Not Burning Enough Fossil Fuel Again

Long-time readers may remember the time at the previous Cold House (a couple years back) when my heating-oil supplier called because he noticed I wasn’t using nearly as much oil as usual.  He was genuinely concerned that my furnace was broken and I was freezing.  That was nice.  (His name, in fact, was Adam Nice.  He’s a nice guy.  If you need oil.)

In the same vein, but less nice, I recently received a “Dear Propane Gas Customer” letter.  In it, my propane supplier, Fielding’s Oil & Propane Co., identified me as “a low usage customer” (with super-helpful further explanation: ” ‘Low usage’ means you use very little propane gas”).  Mr. Fielding went on to say that because I use so very little petroleum, and because of “the increasing cost of propane gas”, as well as “steel prices”, he has “no choice” but to “implement a tank rental fee”, of $78.00 per year, per tank (we have two tanks).  This comes to $158/year, which would represent a 40% increase in our heating costs (for nothing but having two big steel tanks sitting in the yard.)

Two alternatives were offered: (1) “If you buy your heating oil from us, then the rental fee would be waived.” or, (2) “You could use more propane.  If you increase the propane usage, then the fee would be waived.”

Since we use no heating oil at all, I am tempted to agree to option (1), but somehow I think they will see through that ploy.  As to (2), I have no idea what “more” propane means.  I am not sure that a lawyer vetted this letter before it went out.

I can understand where they are coming from.  When I moved here 2 years ago, before I was sure we’d have a wood stove in time for winter, I topped off the tanks, paying them about $300 in the process.  But since then, I’ve probably burned only 3 or 4 gallons.  The tanks are connected to two propane heaters (detached guest room, and cellar) which we virtually never use.  But, I’ve liked knowing the option was there, just in case.  (On the other hand, it makes me a bit uneasy knowing that we have enough propane on-site to blow the house to Jupiter).  Anyway, while I’ve been sitting here not buying much more propane from him, I’m sure they have been up nights worrying about whether my tanks are doing okay, whether all the piping is safe and secure, etc.  This has surely taken a toll on them, so I can see why he now needs to recoup monetarily.

So, I’m not sure what to do about this.  “Can’t beat ’em, join ’em” and put in an actual propane heating system, like everyone else?  Say “Eff you and your effing propane”, have him come pick up his tanks and the devil-gas they contain, and really truly commit to the wood forever?  Other?

23 Responses to “Not Burning Enough Fossil Fuel Again”

  1. Johanna Says:

    Why do you need two tanks? Can you not own one tank outright? Or, if you really use so very little, can you not use portable propane tanks, you know the kind that cost $30 on the cylinder exchange program (which probably means $4.99 in your country, since we pay much more for everything)? Nobody gives me grief for exchanging my cylinder every three years or so because i don’t eat enough charred meat.

    • Cold House Journal Says:

      “Why do you need two tanks?”

      Only because the two heaters are so far apart. Perhaps it is possible to pipe both off one tank… but this would at minimum involve digging a big trench through the yard, or something… which is not on this weeks project list…

  2. Kevin Says:

    Use a small tank you can fill yourself. Like they use in campers

  3. Kevin Says:

    Attractive an idea as a trip to Jupiter is, especially this time of year.
    Given your usage, there are small tanks for BBQ grills, RVs and trailer homes that you could purchase outright. 20 lb up to 100 lb
    From what I read, 4 gallons is a small 20 lb BBQ type tank.

    I’d find a way to sell your existing propane back to a supplier or gas salvage and let Mr Fielding remove his tanks. They must be an eye-sore on your lawn and it would certainly allow him to sleep better at night.

    Best Wishes

    • Cold House Journal Says:

      Yes, this may be an option, though I find there are all different kinds of “regulators” and whatnot which seem to be different between house-supply tanks vs. BBQ/camper-supply tanks. I’m sure it could be solved, somehow. And maybe it will be. (Another idea is to get a propane outdoor grill, and start really doing some man-cooking out there to use up my fuel minimum…)

  4. Kevin Says:

    Dear Johanna,

    i just saw your post and you are right.

