Saturday, June 15, 2024

Primer: the importance of propane in your Mexican home

Last week, I talked about getting water in Mexico — both for drinking and for one’s home.

Several people wrote to me afterwards to tell me about their own situations, which vary from place to place and make me realize how lucky I’ve been in the places I’ve lived! Depending on the area, municipal water services are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes just not reliable, meaning that often people need to call for “pipas” – water trucks – to top off their supplies.

(Though this is an older article, it’s worth noting that there may be more sustainable alternatives depending on the rainfall where one lives).

The week before, I wrote about deciphering one’s Mexican address as I’m making an effort provide some handy (if not extremely exciting) “how to” guides for those newly living in Mexico. This week, I’m sticking with it: it’s time to talk about gas!

Gas for the home is a service that I’d never given a thought to before moving to Mexico. Hot water simply came out of the shower because it did. The dryer worked without it. My grandmother had a gas stove, but all the ones I remember in my own home were electrical.

In Mexico, however, you need gas for quite a lot, and if it runs out unexpectedly, it can put an entire household on hold until more is procured.

Most homes in Mexico use gas (in the form of liquid propane) for a handful of things: cooking has been its main function in the households I’ve belonged to, as well as heating water by way of a water heater, which as far as I’m concerned, is the more important of the two – I’ll smell like a sewer before I take a cold shower!

A gas connection is also needed for most clothes dryers, which you may or may not feel you need depending on the climate of the place you live. I did without just fine in sunny and dry Querétaro without one, but in Xalapa, it was either get one or have damp clothes constantly “drying” on every available service (there are also, of course, lavanderías, who wash and dry and fold your clothes for you, though you need a certain tolerance for not always getting back the exact clothes you dropped off, if you go that route.)

Also, pro tip: apparently, it’s not cool to send in your underwear to be washed by strangers.

All that said, it is possible to live in a place that doesn’t use much gas at all: electric stoves can be bought, as can electric or solar water heaters. Surely, one can find dryers that don’t use gas as well, though I don’t think they’re necessarily the norm. However, most places that you might rent will depend on gas for at least the stove and water heater, and you’ll need to make sure you both know how to get the gas to your home and how to make use of it.

Let’s talk first about how to get it. Most homes have gas delivered in one of two ways: they either buy tanks (tanques) of LP gas which are switched out when empty — much like the garrafones of water I talked about last week — or they have a larger permanent tank for gas on top of the house, in which case one would say the home has gas estacionario.

If this is the case, your tank will need to get refilled periodically from a big truck that comes to your house with a super-long hose and two guys, one of whom will scale up to wherever the tank is if you don’t have a toma de gas (a gas hook-up) at ground-level.

Depending on where you live, there are usually several providers of both types of gas, and like many services, you can both call to order a delivery or flag them down when you hear them coming down your street, often with a catchy tune that everyone recognizes. (It really is the little things, isn’t it?)

When you are going to rent a place, be sure to ask if it uses tanques de gas or gas estacionario, as this will determine both which service you need to ask for as well as how often you’ll need to order it.

As someone who’s had both, I can say that there are advantages and disadvantages to both types. Tanques don’t last as long, but it’s not too hard to get a feel (by lifting it up and shaking it a bit) for when it’s about to run out and plan accordingly.

Most people have 20 kilo tanks – if you’re renting, there should already be a tank there; it’s not something you need to buy new – and with regular use, it typically lasts a couple of months or so.

When it runs out, it’s fairly easy to get it switched out quickly: call the service or flag down a truck, and they’ll bring in a new tank, probably hook it up for you if you ask them to and take away the empty one.

Gas estacionario lasts longer since the permanent tanks are typically much bigger, but in addition to not always being able to tell when it’s about to run out – most places don’t have a gauge anywhere you can easily access – the time you must wait for it to be delivered is usually a few hours longer, I believe because it simply takes longer for a dude to scale up to your roof and stand there while the gas gets pumped in.

Finally, I want to talk about a kind of scary but normal feature of many Mexican homes: the water heater. Most run on gas, and to save it, a lot of people simply keep the pilot light on (basically, a tiny constant flame), and then turn it up 10 minutes or so before they shower so they can have hot water. This isn’t too scary – there’s a little door – but if the pilot light goes out and you have to light it again, you’ll need to closely follow the instructions on the water heater and be a little brave. I won’t go through step-by-step instructions here except to say this: get someone to show you how it’s done if you haven’t done it yourself before.

Remember, too, what to do if you suspect gas is coming out of a connection somewhere: get a soapy sponge and drench the connection a bit. If it starts blowing bubbles anywhere, then gas is escaping and you need to tighten something up somewhere. When in doubt, of course, call a professional!

Note to readers: if you would like me to cover something else specifically related to living in Mexico that doesn’t involve immigration rules – they’ve completely changed since I did that stuff! – shoot me an email at [email protected] and I’ll do my best to address it.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com

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