Unique 30 B Off Grid Propane Range: How To Install and Product Review

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The Unique 30 B was the obvious choice for a propane range. We’d do a product review and also show our readers how to install the shiny black kitchen stove…eventually.

It took a while to get around to doing the installation, though. The delays added up rather impressively.

When we first arrived on this southern Cochise County, Arizona, acreage in April of 2009, there was nothing here but bare land, a water well the developer had gotten drilled before putting the acreage on the market, and the tracks of hundreds upon hundreds of illegal immigrants trekking northward after crossing the Mexican border fence just a mile from our property. It would be a while before we’d have much in the way of contained fire. At first, we didn’t even have a burn barrel like the one shown in the above photo, nor did we have the money to build anything.

Thankfully, our financial situation improved over time. I built a home for my wife and myself, a thick walled redoubt we call the Border Fort. Then, year after year and month after month, we kept making improvements as my time and our joint bank account allowed.

Still, the cooking situation did not reach true kitchen range status until today, September 14, 2013. Pam counts it as her birthday present, since she turned 62 years of age on September 10.

Between then and now, we’d gotten by with a two burner camp stove.

It was installed inside, where it was never meant to be. Each burner could crank out 30,000 btu of no-B.S. heat. We could, and frequently did, heat a six gallon stainless steel stock pot full of water to warm up the bathtub.

We could get away with such an unconventional kitchen “stove” because (a) we had the beast sitting near the north side kitchen window, (b) we’d open more windows as needed to help carbon monoxide laden exhaust fumes exit the domicile, and (c) we’re not idiots. Many if not most product warnings are designed for idiots, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Grease spatters did manage to slime up the camp stove over the months and years, though, and the accumulation of cat hair on the rubber floor tiles below the stove was an Eighth Wonder of the World in and of itself.

The accumulation of cat hair beneath the camp stove was an Eight Wonder of the World in and of itself.

The accumulation of cat hair beneath the camp stove was an Eight Wonder of the World in and of itself.

As it happened, we’d finally been ready to tackle the stove replacement project in July of this year…but the monsoon rains had other ideas.

Wait. Let’s back up a bit.

I did many, many hours of Internet research before settling on the Unique brand propane range. In the end the Unique 30 B (30 B meaning 30 inches wide and B for black) was the blazingly obvious option for the following reasons:

1. It’s American made (unlike the camp stove incidentally, which was Chinese all the way).

2. It’s the only company out there producing a stove specifically designed for off grid usage.

3. With #2 very much in mind, it’s also the only company out there producing a stove that does not require an external source of electrical power to energize its electronic striker system. Unless the batteries need replacing or some other part of the striker system fails, neither AC power nor manual lighting is necessary.

Okay. That’s why we bought the Unique 30 B. However, there weren’t many dealers around, nor did the company sell directly. In fact, there were only two dealers in all of Arizona, one sizeable, one not so much. I called the bigger operation, which was located closer to us, but didn’t like what I heard. If I get a bad vibe from a vendor–any vendor–I don’t do business there.

Ever.

Happily, the next phone call clicked beautifully. David answered the phone. We got along well. He’d have to order the unit, which he did. I would bring my GMC pickup truck up to Dewey, Arizona, to snag the stove. It was only 300 miles each way, freight hassles would be avoided, and I’m a retired trucker to whom a run like that is peanuts.

Perfect.

Except that, as it happened, a flash flood wiped out the road just a mile from our place, stranding us another mile away from the highway. The wipeout happened no more than twenty minutes before I was scheduled to head out.

Oops.

So we waited until September, when the monsoon rains had slacked off and the wash was passable, at least most of the time.

Hooking up any new propane line scares me, every time. I’ve never gotten one wrong, never found a leak when pressure testing after the Teflon taping and wrenching was done, never busted anything I didn’t want to bust. It’s possibly a good thing that I’m wary like that; at least, I don’t get complacent and careless.

Yesterday, I finally got started on the installation. There are two regulators involved, one that comes as part of the stove and one connecting to the propane tank outside. To get access to the one on the stove, you have to first pop the burners up from their incoming propane supply pipes. If you want to set the stove top aside entirely, the strikers can also be popped loose from their electrical supply wires, but I didn’t need to go that far. Just set the top a few inches to one side, far enough to allow careful Crescent wrench work on the regulator, and we were good to go.

This one has a Maxitrol brand regulator. Despite instinctively trusting the Unique company, it still seemed like a good idea to make sure there’d been no mistake made at the factory. The big flat hex nut on top was easily removed with a wrench. Firmly attached to the bottom of the nut is a little plastic down-post with a round “collar” at the bottom end.

