Have you been considering switching to a propane furnace in your home? About 5% of American homes rely on propane to heat their homes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). If you’re frustrated with high heating bills and want to learn about potential government utility incentives, you may be interested in checking out propane furnace prices. But make sure to do your research beforehand. In this article, we’ll discuss the topics to consider, including availability, costs, efficiency and maintenance.
One of the first factors to consider is the availability of propane in your local area. There are thousands of suppliers available around the nation, and Propane.com (run by PERC, the Propane Education & Research Council) can provide a list of the propane retailers in your region who can meet your fueling needs.
Switching to propane also necessitates an investment in a storage tank, which is usually buried underground. Propane.com notes that a 500-gallon tank generally is able to fuel an average four-bedroom home for a year.
Assuming propane is available in your area, cost is likely your next consideration. How does the cost of propane rank against oil, natural gas and electricity? First, it is important to note that each of these fuels generates heat differently. One gallon of heating oil burned with 100% efficiency would generate 138,690 BTU of heat. One gallon of propane burned with perfect efficiency would generate a mere 91,333 BTUs of heat.
Based on fuel price data from March 2018, the cost of generating 1,000,000 BTUs of heat in an 82% efficient residential furnace is as follows:
- Natural Gas: $11.51 (up from $11.46 in March 2017) – $14.71
- Heating Oil: $27.21 (up 19% from March 2017) – $19.73
- Propane: $33.11 (up 3% from March 2017) – $34.04
Based on this data, at slightly more than 1/3rd the cost of propane, natural gas is the cheapest of the three fuels.
Keep in mind, however, that prices vary over time, and that rebates and incentives are available for consumers considering the switch to propane. BuildWithPropane.com provides information on federal, state and local incentives. Many states offer incentives ranging from $100 to $600 for installing a propane furnace, although specific conditions vary from state to state.
A final price-point to consider: propane furnace manufacturers say that their products typically last 5 to 10 years longer than electric furnaces, which means that you’ll be paying back your equipment longer. Of course, the upfront costs of propane furnaces can vary widely — just like their electric-powered counterparts do. In both situations, higher-efficiency units will come at a greater cost. Talk to your furnace dealer about how to maximize the return on your investment.
Today, central air propane furnaces are available with annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) ratings as high as 97%, meaning these units are highly efficient at converting fuel into heat. Moreover, to maximize efficiency and energy use, most propane furnaces today use an electronic ignition, eliminating the need for a standing pilot light. This allows the thermostat to turn on the burners only when fuel is required. These furnaces also are equipped with vent dampers, which close when the right temperature is reached and only reopen when heat is needed again.
New installation vs. conversion
Unlike natural gas, propane is stored in tanks and propane gas furnaces don’t need to be installed near a pipeline. As a result, these furnaces offer slightly more flexible installation than their natural gas counterparts.
In some cases, you can purchase a conversion kit to convert your natural gas furnace to one that employs propane. In order to adjust for the difference in pressure of these gases, the internal workings of the furnace must be changed using such conversion kits, which should be installed by a licensed technician. Talk to your installation technician about whether conversion is feasible and cost-effective.
Generally, propane systems require very little maintenance. As with any heating unit, it is recommended to have a qualified service technician inspect the unit once a year. Homeowners also should occasionally check the unit for obstructions in the venting system to make sure it can function properly.
It is important to note that propane leaks are possible and, depending on where your propane is stored, could pose a fire hazard. Since propane is denser than air, in the event of a leak, the propane will sink to the lowest level of an enclosed space, where it could mix with a pilot light and explode.
However, PERC is quick to point out that propane leaks can potentially be safer than other petroleum-based energy leaks because a “rotten egg” smell is added during the manufacturing process to help homeowners quickly and easily identify a leak. Homeowners should immediately call their service technician if such a smell is identified.