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Converting Your Oil or Propane Furnace To Natural Gas

Many natural gas companies recommend that homeowners switch their oil or propane furnaces to natural gas. Natural gas is certainly more versatile than fuel oil or propane -- you can use it to run your furnace, stove, washer and dryer, grill and other home appliances. However, there are significant tradeoffs to consider.

Benefits of Natural Gas

Natural gas is piped into your home from a gas supplier, in much the same way that city water is piped into many people's homes. This means that you don't have to remember to refill your oil or propane tank. (However, many oil and propane suppliers will automatically refill your tank when it runs low.) Here are a few more benefits:

  • Natural gas can burn more completely than fuel, which means that your furnace can be more efficient.
  • If you're buying new equipment, the most efficient gas-burning furnaces are quite a bit more efficient than the most efficient oil-burning furnaces.
  • With oil and propane you often (though not always) pre-pay. With natural gas you typically pay a month after you've used the gas.
  • Natural gas companies often offer rebates to switch to gas -- occasionally including a new gas furnace or boiler!
  • Most (84%) of the natural gas consumed in the United States is produced in the US. (source) Some commentators have suggested that this makes the cost of natural gas less volatile.
  • You may be able to heat your home more cheaply with natural gas. However, there are quite a few variables to be considered, so don't assume that this is true.

Drawbacks of Converting to Natural Gas

Before you even consider switching to Natural Gas, make sure there is a gas supplier in your area, and that hookups are available for your house.

If your house does not already have natural gas, you will need to connect to the gas main. Typically this involves burying a pipe from your house to the street. You may also need to run new piping inside your house. Some HVAC contractors recommend against running natural gas through copper piping. If you currently have copper piping to run propane you may need to swap out your copper piping

Converting your existing oil-burning furnace or boiler to natural gas is likely to be expensive. At a minimum you will need to replace the burner, and many older models simply can't be upgraded. However, if you need to replace an older oil furnace anyway, natural gas may make sense. Check to see if your water heater currently burns fuel oil -- if it does, you'll need to switch your water heater to natural gas as well, which will increase your up-front costs. (On the flip side, natural gas water heaters are substantially cheaper to buy than oil-fired water heaters.)

Finally, if you are no longer using your old propane or fuel oil tank, you'll probably want to get it hauled off to the dump -- otherwise it will be an eyesore, and could make your home less attractive. Gas companies will occasionally haul the tank away as an incentive to switch to gas.

Final Words

In conclusion, the decision to switch to natural gas is not necessarily straightforward. You'll need to work closely with a trusted HVAC contractor that can help you compare the costs and benefits.

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