Women In Propane: Finding A New Career Delivering Propane

(January 31, 2020) — After running a residential masonry company near Hollister, Calif., for 30 years, Patty Gere was ready for a change. So she did something unexpected for most single women in their mid-50s—she sold her company and started a new career delivering propane.
Women In Propane Profiles Patty Gere first female propane delivery driver for Dassel Propane reports BPN 2020
“I drove by Dassel’s Petroleum, which was about five minutes from my house, and saw the ‘drivers wanted’ sign. I thought for giggles I would apply,” Gere said. ”I just got tired of sitting behind my desk. Once my kids were grown, I just wanted to be outside.”

Although she had no knowledge of propane, she did have a commercial driver’s license. “I was pleasantly surprised, (actually shocked!), when Lloyd Pope, the general manager of Dassel’s, responded to my resume.”

In October, she celebrated her one-year anniversary as a bobtail driver for Dassel’s delivering and filling propane tanks for commercial customers, who in turn fill cylinder tanks for RVs, mobile catering trucks, and barbecue tanks. She also delivers to residential customers.

Dassel’s, which has been in business since 1939, serves customers across California’s Central Coast and the Central San Joaquin Valley.

“It’s been a great ride. It’s a very, very awesome company to work for,” Gere said. “My truck carries over 2200 gallons of propane, which I empty daily, and sometimes more. I like to think I help keep our customers warm, fed, clean, and dry—one tank at a time!”
In addition to driving that bobtail, she also drives Pinky, the company’s pink breast cancer awareness truck, which carries 2600 gallons. “I do love to drive the pink truck. People ask, ‘Did they buy this pink truck for you?’
“I’m not sure about nationally, but I am the only woman driver at Dassel’s. I take that role quite seriously and with a great deal of pride,” she said.

“They had never had a woman driver. I think they were as nervous as I was at first. From day one, though, everyone from upper management to the other drivers have made me feel like part of the family. I can ask any one of my coworkers for help with a situation or advice on how to handle a tricky delivery.”

One of the most challenging parts of her job is the physical aspect. While the commercial deliveries are fairly easy since they’re generally on level and solid ground, she said the residential deliveries can be quite physically challenging.

“I’m physically in the best shape I’ve been in years,” Gere said. “I just wanted to be in a physical job, and this just hit the nail on the head.”

“I play ‘Where’s Waldo?’ every day—‘Where’s the tank?’ Understandably, some clients prefer to keep their propane tanks out of sight, which means you might have to pull the hose quite a distance. The hose on my truck reaches over 100 feet, and pulling up a hill, or around obstacles such as landscaping, lighting, and plumbing fixtures, can be quite tough! I’ve had to climb fences and navigate slippery slopes in adverse conditions.”

Originally, Gere worked full-time, Monday through Friday. After moving near Yosemite to be closer to her daughter, she now works Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays—commuting 2½ hours and staying with friends.

Working weekends means she has regular deliveries and is the backup, on-call driver often working 10- to 12-hour days. But the schedule gives her more time with her family.

“My daughter lives near me, so I see her and her family almost daily. My son lives in Utah, and we get together a couple of times a year. I have horses, and spend a good deal of my summer riding in the mountains and camping. I recently purchased a pretty challenged property (16 acres) so I’ve been busy making it habitable and getting ready for my first winter in the mountains.”

Gere is also a licensed security guard and has provided horse-mounted security services in the past for music festivals such as Coachella. In addition, as a commissioned notary, she provides mobile notary services as needed in her community.

“I can honestly say I have enjoyed making this job my new career,” Gere said. “As long as I can keep pulling the hose, I’ll look forward to each new day.” — Karen Massman VanAsdale

Coombs Gas Makes Appliance Showroom Feel Like Home

The office and showrooms of Coombs Gas Co. (Blue Mountain, Miss.) were recently renovated by people who have the eye of a designer as well as a deep knowledge of the propane industry. The work was done by Braxton and Elizabeth Coombs. Braxton is the owner and president of Coombs Gas, Elizabeth is the owner of interior design firm Modern Antiquity, and together they are co-owners of Modern Antiquity Homes, a company that specializes in the customization, restoration, and renovation of homes for rent or nightly stay.

BPN the Propane industry leading source for news profiles Coombs Gas for Then and Now profile refurbishing homes with modern propane appliances jan 2020“We have a passion for restoring older homes; we restore five or six homes a year,” Braxton Coombs tells BPN. “We really enjoyed finding a bridge between that and our propane company. The style of Modern Antiquity Homes definitely influenced our showrooms.”

