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Standards Division

This is a list of current LP-Gas (usually propane) items of interest and frequently-asked questions (FAQs) for consumers:

Items of interest:

(Go to the the Frequently-Asked Questions list)

About the propane shortage and high prices - January 28, 2014
If you bought propane recently, you know that the price is about as high as it has ever been, unless you are locked in at a pre-season rate. We have received reports of over $4/gallon. And with some companies charging delivery fees on top of that, bills have been a shock. Prices are up because there is a shortage in several key areas of the country, including North Carolina. Shortages have resulted from:

  • A late crop drying season that had wetter than normal crops, thus requiring more propane.
  • Higher demand than what has been in the last few years. This is actually a normal winter, but it is colder than what we have had recently, so it seems more intense.
  • Propane exports are increasing, thus reducing the supply available for domestic use.

Some agricultural consumers have been told that they can't get propane so more is available for residential customers or because the propane company just doesn't have any more propane to deliver. We urge you to conserve (lower the thermostat, close the door, etc.) and to keep track of what you have in your tank so you can give plenty of notice that you need a delivery, especially if you are a will-call customer.

We have no control over what the propane industry charges, either the price per gallon or delivery fees. As far as we know, no state or Federal agency does. Propane companies are not monopolies and do not fall under the same rules as utilities. Competition is intended to keep companies' fees about the same, but there will always be some differences between companies. Ask questions about prices and fees, especially if you are shopping around for another company.

Click here to see a recently-released fact sheet about propane prices this winter. (Added 2/28/2014)

Composite Cylinder Recall Notice - May 29, 2013
Certain composite cylinders made by the Lite Cylinder Company have been recalled by the US DOT. See the recall notice for the DOT numbers included in the recall. This number is marked on the cylinder or on the enclosing frame. Customers who own these cylinders must stop using them and follow the instructions in the recall notice.

The listing following contains these headings: (Click on the item to go to that heading.)
1. Description of different valves available on grill gas bottles.
2. Proper storage of propane containers.
3. Safety alert concerning misuse of propane cylinders.
4. Disposal of old grill cylinders
5. Some safety concerns about turkey fryer use.
6. Heater Safety
7. Winter Storm Propane Safety
8. Hurricanes and Propane Safety
9. Extreme Heat Propane Safety
10. Propane use at flea markets, farmers markets, festivals
11. Underground Propane Tank Removal/Abandoning
12. Underground Propane Tank Corrosion Protection
13. Inspection of Residential and Commercial Propane Tanks

1. Description of different valves available on grill gas bottles.
2. Proper storage of propane containers.
3. Safety alert concerning misuse of propane cylinders. Some illegal drug manufacturers are putting anhydrous ammonia into propane cylinders. Occasionally these contaminated cylinders show up as returned cylinders in propane exchange cabinets or as abandoned cylinders along the road or in the woods. This link takes you to a site that explains the dangers.
4. Disposal of old grill cylinders
5. Some safety concerns about turkey fryer use.
6. Heater Safety - As cooler weather comes, space heater use increases. As with all energy sources, there are some risks involved. Space heaters come in fixed-location and portable types. Also, some are for outdoor use only and some are for indoor use only. The "Using Space Heaters Safely" module, provided by the Propane Education Research Council (PERC), provides tips on the proper use of propane-fueled space heaters and can be viewed in a few minutes. If you take nothing else away from this safety module, please remember the part about not using outdoor heaters indoors.
7. Winter Storm Propane Safety - What to do for your propane system before and after a winter storm. This education brochure was provided by the Propane Education Research Council (PERC).

8. Hurricanes and Propane Safety - Know these safety measures to help keep your family safe during and after a hurricane. This education brochure was provided by the Propane Education Research Council (PERC).

Please note that the brochure lists preparations to be made well in advance of a storm, some to be made as the storm approaches, and cautions for after the storm.

Before the storm:

  • Make sure that propane containers that are below the 100-year flood level are securely anchored to prevent them from floating away.
  • Know what propane smells like so you can recognize the hazard if it leaks. Install carbon monoxide and/or propane detectors.
  • Know how to shut off the propane supply.
  • Learn from your propane company which appliance valves need to be closed and where they are.
  • Have an emergency plan!