  5. Jane Stein Says:

    Frustrating as it is, this is entirely legitimate for him to charge you for not using the tanks. They’re his tanks, and he loans them to customers so he can get their business. You’re not giving him any business, but you have possession of the tanks, so he can’t make any money from them from some other customer. And btw, this is standard practice for propane suppliers, as far as I know, so he’s not pulling a fast one on you.

    If you need so little supplemental heat, I’d suggest you give him back the tanks and the fuel (nicely, please) and get a couple of really good electric heaters instead. Then you’d only have to pay for the energy if and when you use it.

    I got rid of a nice propane heater for the same reason as you, btw. I was just not comfortable with either the hideous tank or having all that devil-gas right next to the house, either. No doubt silly of me, but still.

    • Cold House Journal Says:

      Oh, I’m not saying it’s illegal or illegitimate. Just annoyed that there was no advance notice (was sent a first bill, along with the letter), that the rental fee seems pretty steep, and, in general, on principal. I mean, I have some patients who only come see me once a year, or less… should I start charging them a fee to “rent” the chart space in my office, etc?

      Anyway, yes, we already use some spot electric heaters, which are more convenient (though, until now, less cost-effective) than the propane.

  6. Patrick Says:

    One and a half stupid questions: Do you have a contract with him? If so, what does it say?

    • Cold House Journal Says:

      Nope. No contract…

      • Patrick Says:

        Soooooo… if you said “Uh, no, actually, I don’t agree to your new terms, and since I *already* paid for the gas that’s in the tanks, and since we don’t have a contract with a ‘pump-out’ (or other) clause, you can’t actually bill me $78.” what could he possibly do? Repossess your full tanks? That’d be very bad for him… home heating in Maine is a very serious topic, and yanking your tanks would have the potential to cost him a *fortune*.

        That’s not to say I’m in disagreement with the other people who posted… however, traditionally these things are stipulated in contracts. For whatever reason, he decided to enter into a business relationship with you without one. Handshake agreements are always risky, no?

      • Cold House Journal Says:

        Well, I don’t know what they would do if I said that. But they appear to be the sort of company that would send “collection agents” and the like against me, if they think I owe them money. E.g., the bill already states that if I don’t pay it within 30 days, a 19.56% APR finance charge will begin to accrue…

        Come to think of it, I have no actual evidence that they even own these tanks. They were here when I bought the house. There are no stickers or identifiers on them. I never signed any agreement to lease them. I didn’t even know they weren’t mine until I got a letter telling me to pay rent on them. What if tomorrow I get a letter telling me I also don’t own my shade trees, my driveway pavement, and my mailbox??

      • Patrick Says:

        Pffft, I’d call Dead River and ask them what options they have for your situation. Take their numbers and call the competition. Get a contract with someone, anyone, then call your current guy and tell him “prove ownership – then buy back your gas and take the tanks away.” Assuming there’s nothing in you home title or related paperwork, the onus is on him.

        Did you buy gas from him because he was who the previous homeowners used, or did you pick him at random? Usually/typically/often (pick one) the tanks “belong” to the gas company and you lease it, but something about your situation sounds shady.

      • Cold House Journal Says:

        Yes, I called this company because the prior owner said they’re who he used. I suspect they do indeed own the tanks, as I know this is common practice. Yet, in every past place I’ve lived with propane, the tanks are conspicuously marked with the owning company’s name, whereas these have no identification at all. Which leads me to wonder.

        Okay, done with this topic. Need to enjoy the rest of summer while it lasts!

  7. Jane Stein Says:

    “should I start charging them a fee to “rent” the chart space in my office,”

    Oh, come on. What did that half an inch worth of file cabinet cost you? Does that half inch of file cabinet space prevent you from taking another paying patient?

    In general, on principle, you have possession, for free, of this small businessman’s property which he uses to generate income. He loans you those tanks for free in return for your business, but you’re not giving him any business. You can’t really believe you’re entitled to use his property for free.

    Yes, he could certainly have given you more notice, but I’d be real surprised if he wouldn’t give you 30 days or something as a grace period to figure out what you want to do about it, if you asked him nicely.

    He’s just another guy trying to earn a living in a miserable economy.

    • Rising Tide Says:

      Well, he did give him business. He filled up 350 gallons worth of tankage. As a brewery owner who has to deal with cooperage, I certainly can appreciate his position. But it’s not unreasonable to think that there is a fair compromise.

