Everything You Need To Know About Propane [including 4 ways to use it safely]
Updated: Aug 25
Half of all the households in the USA use natural gas to heat their homes.
A third use electricity for heating.
About 5% of all the homes in the US use propane for heating.
5% doesn't seem like a very high percentage, so it may seem propane isn't a good option for heating your home.
Actually, propane will heat your home very safely and effectively. Switching to propane could save you stress, time, and money, especially if you own your own propane tank and can shop around for the best prices.
However, to many, making the switch feels unmanageable.
That's why we put together this article telling you all you need to know about propane. If you are thinking about switching to propane, read this first so that you can make an educated decision..
Are you ready to see how you can heat your home in an efficient, eco-friendly, and effective way?
Let's take a look!
What is Propane?
Before you commit to using propane for your home, you need to know what it is.
Chemically, propane is a combustible gas made of carbon and hydrogen. It is a gas at room temperature, but it is compressible to an easily transportable liquid.
Practically speaking, though, that doesn't tell you much. Let's look at some commonly asked questions about propane.
Are natural gas and propane the same thing?
No. Propane and natural gas are different.
Natural gas is a mixture of different gases including butane, pentane, methane, and propane. Natural gas contains propane.
Propane is one of the pure components of natural gas. You can separate the propane from the natural gas and use it on its own. When it is in its pure form, propane burns hotter and slower than natural gas.
Natural gas is lighter than propane and dissipates more quickly when free. Propane is heavier and doesn't dissipate as easily. This makes propane somewhat more dangerous than gas, but more on that later.
Where does propane come from?
As discussed in the last question, some propane comes from natural gas. You can extract the propane from the natural gas during processing and use it on its own.
That's not where all propane comes from, though.
Some propane comes from crude oil. Refiners extract the propane from the crude oil during the refining process. Because of this, we sometimes call propane LPG, or liquified petroleum gas.
The bottom line?
Propane is a byproduct of both petroleum refining and natural gas processing.
Is the propane in propane tanks a liquid or a gas?
After the propane is extracted from the crude oil or natural gas, it can be liquified by pressurization. Being a liquid makes it easier to store and transport.
If you left the propane as a gas, even a highly pressurized gas, it would take up too much space to be practical or transportable.
So the answer is:
Propane comes out of the tank as gas, but inside the tank or cylinder, the propane is liquid.
So - why should you use it in your home?
Let's take a look at some of the upsides of using propane to heat your home or facility.
6 Pros of Using Propane
Propane has some great things going for it.
Here are some good reasons to use it in your home:
1 - It heats quickly
Propane is fairly concentrated, and it has a high energy density compared to other fuels.
A high energy density means a small amount of matter stores a large amount of energy. A little propane contains a lot of potential energy.
When you burn the propane, potential energy is released, giving off a hot, even heat that heats your home efficiently.
Propane has one of the highest energy densities of all hydrocarbon fuels, second only to methane. It offers faster heating performance than most other traditional fuels such as wood or electricity.
For example, propane will heat a boiler of water in about a third of the time it takes electricity to heat the same amount of water.
However, keep in mind that how fast propane heats your house depends on your furnace and method of heat distribution.
2 - It's off-grid reliable
Another of propane's perks is its reliability in an emergency. If the power goes out, your propane stove or furnace will keep running.
And if you buy a propane generator, you can convert your propane into electricity, which will allow you to keep running your electric appliances as well.
3 - It's safer
No combustible fuel is completely safe, and we will talk about the dangers of propane and how to avoid them later on in this article. But in general, propane is a very safe way to heat your home.
Propane itself is not toxic or harmful. It produces very little carbon monoxide when it burns, and while it is highly explosive, explosions are rare.
A propane tank actually exploding due to pressure almost never happens. There are lots of safety features on tanks to prevent this from happening. Most explosions happen due to leaks in your system, and today, most systems are fairly airtight.
Big explosions only happen when the conditions are just right, such as when a lot of propane leaks and pools in a low, poorly ventilated area and then comes in contact with a spark.
The bottom line is:
Propane deaths and explosions are infrequent. Overall, propane is a safe way to heat your home.