As the storm approaches:

  • Turn off the gas. Do this whether you are staying or evacuating.
  • Turn off valves near appliances as directed by the propane company.

After the storm:

  • Be very aware of your surroundings.
  • Never use outdoor appliances indoors!
  • Do not use ovens or stoves for space heating.
  • Do not turn the gas back on until the propane company checks the system for leaks. (A state law.)
9. Extreme Heat Propane Safety - When extreme heat hits, follow the safety do's and dont's in this education brochure provided by the Propane Education Research Council (PERC). The extreme heat referred to in this brochure is not likely to be present in North Carolina, but there have been a few cases where propane containers that were overfilled released propane on a very hot or sunny day, causing injury and property damage.
10. Propane use at flea markets, farmers markets, festivals ,and similar events must follow the rules in the LP-Gas Laws and LP-Gas Regulations. LP-Gas laws are in Sections 119-54 through 119-61. Click here (LP-Gas Law) and scroll down to the desired section. Click here (LP-Gas Regulations) to see the LP-Gas Regulations. Or you may click here to see a letter that summarizes the requirements for use of propane at these events.
11. Underground Propane Tank Removal/Abandoning - If you have an underground propane tank that you no longer use, here is some information about its removal or abandonment.
12. Underground Propane Tank Corrosion Protection - New requirements went into effect on January 1, 2011, for protecting these tanks from corrosion. More information is provided here.
13. Inspection of Residential and Commercial Propane Tanks - We sometimes get questions concerning our authority for performing inspections of consumer propane tanks or for how we perform these inspections. You may see a summary memorandum about these inspections or you may go to our frequently-asked-questions about these inspections.

FAQs:

FAQs CONCERNING HOME DELIVERY OF PROPANE
FAQ: Why can't I get a simple answer to "How much is propane per gallon?"
FAQ: What are those charges listed on my propane bill?
FAQ: Which has a lower price, a larger delivery or smaller delivery?
FAQ: I am trying to conserve energy, so I don't need a delivery as often as I used to. How do I keep my propane cost down?
FAQ: What are other considerations for keep my costs down?
Cost Considerations Conclusion
FAQ: Why won’t another propane company fill the tank at my house?
FAQ: When I buy a house, does the propane tank become mine?

FAQs CONCERNING GRILL CYLINDERS AND BUYING PROPANE
FAQ: What constitutes a full grill cylinder?
FAQ: How do I buy propane for my grill?
FAQ: I took my tank to get it filled and they turned me down. What happened?
FAQ: How do I dispose of a grill cylinder that is not safe to fill?

FAQs CONCERNING INSPECTIONS, WARNINGS, AND PENALTIES ON RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIAL PROPANE TANKS
FAQ: Why is the tank at my house or business being inspected?
FAQ: Where do the requirements for installation of propane tanks come from?
FAQ: What happens if there is something wrong found during the inspection?
FAQ: Who is responsible for correcting problems found?
FAQ: How can I keep from paying a penalty?
FAQ: How do I find out about new rules?

PROPANE CONSUMERS’ FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ) CONCERNING HOME DELIVERY OF PROPANE

FAQ: Why can’t I get a simple answer to “How much is propane per gallon?”
Answer: A propane supplier considers many factors to determine the cost to a customer. This could result in neighbors with the same size tanks getting different prices depending on a number of circumstances:

  • How many gallons a year is the customer expected to use?
  • Is the propane for needs (large uses, such as home heating, cooking appliances, water heater) or for decorative appliances (small uses, such as gas logs, gas lights)?
  • Is the customer on a scheduled delivery plan or do they deliver only upon customer request?
  • Does the customer own the house or rent it?
  • What is the frequency of deliveries?
  • Does the company or customer own the tank?
  • Is the price quoted an “introductory offer” good only for a certain period that may go up later?
  • Are there additional fees, such as a fuel surcharge, regulatory compliance fee, etc., or are they included in the price already?