That was good. The stove was indeed set up for LPG, propane, and not for natural gas.

With the safety check done and the hex nut replaced, it was time to add a metal flex pipe to the back of the regulator. Ours came from Home Depot and has a bright yellow vinyl coating on the outside.

Key point: Teflon tape now has a yellow colored variety designed specifically for use with gas, either natural gas or propane. At Home Depot, an employee who’s been one of my key contacts for years informed me that they’ve been told to never again use the white Teflon tape for gas installations. Supposedly, gas can eat up the white tape over time and begin leaking.

Mickey and I both had to laugh about that one. How many white-tape installations have he and I done over the years? We still have our propane refrigerator and our only space heater connections sealed with white Teflon tape.

Oh, well.

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Tarantula 003

Next, the steel fitting at one end of the yellow flex pipe was attached to the regulator fitting . After that, the other end–which is brass and contains a safety valve to shut off the propane if the flex pipe should happen to rupture for some reason–gets connected to a manual shutoff valve.

My wife really likes this way of doing it. Some years back, she was stuck home alone in a Colorado rental home with a really bad propane stove installation. She lived in constant fear of either dying in her sleep from carbon monoxide or blowing herself up.

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The rear of the Unique propane range with the flex line and safety shutoff valve installed.

The rear of the Unique propane range with the flex line installed.

At that point, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t taken the propane hose supplying the refrigerator into consideration. (All of these hoses, used RV style for now, will be swapped out for black iron pipe…someday.) The problem? That fridge hose runs behind the stove, through the back bottom portion of a base cabinet, and on to the appliance. On the other hand, the stove needed to tuck right back against the wall…without smashing the hose behind it.

Hmm….

Solution? A “fake wall” section, consisting of 2″ x 3″ sticks cut to form a frame behind the stove. Openings could be left in the wood to provide pass-through space for the fridge hose. Chocolate colored paint would dress the arrangement up nicely.

The "fake wall", which will allow the propane hose supplying the refrigerator to pass through behind the kitchen range without getting smunched.  This will (someday) be swapped out in favor of black iron pipe.

The “fake wall”, which will allow the propane hose supplying the refrigerator to pass through behind the kitchen range without getting smunched. This will (someday) be swapped out in favor of black iron pipe.

We stopped there for the night, ignored the greasy cat hair on the wall and floor that could be scraped up later, fried up a couple of Angus burgers on the camp stove–its last meal, at least here in the Border Fort–and called it a day.

Today, rested and refreshed and raring to go–okay, maybe not all that, but determined to finish the project–I found out I’d had Barnett Propane put together a new hose that turned out to be five feet too short.

What the–?!

It took a while to figure out what had happened. We’ve always had terribly long hoses supplying the kitchen appliances, running distances the professionals will tell you can’t possibly work right. They do work right, but even so, I’d messed up this time. The old hose (supplying the camp stove) was a couple of feet longer than it needed to be. I’d allowed for that. But the original hose was 20 feet long–and I’d been dead certain it was precisely 15 feet!

[Palm to forehead!]

Well, as the old saying goes, the only guy who never makes mistakes is the guy who does nothing at all.

So…how to fix this?

In the end, the solution was straightforward: Move the open faced shed that houses the propane tanks six feet to the left. Which I did, though it took a while.

Major benefit: The run between tank and appliance (stove) is now 13 feet, having shaved 7 feet from the former 20 foot arrangement.

Future benefit: Whenever the time comes to replace the hose supplying the fridge, a similar shortening of the run can happen there, too.

Extra photo bonus: Once the shed had been moved over to its new position, it was time to grab the wheelbarrow and a shovel in order to fill in under the shed base with rocks. A fence lizard watched while the barrow was being retrieved from its off duty position near a pile of old pallets out back.

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An Arizona fence lizard keeps an eye on me as I snag the wheelbarrow.

An Arizona fence lizard keeps an eye on me as I snag the wheelbarrow.

From there on in, there were no more surprises, just plain old work. Pulling out the old hose from the PVC access pipe (which is how utility lines of either the electrical extension cord or rubber gas hose types access our home) was simple enough. Pushing the new hose through was trickier but not that bad; I didn’t even have to use a fishing line (which is where you tie a strong cord onto the hose, slip the string through the pipe, and then pull the hose instead of push it.

After that, the outside end of the hose was attached to a new regulator which was in turn attached to the propane tank itself. All fittings were reinforced with Teflon tape except for the one that goes to the tank; that one has a rubber O-ring to ensure a perfect seal.