4 - It's portable
In its liquid form, propane is easily transportable and can be used in off-grid heating situations.
You can get it trucked in to fill up your large tank, or you can buy it in small cylinders and use it for your grill or other appliance. You can easily take your small cylinder with you to the park or campground to fire up a small grill or burner.
For small outings or appliances, it's much less of a hassle than wood or electricity. No extension cords or pickup trucks needed!
5 - It's eco-friendly
Propane is one of the cleanest burning fuels available. It has a lower carbon content than fuel oil, gas, diesel, kerosene, and ethanol and creates significantly fewer greenhouse gases than other fuels.
It's also non-toxic and will not contaminate water. If spilled, it won't drain into the groundwater. It simply vaporizes and dissipates into the air, never to be seen again. It poses extremely minimal threats to the environment.
It's also efficient, so you don't have to use as much of it - and less fuel means fewer emissions.
6 - It's efficient
Because of its high energy density, propane is efficient. It doesn't take much propane to create good heat.
A good propane furnace will waste less than 10% of the fuel in combustion. Some modern propane furnaces are 98% efficient.
When compared with electricity and natural gas, propane wins the efficiency contest hands down. Propane is not more efficient in the long run than heating oil. However, heating oil is much worse for the environment.
Pro tip: No matter what your heat source is, performing a home energy audit helps identify areas in your home that should be better insulated or improved to increase efficiency.
Those are some of the pros of using propane for heating your home. If you like efficiency and care about the environment, propane could be a good choice for you.
Now let's look at the downsides of using propane.
5 Cons of Propane
Of course, there are bad things about propane too. Here are a few of its drawbacks.
1 - Annual cost
Here is a list of common fuels in order of annual cost, starting with the most expensive:
As you can see, propane is the second most expensive heat source, after electricity.
The average cost to heat a home with propane for a year is $2,000 - $3,000 a year.
When talking about the price of propane, keep in mind pricing won't be static. The price of propane depends largely on the price of oil, so it fluctuates. And it will be cheaper in some areas than others.
If you are thinking of switching, check out local energy prices in your area.
2 - Initial costs of switching to propane
There will also be an initial cost if you switch to propane because you will have to buy a tank and maybe replace your appliances with ones that run on propane.
A 500-gallon propane tank averages $1,500. The cost to switch appliances will vary.
If you are looking to save money in the next six months, switching to propane may not be the best option, even if it is cheap in your area.
3 - Renting a tank
If you don't have the money to buy a tank right away, you may have to rent one. Renting a tank can be convenient because then your propane provider is responsible for all maintenance and troubleshooting.
Renting a tank is fairly cheap. It could cost anywhere from $25 - $250 a year, depending on the size and whether it's above ground or underground.
However, if you rent a tank, you are stuck buying propane from that provider only. This makes some people feel trapped because you can't shop around and find the best propane prices.
If you are stuck in this situation or would like to avoid it altogether, Affordable Tanks can help you!
We offer affordable propane tanks so homeowners can have the freedom to shop around and find the best propane prices. Owning your tank can save you money in the long run and keep you from feeling trapped with one provider.
4 - Refilling your tank
If you want zero fuss and don't care about money, go with electricity, not propane. You will have to get your propane tank refilled, and this can be a bother, especially if you own your tank and are responsible for monitoring it.
A 500-gallon tank of propane meets the average household's needs for about 5 months, so if you use propane to power everything in your home, you should expect to refill your 500-gallon tank about twice a year.
If you aren't sure what propane tank size you need, read our blog post on propane tank sizing.
5 - It's still a fossil fuel
Propane is clean-burning, green, and readily available.
But it's still a fossil fuel. It's not renewable, and while it is green itself, it comes from petroleum and natural gas, so using propane does not cut down on the overall use of fossil fuels.
Like all fuels, propane isn't perfect. It has drawbacks, and you may want to think about them before you take the plunge and switch over to it.
Also, while propane is generally safe, there are some risks you need to think about if you use propane.
Let's explore some of these hazards.
4 Dangers of Propane
We don't want to scare you! Don't worry - propane is safe when you follow proper guidelines.
