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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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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