Propane Heat vs. Electric Heat | Which is Better and Why
A common question among home buyers, builders and owners is What is the best way to heat their home? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the benefits of propane heating systems over electric heating systems to equip you with the information you need to be able to make a knowledgeable decision in heating your home. Propane heating is better than electric heat in many ways. Performance, efficiency, dependability and reducing the carbon footprint of your home are all ways propane heat is superior to electric heat.
Propane vs. Electric Performance
Not all heating systems deliver air at the same temperature. Electric heat pumps deliver heat at or below your normal body temperature of 98.6℉. Propane furnaces deliver a warmer, more comfortable heat, up to 140℉, regardless of the outdoor temperature. In addition, many high-efficiency propane furnaces are two-stage or variable speed units, so the furnace heats the home steadily and comfortably.
Propane furnaces achieve desired temperatures much faster than electric heating systems and produce enough thermal energy to heat your home without the need for a backup system. Electric heat pumps require a backup system because when the temperature drops below 25 or 30℉, they become inefficient in the cold weather conditions.
Propane vs. Electric Efficiency
High-efficiency propane furnaces qualify for Energy Star’s Most Efficient label of 95 AFUE or higher. AFUE stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency and it’s basically a measurement of a gas furnace’s efficiency in converting fuel to energy. For example, a furnace that is 80 AFUE can turn 80 percent of the energy it consumes into heat. The other 20 percent is used during the heating process.
A higher AFUE rating means greater energy efficiency. The minimum standard AFUE for new furnaces is 78 percent. A mid-efficiency furnace usually has an AFUE rating between 80 and 85 percent. High-efficiency propane furnaces rate between 90 and 98 AFUE. Propane furnaces also capture additional heat from the combustion gases and use this to increase the heat transfer of the furnace for greater efficiency.
In addition, most propane gas furnaces feature electronic ignitions. This activates the burners only when fuel is needed, keeping your heating system operating cost down.
Electric heat pumps also operate efficiently, and can qualify for Energy Star’s label. The qualifications for the label are based on different factors than gas furnaces, since they operate differently. Instead of AFUE, Energy Star electric heat pumps are qualified by meeting requirements of Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER), and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF).
Electric heat pumps operate by drawing heat from outdoor air or from the ground and transferring it inside. This is why electric heat pumps cannot compete with propane furnaces in the temperature of air delivered from the register and require a backup heating system for when the temperature drops below the 25 or 30℉ threshold. While beneficial in some climate zones, heat pumps can be over-matched by a typical Missouri winter.
Propane vs. Electric Dependability
Propane can be safely and securely stored in a tank on your property, while electricity can be subject to power outages. A propane tank can even be buried on a property to avoid having it in sight in your yard. With a propane-powered backup generator, homeowners with propane furnaces are able to live with an added level of security knowing that an electric service disruption won’t interrupt their routine and home life. With the propane backup generator, propane furnaces will continue to run, even when the power goes out.
The average lifespan of a propane furnace is about 20 years, while electric heat pumps last about 14 years. Over time, propane furnaces also maintain their efficiency better than electric heat pump systems. The older an electric heat pump is, the more electricity it will require to do its job. Heat pumps can also have problems with low airflow, leaky ducts, and incorrect refrigerant charge, and are estimated to lose about a percent of efficiency each year of operation, contributing to their shorter operating life.
For homeowners interested in lowering their carbon footprint, propane is a safe, American-made fuel that burns cleanly and produces significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than most other energy sources. In addition, propane is a non-poisonous, non-toxic fuel, that won’t contaminate soil or groundwater, making it safe to use anywhere.
The new higher efficiency electric heat pumps produce more CO2 emissions compared with a high-efficiency propane furnace with a central A/C system. More facts comparing propane heating with new, higher standard heat pumps can be found here.
There are many models of propane furnaces available that can be installed and vented in a variety of ways. Propane furnaces offer a wide range of flexibility in both the type and the capacity of available equipment, making them a good fit for many homes. Propane heating systems can be configured as central or zone, forced air or radiant.
Propane boilers can also work in conjunction with a number of heating delivery systems, including hydronic baseboard systems, in-floor hydronic systems, and even forced air systems, where the hot water from the boiler (instead of a furnace) acts as the heat source.
If you’re thinking about building a new home or replacing the current heating system in an existing home, talk with your local professional propane dealer. They can help you determine how propane can be an efficient, cost-effective solution to heat your home based on your situation and needs.
Your local propane dealer will be able to assist you from the beginning of your project all the way through to completion. Ask whether rebates are available through the Missouri Propane Education & Research Council (MOPERC). There may also be homebuilder incentives offered by appliance manufacturers or the national Propane Education & Reseach Council (PERC).