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FAQ:What are those charges listed on my propane bill?
Answer: Propane cost: The price per gallon, the number of gallons delivered, and the total (price per gallon times the number of gallons) must be listed for residential deliveries. The total cost must be shown for all deliveries.
Sales tax:
Sales tax for delivered heating fuels is not included in the cost per gallon.  State law requires that be sales tax be added to the selling price. The state sales tax rate is 4.75% and the local sales tax rate is 2% or 2.25%, except for 2.5% in Mecklenburg County. This makes the total sales tax rate 6.75% to 7.25%, depending on the county,   The sales tax will probably be charged on the entire amount, including extra charges, listed below.
Charges: Many companies add on extra charges that they feel reflects their cost for doing business. Some companies include these charges in the propane cost per gallon. Others list them separately to keep the price per gallon they quote lower.
"RC Charge" or "Reg. Com. Charge" is regulatory compliance charge.  It is a charge many propane companies add to the bill to reflect that it costs them something to comply with state and federal regulations.  It is not a tax.  It is a charge that the propane company keeps as a way to compensate them for their costs in complying with the rules. 
"T Fuel Charge" or "Fuel Surcharge" is similar.  It stands for transportation fuel charge and reflects the cost of fuel the propane company pays to operate their trucks.  This may vary month to month as fuel prices change.
There may be other charges, too. Some companies add a fee for delivering a hazardous material (HAZMAT). Ask your supplier about fees listed on the bill.

When you are comparing propane costs, be sure to ask about fees such as this. If they call it a tax, then it is to be forwarded to the government agency responsible for collecting that tax.  If they call it a charge, then it is an added price the company is collecting.

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FAQ: Which has a lower price, a larger delivery or smaller delivery?
Answer: A larger delivery usually means a lower cost per gallon than a smaller delivery.  Each time the truck stops to make a delivery, there are certain fixed costs that must be covered. These include, but are not limited to:

  • driving time
  • tank inspection time
  • hook-up and unhooking time
  • completing the delivery ticket and giving it to the customer.

If these fixed costs must be covered by the price of a small delivery, the amount per gallon will probably be pushed higher.

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FAQ: I am trying to conserve energy, so I don’t need a delivery as often as I used to. How do I keep my propane cost down?
Answer: See the answer above for some of the considerations. If your usage has declined significantly, you may need to discuss with your supplier whether or not you should get a smaller tank.  A smaller tank means the supplier has less capital invested at your site. Conversely, if your home is way out of the way or at the limit of the supplier’s delivery area, there may be benefits to having a larger tank that needs filling only once or twice a year, thus keeping delivery costs down. You should discuss the options with your supplier.

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FAQ: What are other considerations for keep my costs down?
Answer: There are many possibilities.  You should discuss them with your supplier.  They include:

  • Maybe getting into a fixed rate plan would be a good option for you. If so, be sure you understand your obligations (maybe a minimum number of gallons purchased a year) and benefits (such as no price increase even if the general price soars).
  • Take deliveries when it is convenient for the supplier rather than only when you want them.
  • Find out if you can buy a tank and what the advantages (lower price per gallon) and disadvantages (responsible for its maintenance) are. One advantage is that you may shop around to different companies for the best price, but be sure there are not other prices or fees for a new company to inspect the tank before making a delivery.
  • Certain upgrades to your house may help. Check on replacing your tank water heater with an on-demand water heater. Maybe some added insulation or weather stripping would help save energy and keep you more comfortable.

Propane suppliers, like most businesses, want to meet their customer’s expectations. When they know a customer’s usage and have a commitment (contract) from them, it helps them plan what propane they need to purchase.

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Cost Considerations Conclusion: So, if you call a propane supplier and ask “How much to fill my 500 gallon propane tank?” expect them to answer your question with a number of questions. They are trying to determine their cost of the propane and service to you so they can answer your question and provide option to you. It is worthwhile to ask about any possible fees (regulatory compliance, HazMat, special delivery, fuel surcharge, out-of-gas charge, etc.) that may or may not be included in the cost so that you have no surprises later.

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FAQ: Why won’t another propane company fill the tank at my house?
Answer: State law prohibits one company from filling a tank belonging to another company. This is as it should be. The company that has their tank at your house deserves a return on that investment, and their margin on the propane they sell you is a large part of that return. They may also charge rent on the tank if you do not buy a prescribed amount of propane each year. That is their privilege. You do not have the right to ask another company to fill that tank, no matter how much less they charge. You may shop around for the best price if you own the tank yourself, and that is the return you get for your investment of buying a tank.