The married couple returned to Blue Mountain—their hometown—in October 2018, when Braxton purchased the propane and appliance retailer founded by his grandparents. Butch and Von Coombs started the company in 1969.

Braxton and Elizabeth had met during high school and then gone to college at Mississippi State University. Braxton earned degrees in business and economics, and Elizabeth graduated from the College of Architecture, Art, and Design. Their careers then took them to Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Braxton became a management consultant with firms like Accenture, SunTrust, and Ernst & Young. Elizabeth, an interior designer, did many residential and commercial projects.

Braxton’s purchase of Coombs Gas gave them an opportunity to return to their hometown. They soon launched Modern Antiquity Homes as well, purchasing and refurbishing homes not far from Coombs Gas in northeast Mississippi.

The Feel of Home
While they worked together to renovate the Coombs Gas facility, a major focus was to revamp the showrooms. The last time the place had been remodeled was around 1975.

The building is the same one Coombs Gas began in 50 years earlier. At that time, it included four spaces occupied by four separate businesses: Coombs Gas, a restaurant, a barbershop, and a laundromat. Braxton’s grandparents purchased the other spaces and incorporated them into Coombs Gas.
BPN celebrates 80 years propane industry leading source for news with then and now profile Coombs Gas Mississippi Jan 2020
Today, the facility has three parts: an area to greet customers, plus two wings. One of the wings is now a fireplace showroom and the other is an appliance showroom.

Braxton and Elizabeth Coombs started the remodel in March 2019. To keep Coombs Gas operational during the project, they did one half of the building at a time. The main purpose of revamping the showrooms was to support the sale of appliances.

“One thing we wanted to do was develop the showrooms so that they would show how these appliances could look and operate inside your home,” he explains. “We wanted to look different from a big-box store and give more of a feel of what these could look like in a home.”

Personal Service
Coombs Gas sells both propane and natural gas appliances. (What do the Coombses use in the homes they restore? It depends on the location. Some of the homes are closer to town and plumbed for natural gas; others are more remote and connected to propane.) The appliances available at Coombs Gas include fireplace inserts, gas logs, refrigerators, freezers, washers, grills, and gas lanterns.

“Coombs Gas has always offered appliances, but we haven’t always actively promoted them,” he says. “Over the last 12 months, we have focused on first the showroom and now really promoting the appliances.”

Why the focus on appliances? “Most people have them,” he explains. “And, as a family-owned and -operated business, we are in a unique position to provide personalized service. Since we provide good service and people know us, they really want to do business with us.”

Most people who buy appliances come in to see them first, but if someone calls and asks for their best price, Coombs Gas will give the price over the phone.

“Pricing is always going to be similar; the margin opportunity is not great,” Coombs notes. “We differentiate ourselves with service.”

When the Coombses lived in Washington, D.C., they bought appliances at a big-box store. They experienced the two- to four-hour window for delivery; calling the automated system to reschedule; and having the big-box store drop off, but not install, gas appliances. It’s different at Coombs Gas: “We can do the whole job, provide personal service, and react quicker.”
BPN celebrates 80th anniversary as propane industry leading source for news profiles Coombs Gas in Mississippi propane appliance showroom helps rennovate historic Miss homes  Jan 2020
Appliances are one part of the Coombs Gas ecosystem, Coombs says. The others are generators and propane sales for both residential and commercial customers.

The company began selling generators 15 years ago and has seen steady growth over the last 10 years. It sells generators to both residential and commercial customers. “Generator sales have really increased over the last 12 months,” Coombs reports. “Year on year, we’ve had a 50% increase in home generators.”

One reason for this growth is greater awareness of whole-home generators and their affordability: “They’re not just for commercial buildings; they are affordable for the average family,” he explains. Another reason is the aging population: “People who are aging or have health concerns want the security of having power to operate equipment or to operate as they need to in their home.” A third reason for growth in generators was a recent storm that passed through Mississippi: “We had high winds that downed power lines. But even before that, we had growth.”

Efficiencies and New Applications
Coombs sees opportunities in propane sales, too. Together with the sale, delivery, and installation of propane and natural gas appliances and generators, Coombs Gas offers propane delivery and propane and natural gas pipe installation. The company serves customers across Mississippi and Tennessee. Before purchasing the company, Braxton Coombs looked at the industry and liked what he saw, applying the skills he gained during his years as a management consultant.