  8. Cold House Journal Says:

    “What did that half an inch worth of file cabinet cost you?”
    Ha ha– Oh, not much, but you’d be surprised how much of my tiny office is filling up with charts of people I barely see. Plus, unlike the propane company, I have legal obligations to people even after they are no longer “customers”– I have to keep, protect, tote around, and potentially photocopy & mail out their records for SEVEN YEARS after I last saw them! So, if they drop by once a year, that keeps resetting the clock : )

    “but you’re not giving him any business.”
    Well, I did! I bought a [to my mind] big batch of propane from him. I might not have, if I’d known I was going to have to start paying rent. Plus, it’s all a little complicated, since he owns the tanks, but I own what’s in them… I have not yet determined whether, if I have him pick up the tanks, he will pay ME for the +/- $800 worth of propane currently in them. If so, I have less gripe…

    Also, I’m not sure how “small” a small business this is… they have 7 offices covering at least half the population of the state… : )

  9. Cold House Journal Says:

    P.S. Really, I don’t have a big issue with the propane company doing what they feel they need to do. It just irks me mildly every time I run into one of these situations where the path of least resistance in the world is to burn MORE petroleum.

  10. Brian Says:

    Just had this happen to us too. We added a woodstove halfway through the first winter in our house in 2007, that year we used 250 gallons of propane, subsequent years with the woodstove we were using around 140. In the last 12 months we have only used 98 gallons and just got the letter for the “tank rental fee” of $75. I called and they did waive the fee since they said we were close to the number needed to not have the fee imposed.

    I’ve talked to the propane delivery person a few winters ago and he notified me that we might be getting to the point that we would be incurring a rental fee, and looking at our history I decided to keep 2 tanks instead of going to 1 because they charge a delivery fee and a hazmat fee each visit, and less storage space would equal more visits and a higher charge for propane.

    I was informed we need to use %60 of the capacity each billing year, so I will probably get rid of 1 tank after this winter.

  11. AnnMarie Johnson Says:

    I wish my kerosene tank was owned by someone! We hope to use it up this winter and get rid of it. But no idea how to actually get rid of it so I’d love a company to repossess it. We got a woodstove last winter in the same room the kerosene heater is. So it was rarely used. And we didn’t use it up despite keeping the heat on forever! We don’t like so many fuel sources (also oil and electric along with the wood) and the kerosene only heats one room so it makes sense to go.

    • Cold House Journal Says:

      Not sure which is scarier to have in your yard, a propane tank or a kero tank. The kero at least cannot explode in a way that puts your house into orbit. But I had neighbors whose kero tank sprung a leak, draining onto the ground, and turning their yard into a Superfund site. It wasn’t pretty.

      But, I bet if you put it on Craigslist someone would take it…

    • Patrick Ledwith Says:

      If you’re willing to sell it at a discount over retail diesel, I’m sure a local contractor would snatch it up to run in diesel equipment. It could go into the tank of a diesel car, as well, with some lube supplement.

  12. Wayne Hennigar Says:

    We also got the hated ‘Dear Propane User’ letter here In Nova Scotia, Canada, Luckily, we are perhaps a little more progressive than some jurisdictions, so I bought a ‘pig’ ( 200 gallon tank ) and have it filled – as required – by whomever is cheapest on that particular day. If the dealers ever refuse to fill it, I shall go to two 100 pound cylinders on a switcheable manifold setup, so that I can take each tank to the propane refill station and have it filled myself. In some areas of the country, the propane dealers get together and agree not to fill anyone elses’ tank but their own and thereby keep a stranglehold on the supply. I prefer to use natural gas, but we in the ‘have-not’ part of Canada do not yet have access to it – and most likely never will ( market economics, you know ). We heat with wood and keep propane for cooking and a little ambiance ( a fireplace in the livingroom ), so a tank lasts me the entire year. Our wood furnace, even though it is ducted throughout the house, continues to heat through convection when the power goes out as heat rises and propane allows us to cook and stay cosy during the frequent interruptions to our electrical supply.

    Love your blog!! Keep up the good work.

    Wayne Hennigar in Chester, NS

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