Inside, the impressive accumulation of cat hair was scraped clear of both wall and floor with the help of a scrap piece of plywood. A putty knife would have worked, but the wood was quicker.

One final connection to go, and it would be time to pressure test the line.

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The pressure testing went off without a hitch, but please note: Though not a pro by trade, I’ve hooked up quite a few propane appliances over the years, never had a leak from any connection I made–and I still pressure test every line, every time, before even thinking about lighting things up.

Pressure testing (our way) goes in two stages: The sniff test and the soapy water test.

For the sniff test, I stick my nose right down next to each and every connection and inhale–cautiously at first, just in case, and then more deeply. The stinky additive in propane will make its presence known in a hurry if you’ve got a leak.

Everything smelled fine.

The soapy water test is equally simple, though when working indoors, you do need a shallow bowl or something to catch the dripping water. A generous amount of Dawn dishwashing liquid (though it could be any brand of soap) is squirted into a cup or glass, water is added, and a little of the soapy solution is poured over each connection. If there is a leak, even a tiny one, bubbles will form at the site. It’s just like blowing soap bubbles with a pipe, which many of us did as kids. Works every time.

No leaks. We were good to go.

From there, things got pretty simple:

1. Shove the stove into the desired position, back against the fake wall with one side against the base cabinet.

2. Pull it out slightly, as often as needed, to adjust the leveling legs until everything is A-OK perfect.

3. With a screwdriver, remove the two screws that hold the kick plate located at the bottom front of the stove. This gives access to a pair of clip mounts and connectors for two 9 volt batteries–which are all that power the electronic strikers. I didn’t think to photograph that location, but it’s not hard to find or to access.

4. Close up the kick plate (put the two screws back in) and get ready to fire up the stove.

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All righty then. We done said all that to say all this. That is, it’s now time for the product review portion of this post.

To light any of the Unique burners–be it one of the top burners or the oven–the process is the same: You simply push in the desired knob a little bit, turn it to the starting position, and wait until it lights. I was at first a bit worried, knowing that on the really long hoses–at least 25 feet on the refrigerator run, for example–it can take a while for the propane to fill the hose and reach the burner. In the meantime, all strikers are sparking, all the time you’re holding in even one knob.

Would we have to replace the 9 volt batteries even before getting the thing to light the first time?

I needn’t have been concerned. With the shorter run of 13 feet, it didn’t take that long before we had gas and a pretty blue flame.

Every burner lit the way it was supposed to light. All of the flames were a nice, even blue in color.

I did bang the back of my head on the corner of the kitchen table once, but that was my fault, coming up from peering in through the broiler door to watch the oven burner light. Can’t blame the stove for that.

So far, all we’ve heated on the Unique 30 B propane range before tackling this page is…my evening pot of coffee. Even that single foray into the cooking area, however, has made something quite clear: No clue why, but it takes a lot less propane to keep the coffee hot with the Unique range than it did with the camp stove. The heavy, cast iron, removable top grill (formed in two pieces for ease of handling when cleaning) may have something to do with it, but there’s more. If the burner is turned all the way to Low (it defaults to High after the start position), it produces the tiniest stable propane flame I’ve ever seen.

Overall, we’re mightily impressed.

Of course, we could be easy marks. It’s not hard to look good when you’re replacing an old, greasy camp stove…is it?

Um…yes, in this case, it is. That camp stove has been utterly reliable, never failing to light, always getting the job done. My stepson, Zach, has asked for it already, now that we won’t be using it on any regular basis. He and his family will use as it was designed, outdoors, camping. We’ll miss it…

…but not by all that much. The new Unique is a treasure. There’s no other product review rating we could possibly give it but (Fanfare!) FIVE FULL STARS.
And now, Pam will have no more excuses. Her ex, with whom she has remained on friendly terms, has been begging her to whomp up a batch of creampuffs. Twenty years since he’s seen any of those, at the very least, and he’s still salivating at the very thought.

The Unique range is in place and leveled.  Add the cast iron grille top pieces, two 9 volt batteries, and it'll be ready to rock.

The Unique range is in place and leveled. Add the cast iron grille top pieces, two 9 volt batteries, and it’ll be ready to rock.

Yep, the top burners work beautifully, precisely as advertised.

Yep, the top burners work beautifully, precisely as advertised.

First oven light-up.

How about that first oven light-up, above?  And now, warmed over coffee, burner set on low, time to publish this post.  FIVE STARS all the way for the Unique 30 B off grid propane range.

How about that first oven light-up, above? And now, warmed over coffee, burner set on low, time to publish this post. FIVE STARS all the way for the Unique 30 B off grid propane range.

