Most of the lots in our target area will require propane. Could we get an idea of pros (if there are any) and cons of having propane instead of natural gas?
There are no pros.
Cons - 3 to 4 times the cost. Tank and delivery issues.
But - if you are building new, you can plan for the high cost of propane and minimize the impact. Here in mild NC, we have NG but tried to minimize its use. So even for a large house, we only use about $100 of NG a year and then there is a $120 a year fee from the NG company to maintain the access. So we pay total about $220 and propane might be $400. You can get fees from the propane companies if you use too little but it isn't bad.
Now take an old house in the NE and the propane might be $4000 a year. Obviously that would not be ideal.
Around here, propane houses wind up using a heat pump with no propane backup. So the houses are either all-electric or they use propane for cooking, fireplaces and sometimes hot water.
Also around here, no NG means no city water and sewer which is by far the bigger issue in terms of cost and ongoing maintenance.
If you build with no NG in a cold area, you should either do geothermal or build a very efficient structure. Either are options. Also solar hot water is often a good choice.
We went from natural gas to propane last year. It's definitely more expensive, and you get less btu's on your cooktop than with natural gas. That aside, you don't notice any difference. You have to keep tabs on the propane, checking the level and making sure no leaks. I was visiting DH several years ago, and could smell a strong odor of propane in their backyard. Come to find out, there was a leak and 40% of their gas was spewing out. I HATE the tank, so if you can, bury that thing. Our isn't noticable from the front, and we planted bushes around it to somewhat hide it, but it's still ugly. We didn't want to bury ours, because at some time, natural gas will be made available to us. Wanted an easy transition. Our house is all electric except for a fireplace and the cooktop. Oh, and the backup furnace to our geothermal, just in case it can't keep up. But after using geothermal for a year, can't foresee that ever happening.
The only pro I can think of is that you can hook up a generator to propane, in case you have frequent power outages.
But yeah, the tanks are big and unattractive, and it's pricey to use.
Our tank is underground, but there is still a submarine conning tower sticking up that cannot buried. We found a fiberglass "boulder" made specifically to cover propane tank fillers. It is very realistic, although some are not. It's impossible to tell that the propane tank is there -- if the gas company sends someone new out to fill the tank, he usually cannot figure out where it is.
"The only pro I can think of is that you can hook up a generator to propane, in case you have frequent power outages. "
There are plenty of natural gas powered generators available.
No monthly propane bill. You refill the tank as needed and pay for each refill. Not sure how you are billed if you lease the tank (monthly or annually).
If you buy the tank, you can use any LP gas provider for refill. If you lease, you only can buy gas from tank owner.
Fewer choices of gas cooktops to choose from, though there are still many choices so this should not be an issue. But there are more choices with nat'l gas.
We are debating propane as well. However, we're just deciding between propane for the range or just opting for induction.
What exactly is geothermal? I remember living in New England and a lot of the houses had steam heat with baseboard radiators. Is that geothermal or something else?
What options are available if you don't have access to NG...and don't want propane?
Electric. And that is why we have propane for our gas range and have the Weber grill tied into it too.
We have done Geothermal on our new build just north of you in Northampton County.
email me if you want details more than I can type here :)
Geo is basically a heatpump that utilizes ground source heat instead of air to heat your house. You dig wells for the water to circulate through the pump and the heat is distributed via air ducts forced air in your house. This is cost effective for AC especially and heat. Much less to operate unless you need back up electric. Much more expensive initially but significant cost savings down the line. We will put a back up propane generator to offset emergency costs and have propane for FP and cooking.
Neighbors have this setup and claim electric heat bills around $100 month for 2700+ SF. The Geo really shines for AC.
Hopefully this will be the case as we have not moved in yet ;)
Geo helps with extreme temps. If the OP is in PA, then those extreme temps are cold and not heat. There are very few climates where geo is worth it for cooling.
So to say that geo really shines for ac is not true. It shines for heating when the temperature is below freezing.
In many places of the country, backup electric strips cost less than propane so using propane for backup doesn't make sense.
Geo is not cost effective (generally) except for an old house in the NE that has no NG. With a new house, the upfront costs could just be put into the housing envelope and save more money that way. There are houses that require less than $20 a month with electric strips in a Northern climate. It is far more logical to spend the money on the envelope in the North.
Now in the South, it is harder to control for a/c needs unless you have a flexible orientation and your views are not East or West. But here for 5000 sqft, a geo unit would save
I have to disagree with David Carey, geothermal is great in all climates for both heating and cooling, though it is expensive and not always cost effective. Originally when we thought we had to use propane we were going to put it into our new home in Northern California however we found out that we CAN get natural gas so it is no longer worth the cost (we are going to invest in solar instead).
My layman's explanation is that Geothermal involves running pipes in the earth, either horizontally if you have the space, or vertically (more expensive) and a liquid is run through the pipes. The ground 6' or 7' feet down is always a constant 55 degrees, no matter where you are, and that heat is transferred to the liquid in the pipes which is then passed through a heat pump to heat your home in the winter and cool your home in the summer.
The cost is coming down in some places, however mine is not one of them (alas, prices only go up in California)!
