Heating with Propane?
My 74-year-old mother is considering buying a condo with propane as the primary heat source. I have never dealt with propane (I’ve had wood, oil, pellet stove, and electric heat.) Preliminary research shows it can cost as much or more than oil, which is quite expensive, and long term, the costs will only rise. I am having her check whether she can install heat pumps (the condo association does not allow solar or solar hot water.) The condo is in the northeast (Massachusetts) where we do get hard winters. In terms of resiliency, is there any upside to having propane as the heat source (i.e. heat is available in a power outage?) Is natural gas a better choice? Is it possible to switch from propane to natural gas (I am assuming not because the natural gas pipes have to be run to the neighborhood and as far as I know they are not in this neighborhood)? I welcome any thoughts or feedback on this topic.
If natural gas is available, it is less expensive than propane for heating, in large part due to the fact that natural gas is usually plumbed into a neighborhood, and therefore has no additional delivery expense. Changing from one source to the other is relatively easy, as the usually only parts that have to be changed are the pressure restrictors and flow limiters. Both propane and NG heating will normally be able to run during an electric outage, but the blowers that move the heat around may not.
In most parts of the country that have NG, the pumping stations have NG generators as a backup to keep the gas flowing. Unless the temperatures get really cold, the usual issues are demand related, and not enough supply. For propane, the tank needs to stay above the liquification temperature, and if it gets too cold outside, the unit that converts the liquid propane to gas can stop working, but there is usually a very small heater that makes sure that situation does not happen.
I concur with Mike Dill and would add, having heated with propane many years ago, there are a couple things you should consider:
1) Propane delivers more BTU's per unit of gas, but the cost difference may not cancel out. Check local prices. Storage will be an additional cost (usually a lease or rental charge for a tank). so again check out local prices.
2) You will probably need to change the gas orifice on the heater and perhaps the gas valve to make sure it meets code
3) Propane liquefies at -43 C. Should it ever get that cold where you live, your gas flow will be reduced or stop completely. ( I once had to build a small fire under my tank to get it to liquefy (not recommended, but at -48 C. you take chances not normally considered).
Hope this helps.
When thinking about the grid most people think only about electricity. In reality, natural gas and all fuels are a part of the grid; system. There is a difference though. The grid for electricity is comprised of generation and transfer facilities connected with tens of thousands of miles of wire. Most power outages occur when something in that system breaks. Natural gas is similar except that the connection and distribution is through pipes. This system has seen fewer disruptions but the possibilities are still there, especially from natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
Other forms of fuel and energy rely on fuel being available to run various forms of rolling and floating stock such as trucks, trains and ships. In many ways each is somewhat dependent on another. The difference is that the forms of fuel and energy that do not depend on connecting wires or pipes can be transported and stored before it is required and used. Thus you can eliminate the reliance on a grid system. Propane is one of those fuels. Propane also never goes bad. It can be store indefinetly without deterioration; unlike gas and oil.
My point is you must also consider more than just cost. But when considering leasing a propane tank from a supply company, be careful of that company’s terms. If they require that you get refills only from them, they can raise their rates whenever they want and you may be stuck having to pay higher prices than another company might be charging at the time. Of course there are trade offs with everything. Always keep long term goals in mind; don’t get stuck on just immediate concerns. What might your options and requirements include next year or five years from now. As always, plan ahead.
We have a home in the city and a cabin in North New England woods. For about twenty years now I have had a natural gas heater, which looks like a fireplace in the living room of our city house. It has a mechanical thermostat so no electricity is required for it to operate. It has come in handy a few times when electric power went out in the winter and the central heating system shut down due to lack of electricity.
Last fall we installed a propane heater in the cabin. It has an electric fan but will continue to produce heat if the electric power goes out. The one unit did a good job of heating the whole cabin and the cost did not seem prohibitive. (About $500.00 to heat the cabin at 60 degrees most of the time. We only turn it up when we are there. Cabin is 750 square feet. It is fully insulated and has new double pane windows.) We have used propane for cooking at the cabin for years. Again, we have an older stove and oven, that are not electric so we could continue to cook and make hot water when the electric power goes out.
Judging from my neighbors In northern New England it appears that electricity and oil are the most expensive heating fuels. Propane, kerosene and of course, wood, seem to be the fuels of choice.
You can use propane. It is affordable, efficient and accessible than any other fuels available. Also propane is one of the cleanest fuel and you can easily detect the leakage of propane with its weird smell.Propane tanks are more puncture resistant too.