Propane and natural gas are the most common fuels used today for residential heating and to power appliances across the United States.
Of course that today, we have a wide range of options available for residential heating, but judging after the fact that in your area you have to choose between propane and natural gas, this article will show you what are the differences between these two fuels, what are the advantages and disadvantages of using natural gas or propane, and what is the impact on the environment when using natural gas or propane.
The Difference Between Using Natural Gas, Propane or Other Fuel For Residential Heating
To heat your home and produce warm water, you can choose from a pretty wide list of fuels from which some are cleaner (electricity), others pollute (natural gas, propane, wood or diesel), and that last one is very dirty and harmful for the environment and your health (coal).
Fuel Cost Comparison
The following table contains a list of the most common fuels used today for residential heating in the U.S., and the costs involved when using them to heat your home.
In our list of fuels used for residential heating, natural gas seems to be the most affordable fuel, but only if the price of propane is pretty high in your area.
Using a Heat Pump
Using a heat pump will produce heat during the winter and cool air during the summer, but because the compressor is used all year long and takes heat from the outside air, the heat pump will have a shorter life compared to other devices used to produce heating or cooling.
At the same time, the efficiency of the heat pump decreases when the outside temperatures are very low.
At 20 degrees below zero (-4°F), the heat pump will stop working, so you will have to use another fuel to heat your home.
However, when using a geothermal heat pump there is a different story, because the pump receives heat from the underground (not from the outside air), so such a pump will work a little better, but when the outside temperatures are very low during the winter, you should use an additional source of heat to ensure a cozy environment inside your house.
If you rely only on electricity to heat your home (let’s say that you are using AC units with inverter), and an electric water heater, your energy consumption will be the highest.
Using only electricity, means that your home has a very low carbon footprint, but we can’t say that the electricity used to heat or cool your home was green because we don’t know what energy source was used to produce that electricity (clean energy or fossil fuels).
Diesel Oil and Heating Oil
Fuel Oil No 2 is like using diesel fuel to heat your home.
This energy source is more expensive because one gallon of fuel oil no 2 is around $2.50 (and the price could go up), which means that if you don’t live in Alaska (where fuel oil no 2 is cheaper), you should use a different fuel to heat your home during the winter.
Wood is a renewable resource because trees regrow.
At the same time, a full cord of wood contains about 22,000,000 BTU’s (depends if you use harder or softer wood), which means that heating a 1,500 or 2,000 square feet home during the entire year, would consume no more than 3 to 4 full cords of wood (between $750 and $1,000).
Using Propane if the Price is Good
Using propane to heat your home is almost similar to using natural gas, except the fact that propane is kept outside in large tanks (at a certain distance from the house).
If propane has a low price in your area (around $2 per gallon), you can use it to heat your home, but if its price is over $2.50 per gallon, you should use a different source of energy to heat your home (in Alaska, a gallon of propane is around $4.00).
Natural gas is a low-carbon energy source (a cleaner fossil fuel), and in many areas of the country, natural gas is considered the most affordable source of energy for heating your home and producing warm water.
If you have natural gas in your area, just use it to heat your home because is could be the cheapest solution available.
Coal is One of the Dirties Sources of Power
Coal is also a cheaper alternative for heating your home, but the large amount of carbon emissions, particulate matter and other toxic gases released when burning coal, makes it the most dangerous fuel for your health and the health of your neighbors.
If only one neighbor uses coal for heating the home during the winter, the entire street will feel the consequences because the air will be completely polluted (bad smell, smog, particulate matter, toxic gases, etc.).
This is the reason why you should avoid using coal as an energy source and rely on a different fuel (preferably cleaner) to heat your home.
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using Natural Gas For Heating?
1. Natural gas is a low-carbon energy source
Compared to other fossil fuels like oil and coal, natural gas is considered a cleaner fuel due to the reduced amount of carbon emissions released when burning.
2. Natural gas could be the cheapest source of heating in your area
If you have natural gas in your area, and its price is between $9 to $12 per MCF (1,000 cubic feet of gas), you should use it for cooking and heating your home because is a cleaner source of power than other fuels, is affordable and is more practical.
3. Natural gas relies on a pipeline system that is interruptible
You know if there is a natural gas network in your area if you can see yellow pipelines installed above the ground.
Due to the fact that natural gas is provided by a utility company, in case of a natural disaster, the supply of natural gas could stop, which means that your home has no heating source.
Using electricity from the grid is the same story because in case of a longer outage, your home will stay in the dark without a heating source.
4. Natural gas pollutes the environment
I already mentioned that natural gas is considered a low-carbon energy source because it burns cleaner than coal and oil, but even so, the amount of greenhouse gases released while burning natural gas for cooking and heating, increases the greenhouse effect on the planet and leads to climate change.
What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Propane for Heating?
1. Propane burns much cleaner
According to EIA, compared to oil, propane releases about half of the carbon emissions when burning 139 pounds of CO2 per million BTU’s (natural gas is slightly cleaner with 117 pounds of CO2 per million BTU’s).
2. Propane has many applications
Propane is a very versatile fuel because you can use it to power a wide range of appliances and installations inside and outside the house (heating system, appliances, water heater, fireplace, a pool, a generator, etc.).
3. Propane is a reliable source of heat
Compared to natural gas that uses a pipeline system, propane, wood, coal and fuel oil no 2 are mass storage options.
This means that having your propane tank in your yard, you have a very reliable source of heat that works day and night for you, without being controlled by the grid or a utility company.
Using a propane tank, you have your own off-grid source of fuel that can work 24/7 to heat your home, to power your appliances, etc.
1. Propane can be very expensive in some areas
The price of propane can be high in Florida, Alaska and Virginia, and lower in Minnesota, California, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Tennessee, Georgia, and other states.
2. Propane is not very friendly with the environment
Compared to coal and oil, propane is a cleaner fuel, but compared with natural gas, propane is slightly dirtier because it releases a higher amount of carbon emissions when burning.
What is the Environmental Impact of Natural Gas and Propane?
Propane and natural gas are both fossil fuels, which means that they release harmful emissions into the atmosphere when burning.
Propane is a colorless and odorless gas or liquid that is highly flammable and is produced as a byproduct of natural gas processing and crude oil refining, which means that is a principal component of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas).
Propane is denser than air, so in case of a leak (during a propane delivery or in your storage system) the gas will have the tendency to sink into any low or enclosed area.
Natural gas is a greenhouse gas, so in case of a leak, the gas will escape into the atmosphere and will increase the greenhouse gas effect on the planet.
If you can’t rely on an entirely green source of power to heat your home you can use AC units with inverter for room heating and cooling, and for hot water you can use a water heater powered by electricity or another source or energy.
However, this would increase your monthly bills pretty much, so in order to use only electricity for your comfort without pulluting the environment, you have to use solar panels or small wind turbines to lower the bills.
If you still want to use a low-carbon energy source such as natural gas or propane instead of fossil fuels like oil or coal you can still lower your bills and your carbon footprint and even your monthly energy bills if you get a good price for the fuel..
Propane is also a great source of energy for off-grid applications.