Propane vs. Natural Gas: A Comparison for Homeowners
The differences between natural gas and propane can be confusing. Especially because propane is one of the fuels that make up natural gas, the other fuels being butane, methane, ethane.
While propane is a part of natural gas, it becomes a unique source of fuel on its own when it’s separated during processing. So, let’s take a look at both fuels. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each, and which is best for a homeowner to use?
Head-to-Head Comparison: Pros and Cons of Propane and Natural Gas
When selecting a fuel for your home, it’s important to weigh its safety, the cost, how efficient the fuel is, and what the environmental impact is. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about the advantages and disadvantages of natural gas and propane, for each of the aforementioned considerations.
Both fuels are highly flammable and should be handled with care. But due to the infrastructure (and bureaucratic red tape) that comes with natural gas lines, leaks can be challenging to identify and fix. This is because utility companies and the public utility commission need to come to an understanding of how to fund repairs or upgrades before taking action.
And, when lines go unattended accidents happen.
For instance, in 2010 a natural gas line owned by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) exploded in San Bruno, Calif., killing eight people. After investigation, it was learned that the gas line was faulty, and PG&E was previously unaware of the line’s damage.
Though propane tanks can also explode, it’s much less likely. And, because propane tanks aren’t connected by wide-spread gas lines, the impact is less significant.
Furthermore, though some companies that supply natural gas add a scent like sulfur so that you can more easily detect a leak, natural gas leaks can be harder to detect because in its natural state the fuel is odorless.
Due to the severity of a mishap, as rare as they may be, propane is deemed a safer heating fuel.
Even though natural gas is considered a greenhouse gas, it burns roughly 50% fewer emissions than coal. Still, it’s toxicity is higher than propane, which is not toxic or damaging to the environment. If propane were to leak into the ground, it would not harm the local water or soil.
That said, both are still considered eco-friendly fuels. But, for this round, we give propane a slight advantage as a green fuel.
Cost and Efficiency
The true cost of propane vs. natural gas for your residence will depend on several factors, including if your home is outfitted for the fuels. But, for this comparison, we’ll examine propane and natural gas cost in terms of BTUs and gallons.
At the time this article was written, the average cost of natural gas cost is $6.23 per 1,000 cubic feet, which is roughly one million BTUs. The U.S. average cost for propane is $2.41 per gallon. One million BTUs of natural gas is roughly 11.20 gallons of propane. Which means for the same amount of fuel, you’ll pay $6.23 for natural gas and $26.99 for propane.
However, actual cost should also take into consideration efficiency
The more efficient the fuel is, the less you’ll use, which plays a role in overall cost. And, overall, propane is the more efficient fuel.
One cubic foot of propane equals 2,516 BTUs, while one cubic foot of natural gas equals 1,030 BTUs. That means, propane is more than twice the energy of natural gas.
While the cost per gallon is less for natural gas, you’ll use more of it to heat the same appliances. If you get two times the heat from propane, naturally, you’ll use less fuel.
In this combined round, propane wins for efficiency and overall cost.
Key Differences Between Propane and Natural Gas
The most notable difference between the two fuels is how they wind up at your home, that is, how they’re delivered to you. To start, not every location in the United States has the option of either propane or natural gas. Depending on where you live, you may be restricted to only one option.
Additionally, how the fuel is stored at your home, and refilled, will be another differentiating factor.
Natural gas remains in its gaseous state and is delivered to the home through a pipeline, so deliveries aren’t required, but having the infrastructure in place to receive the fuel is. This infrastructure might include costs like:
- Digging up your yard to bring in a pipeline
- Converting your appliances to natural gas
- Hiring a contractor to help with the updates
These costs can rise to more than $10,000 for homeowners who need a complete conversion.
Propane comes in portable canisters or permanent storage tanks. To refill, customers will either go to a retail location themselves or turn to a company for delivery. For Santa Fuel customers, you can schedule automatic deliveries so that you’ll have fuel before your tank runs out, eliminating the hassle.
Which gas is right for you?
Because propane delivers more BTUs for your dollar, it’s often the choice fuel to run your home appliances more efficiently. It’s also typically better for cooking, especially if you utilize an outdoor barbeque, as it’s more cost-effective for high-heat grilling.
Additionally, propane is seen as an “off-the-grid” heating solution. Meaning propane is portable and can easily work if other systems in your house malfunction, or if you need to move to another location.
Natural gas, on the other hand, is a hands-off solution. You’ll never need to schedule a delivery because natural gas will always be flowing to your home. And, you’ll never pay for more than what you use with natural gas because there isn’t any fuel stored in a tank. You pay as you go.
If you’re already equipped with the infrastructure, it makes sense to stick with natural gas.
The ultimate winner will be whichever fits best into your lifestyle and current set up. Are you able to access both fuels, how much infrastructure would you need to implement to get either of the fuels and what do you plan to use your fuel for most?
Where to buy propane and natural gas?
If you’re in the Fairfield or New Haven areas in Connecticut, Santa Energy can help you assess which fuel makes the most sense for your home. Santa Energy is a dependable source for fuel delivery, equipment installation, maintenance, and ongoing support to ensure your home is maximizing energy, safely.
Check out our complete suite of propane and natural gas services.