Propane vs. Natural Gas for Building and Home Appliances
Propane and natural gas are both important fuel sources, but they are not the same product. While sometimes considered as interchangeable, each fuel has a different chemical makeup and properties. When discussing “gas” as an option for your home, it is important to understand the differences.
Propane offers several benefits over natural gas: availability, value and convenience.
Natural gas is only available in limited areas. Natural gas must be piped in from an outside provider, which can limit its availability to homes in rural and suburban areas. Propane can be stored on-site in an underground or above-ground tank. This allows propane users to be energy independent and secure, free from disruptions in infrastructure or curtailment (when the utility limits gas consumption due to low supplies or line pressure.) Propane is readily available in all areas, even those where natural gas is not. Propane, like natural gas, is produced in the United States, so using propane also supports our American economy.
Propane provides about twice as much heat per unit as natural gas. One cubic foot of propane contains 2516 British Thermal Units (BTUs) while one cubic foot of natural gas contains 1030 BTU. This makes a considerable difference when an appliance is running. For example, in one hour, a 100,000 BTU/hr furnace will use about 40 cubic feet of propane. A similar natural gas furnace will consume 97 cubic feet of natural gas.
In addition to fuel efficiency, other considerations include delivery and storage. Natural gas is a metered fuel, delivered in vapor form through gas lines, and the homeowner will pay a meter fee for that equipment. Propane is delivered directly to the home from an on-site tank, stored under pressure as a liquid, and will seldom have a meter charge.
Because the fuels are chemically different, you cannot assume that appliances and piping for one fuel will work for another. In some cases, appliances can be converted to run on either propane or natural gas, but not all appliances have this option. Those will need to be replaced. Never convert, or allow someone else to convert, an appliance designed for one fuel to run on another. Internal baffles or other unalterable design features may cause the unit to malfunction or run inefficiently. This will also void any appliance warranty.
Additionally, since propane has a higher energy content, piping originally installed at a propane home may need to be replaced with larger piping to accommodate the fuel demand if a homeowner is considering a change to natural gas. A home originally piped for natural gas should accommodate propane fuel with no problems.
Propane is versatile and reliable. Many homebuilders prefer building with propane because of the benefits it provides to them as well as their customers. Compared to natural gas, which can be expensive to hook up, installing propane lines in new construction is easier to do and less expensive. While propane lines do need to be installed by a certified professional, MOPERC offers certification classes around the state throughout the year to make sure these technicians are properly trained.
Both propane and natural gas are products of North America, primarily the U.S. shale drilling regions. Their chemical content is similar, each made up of carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) atoms. Propane’s composition is C3H8 while natural gas is CH4. Each is a low-carbon fuel that burns cleanly due to the high percentage of hydrogen in the molecule and both are considered environmentally friendly fuels. However, because natural gas is transported over mains and pipelines that have been in service for decades, there is an ongoing concern today with methane leaks which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention create safety concerns. Meanwhile, propane is non-toxic and will not pollute either the ground or air if released.
The propane lifestyle offers many benefits to homeowners. Appliances that are powered by propane are often more energy efficient, perform better and provide a higher standard of living than electric appliances. Propane water heaters and furnaces can be paired to warm the home and provide ample hot water, even in the coldest winter months. Other appliances such as propane-powered cookstoves, dryers and fireplaces allow for maximum comfort, efficiency and convenience.
One feature that can really increase the appeal and value of homes is a propane backup generator. A propane-powered generator gives a homeowner peace of mind because when the power goes out, the generator comes on to keep their home running as usual. With a secure supply of propane on-site, homeowners don’t have to live at the mercy of utility companies like they may in a natural gas-powered home. This factor of energy security can be a major selling point for propane homes.
Freedom to choose a supplier is a big benefit for many propane users. Homeowners can choose from several local propane providers for competitive rates and service. The competition for business helps keep a cap on costs. Meanwhile, because they are monopolies and have a guaranteed service area, natural gas providers enjoy a built-in profit in their rate structures approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission. Natural gas consumers pay not just for fuel but also that ROI, all administrative expenses and the overhead for providing service to a large area.
Homeowners also enjoy doing business with local propane providers rather than a company based far away. Keeping their money invested in the community is a great benefit of doing business with a Missouri propane company.
Learn more about building with propane at propanehomepro.com.