Do You Use a Propane Tank for Energy? Why You NEED a Back Up Plan!
Recently we had a terrible experience with our propane company. It was so surprising! I never thought I'd see the day when a big business would take advantage of a retired couple on a fixed income...but we were very seriously price-gouged. I don't even know how we are going to pay the bill we just received! Personal experiences and opinions of others can help you choose a good company....at least that's my hope in writing this article. Regardless, you NEED a back up plan for your heating and cooking, and I'm going to explain why!
If you are off grid or require propane to fully or partially provide heat and power for your home, you need to be aware of some things propane companies can do, and that includes price-gouging.
When we moved to our off-grid home, we were presented with our propane tank, currently on the property. We discovered we needed to pay a yearly rental fee, which is fairly standard among propane companies. We were required to pay for the propane that was already in the tank, and that was a very reasonable expectation as well. They kept the cost fairly low for us those first months, which I understand is also standard procedure for new customers.
The company that was servicing our property at that time is a very large national company. We were happy with the local office and the service we received from them that first year. In the subsequent four years, we experienced prices creeping upward and an incident where they refused to return a $1,300 credit we had with them while still requiring us to pay our monthly "average charge." (We finally received our money back, but it took months.)
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Even with all these factors, we were willing to work with them because they were timely with delivery and the drivers were pleasant.
What Kind of Propane Company Should YOU Choose?
There are a number of factors that goes into choosing a good propane company. I'll discuss them after I share the recent incident we had with our now-previous propane company. We've recently switched, and I am relieved to see the old company be gone, even though we still have an exorbitant bill that I do not know how we will pay.
Here's what recently happened to us:
1) Price Creep
The price of our propane has steadily increased in small increments. This was something we were willing to overlook because up until this winter, our service has been good, and the incremental increases were very small, as in cents.
Trust me: Pennies matter when you are talking about a 575 gallon propane tank.
2) Winter Time Hits
Usually, the old company would stock us all up on our propane here on our mountain in about September or October, well before the coldest days of winter when propane usage is at its highest. However, this year....they did not.
Since we are not always home, and they are known to stop by when we are gone, we didn't think much about it. After all, we had never had a problem in the past with their servicing us in a timely way.
In fact, when we realized they hadn't been out in awhile and checked the percentage of propane left in our tank, our tank was nearly empty! We were in the depths of Winter freezes, and we called to have it filled ASAP.
(If you are familiar with off-grid housing in cold climates, especially in winter, unless you have a wood stove hooked up, you may be at the mercy of propane gas for heating, unless you are in an area with other heat sources, which we are not.)
Therefore, the propane company has you by the cajones, so to speak. Which is how they had us---in dire need of propane and with an almost empty tank.
3) The MASSIVE Price Gouge
Well, we were expecting our propane price to be similar to what it has been the entire five years we have lived in our off-grid home---perhaps a few cents higher, since it was Winter, after all, but not a huge amount.
You get a bill for a nearly full 575 gallon tank of propane that is nearly DOUBLED in cost per gallon---To roughly $4.00 per gallon, to be exact.
Can you feel your blood pressure rise?
Nobody wants to pay twice as much for their propane as they discover their neighbors are paying. Kind of leaves a yucky feeling inside. Just saying.
4) The WORST Customer Service!
What on earth happened to this company?
Topping off the indignity and unethical price-gouging this company subjected us to was a complete lack of communication or care about the problem!
For the first time since we had been with them, our phone calls were not returned. We made numerous calls to the office to discuss what we assumed must be a mistake on our bill. NOBODY ever got back to us, until I sent a very heated email.
Prior to this email, I had been able to reach a lower level office worker who assured us that, "YES, we were being price-gouged." (Her words.) And, that someone would most definitely be returning our calls.
NOBODY ever called, even after several messages were left.
For three weeks, Mr. V. and I kept calling, and waited for the promised return call, meanwhile needing to use our over-priced propane for heat. Since calling and talking with office people wasn't working, I sent an email to the main company.
After I sent the email, the lady who phoned me back was not from the local office. She assured me that someone higher up would get in touch. She actually offered to lower our propane price, but we had already switched over to a reasonably priced company. But the point is....we never should have been charged that much. It was unconscionable.
Regardless, NOBODY ever called us back to speak with us about the "price-gouge." (Again, their words.)
5) The Switch
After waiting two weeks for someone to return our calls, we started searching for other propane company options. We talked with our neighbors, got their opinions and experiences, and finally made a decision about which new company to go with.
When we explained to our neighbors how this once popular company had price-gouged us, the responses were universal: Horrified. Angry. And finally several neighbors were pushed over the edge to get themselves switched, too, before our experience became theirs as well. Many of them had already experienced the price creeps and poor service we had experienced, and were just waiting for one good excuse.
