Propane or Natural Gas: what is the best option for my home?

Most people don’t understand the differences between natural gas and propane when thinking about energy source for a house. We will explain here the main concepts of both products.

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Photo source: https://www.rsandrews.com

Natural Gas

Natural gas occurs deep beneath the earth’s surface, and consists mainly of methane, a compound with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Natural gas also contains small amounts of other hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon gases, and today is one of the most clean sources of energy. Geologists who study the structure and processes of the earth are the ones that helps companies to locate the place on earth to find the rocks that are likely to contain natural gas deposits (some areas are on land and some are offshore and deep under the ocean floor). If a site seems promising, an exploratory well is drilled and tested. Once a formation is proven to be economic for production, one or more production (or development) wells are drilled down into the formation, and natural gas flows up through the wells to the surface. In the United States and a few other countries, natural gas is produced directly from shale and other types of rock formations that contain natural gas in pores within the rock. The rock formation is fractured by forcing water, chemicals, and sand down a well. This releases the natural gas from the rock, and the natural gas flows up the well to the surface. Wells drilled to produce oil may also produce associated natural gas.

Natural gas reach your house by a complex pipeline system, with different pressurization areas – you can read more about that clicking here. It is a cheap option compared with oil and electrical sources of energy.

Propane

Propane is a three-carbon alkane with the molecular formula C3H8. It is a gas at standard temperature and pressure, but compressible to a transportable liquid. A by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining, it is commonly used as a fuel. Propane is one of a group of liquefied petroleum gases (LP gases). The others include butane, propylene, butadiene, butylene, isobutylene, and mixtures thereof.

To use propane as your source of energy for your house you need a tank and an agreement with a company that will provide you the gas whenever is needed (some companies also provide a rental service).

Propane vs. natural gas BTU comparison

Propane contains more than twice the energy of natural gas – one cubic foot of propane = 2,516 BTUs (British Thermal Units), while one cubic foot of natural gas = 1,030 BTUs,.

Propane is much more efficient than natural gas. Just as an example, in one hour a 100,000 BTU natural gas furnace burns around 97 cubic feet, while a propane furnace burns only 40 cubic feet.

Propane vs. natural gas cost comparison

Most of New England’s gas is piped via New York from points south and west through a limited number of pipelines. The transport system is not built up to meet consumption levels in New England. The constraints are now becoming evident, particularly in the high-use winter season. On cold days, the “spot”, or daily market price, can go through the roof: on some days over the past few winters, it was twice as high in Boston as in New York.

You have to do some math if you want to find out what is the best option for your house. If the natural gas cost is $15.00 per 1,000 cubic feet, for example, the same $15.00 will purchase around one million BTUs. This is the equivalent of slightly over 11.20 gallons of propane. If propane costs $2.50 per gallon, in this example, natural gas is the cheaper alternative.

The difference between natural gas and propane

While they are similar in many aspects, natural gas and propane also have differences. Although propane is a fossil fuel, it’s a hydrocarbon and over 95 percent of the propane used in the US is produced in North America. Like oil and coal, natural gas also is a fossil fuel. Natural gas was created millions of years ago from ancient plants and animal matter which decayed under the pressure and heat underground on planet Earth. Natural gas is known as a “clean energy alternative,” since it’s clean-burning, producing less harmful emissions than other fossil fuels (oil and coal).

Although natural gas is a greenhouse gas when released into our environment, propane is not on the same level, as it has no toxicity to harm the environment. That’s why propane may be the better choice if you value “green fuel” more than greenhouse gases. Propane also is called “liquefied petroleum gas,” or LP gas for short, like natural gas, it’s odorless so processing adds an odor so people can detect its presence.

How to calculate the energy you need

You can work together with your engineer, but you can also finds some valuable information at the internet. The residential energy calculator in this website is a very good place to check it. You can use this calculator to compare natural gas versus other fuels and discover the environmental advantages of using natural gas in your home.

Remember to check your appliances

When planing for your final home setting remember the type of energy you will choose.  Appliances can work on either natural gas or propane, but the two are not interchangeable; each fuel source requires special gas utilization fittings. If you want to switch between the two, you’ll need a conversion kit for the appliances’ manufacturer for the installation process. For electric appliances like heaters, ovens or water heaters, there isn’t a conversion process; you’ll need to replace the appliance with one specifically made for natural gas or propane.

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Gas explosions: understanding the complex system behind natural gas delivery

In New England we were very worry about gas explosions that happened last week, and it is quite natural to become curious about WHY it happened. To better understand some possible source for the problem, we have to understand how the gas system works.