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FAQ: When I buy a house, does the propane tank become mine?
Answer: You probably don't want this answer, but it depends... Most of the time in North Carolina, when a propane company sets a tank, they keep ownership of it. This is especially true for above ground tanks. Buried tanks become the property of the homeowner more often, but not always. If you are going to have a tank buried, ask your propane company what their policy is and what the advantages and disadvantages of tank ownership are.
If the propane company wants to keep the tank, they have that right. If they file a UCC-1 form with the county for a tank on the property, then they have clear documentation that they intend to keep ownership of that tank, even if the house sells and a disclosure statement does not point out that the tank is not included in that sale. The UCC-1 expires after a specified time period and must be renewed to remain in effect.
The propane company is required to have their tank labeled with their company name so you and any subsequent house owners know who to contact for deliveries and service. Too often, they fail to meet this requirement, leaving the buyer unaware of the status of the tank. You can help them meet this requirement by letting them know if the label disappears or gets obscured. Also you, as a customer, are not permitted to remove or obscure that label.

There is a requirement to disclose what equipment is not included in the transfer of the property, especially those items that are attached to the house or property. A change in the law in 2012 added the following statement in the "Fixtures" section of the 2-T Realtor Offer to Purchase and Contract form:

(NOTE: Seller and Buyer should confirm whether fuel tanks, antennas, satellite dishes and receivers, alarm systems, and other items listed above are leased or not owned by Seller and should be entered in the blank above.)

This includes the propane tank. Already in that section was other wording about fixtures. A partial quote of that section is:

The following items, if any, are deemed fixtures and are included in the Purchase Price free of liens: ... fuel tank(s) whether attached or buried and including contents, if any, as of Settlement, ...

There is also a requirement for a Disclosure Statement when a house is sold. The Real Estate Commission requires the following statement to be in the section that identifies the house's fuel sources:

If the fuel source is stored in a tank, identify if the tank is above ground or below ground, and whether the tank is leased by the seller or owned by the seller.

If you are unsure or if there is no mention of the status of the propane tank or its contents, ask the real estate agent to provide the required disclosure before closing day.

You should note that these statements put some burden on the buyer to make sure that they ask for confirmation of full disclosure. If the buyer makes it clear that they have made the effort to confirm the status of fixtures, and if the propane tank and its contents were not excluded, then they may have a legitimate claim of ownership should the question come up. However, do not consider this as legal advice. Work with your attorney and realtor to assure compliance with legal requirements during negotiations, settlement, and closing.

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PROPANE CONSUMERS’ FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ) CONCERNING GRILL CYLINDERS AND BUYING PROPANE

FAQ: What constitutes a full grill cylinder?

ANSWER: Grill cylinders are typically referred to as “20 lb.” tanks and hold 20 pounds of propane, a little over 4 ½ gallons, when full. For safety reasons, a “full” tank is about 80% liquid so there is expansion space if the liquid warms. There is an Overfill Prevention Device (OPD) built into the valve that will limit the fill to a little less than 20 pounds on a warm day.  Also, there are cylinders that are larger and smaller than the “20 pounders” and hold appropriately larger and smaller amounts.

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FAQ: How do I buy propane for my grill?

ANSWER: There are 3 ways to get propane for your grill.

  • Buying or exchanging from a store with an exchange cabinet is very convenient. Exchange cabinets are found at many convenience, grocery, big box, and hardware stores. You can exchange your empty or partially empty cylinder for a full one or buy a full one for a higher price. This often costs more than getting your tank filled, but is often easier to find, especially at night or on weekends. The net weight on these is usually 15 to 17 ½ pounds, depending on the brand, and will be shown on the cabinet and/or the container label.  These are less full than getting your cylinder filled. (See #2, below.) Disclosing this lower weight to the customer allows them to sell their product this way, and there are legitimate reasons for the amount being less than 20 pounds. As a customer, you must make a value judgment on what you are getting versus your time and convenience.
  • Have your tank filled where they charge by the pound or gallon, such as some propane companies, hardware stores, or gasoline stations.  Some locations have a propane dispenser using a scale (selling by weight) or a meter (selling by volume). You pay for the amount of propane you received and your cylinder will be full. Remember that the OPD will limit the filling to less than 20 pounds on a warm day, but you should get 18-19 pounds.
  • Have your tank filled where they charge a flat rate. North Carolina regulations allow for “flat rate” filling of cylinders, which is the most common method. Your tank will still be filled, using a scale, a meter, or the bleed valve (as in #2, above), but you pay a flat charge no matter how much propane you receive. If your tank was empty, then you received a full amount. However, if you had propane left in your tank, then this method “cost” you something for what was already in the tank. Locations offering a flat rate must clearly post the price both at the dispenser where the tank is being filled and at the cash register. And they must post a price for each size tank they fill using the “flat fee” method. Again, you should get 18-19 pounds of propane in a nominal 20-pound cylinder.

