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Propane Heat for Your North Carolina Home

A Guide to Options, Comparing Propane With Electricity

coupons for propane heating systems three most common types of home heating fuels in North Carolina are propane, natural gas and electricity. When deciding which of these fuels is the best choice for your home, you need to consider several factors, including the efficiency of heating equipment, the average equipment life span, and the three C’s: cost, comfort and convenience.

On this page, we’ll explore the range of options you have in choosing a propane home heating system — and you have quite a few!

We’ll also examine how heat is distributed through your home, the pros and cons of heating your home with propane, how propane compares with electric heat, the unexpected ways lowering your electric heat load can save you money, and much more.

How Does Propane Heat Work?

A propane gas heating appliance works in much the same way as a natural gas heating appliance (furnace, water heater, stove, etc.). A big difference between these two fuels, however, is how it gets to your home.

propane truckA natural gas appliance must connect to an underground pipeline for its supply, and the absence of these pipelines in rural parts of North Carolina means that a sizable portion of our population can’t access natural gas. That’s one of the reasons just a quarter of North Carolina households use it for home heating.

In contrast, propane is much more accessible for North Carolina residents, because it’s not dependent on underground pipelines. Propane’s availability is reflected in the numbers. North Carolina’s residential sector accounts for 50% of the 364 million gallons of total annual odorized propane sales, based on 2019 data from the U.S. Energy Department.

Is Propane a Gas or a Liquid?

Instead of relying on an underground pipeline to move fuel, propane gas gets compressed until it turns into a liquid. That’s why you’ll often hear it called liquid propane gas (LPG). In its liquid form, propane is held inside large storage tanks before your propane supplier delivers it to your home or business.

propane tanksWhen your water heater or other appliance calls for propane, the liquid changes to gas before it leaves the tank. At that point, propane is similar to natural gas again, and it efficiently creates the heat you need for heating, cooking, clothes drying, etc.

Most propane gas heating appliances today rely on energy-saving electronic ignitions instead of old-fashioned and inefficient pilot lights. Electronic ignitions use an electric current to quickly generate enough heat to light the gas burners, and then shut off. A variation of this is an intermittent pilot light, which only stays lit when you are using the appliance. When you’re finished with the appliance, the pilot light goes off, saving you money on propane gas.

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Propane Heat vs. Electric Heat

propane heat vs electric heatAlmost 7 out of 10 North Carolina households use electricity for home heating, and that’s no surprise. Electric heat, typically in the form of an electric heat pump, is the least expensive type of heating system to install, because contractors don’t have the additional expense of laying additional gas or water piping to a home. But is it really the best choice?

If you care about energy efficiency and comfort, the answer is no!

That’s because propane generates a lot more Btu’s of heat energy than an equivalent amount of electricity. This means you need much less propane to produce the same amount of heat energy.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a British thermal unit (Btu) is a measure of the heat content of fuels or energy sources. It’s measured by the quantity of heat that’s required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit — at the temperature in which water has its greatest density (approximately 39°F).

lightbulb

Propane Btu vs. Electric Btu

Btu’s can be used to compare energy sources on an equal basis. To compare propane to electricity, you can use this formula:

  • one gallon of propane = 91,452 Btu’s
  • one kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity = 3,412 Btu’s

To make these two energy sources “equal,” divide 91,452 Btu’s by 3,412 Btu’s. Your answer will be:

  • One gallon of propane equals just about 27 kWh of electricity. In other words, one gallon of propane contains the same amount of usable energy as 27 kilowatt hours of electricity.

Here is a comparison to illustrate the efficiency of propane compared with electricity. A 100-watt lightbulb left on for a full day — 24 hours — will consume 2.4 kWh. If propane could be used to power the same lightbulb, it would only use 9/100 of a gallon of propane. Read more about Propane vs. Electricity.