6) The Wait
At this time, we are still waiting to have someone call us back and actually discuss adjusting our bill of over $1,700. I have a feeling we may wait until H-E-double toothpicks freezes over.
In the meantime, we do have a new company, also a large national company. We are very happy with them so far, and they come highly recommended by other people in our area.
The price is right too---They charged us less than half what the other company was charging for our initial fill up, and we are set on price for a year in an amount that is still roughly HALF what the price-gouging company charged us.
Unfortunately, we still need to pay for the amount of high-priced propane we used from the old company, and we ended up using about 50%, that is, unless the old company will be reasonable and give us some kind of credit. If that happens, I will definitely edit this to raise your spirits.
As a retired consumer on a fixed income, it is a terribly disempowering feeling to have a large company railroad you this way. It really is. It truly saddens me to believe that big business can be just SO. UGLY. And unethical.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Propane Company
When we were searching for a new company, we decided to take a look at different aspects of what should make a good propane company, because I truly do NOT believe price is everything.
Interestingly, one thing I DID learn in my research is that price per gallon for propane generally doesn't vary more than a few cents between companies.
Just more proof that we were indeed being price-gouged.
Here are factors to take into consideration when choosing a propane company:
The size of the company does matter. There are positive and negatives to how large the company is. Smaller companies generally can provide better, more personalized service because they are small. They are also more likely to be caring about their customers. However, their prices may not be quite as good. Although---that was certainly not the case in our instance.
Larger companies, however, have a better response time if there is an emergency or if you need help with something. They simply have more employees to help out. That is, unless their customer service is just super poor, as in our case with the company we had.
2) Customer Service
For Pete's Sake.....Do they call you back already? Do they respond when you submit paperwork they have asked for? Do they have you on a schedule, and if you are will-call, are they there quickly? (And, as in our case, if they remove you from a schedule, do they CALL you to let you know?)
Until you've actually dealt personally with a company, some of these questions may be hard to answer, unless you are able to talk to other friends and get referrals. That's why I recommend before choosing a propane company (or switching like we did) you get out there and ask people in your area what they think. And don't just ask one person. Ask as many as you can. Here's why:
Possible favoritism (or perhaps you could call it discrimination?). In asking around about prices here on the mountain, we discovered a local business family gets a smashing price on their propane because they help refer people to this company who gouged us.
I think everyone should be treated the same. These companies don't know who individuals are out there talking to, after all. I should be paying the same price my neighbor pays, don't you think?
Many people only look at price, but I personally don't. Price is important, but if you are paying a dirt-cheap price, and the service is poor, then what's the point? Right?
Price certainly needs to be a factor, and it has been for us. However because for many years, the price-gouging company was a quality company in our opinion, with good response times, returning of phone calls, etc., we were willing to pay a few cents per gallon more.
A FEW CENTS, FOLKS! NOT DOLLARS!
When searching for a good company, it's a good idea to weigh out the other criteria mentioned here, too. It might be ok to pay a few extra pennies in exchange for good service.
Overall friendliness is very important. Do the service men snarl at you or complain about your dogs? Or are they friendly? Do they shake your hand and greet you? Do they engage in conversation, at least a bit of small talk?
Is there a different service person every single time? Or do you have a chance to get to know the person who takes care of your area?
Again, these are questions you may not be able to know the answers to, unless you are talking with neighbors and getting their feedback. To me, this is really important, though and is a pretty big deal in creating trust.
I have to say, I have never once had a bad experience with a person who came out to service our tanks, from the old company or the new. One fellow, one time, had problems with the snow, and I could tell he was afraid, but really, I've so far only had great experiences with the service men of all the companies we've dealt with.
And the fellow who came out to pick up our tank from the company who price-gouged us? He was absolutely wonderful. Too bad he's not running that company!
Final Thoughts on Choosing a Good Propane Company (or Any Company, for That Matter)
I wrote this because I was (and am) just so very disappointed and angry about how the old company treated us. Really disappointed. Saddened. And the worst feeling of all---Powerless.
If you've ever felt just powerless about something that is unfair, then you know that feeling, and it ain't good.
If you use propane, I hope this article has given you some food for thought. And good luck out there.
Oh! And as I get ready to sign off with my usual, "Hugs & Self-Reliance," I'd like to quickly mention self-reliance......
Because as you have probably just noted, we are NOT self-reliant. I really don't think anyone really is. BUT---that's not to say we shouldn't strive for self-reliance as much as we can in the areas we are comfortable with. Having self-reliant skills is SO important.
One thing this ugly incident has taught me is that Mr. V. and I need to have multiple sources of heat. We are kicking ourselves because we actually have TWO wood stoves we could have hooked up over the years---but since the propane was affordable until now, we didn't bother. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb!
Lesson Learned. Relying on just one big, potentially unfair company to service your heat is really quite stupid. You need multiple sources of power, heat, light, etc. Just in case.
With that said---
Hugs & Self-Reliance,
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