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FAQ: I took my tank to get it filled and they turned me down. What happened?

ANSWER: There are a number of things that make a grill cylinder unfit for filling. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The cylinder is out of date. A DOT-specification cylinder, which every grill cylinder is, has a manufacturing date stamped into the collar. The cylinder may be filled for 12 years after that date. Then it goes “out of qualification” unless it is “requalified.” Getting a cylinder requalified (A new date will be stamped into the collar.) will usually cost you something and not all filling locations are able to do it. Requalification is usually for 5 years and will extend the life of the cylinder that long before it must be requalified again. It may continue to be requalified for as long as the person doing the requalification feels it is safe to fill the cylinder.
  • The cylinder does not have the required OPD valve. All cylinders up to 40 pounds capacity must have the OPD.
  • The cylinder may be damaged or corroded. Even if it is still in its qualification date, a cylinder with a deep dent or severe corrosion may be unfit and unsafe to fill. Check the bottom for deep corrosion pits, too.
  • The collar or foot ring may be loose or damaged.
  • The valve may be damaged.

If any of these are the case, you should not have the cylinder filled. Unfortunately, you may be able to find or convince another dispenser operator to fill it. They will not be doing you a favor if they do, as the cylinder may leak or have other problems that could end up harming you or your house.

If you want to check into getting your cylinder requalified, here are a couple of links for information. The first link is for those testers (mostly propane companies) who operate in North Carolina. The second link takes you to a site where you can get this information for any state. Please note that propane cylinders are low pressure cylinders, so a company listed that way is acceptable for testing propane grill cylinders.

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FAQ: How do I dispose of a grill cylinder that is not safe to fill?

Answer: Please do not abandon it by the road or in the woods! Doing so may initiate a call to a hazardous material response team and result in a large cost to your city or county. The best way is to exchange it at a cylinder exchange cabinet, where you get a fresh cylinder. If you do not want a filled cylinder, you can donate it to the exchange company. The exchange company will determine if they can requalify the cylinder or if it must be scrapped.

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CONCERNING INSPECTIONS, WARNINGS, AND PENALTIES ON RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIAL PROPANE TANKS

FAQ: Why is the tank at my house or business being inspected?

Answer: The North Carolina General Assembly created the LP-Gas Law in 1955, adding it to the already existing Gasoline and Oil Inspection and Regulation Law.  A key provision in the law assigns responsibility to the Commissioner of Agriculture to administer the law, including performing inspections.  The text of the responsibility section follows:

§ 119‑57.  Administration of Article; rules and regulations given force and effect of law.
It shall be the duty of the Commissioner to administer all the provisions of this Article and all the rules and regulations made and promulgated under this Article; to conduct inspections of liquefied petroleum gas containers and installations; to investigate for violations of this Article and the rules and regulations adopted pursuant to the provisions thereof, and to prosecute violations of this Article or of such rules and regulations adopted pursuant to the provisions thereof.

With this assignment, the General Assembly was recognizing that locations that store LP-Gas in a manner that does not conform to generally-accepted standards are presenting a hazard to their owners, to their neighbors, and to the general public.  Even when the tank is located far from public property, it has been demonstrated by accidents that injury and death can occur at surprising distances.

We do not charge a fee for performing an inspection. 

We inspect a sampling of tanks located at residences and at business so that we can monitor how well the propane companies are doing installations and how well they are maintained. Since most tanks belong to the supplying propane company, the results of inspections will be directed to the propane company. If the consumer owns the tank, the results of the inspection will be directed to the consumer.