4 thoughts on “Unique 30 B Off Grid Propane Range: How To Install and Product Review

  1. I have never set one up new, but I have replaced a hose for a propane stove. It leaked and I figured out the first time I ever used it. I used the soap in a spray bottle but it works the same. Mine had a leak in the hose itself, which wasn’t that hard to pinpoint when I looked at the hose. It looked like it had been pinched when someone moved the stove.I don’t know how long they used it that way, but I didn’t use it until it was fixed. Exchanged it for a flexible metal hose. I envy Zach, for getting the old stove, I remember a few times when I would have killed for a stove like that.

  2. A spray bottle is neater, less messy, & Pam thought that’s the way I was doing it…which I would, but just popping some Dawn in a cup and adding water is faster, so that’s the way I do it.

    Yeah, Pam & I can both remember times when a stove like that would have been the cat’s meow. Especially for Pam during her homeless years, no doubt.

    Sorry about missing your comment on this one for 4 days. Wouldn’t have caught it now but happened to be studying stats & noticed there was 1 comment listed…which meant I’d failed in my moderating duties, so I hopped right over here.

    The new stove does start off with a flexible metal hose, albeit one with a vinyl covering. It probably won’t be too many years now before I rig the rest of the runs for all of the propane appliances with black iron pipe for the rest of it, save only a short run (18 inches or so) between the tanks and the black pipe. And for those, I may (at that point) go with yet another flexible metal hose. We’ll see. The rubber is pretty handy, though, so I may keep using that outside, just change it out every few years–but make the in-house stuff all metal.

  3. Hi there, I am curious if you have any updates on your Unique propane range?

    I am building an off grid cabin and need something like this. It looks good and like anything i have read mixed reviews.

    Any updates would be welcome.

  4. Thanks for asking, Riley. Overall, we’re still MORE than satisfied with the Unique, some two and one half years after installation. A few details as they come to mind:

    1. They only inherent pain in the tush with this stove is lighting the oven burner. If the pilot light is left on (with the knob in the “Standby position), no problem. But if that’s been turned all the way off and we’re starting from scratch, it takes a while. No clue why that should be so, but it surely is a fact. In fact, it takes so long to light that I always hold a barbecue lighter in there along the main burner while pushing the striker knob, just to make sure we’re not adding unburned propane to the area without realizing it. But that’s the ONLY negative for this stove–one that keeps Pam from lighting the oven if the pilot light has been turned off (I have to do it because of her disabilities), but certainly not a deal killer. Once lit, it continues to be a beautiful flame.

    1a. Also on the oven, not a problem, but according to our separate oven thermometer, the oven runs cooler than the knob setting shows, so a new user might want to experiment a little.

    2. Last year, during the late spring and early summer of 2015, I completed a super-major upgrade project: Replacing all of the separate portable propane tanks with a 330 gallon propane tank and a buried gas line installed to code. (The code part was more or less “by accident”; I did the installation from scratch and simply found that “what made sense” magically happened to ALSO be “up to code”.) I mention this because, after the Unique was running on the new gas supply system, it seemed a bit more robust. That is, there seemed to be more “power” in the propane burners no matter what the setting. Guess the unit could “feel” a portable tank, especially when it wasn’t exactly full. But it always works, one way or the other.

    3. In the fall of 2013, we briefly employed a part time housekeeper and Pam-helper (because of my wife’s health) who once cleaned the dickens out of the stovetop…without knowing what she was doing. Jammed every single up-top burner full of soap-and-scrub scum. Took me 45 minutes, cleaning out each and every burner hole with a toothpick, before any of the strikers would work again–had to use a barbecue lighter in the meantime. But that was definitely not the stove’s fault, and it did fully recover.

    4. The manual advised changing out the striker batteries every six months or so. I didn’t bother until they failed entirely, about 18 months into ownership…and with brand new alkaline batteries installed, we got a dandy surprise. On the original batteries, we’d been getting maybe one “strike” per second. On the new Energizers, it started out at more like three strikes per second–and the burners lit much more rapidly and decisively. So, hint: You might want to START with new batteries and trash the stock set.

    5. We use an old-style Farber brand stainless steel percolator for brewing coffee. Once the “perc” is up and running, setting the burner as Low as it will go is usually still enough to finish the brewing with a nice soft rate.

    Overall, we still consider it one of the best investments for an off grid kitchen that we could have possibly made–and if the naysayers got individual units that were as solid as ours, I’d be scratching my head at any negative reviews. If I ever build another off grid place, it’s the only kitchen range I’ll consider.

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