The Propane Safety Net

Special Report: Propane in the Gulf Coast

The Gulf Coast is often defined by (and envied for) its year-round warm weather and the outdoor living opportunities it affords. But this region of the country also is known for violent storms and, to a lesser extent, inefficient HVAC systems that have to work hard—and expend a lot of electrical energy—to deliver indoor comfort. That's why propane-fueled HVAC systems offer a compelling alternative for builders and contractors working in this region of the country, according to the Comparative Analysis of Residential Heating Systems report issued this month by the research firm Newport Partners.

First, consider the shortcomings of the legacy energy sources there, namely electricity. While power rates in some Gulf states remain slightly below the national average, kilowatt-hour costs in Florida and Texas—by far the most populated states—are about 13 percent higher.

In addition, electricity along the Gulf Coast can be unreliable. In the high winds of even a "standard" storm (much more so for a hurricane), power lines and poles can be knocked down, cutting off electricity and leaving households without basic space and water heating, space cooling, and refrigeration capabilities—perhaps for several days.

Other fuel sources, namely oil or natural gas, are often neither prevalent nor cost-efficient along the Gulf—and also can be unreliable if provided through utility grids that also are susceptible to storm damage.

Since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and even more so after the Gulf Coast disasters of a few years ago, builders, contractors, and homeowners have found on-site propane to be a reliable, cost-efficient way to compensate for or supplement legacy energy sources. An underground propane tank, for instance, can fuel a standby generator when the grid is down, delivering power for essential home services and peace of mind for homeowners already shaken by a storm.

The same tank can fuel a forced-air furnace or other standard HVAC equipment and the home's water heater, reducing energy costs for both compared to electricity—especially if the water heater is a tankless unit. And, compared to a high-efficiency, electric air-sourced heat pump (the predominant HVAC setup in Florida), a 95-percent AFUE-rated propane-fueled furnace costs 12 percent less to install and expels 24 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, according to the report.

Builders and homeowners who have benefited from propane-fueled standby power and perhaps engaged propane to supplement electricity for other whole-house systems have discovered additional uses for the energy source to fuel less-essential if still valued features familiar to the Gulf Coast region. Pool, spa, and stand-alone space heaters, fireplaces, and outdoor cooking appliances are easily (and efficiently) fueled by propane, enhancing an outdoor living experience and boosting property values.

So while the Gulf Coast may not be top-of-mind as a heating climate, the findings in the report and concerns over the reliability and affordability of legacy power sources in that region indicate that propane is an exceptional alternative to the status quo for a variety of applications.

Click here to download the full text of the Comparative Analysis of Residential Heating Systems (PDF).

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