A house on fire
Photo Credit: theatlantic.com

The gas flowing from higher to lower pressure is the fundamental principle of the natural gas delivery systems. From the well, the natural gas goes into “gathering” lines, which are like branches on a tree, getting larger as they get closer to the central collection point. A gathering system may need one or more field compressors to move the gas to the pipeline or the processing plant.

From the gathering system, the natural gas moves into the transmission system, which is generally composed of about 272,000 miles of high-strength steel piper. These large transmission lines for natural gas can be compared to the interstate highway system for cars. They move large amounts of natural gas thousands of miles from the producing regions to local distribution companies (LDCs). The pressure of gas in each section of line typically ranges from 200 pounds to 1,500 pounds per square inch (psi), depending on the type of area in which the pipeline is operating. As a safety measure, pipelines are designed and constructed to handle much more pressure than is ever actually reached in the system. For example, pipelines in more populated areas operate at less than one-half of their design pressure level. Many major interstate pipelines are “looped” — there are two or more lines running parallel to each other in the same right of way. This is important to provides maximum capacity during periods of peak demand.

Another important part of the system are the compressor stations located approximately every 50 to 60 miles along each pipeline to boost the pressure that is lost through the friction of the natural gas moving through the steel pipe. The majority of the compressor stations are completely automated, so the equipment can be started or stopped from a pipeline’s central control room. The control room can also remotely operate shut-off valves along the transmission system. The operators of the system keep detailed operating data on each compressor station, and continuously adjust the mix of engines that are running to maximize efficiency and safety. Natural gas moves through the transmission system at up to 30 miles per hour, so it takes several days for gas from Texas to arrive at a utility receipt point in the Northeast. Along the way, there are many interconnections with other pipelines and other utility systems.

When the natural gas in a transmission pipeline reaches a local gas utility, it normally passes through a gate station. Utilities frequently have gate stations receiving gas at many different locations and from several different pipelines. Gate stations serve three purposes. First, they reduce the pressure in the line from transmission levels (200 to 1,500 pounds) to distribution levels, which range from ¼ pound to 200 pounds. Then an odorant, the distinctive sour scent associated with natural gas, is added, so that consumers can smell even small quantities of gas. Finally, the gate station measures the flow rate of the gas to determine the amount being received by the utility.

From the gate station, natural gas moves into distribution lines or “mains” that range from 2 inches to more than 24 inches in diameter. Within each distribution system, there are sections that operate at different pressures, with regulators controlling the pressure. Some regulators are remotely controlled by the utility to change pressures in parts of the system to optimize efficiency. Generally speaking, the closer natural gas gets to a customer, the smaller the pipe diameter is and the lower the pressure is. Distribution lines typically operate at less than one-fifth of their design pressure. Sophisticated computer programs are used to evaluate the delivery capacity of the network and to ensure that all customers receive adequate supplies of gas at or above the minimum pressure level required by their gas appliances. Distribution mains are interconnected in multiple grid patterns with strategically located shut-off valves. These valves minimize the need for customer disruption to service during maintenance operations and emergencies.

Natural gas runs from the main into a home or business in what’s called a service line. Typically, the natural gas utility is responsible for maintaining and operating gas pipeline and facilities up to the residential gas meter. All equipment and gas supply lines downstream of the residential meter are the responsibility of the customer. When the gas reaches a customer’s meter, it passes through another pressure regulator to reduce its pressure to under ¼ pound, if necessary. Some services lines carry gas that is already at very low pressure. This is the normal pressure for natural gas within a household piping system, and is less than the pressure created by a child blowing bubbles through a straw in a glass of milk. When a gas furnace or stove is turned on, the gas pressure is slightly higher than the air pressure, so the gas flows out of the burner and ignites in its familiar clean blue flame.

As you can see, the system is complex, and depends a lot of computers and physical connections, working at different pressure. We don’t know what causes the problem here in Massachusetts, but probably it was related with a high pressure entering a connection system within some pipe that was not prepare to absorb the pressure safely.

(Source: American Gas Association website)

Air-sealing starts at the basement

Air tightness is one of the most important area of focus in residential construction. Many builders think that achieving an air tightness number that is low enough to surpass the codes needs requires a significant increase in budget due to costly materials
and increased labor. But you can follow some simple steps that can work nicely.