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Benefits of Propane Heat

propane vs electric puppyIt’s hard to put a price on comfort, but feeling warm and comfortable in your home is one of the priceless benefits of relying on propane heat. Stepping up to any of the propane heating options explained below will help to eliminate the comfort problems that are common when North Carolinians rely solely on electric heat to warm their home.

Electric heat pumps in North Carolina often supply air heated only to 95°, which is colder than your normal body temperature. That’s why people say it always feels like a cold draft coming out of their vents!

To compensate, people may end up using all sorts of electric space heaters, which can be an expensive way to generate heat. (Propane space heaters are much less costly to run.) Using portable space heaters of any kind poses safety risks if proper precautions are ignored.

Here’s another problem: when your heat pump can’t generate enough heat for your home, the auxiliary or emergency part of your system will kick in. This “electric resistance heating,” also known as electric strips, is so inefficient that it will drive up electric demand by three or four times what’s normal. It will obviously drive up your electric bill as well.

This is the reason that many people choose to supplement their electric heat pump with backup propane heat. When outdoor temperatures fall too low for your heat pump to manage, your thermostat will disable the heat pump and activate the backup propane heat.

Reduce Your Electric Load — and Your Generator Size

Anthony Sebastian, who sits on the board of the North Carolina Education Research Data Center said an often overlooked value of reducing the electric load in your home is the ability to downsize your propane generator and the tank that fuels it.

“Most people in North Carolina would agree that having an emergency backup generator, preferably fueled by propane, is a necessary investment for a home, especially when we get into hurricane season,” Sebastian says. “For people who live in an all-electric home, however, you’ll have to spend more on a bigger generator to cover yourself during a power outage.

anthony sebastian
Anthony Sebastian
VP of Operations, G&B Energy
Read more about Anthony on LinkedIn

But, Sebastian says, when critical systems such as space heating and water heating are fueled by propane instead, the standby generator can typically be downsized — and made more affordable — because it isn’t running power-hungry electrical heating appliances.
‘Suppose you convert from an electric heat pump to a propane furnace, instead of having to rely on a 20-kW generator, you may be able to get by with a 14-kW unit, which could save you $1,500, or even more, on that new generator,” he says.

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Propane Heating Systems: Explore Your Options

While HVAC contractors in North Carolina are usually focused on only installing electric heat pumps, propane continues to provide greater comfort for residential homeowners, in both new home construction and remodeling. Plus, many of the options explained below are eligible for North Carolina propane rebates.

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Pros and Cons of Using Propane Heat

Like any method of home heating, propane heat has advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few:

PROS

made in usaSmaller Impact on the Environment. Homes with propane-fueled furnaces emit up to 50% less nitrogen oxide and 82% less sulfur oxide than technologies fueled by electricity . Emissions like these contribute to acid rain and cause respiratory ailments.

Great Value. While propane prices will always go up and down, this American-made fuel still represents a lower-cost energy source — especially if you find a reputable propane company that offers competitive rates and price-protection options.

CONS

More responsibility. Since propane is not automatically fed into your home, the way natural gas and electricity are, you need to get involved in ensuring that you have a reliable supply of propane. Propane companies can make this easier, however, with program like automatic delivery and tank monitoring.

Storage tank on your property. If you lease the tank from your propane company, you don’t have to worry about maintenance. Your propane supplier takes care of that for you. If you feel that your propane tank is distracting from your home’s curb appeal, speak with your supplier about what you can and cannot do to improve the “view.”

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What Maintenance Does My Propane Heating System Need?

Maintenance requirements vary depending on your home’s heating system type. For example, furnaces have air filters that need periodic replacement or cleaning to ensure that your furnace keeps running efficiently. Most heating systems should be inspected, cleaned, and serviced by a licensed HVAC professional once a year.

You should schedule annual maintenance service for your water heating system too. One of the most important tasks is getting your water-heating unit flushed to remove mineral deposits that have collected during the year.

Left unchecked, a buildup of minerals can damage your water heater and shorten its life. This is true for tankless water heaters as well. Your tankless water heater also contains both an air filter and a water filter that should be checked and cleaned regularly.

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