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FAQ: Where do the requirements for installation of propane tanks come from?

Answer: Our inspections are mostly based on the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code (LP-Gas Code).  This code is published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an internationally-recognized organization of experts at protecting people from the hazards of fire.  What’s important is that these codes and standards are developed by experts who are intimately familiar with the equipment, processes, and hazards.  The committee that writes the LP-Gas Code is made up of fire marshals and other enforcement officials, equipment manufacturers, LP-Gas industry members, insurance industry representatives, and consultants with special expertise on LP-Gas matters.  They meet regularly to determine if new rules are needed or if existing rules should be modified or discarded.  The ratio between types of members on the committee makes sure that the realities of the world are considered as they attempt to make the use of propane and other LP-Gases as safe as it can reasonably be made.

There are a few addition requirements in the North Carolina LP-Gas Regulations. They may be viewed by clicking here.

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FAQ: What happens if there is something wrong found during the inspection?

Answer: If the inspector finds a problem, he generally allows it to be corrected while he is still there.  If corrections are not made before the inspector leaves, our next activity is to send a letter warning that the problems must be fixed within a specified time. If there are legitimate reasons that delay correcting the problem, we usually allow an extension of time.  It is only when the inspector returns after the specified time or after we are notified that all corrections have been made, and he finds that the same problems still exist, that we assess a penalty.  The amount of the penalty for each problem is based on the degree of harm that could occur if that problem goes uncorrected.

Inspectors do not determine if penalties will be assessed or how much they will be. The inspectors submit their reports and all penalty decisions are made in the Standards Division office. There are opportunities for negotiating penalties and for appealing decisions, all of which are detailed in the penalty letters.

If a penalty is assessed and paid, the money is not credited to our department or program.  It is paid to the school system in the county where the violation occurred.  We receive only a small processing fee.  Collecting fines is not the incentive that drives us.  We are trying to make the LP-Gas industry and those they serve as safe as we can.

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FAQ: Who is responsible for correcting problems found?

Answer: Generally, the owner of the tank is responsible. The owner may correct the problem themselves or they may contract for a propane company or licensed technician to make the correction. (The LP-Gas Law requires that those who service, repair, or adjust LP-Gas equipment must be licensed to do so.)

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FAQ: How can I keep from paying a penalty?

Answer: First, keep the tank in compliance with the requirements.

  • Many times, tanks are installed at the minimum distances allowed. If you move the tank closer to a building or property line or if you add onto the house or add a building, you may be putting the tank into violation.
  • Keep the equipment in good condition. Corrosion can cause a tank it become unsafe. It can also cause devices that must operate to malfunction. Keeping the tank painted is a significant way to extend the tank life.

Next, correct the problem(s) within the specified time or by the end of the extension time approved or get an (another) extension. Do not allow time to expire if you have not made corrections. If the inspector returns and finds the same violation, he will write it again, causing a penalty to be assessed. Extensions will not be given the day the inspector returns for a reinspection.

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FAQ: How do I find out about new rules?

Answer: The LP-Gas Code usually is revised every three years. The code may be viewed, but not printed, at the National Fire Protection Association website. Go to the Codes and Standards section of their website and click on Review NFPA codes and standards online, or click on the link here. You will be directed to create a profile and log-in to see the codes. You may also purchase copies of the codes. There is no charge for reviewing the codes or for creating the profile.

Most requirements of the code are not retroactive. If the tank is in compliance when it is installed, it will remain in compliance even if the rules about its installation are changed. However, if it is moved or upgraded, then it may have to meet the new rules.

There are some rules that may have some effect of being retroactive. For instance, rules new in 2011 about protecting underground tanks from corrosion do not apply to tanks buried before 2011 unless testing shows that there is active corrosion. You can learn more about this requirement at by going to Corrosion Issues with Underground Propane Tanks.

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Page last modified on February 28, 2014.

 

 

NCDA&CS Standards Division, Stephen Benjamin, Director
Mailing Address:1050 Mail Service Center Raleigh, NC 27699-1050
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh, NC 27601
Phone: (919) 707-3225; FAX: (919) 715-0524