“Consulting was a phenomenal experience,” he says. “I would identify opportunity areas to make companies better through growth, cost reduction, and other means.”

Surveying the propane industry, he sees three trends. One is consolidation: “There are not as many independents as there were 20 years ago,” he notes. Another is technology: “Technology will continue to change the dynamics of this industry, including efficiency and the safety functionality of trucks and equipment. We’re seeing that everywhere, in every industry.” A third trend is new applications for propane: “We’re seeing different uses of propane, including commercial applications like forklifts.”

“I grew up around the business,” Coombs adds. “Since I was 8 years old, I had always been around this business and had a love for it. When I saw an opportunity to move to my hometown, continue the legacy of my grandparents, and service customers, I leapt at it. I am excited and grateful to be here and to have so many great individuals here with me.”
BPN celebrates 80th anniversary as leading source for propapne news with Then and Now profile of Coombs Gas in Mississippi jan 2020
Continuing the Legacy
Braxton is the fourth generation of Coombs men to be in the propane business. Butch, the cofounder of Coombs Gas, was the second. Butch’s father and uncle owned and established Coombs Bros. Gas. Butch and Von worked there before his family sold the business and he began his own venture into the propane business. His son, Chris, and his grandson, Braxton, later entered the industry as well.

Butch, Chris, and Braxton were among those who gathered on Labor Day, Sept. 2, 2019, at a Coombs Gas 50th Anniversary Celebration to which the community was invited. The celebration included the opening of the renovated facility together with a car show, live music, food, and activities for kids.

“It was a fun environment for people to come and enjoy,” Coombs says. “A thousand people came, which is great for little Blue Mountain. My grandparents know so many people, and many of our employees have been with us for 10 or 20 years, so there was a lot of community involvement.”

Since his return to Coombs Gas, the renovation of the facility and the increase in the company’s online presence have been his top projects. The online presence now includes social media, online ads, and accepting online payments.

Speaking Dec. 3, Coombs noted that the company was well into the industry’s crunch time. After dealing with this winter demand, he will undertake a new project: “The next step is to upgrade our CRM package to incorporate new functionality, like contracts, routing, management, and paperless. There are a lot of new tools available and we plan to implement them in 2020.”

In the meantime, the revamped showrooms, the renewed promotion of appliances, and the other changes are keeping a steady flow of new and existing customers coming to the facility.

“People casually come in and see what’s happening at Coombs Gas,” Coombs says. “We have a lot of regular traffic. Many people pay online, but many others come in to pay their bill or just have a conversation. We are also advertising to create awareness, so new people stop by to check out what’s going on.”

A history of Coombs Gas and additional information about the company can be found at coombsgas.com.

A portfolio of custom interiors created by Modern Antiquity is available at modernantiquity.com.

Photos of homes being restored by, or available for rent or nightly stay from, Modern Antiquity Homes, are available at modernantiquityhomes.com. — Steve Relyea

Off-Grid Homeowners Seek Propane's Exceptional Value

(January 27, 2020) — Propane can make a valuable contribution to off-grid homes. It can do so by fueling a generator to produce electricity as well as by powering household appliances in order to reduce the electrical load.
Propane Provides Exceptional Value To Off Grid Homes becoming increasingly popular reports BPN the LPG industry's leading source for news since 1939
These were among the messages delivered in a webinar that introduced a new Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) course on off-grid homes. The webinar was presented by James (Jamie) Lyons, senior consultant at Newport Partners LLC (Davidsonville, Md.). Lyons is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland. Newport Partners is a company that provides a full range of professional consulting, analytical, and technical services to the building industry.

The webinar, “Energy Options for Off Grid Homes: The Role of Propane in Off Grid Designs,” is meant for construction professionals with and without experience with off-grid homes; energy suppliers; and others interested in the topic. It was held Dec. 12, was recorded, and is now available on YouTube.

Off-grid homes are completely independent of traditional utilities, including the electrical grid and natural gas distribution lines. Some homeowners live off the grid because they have chosen a location that is too remote or too expensive to connect to the grid; others want independence from the utilities.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all market,” Lyons says. “There are many motivations.”

The webinar and the course cover the three components of the energy system of an off-grid home: onsite electric energy generation; battery storage; and an off-grid generator.

