Chapter 6: Propane Versus Oil Heat

Are you wondering about heating oil versus propane? Let’s look at propane usage in the United States.

Using Propane

Though it’s a clean fuel, propane has become less popular as a heating option during the 21st century. However, propane is still often used to run appliances, such as stoves, clothes dryers and hot water heaters.

Propane for home heating is stored in tanks on homeowners’ properties. Residential tanks can vary in size from 100 gallons up to 1,000 gallons or more. Most tanks rest on the ground, although certain models are buried.

While some individuals own some tanks, many homeowners rent receptacles from fuel companies that supply propane. In these cases, the companies are responsible for tank maintenance.

Types of Propane Systems

Propane systems include a few different ways of warming air:

  • Central furnace. Central furnaces are the most common propane option. These forced air furnaces are space savers.
    Modern central furnaces have electronic ignitions for safety reasons. These heaters do not need pilot lights, so no continual flame burns.
    Newer central furnaces also have vent dampers. When the desired temperature is reached, the damper activates, keeping gases and heat from escaping up the chimney. Just before the burner ignites again, the damper opens, and gases go up and out.
  • Wall furnace. Propane wall furnaces are useful in small rooms in modest-size houses. However, they are also installed in areas of older homes where existing systems are unable to heat adequately.
    These furnaces run quietly, venting their fumes outside. They have built-in thermostats and need no electricity to run. Therefore, they are helpful when power goes out.
  • Combo heater. Combo heaters warm air and water, and they are up to 90 percent efficient. Heat that escapes from the water heater is redirected into the house, warming rooms.

Combo models vent directly outside, and they often take up no more space than a typical water heater. In addition, their combustion chambers are sealed. This, along with their size, makes installation practical anywhere in the house.

Propane Comparisons

The benefits of propane focus on efficiency and price:

  • Efficiency. The most efficient propane heaters have an AFUE rating of 90 percent. They use no electricity, so they function properly during power outages. Propane heaters also have long lives, lasting twice as long as electric heat pumps.
  • The most efficient propane heaters have an AFUE rating of 90%
  • Pricing. Consumer costs of heating with propane vary by geographic area, season and supplier. For instance, the average annual cost for Northeasterners during Winter 2014 to 2015 was $919. Midwesterners averaged significantly less at $711.
  • Propane heating systems are also relatively affordable to install and require little maintenance during their lives.
  • Safety. The propane versus oil heat contrast should examine safety issues as well. Propane is under a great deal of pressure. A propane leak that reaches a furnace or water heater pilot light could cause an explosion. In addition, above ground tanks are susceptible to damage during fires, floods and tornados.
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