An Upgrade for the Ages

How propane can be a cornerstone in a whole-house effort to achieve comfort, convenience, and efficiency in new and remodeled homes.

People love cooking with gas. Ask those who do if they'd switch to electric and you might get thrown out of their kitchen. Professional chefs especially love the convenience, reliability, and performance of an open-flame cooktop.

But the obvious benefits of gas or propane don't stop at the stove, or even in the kitchen. Propane can fuel everything from the water heater and furnace to the clothes dryer and fireplace (among a bevy of other indoor and outdoor products) as a reliable, affordable, and clean energy source. And, it can be a significant element in reducing a homeowner's energy costs and the home's environmental impact.

Integrating propane into a new-home project or a remodeling job is a fairly simple (and safe) process under almost any conditions.

Step One: Tank Placement

The key consideration is the placement of the tank. For a standard 500-gallon unit—ample capacity to reliably serve up to a 3,000-square-foot house in most climate zones—the tank must be located in accordance with state and local regulations and the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code (NFPA 58) from the National Fire Protection Association. Though standards vary by location, a good rule of thumb is to place the tank at least 10 feet from the house, ideally in an area that provides easy access for service providers.

Propane tanks can be safely buried just below the surface or placed above ground. Aesthetically, an underground tank is usually preferred by the homeowner. Fencing and/or landscape features can help shield an above-ground tank from view.

Step Two: Plumbing and Appliances

Regardless of its placement, standard propane-rated piping runs from the tank to the house, providing the main line of service that is then branched off to provide propane to various propane applications throughout the home. A propane cooktop in the kitchen, for instance, looks and hooks up no different than one connected to a natural gas line from the street and utility meter, and is an easy job for a plumbing contractor.

The same holds true for direct vent fireplaces, gas furnaces, tankless water heaters, outdoor grills, pool and spa heaters, and clothes dryers; all are equipped to allow the use of propane or natural gas and are installed roughly the same way regardless of which energy source is used. "Hooking up propane appliances and products requires nothing out of the ordinary," says Victor Polizzi of Gas Plumbing Services in Orange City, Fla. "The gas code spells it all out in terms of what you are allowed to do."

Step Three: Assessing Benefits

For homeowners who choose to upgrade to propane from an all-electric house, the benefits are obvious and long-term. In addition to the convenience of having on demand hot water in the kitchen and bathrooms (thanks to a propane tankless water heater) and cooking surfaces that heat up (and cool down) faster, owners are likely to see their energy costs reduced (or at least become more predictable) as they come to rely on propane.

In addition, a propane house delivers a greater level of reliability compared to utility-supplied energy. As an onsite source, propane is not subject to electricity blackouts or interruptions in service; the propane tank also could provide energy for a backup generator to maintain electricity flow to vital mechanical equipment, refrigerators, lighting, and security systems during a severe storm or other outage.

Propane's benefits also extend to the overall environment. According to a 2009 study prepared by Energetics Inc., "propane is among the most attractive options for avoiding greenhouse gas emissions in every application considered."

Depending on the climate and a home's propane demands, a 500-gallon tank may only need to be filled two or three times a year, and without the owners having to be at home for the service call. "Providing an underground tank for each homeowner is the most convenient option," says developer/builder Dan Jenkins of CanFour Corp. in Canton, Mass. "It allows them to control their usage and costs." And once the fuel arrives, homeowners are in control of the supply, directly managing consumption and environmental impact.

For more information and free online training courses on installation of propane as a whole-house fuel source, go to the "training" section of our Web site. The topics mentioned in this article are explored in the following courses:

Propane Gas Underground Systems

Water and Energy Efficiency with Tankless Gas Heaters

Hydronic Heating in Rural Residential Applications

Designing & Retrofitting with Propane Energy

Responsible Energy Solutions


Building Communities for Performance and Functionality
 
An Upgrade for the Ages
 
Fire Up Your Kitchens and Baths
 

 

Propane Incentives
Learn about propane incentives in the fiscal cliff legislation and see if you qualify.
Read more
Video: Whole-Home Efficiency
Find out how propane-fueled heating can help you achieve affordable energy efficiency.
Watch now