Do you know the answers to these common propane questions?
Make sure you're ready when customers ask these
nine heating questions.
By Jeffrey Lee
you know that if you're building or remodeling a home without access to natural
gas, you can heat the home with a propane furnace or boiler instead? In fact,
about 5 percent of all U.S. households heat with propane. While propane heating
is common in some parts of the United States, construction professionals in
other areas may be less familiar with it. To make sure you're prepared for any
questions your clients may have, take a look at these common propane heating
questions and see if you know the answers.
What's the difference
between propane and natural gas heating?
Very little. Other than
some minor installations differences, propane heating and natural gas heating
are the same. Propane furnaces and natural gas furnaces have comparable fuel
inputs (as measured by British thermal units, or Btus) and heating outputs.
"From the comfort perspective of temperature, humidity, and sound, homeowners
would never know the difference," says Kim Do, heating product manager for
furnace manufacturer Lennox.
How do you measure the efficiency of
Propane and natural gas furnaces are measured
in AFUE, which stands for annual fuel utilization efficiency. A higher AFUE
means a more efficient system. If you have a furnace with a 95 percent AFUE,
that means 95 cents of every heating dollar spent goes to heating the home. Keep
in mind that other heating systems, such as heat pumps, are measured
How efficient should my furnace be?
The level of efficiency you need is generally dictated by the climate where
your project is located, Do says. Climates with mild winters, for instance, may
be able to get away with 80 percent furnaces. Homes located in regions with more
extreme winters should consider furnaces with efficiencies ranging from 93 to
98.5 percent, she adds. You can see how propane heating systems compare with
alternatives in your region using our comparative
What's the difference between single-stage,
two-stage, and modulating propane furnaces?
These terms indicate
how sophisticated a furnace is at matching its heat output to the needed
temperature. Single-stage furnaces, often used in mild climates, only provide
one level of heat. "They offer basic comfort at an affordable cost," Do says.
Two-stage furnaces provide both a low heating stage, which saves on energy costs
and is used most of the time, and a high heating stage that kicks in during more
extreme temperatures. "With the two operating stages, you also get better
comfort, because the furnace runs for longer periods of time," Do says. "It
provides dehumidification and air filtration, and it minimizes temperature
Furnaces with modulating gas valves provide ultimate comfort,
precisely modulating their heat output to the needed temperature. Lennox's
furnaces, for instance, can fluctuate between 35 and 100 percent capacity in 1
How do you convert a natural gas furnace to
run on propane?
Most gas furnaces are shipped configured for
natural gas, and they are field-convertible to propane. A licensed HVAC
contractor will use a propane conversion kit to make the minor changes needed to
operate with propane. Because propane operates at a higher pressure than natural
gas and contains more energy per cubic foot, propane furnaces use smaller burner
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"In most cases, you're going to have to
change an orifice in the pilot assembly, if it has a pilot," says Ron Keeven,
owner of Keeven Heating & Cooling in New Haven, Missouri. "If it doesn't, it
will have a direct-spark ignition, but then the orifices definitely will have to
be changed in the main burner." The contractor will also change the regulation
of the gas pressure.
Can I use both propane heating and an
electric heat pump?
Yes. These "dual-fuel" or "hybrid" systems
use propane for heating and an electric heat pump for cooling. They can improve
energy efficiency and comfort, especially in mixed climates. Here's why: At
temperatures below about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, electric heat pump systems begin
to operate less efficiently. They either provide discharge temperatures at the
register below 100 degrees, which feels uncomfortable for the homeowner, or they
rely on inefficient electric resistance back-up heat, which can send energy
bills soaring. At those colder temperatures, a hybrid heating system can switch
to propane heat, which provides better comfort and more efficient heating in the
Keeven says some homeowners, especially in older generations, may
not realize that their heating system will switch over between the heat pump and
furnace automatically. You can reassure them that the HVAC installer will
configure the thermostat and an outdoor temperature sensor to switch heating
sources based on a pre-set outdoor temperature. "The switchover there is
critical in maintaining comfort," Keeven explains.
heating more expensive?
Propane generally costs more than natural
gas, but there are many situations where using natural gas simply isn't
feasible, or where it would cost too much to bring the natural gas main to a
community. In projects without access to natural gas, propane is often the most
affordable option. Check out our Comparative Heating
Systems Study and our Energy
Cost and Carbon Calculator to learn more about the cost, comfort, and carbon
emissions associated with various heating systems in your region.
What rebates are available for propane heating?
Energy Pod Builder Incentive Program offers an incentive of up to $1,500 to
qualifying and select builders who build new homes that follow the Propane
Energy Pod model and include propane equipment for space heating, water heating,
cooking, and other heating and power applications. Your state, locality, or
propane retailer may provide other tax credits, rebates, grants, or incentives
for propane projects. Check out our Rebates
and Incentives page for the latest updates.
In addition, electrical
co-ops in some parts of the country may provide rebates for the installation of
dual-fuel systems. Why? Demand for electricity in some areas spikes when
temperatures drop below 40 degrees and homes switch over to power-hungry
electric resistance heat. To help avoid overwhelming demand for electricity,
these co-ops incentivize customers who switch over to more efficient propane or
natural gas heating when it gets cold.
Why did propane prices
spike last winter, and what can my customers do to minimize their
This past winter was tough for many homeowners. While
temperatures stayed cold week after week, boosting the need for heating, the
price of propane surged in many areas, making it more costly for both homeowners
and propane providers. Several factors created unusually high demand for propane
and put upward pressure on prices:
- Record cold drove demand for
heating fuel 10 percent higher than it was in the 2012-2013 winter season.
- An unexpectedly high demand for propane for grain drying last fall depleted
local inventories in the upper Midwest heading into winter.
- There were
fewer propane transportation options, as a major pipeline in the upper Midwest
shut down in December and fewer railcars were carrying propane because of
increased demand to carry other fuels.
- High demand for propane and
rising transportation costs caused the wholesale price of propane to go up.
Propane providers were forced to pay a higher price for the fuel delivered to
To the propane provider, homeowners and construction
professionals are more than propane customers. They're also neighbors and
friends. Helping keep families warm and safe is your propane provider's top
The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) has
initiated several studies to assess the infrastructure and market factors that
contributed to the situation. The good news is that the long-term supply picture
is positive and the logistical and transportation challenges we're experiencing
today can be overcome. No one can predict the weather, but there are some steps
you can encourage homeowners to take to minimize their risks.
to schedule a delivery when the tank is 35 percent full to give the propane
retailer enough time to reach the home.
- Use energy wisely and conserve
propane when you can.
- Keep a path to your propane tank clear. Doing so
helps propane delivery drivers get to the tank easily, refill it quickly, and
get to the next home.
- Check to see if the family is eligible for help
with paying their propane bill. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as
LIHEAP, helps qualifying families pay their heating bills.