Propane vs. Electricity: A Comparison in Costs & Benefits
Deciding between propane vs. electric for energizing a home is a debate common for homeowners who want to be both cost-effective and energy-efficient. Though the two energy sources are comparable in many ways, they are distinct in others as well.
To start, propane is a primary energy source, whereas electricity is secondary, that is to say, propane can be used ‘as is’ and electricity can only be used once it’s been created by another energy source. This means that it takes more energy to create electricity, which can affect its cleanliness, efficiency and cost. But, how do these variables compare to propane, which your house may or may not already be equipped to utilize?
Below, we compare propane vs. electric to see which is the better source of energy for your home.
Calculating Energy Usage
To determine the different price points of propane vs. electricity, we first need to do a bit of math.
Propane and electricity are measured in different units:
- Propane is measured in BTUs
- Electricity is measured in Kilowatts
However, both fuels are calculated on a per hour basis for efficiency and energy consumption, which helps as we convert total energy usage by appliances.
To get both sources of energy on an even calculation playing field, remember these statements:
- 91,500 BTUs (or one gallon) of propane = 27 kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity
- 1 watt = 3.412141633 BTU/hr
We’ll use these conversions in a moment to calculate which energy source you should be using in your home.
Is propane cheaper than electric?
Determining whether propane is cheaper than electricity depends on several variables like the age of appliances your home operates on and the cost of fuel and electricity in your area. But, in this section, we’ll cover how you can calculate the total cost of both energy sources, and show you how energy-efficient appliances can impact your total costs.
Grab an Electric Bill For a Custom Calculation
Comparing the cost of propane to electric head-to-head, is simple.
- The next time you receive your electricity bill multiply the price per kWh by 27 (which equals one gallon of propane).
- Then, find the total cost for one gallon of propane, which can be found on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) website and compare them head-to-head.
Which is less expensive?
Let’s do an example together:
- Let’s say your electric bill shows 10¢ per kWh. Your equation would look like this: 0.10 x 27 = $2.70
- Then, look up the price of propane on the EIA website. At the time this article was written, the cost of propane was $2.94
So in this case, electricity is less expensive than propane by volume because $2.70 is less than $2.94.
Cost of Propane vs. Electric by Appliance
The math gets a little more complex when putting the cost up against energy efficiency. Propane is considered an efficient fuel, which means it holds more energy per volume than other sources, which can reduce its overall usage cost.
Let’s review how appliances stack up when it comes to costs comparisons of propane and electricity.
A 100-watt light bulb will consume 1.2 kWh, per day. With propane, it would take roughly .024 gallons (341.21 BTUs/hr.) to light the same lightbulb.
Using the data points we discussed, lighting your home for 12 hours would cost:
- Electricity: 12¢
- Propane: .07¢
Propane is the more cost-effective fuel in this scenario.
If you run a 1300-watt washing machine for 3 hours a day, you can expect to use 3.9 kWh, per day. The same machine would take 0.106 gallons (4435.78 BTUs/hr.).
Using the data points above, using a washing machine for 3 hours costs:
- Electricity: 39¢
- Propane: 31¢
Propane is the more cost-effective fuel in this scenario.
If you run a 2,500-watt heater for 8 hours a day, you can expect to use 20 kWh, per day. The same machine would take 0.068 gallons (8530.3540825 BTUs/hr.).
Using the data points above, using a heater for 8 hours costs:
- Electricity: $2.00
- Propane : $1.60
Propane is the more cost-effective fuel in this scenario, and as you can see, the cost gap between the two energy sources is growing with higher voltage appliances.
Want a cheat sheet? Here are some energy calculators so you can do your own comparisons:
Energy use calculator
Watt to BTU calculator
BTU to Gallons calculator
Propane is a non-toxic, non-poisonous fuel that burns cleaner than other fuels and produces environmentally-friendly emissions. Additionally, propane will not create an environmental hazard if spilled. For this reason, it’s possible for homeowners to have either an above-ground or underground propane tank without any worry of contamination.
While electricity has zero emissions, that doesn’t mean it’s 100% efficient. Because electricity is a second energy source, as we mentioned earlier, the primary source of energy may be less environmentally-friendly.
In fact, according to The U.S. National Library of Medicine, about 62.7% of electricity generated is from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum), and 30.1% is attributed to coal. And, coal mining accounts for roughly 9% of total U.S. methane emissions and nearly 1% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to EIA, which is not environmentally-friendly.
Which energy source wins out?
Determining which energy source is best for you will depend on other factors apart from fuel efficiency and environmental impacts. It also depends on its availability in your region, the cost to equip your home for the energy, and your personal preferences.
If you are already equipped with an electric water heater, it might not make sense to convert to propane. Most homeowners save between $150-$200 a year with a propane water heater versus an electric one, but the cost of a new propane water heater could offset the savings for the first couple of years. However, if you purchase high-quality equipment, the cost-savings of switching to a propane water heater will eventually win out.
In short, propane is the most energy efficient of the two grills — and might be better for the taste of your food as well. Most electric grills can cook around 400 degrees, however, they aren’t typically designed to stay at high heats for long periods of time. So, quick meals on an electric grill works, but you may have an overall better experience using a propane option.
Some states give massive rebates to homes that switch from oil to natural heating solutions like electric, which can offset the margin cost differences, and wind up saving you more money in the long-run. There are often stipulations that come with the rebates though, so it’s wise to do your research to see if the options provided by the state make sense for your home. Further, not all regions of the United States have accessibility to both energy sources. Where you live might make your decision for you.
Apart from occasional check-ups to ensure your wiring, circuit breakers, outlets, and plugs are in working order, electric homes have little maintenance to adhere to. Propane requires a bit more observation, as the fuel will run out and the homeowner will need to reorder their supply. Luckily, many propane delivery services will monitor your fuel levels, and schedule automatic deliveries to help reduce the burden of fuel delivery.
The Bottom Line
Costs vary by region and by the household for both propane and electricity. Historically, propane has given consumers more bang for their buck when compared to electricity, but everyone’s situation will be different. If you want to find out more about propane vs. electricity for your home, contact an expert.