Electric energy generation, storage
The electric energy generation is typically provided by solar photovoltaics (PV). The battery storage stores electric generation from both the PV and the generator. The off-grid generator charges the batteries when the PV system output isn’t enough.

“Home use and PV generation are a total mismatch, so you need storage,” Lyons says. “Having PV is not like being connected to the grid. There’s something called the ‘solar coaster’—PV production varies by month and the number of hours of daylight without cloud cover. Because PV is intermittent, it can’t always keep the batteries charged, so many off-grid homes use a generator to recharge the battery at times when the renewable system isn’t enough.”

The ability to enjoy modern conveniences while living off the grid has been driven by several developments in recent years. These include the falling cost of PV, the increased availability of residential battery storage, and the development of propane generators specifically designed for off-grid applications.

“PV prices have dropped by a factor of two or three,” Lyons says. “Propane generators are available from multiple manufacturers,” he adds. “This has created more options and more cost competitiveness.”
Propane energy provides exceptional value to off-grid homes reports BPN the industry's leading source for LPG news since 1939
Propane is a good choice for fueling generators and appliances in the off-grid home because of its portability, its ability to be stored for long periods of time, and its ability to power other thermal loads in the home.

There are now generators specifically designed for off-grid applications. These off-grid generators are not connected to the home; instead they recharge the battery bank. They feature long duration between oil changes and quiet operation compared to portable or standard backup generators.

“Off-grid generators generally use propane because you can store enough onsite for months or even years,” Lyons says. “Diesel might be considered, but propane is more stable, has fewer storage issues, and is more versatile.”

Reducing Electrical Load
In addition to fueling the generator, propane can make another contribution to the off-grid home. When propane is used for thermal loads like space heating, water heating, cooking, and clothes drying, less electricity is required.

“Some loads in the house can be shifted from electricity to propane to ease the load on the renewable and battery system,” Lyons notes.

Just as there are off-grid generators, there are specific off-grid appliances that run on propane and use little or no electricity. These include wall heaters and ranges. They are cost-effective when compared to investing in more PV and battery storage capacity. Lyons suggests that builders make certain that if these appliances do have an electrical load, it is low. “Specific off-grid appliances use little or no electrical consumption,” he says.

Together with these propane-centered strategies, the webinar and the course cover other aspects of energy systems; building envelope design; and homeowner behavior. They present several other strategies that can be used by builders of off-grid homes. One part covers the use of other renewable energy sources, like wind and running water. Another segment focuses on reducing the electrical load by including higher performance building envelopes, high-efficiency electrical components, and energy-conscious homeowner behavior. The webinar and the course also describe existing off-grid projects and what can be learned from them.

“Many or most of these homeowners will be very energy conscientious,” Lyons says. “Generally they will be cognizant of their energy habits, but there will be a learning curve. Adapting how they use appliances during cloudy weather is one of many things that go into an off-grid home’s behavior and how it operates.”

This webinar, “Energy Options for Off Grid Homes: The Role of Propane in Off Grid Designs,” is available on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=SN0CXFr2LKQ.

The new PERC course introduced by this webinar, too, is called “Energy Options for Off Grid Homes: The Role of Propane in Off Grid Designs.” It is certified for continuing education credits by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The course is available at PERC’s Propane Training Academy: http://bit.ly/37xKSSb.

“We want to engage building and design professionals on topics that are intriguing to them,” Bryan Cordill, director of residential and commercial business development at PERC, told BPN after the webinar. “The new course is designed to pique their interest in off-grid design opportunities and help them serve their customers. It’s a gateway to conversations about using propane in their designs. And as more homeowners face living on a grid that fails them, these tools help architects design projects that perform well, especially in times of public safety grid shutdowns.”

The new webinar and course join other content on this topic published by PERC. For further information, search for “Off Grid” on PERC’s website: propane.com. — Steve Relyea

Canada’s Largest Propane Supplier Partners With Restaurant Association

TORONTO, Jan. 23, 2020 — Restaurants Canada (founded as the Canadian Restaurant Association in 1944) announced it has formed a new membership savings program partnership with Superior Propane, Canada’s largest propane supplier. Restaurants Canada members will immediately receive exclusive credits with a new  Business Bundle package when they switch to Superior Propane.

superior propane restaurants canada partner for clean energy propane services reports BPN 012420“Whether it’s staffing or food matters, we know operators have more important tasks to juggle than monitoring and ordering propane,” said Director of Membership at Restaurants Canada, Christopher Barry. “They need the convenience and reliability that comes with Superior Propane’s SMART* Tank™ monitoring technology and industry-first mobile app, which make it easy for our members to manage their propane needs and stay focused on their business of creating great customer experiences."

