It’s not your typical cocktail party debate. But there are merits to homeowners in comparing and contrasting propane vs natural gas for uses in the home.
What are the differences between the two and which one is best for you?
Either propane or natural gas is cleaner burning than other fossil fuels like coal or oil. So they are better for the environment. Both are popular fuels and both are used extensively across the country to heat homes and power appliances.
The ready availability of propane or natural gas in your particular part of the country could have a big effect on which fuel you choose for your home. For the sake of argument – let’s assume that you have an equal option of using either.
So from that perspective, let’s look at natural gas vs propane in terms of energy efficiency, cost, and environmental safety. What similarities and differences do we see in those areas?
We offer valuable information on a wide variety of topics, including energy. Read on so you can make the right decision on a clean fuel for your home.
What Is Propane and What Is Natural Gas?
As noted above, both natural gas and propane are fossil fuels. Both were created from ancient plants and animals that decayed beneath the Earth’s surface under extreme pressure and heat over millions of years.
Natural gas is actually comprised of multiple gases: butane, ethane, methane, and…propane. Propane is extracted from the other gas components during processing.
Both are odorless so processing adds an odor for detection purposes.
Propane is compressed into its liquid state and is sold by the gallon. It is also called liquefied petroleum gas, or LP gas for short. Propane can be converted to the natural gas standard, cubic feet, for comparison purposes.
Energy Efficiency of Propane vs Natural Gas (BTU Comparison)
In order to compare the efficiency of these two fuels, we need to know the definition of a British Thermal Unit or BTU. Despite its name, it is no longer commonly used in the United Kingdom. So, no tea and crumpets needed here!
What Is a BTU?
BTU is the international measure of a unit of energy. One BTU is equal to the amount of energy used to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. One BTU per hour equals 0.293 watts of energy.
In practical terms, one BTU is the heat produced by one lighted matchstick.
BTUs are used in rating appliances such as air conditioners, kitchen ranges, furnaces, even outdoor gas grills. More BTUs means more heat produced (by the burners on a range or grill) or the quantity of heat removed from a room per hour (by an air conditioner).
BTU Comparison of Natural Gas vs Propane
Propane contains more than twice the BTU energy of natural gas:
- One cubic foot of propane = 2,516 BTUs
- One cubic foot of natural gas = 1,030 BTUs
For example, a propane furnace rated at 100,000 BTUs burns only 40 cubic feet per hour. A similar natural gas furnace burns around 97 cubic feet per hour.
To put it another way, propane burns less volume of fuel per hour than natural gas by a factor of 2:1. So, you will use much less fuel over time with propane.
Propane is the energy efficiency winner!
Propane vs Natural Gas Cost
As previously noted, propane is sold by the gallon in its compressed liquid form. You normally pay for delivery ahead of time and store it in a large tank near your home. This means you could run out if the delivery schedule gets interrupted.
Natural gas is sold by the cubic foot, remains in its gaseous state, and arrives at your home in a pipeline. You pay for it as you use it. But, you won’t run out.
For example, let’s attach some numbers.
When natural gas costs less than $20 per 1,000 cubic feet, and propane costs around $2.50 per gallon, then natural gas is usually a less expensive option for heating your home than propane – even considering propane’s efficiency advantage as to burn rate.
That being said, prices for both fluctuate over time and which alternative is cheaper comes down to factors such as efficiency of your furnace and other appliances, and where you live. An energy audit can find any issues with your heating and save you even more money.
So, no clear-cut winner in propane vs natural gas cost!
Environmental Safety of Propane vs Natural Gas
In this area, there is no real evidence to mandate one over the other, since both fuels are clean-burning – especially in relation to other fossil fuels. Technically, natural gas is labeled a greenhouse gas if released into the environment, but it burns clean like propane.
Natural gas is lighter than propane, so it dissipates more quickly if released into the atmosphere. In the grand scheme of things, that shouldn’t sway your vote.
Propane is considered a “green fuel”, but neither propane nor natural gas is denounced as harmful to the environment. Propane is thought of as the more eco-friendly option, but the differences are very small.
So, no clear-cut winner in propane vs natural gas environmental safety!
If you are considering using propane to heat your home and power your appliances, then we recommend you check out this propane tank installation site to help your decision.
We’ve seen that propane delivers more BTUs per cubic foot and is more energy efficient than natural gas. If you currently have propane service for your home, we recommend you stick with it.
Propane’s portability (e.g., in 5-gal cylinders) makes it extremely useful to power a gas grill, giving you more freedom to set up a barbecue anywhere in your yard. It’s also used extensively in the RV world for both heat and appliances.
Natural gas grills, in contrast, are normally connected to a “gas stub” where the fuel comes in via a pipeline. So, the grill is stationary.
If you entertain the notion of switching from one fuel source to another, you may require a new furnace, range, grill, and other appliances, or even expensive infrastructure upgrades. That could be a huge expense.
So, even if natural gas could be cheaper for your home based on availability and cost per cubic foot, this investment can take years to recoup.
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