But like all fuels, there are risks to keep in mind when you use propane:
1 - Leaks
Propane accidents are uncommon, but when propane accidents do happen, they are often more drastic and cause worse damage than accidents with natural gas or other fuels.
It can be worse because propane is heavier than some gases. When natural gas leaks, it often just floats away and dissipates because it is light. However, when propane leaks, it pools in low places and builds up. Then if something happens to ignite the gas, the explosion is more devastating.
Monitor your propane system carefully for leaks so this doesn't happen. Propane is colorless and doesn't naturally have any smell, but manufacturers artificially add an unpleasant odor to it to help you detect leaks.
If you do discover a leak, take these steps:
Do not operate any appliance that could cause a spark. Keep cigarettes and anything else that could ignite the gas away from the area.
Turn off the main gas valve on your propane tank.
Call a propane expert or someone else who could check your system and fix the leak.
2 - Incomplete combustion
If it is burning well, propane does not emit much carbon monoxide. However, if your furnace is malfunctioning and the propane is not burning correctly, it starts giving off more carbon monoxide.
If too much carbon monoxide builds up in an enclosed space, it can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon Monoxide poisoning causes 25% of all propane-related deaths.
3 - Tank damage
Exploding propane tanks are very rare! However, it does happen. Be sure to check your tank regularly for dents, rust, or any other damage that could cause a deadly rupture.
If you find anything suspicious, call someone who can help you.
4 - Inhalation
Propane is not toxic, and breathing small amounts of it will not hurt you. However, when there is too much propane gas in an enclosed space, it can displace all the oxygen in the area. The propane itself will not hurt you, but the lack of oxygen can result in asphyxiation.
How can you avoid the danger of inhaling propane?
Use your grill or other propane-powered appliance in a well-ventilated area, and never store a propane cylinder in a completely enclosed space. You should also have any propane appliances serviced according to the recommended schedule to look for any leaks or damage.
4 Ways to Use Propane Safely
The most important question to ask yourself when you are deciding what fuel to use to heat your home is:
Will my family be safe?
Propane is safe if used correctly. But if you decide to make the switch, you'll want to educate yourself on how you can be responsible when using it.
Here are some ways to safeguard yourself and your family against propane disasters.
1 - Learn about propane
Keep on doing exactly what you are doing right now!
Educate yourself on how propane works, the dangers of propane, and how to detect impending trouble. The more you know and the more aware you are, the safer you and your family will be.
2 - Have a carbon monoxide detector
Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, and it is almost impossible for humans to detect it until it's too late.
Be sure to have a carbon monoxide detector in your home, and make sure that it has batteries and works well. It's good to have several around your house, including one near your propane furnace.
Quick tip: This applies to natural gas or oil heat sources as well. Anytime you are burning a fuel source in your home, you should have carbon monoxide detectors.
3 - Use appliances in appropriate spaces
Do not use outdoor grills, heaters, or other appliances indoors or in enclosed spaces. The only propane appliances that you should use indoors are the ones that were meant for indoor use.
Using an outdoor appliance in a poorly ventilated space could result in carbon monoxide poisoning or the buildup of propane and asphyxiation.
4 - Store propane cylinders in appropriate spaces
Do not store propane cylinders indoors or in enclosed spaces!
A full propane barbecue cylinder contains enough liquid propane to produce over 300 cubic feet of gas. If it starts to leak, that much vapor will quickly fill a room, displacing all the oxygen.
The rest is not a pretty story.
Also, try to keep other flammable or combustible materials away from propane cylinders. Be responsible with your propane, and everything should be perfectly safe.
When deciding what home heating fuel is best for you, consider propane. It's efficient, eco-friendly, and safe.
If you need a propane tank, give us a call here at Affordable Tanks!
At Affordable Tanks, we understand the frustration of renting a propane tank and being stuck with the same propane distributor, even when someone else offers better prices.
You deserve to be able to find the best possible prices for propane for your home.
That's why we offer affordable propane tanks, so you can gain the freedom to shop around and save money.
It's easy to work with us:
Get an estimate
Review your quote
Let us install your tank
Love your freedom!
Contact us today! We look forward to hearing from you.