This sealant is specifically designed to be applied in concrete

Air-sealing starts at the basement
The air barrier starts below ground level under the building – remember this very important concept. The code requires builders to use a 6-mil poly barrier, but you can move to a 10-mil poly, which will be applied directly over the under-slab insulation. The 10-mil thickness withstands traffic better than the code-required 6-mil and prevents
damage. During the installation all the seams are lapped and can be taped to ensure an airtight installation. When it’s available it is better to use a continuous piece of poly. If a passive radon vent needs to be installed be aware that this pipe has to go up to the roof, and this part of the job can be a leak area in the future.

Another option – but with additional costs for you – is to include some insulation in the basement floor. It can be a recycle option or common brand products that can be installed in 4″ x 8′ panels, mainly if you are planning a finish basement for some play room or office there.

Air-sealing the connection between the concrete and framing

An important area to be sealed is the connection between the concrete wall and the framing base. When it comes to sealing the sill plate to the slab you normally use the standard foam sill sealer required by code as a capillary break below the pressure-treated sill. You can also add two beads of sealant, but in our opinion is it important to add other sealants. The products are supposed to have a long service life and you have a lot of brands in the market.

Other concepts are very important also to complete your air sealing, and we will be discussing the concepts in other posts in the future

Basement Egress…With Charm

Due to local laws, having a basement egress is an obligation all builders must abide by. Not a lot of these systems are nice–let’s be frank, here. But all of them don’t have to follow this same pattern of complacency. Some systems can be clean, elegant, practical, unique, they can fit your style and all while complying with the codes and regulations at the same time.

Basement-Egress-Window-Ideas1

Photo credit: http://www.casailb.com/unique-basement-egress-window/basement-egress-window-ideas/

Boman Kemp egress systems are a great way to turn your basement into an additional living space that’s both attractive and safe. They increase the natural light that spills in through windows and aids in ventilation. Not to mention they provide safe escape routes that are up to code. These egress systems can come in a variety of styles, colors, materials, and shapes. What will yours look like?

For more information about Boman Kemp window/egress systems, click here.

Interactive Intelligent House

Imagine this: your home warms before you rise, the song you’ve been obsessing over builds into existence early in the morning, the shades slide up and fresh sunlight spills into your room. No, this isn’t a movie scene, it isn’t Tony Stark’s new tower, nor is it the new TV series persuading us that only billionaires can live comfortable lives. This is a dream brought to life. What does your dream home look like? Let us help you make it a reality.

smarthome Aria Systems

Illustration from Arya Systems webpage (https://www.ariasystems.com)

Of course, technology is expensive, but it’s doable, reliable and depending on your dream lifestyle, worth it. Intelligent homes are, in short, houses with “appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment audio and video systems, security, and camera systems that are capable of communicating with one another and can be controlled remotely by a time schedule, from any room in the home, as well as remotely from any location in the world by phone or internet” (Smart Home https://www.smarthomeusa.com/smarthome/.

These intelligent homes can do a multitude of things, including but not limited to:

  1. Giving you the ability to control lights using your Apple Watch, cell phone, or other electronic device.
  2. Giving you the ability to control your bath and water system before arriving at home.
  3. Playing your favorite songs when you wake up.
  4. Opening your shades.
  5. Exterior lights automatically fading on and off at customizable times of day.
  6. Playing music when prompted, like while cooking.
  7. Quick-Commands (a short phrase or word you select to be the trigger for a series of specific tasks) can prepare your home for dinner with friends. For example: saying or selecting (depending on your system) “prepare for dinner” could turn on a specific song or playlist, the lighting would change, your driveway lights would turn on, and other little surprises as well.
  8. Good morning and good night functions can do whatever you want to save money for example (decreasing and increasing the air conditioning use has been done).

Savant is a company that specializes in lighting home experiences (for more info, click here). Products like Wink Hub 2 are designed to provide a hub for the integration of all your home features such as lighting, sound systems and security cameras all while maintaining affordable prices.

It’s a whole new world, but in our opinion, it’s one to look forward to and one that’s here to stay.

Fun for your kitties at home (with a little charm)

Great ideals are not necessarily practical. Many people who think outside the box sometimes forget that in addition to having a fantastic idea what really matters is to make things happen, and preferably without much questioning who will see all that crazy stuff in the real world.

Architecture firm Because We Can, led by interior designer Jillian Northrup and her husband architect Jeffrey McGrew, transformed an under utilized room in a private residence into a highly functional and inspirational place to be (and work also). And also an inspirational tube for their cat run and hide. Northrup calls it “the fist step to greater cat mobility throughout the room”. The Cat Tube stretches around the room and gives the cat access to the top of the armoire. There’s also a couple of small windows that let you see where the cat is going. Enjoy the photos (from the website BecauseWeCan.org)

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