in them. As a side note, an individual with a pickup truck and a reciprocating saw could make a fairly decent living removing old fuel tanks as homeowners change away from fuel oil to natural gas. This is about the dirtiest work available, and pays about $100 per tank. The removed tanks could be cleaned up, painted, and resold for $50 or more.
Fuel dispensing is a matter of choice. An elevated tank needs only a valve and filter; gravity will do the rest. Most homesteaders prefer to use hand pumps for their kerosene and diesel tanks. Valves have been known to leak, and vandalism is an unfortunate reality of modern life—especially if the vandal elects to open the valve on a tank of gasoline and follow it up with a lit match. Hand pumps are safer, and they are more easily secured if the tank must be left unattended.
Liquid Fuel Containers
Consider portable nylon fuel tanks on wheels--typically of 23-gallon size and available at marine supply stores like Boater's World and West Marine. Next option is auxiliary tanks for vehicles and pickups. Many truck supply companies manufacture tanks that fit in pickup beds.
Don't use "Poly" drums (like the ones for water storage) to store fuel! "Poly" drums--the type sold for water storage--are made of high density plastic, and should not be used to store fuel. Over time, the fuel will react with the plastic (a hydrocarbon) and gradually deteriorate the drum interior. Consider 55-gallon steel drums. These must be stored in a well ventilated area away from heat.
Large surface storage tanks with capacities of 250 gallons plus are the best and most expensive alternative. Many commercial fuel suppliers or "jobbers" that dispense gas, diesel and home heating oil, lease or sell these tanks. If they don’t they can at least direct you to a good source. You may also wish to contact industrial tank manufacturers. Check the classifieds for auctions of industrial equipment. This is a great way to pick up tanks at bargain basement prices.
If you live in an urban area, small 5-gallon nylon or metal storage cans will have to do. If you have access to, or own rural property, then above ground storage is the answer. Place your tank in an outdoor cool, shaded area. Best yet, put your tank in a well ventilated indoor, covered location away from your main buildings.