With the largest delivery network in Canada, serving over 10,000 communities,
Superior Propane’s exclusive Business Bundle includes:

• Preferred business rates
• Wireless SMART* Tank™ with notifications
• Automated fuel delivery
• 24/7 access to mySUPERIOR™ customer web portal and mobile app

"Propane is a safe, affordable, and versatile energy solution, and we’re excited to be able to offer our exclusive Business Bundle to Restaurants Canada members,” said Dominic Palladino, GM of Commercial Sales at Superior Propane. “It’s a no-stress solution that allows operators to keep their kitchen cooking and their guests comfortable while being in full control."

To learn more about the Superior Propane program offer for members of Restaurants Canada, visit rcsave.ca/propane or call 1-800-387-5649 and speak to a Member Services representative.

About Restaurants Canada:

Restaurants Canada is a national, not-for-profit association advancing the potential of Canada’s diverse and dynamic foodservice industry through member programs, research, advocacy, resources and events. Canada’s foodservice sector is an $89 billion industry that directly employs 1.2 million workers, is Canada’s number one source of first jobs and serves 22 million customers across the country every day.

About Superior Propane
Superior Propane is Canada's largest provider of propane and related equipment and services with approximately 200 service and distribution points to efficiently serve residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial customers in over 10,000 communities. In business since 1951, Superior Propane employs more than 1,500 Canadians and delivers over 1.5 billion litres of propane annually. Superior is headquartered in Mississauga, ON and is part of the Energy Distribution division of Superior Plus LP.

*Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology. Superior Propane and SMART* Tank™ are registered trademarks or trademarks of Superior Plus LP in Canada. A minimum estimated annual propane consumption of 10,000 litres is required. $1,000 credit will be applied to accounts after the first propane delivery within 6-8 weeks. Terms and conditions apply. Offer valid for new Superior Propane customers and proof of membership status with Restaurants Canada (RC) will be required. Preferred business rates are based on annual propane consumption.

DOE To Award $133 Million For Advanced Vehicle Technologies

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) January 24, 2020 — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced up to $133 million in new and innovative advanced vehicle technologies research. This funding supports research that will lead to more affordable, efficient, and secure transportation energy.
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy makes $133 million in grant funding for clean-fuel propane vehicles reports BPN the LPG autogas ind leading source for news
Funded through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, this FY 2020 funding opportunity supports priorities in advanced engine and fuel technologies including technologies for off-road applications, lightweight materials, new mobility technologies (energy efficient mobility systems), and alternative fuels technology demonstrations. It also will support advanced batteries and electrification to address the DOE Energy Storage Grand Challenge announced on Jan. 8.

Topic areas include:

Advanced Combustion Engines and Fuels (up to $27.5 million)
• Platinum group metals content reduction to enable cost-effective after-treatment for gasoline and diesel engines
• Improved efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty natural gas and propane (LPG) engines
• Energy-efficient off-road technologies directly applicable to agriculture sector and/or other off-road vehicles
• Two-stroke, opposed-piston engine research and development

Batteries and Electrification (up to $40 million)
• Lithium-ion batteries using silicon- based anodes
• Low cost electric traction drive systems using no heavy rare earth materials utility managed smart charging supporting projects that will demonstrate managed and controlled charging loads for a large number of vehicles.

Materials Technology (up to $15 million)
• Lightweight and high-performance fiber-reinforced polymer composites for vehicle applications

Energy Efficient Mobility Systems (up to $13.5 million)
• Improving transportation system efficiency through better utilization
• Enabling vehicle and infrastructure connectivity
• Improving mobility, affordability, and energy efficiency through transit

Technology Integration (up to $36 million)
• Gaseous fuels technology demonstration projects
• Alternative fuel proof-of-concept in new communities and fleets
• Electric vehicle and charging community partner projects
• Technology integration open topic

Transportation and Energy Analysis (up to $1.2 million)

Concept papers for this funding opportunity are due February 21, 2020, and full applications will be due April 14, 2020.  For more information and application requirements, please visit the EERE Exchange website or Grants.gov.