See the link below for more information and estimated costs.
Here is a link that might be useful: Geothermal pricing and explanation
I don't want to debate whether geothermal is worth the cost, but just wanted to say that we have it in our new home (almost 1 yr old), and are extremely happy with it. I think it's great for both A/C and heat. Last summer we had many days near 100 with extreme humidity, and the A/C kept our house cool and comfortable. We generally keep it 68/70 degrees. As for heating, this past winter wasn't extremely cold, only a few days in the -15 to -20 range. Our backup heat never once came on. Our total utility bill appears it will average between $150-$200 or so per month. Our house is a 5200 sq ft ranch. The one mistake we did make was putting in a 105 gallon electric hot water heater. We fell for the hype from the electric company on it's efficiency, the rebates, etc. This monster is an energy hog! When/if we get natural gas, we will definitely replace this thing. I wonder what our utility bill would be without this giant thing?
Joyce, those are amazing electricity bills! I wish we could have made it work in our budget, but alas it isn't common in our area and seems to be about twice the cost in comparison to some areas of the country.
Have you thought about the water heater de-superheater that couples with your geothermal?
We have geothermal w/ a propane backup. We have a 1000 gallon buried propane tank and it is $$$ to fill it, even w/ the discount for buying a lot at once.
We just got our first electric bill. It was $180. We have a 5000 sq. ft. house w/ all vaulted/double height ceilings and we've had the A/C running a lot (keep the house at 71). We've been running lots of appliances and I am really bad about turning lights off and we have in-cabinet lights that operate on a timer and are on for five+ hrs every day, so we were really surprised (and delighted) that our bill was so low!
With the tax credit and a rebate from our electric company, we are very pleased w/ the decision to do the geothermal!!
We have an air source heat pump, 5200 sqft and our total electricity bill for the year is $1500.
When people talk about how cheap geothermal is to run, you really have to remember that any new house done well should be cheap to heat and cool.
Also any new house should be comfortable.
If you really look at the facts and compare to something reasonable, geothermal is not usually a cost effective decision in a NEW house. Neither is spray foam.
The only way that GEO can come close to being cost effective is by a gift from the federal government - which really means that it wasn't cost effective in the first place.
Farmhousegirl, I'd look into the cost of Geothermal in your area, and whether you local utility and and the state you are in are offerring any incentives. It is a great alternative to propane! (if you are okay with then not having gas stove or fireplace).
I have no idea where you live, if you mentioned it I missed it. Here's what I learned from building our 2,200 square foot adobe house in the mountains of New Mexico where NG is not an option and the 7,100 elevation means plenty of snow in winter.
Build passive solar. I'm amazed at how well our south-facing windows help to heat the house (polished concrete floors are the thermal mass). At night we close the double-cell blinds to keep the heat in and the cold out. The adobe walls keep the house at a very even temperature, especially in the summer. No need for A/C even on 90+ degree days.
All the neighbors have propane in-floor heat and complain a lot about the cost in the winter. We opted for an ETS system, with in-floor heat. We're on an electric rate that has peak and off-peak hours. Our water heater is on a timer. The ETS downloads heat only during off-peak hours and stores it in ceramic bricks. The systems work great and monthly costs are about 1/3 what our neighbors pay to run heat and water heating on propane.
One of the neighbors installed solar hot water and has repeatedly commented that it will take way too many years to break even. We pre-plumbed for solar hot water, but haven't taken the plunge yet.
We use propane for our kitchen range, from a 5-gallon tank outside the kitchen wall. Yep, the same tank that runs a BBQ. One fill lasts about 6 months.
Solar hot water does usually require subsidies to be cost effective. We did it because after subsidies the incremental cost was When building new, passive solar is almost free if you can do it. Air sealing well is a no brainer cost wise. Then beef up the walls with rigid foam. A few thousand dollars but usually cheaper and more effective than geothermal.
David: those are wonderful low electricity bills! Wow! If I had thought we could get away with bills that low, we may have not gone geothermal. I think we spend nearly as much as your annual bill on just running all the computers (4) and equipment for my husbands business. He does web development and web tools for a few major companies, but works at home. At our last house, just a mile from the new one, we were running utility (electric, NG, water)bills that averaged between $400-$600 a month. Big house, 6500+', and probably not insulated as well as it should have been. We are thrilled with $150. We never dreamed it could be this low, even with geothermal. We are in zone 3, so can have harsh weather, both winter and summer. Now if I could just get rid of that energy-hog water heater. It's costing us a fortune to run that thing.
How much did your geothermal systems cost (and what size house)?
Also, if you want geothermal, can you get a separate gas tank to run for gas cooking?
Our geothermal cost included 5 ton vertical loop system (five- 200 foot shafts), heat pump, back up furnace, programmable thermostats, radiant floor heating (I think 6 zones), humidifier, hot water heater, air filter, all ducting, labor etc, etc. Without looking at the bid, I can't remember all it included. It's been awhile, but if memory serves me correctly I think our net cost after ALL rebates was in the neighborhood of $22,000 - $25,000. Our builder got 2 or 3 bids, and we did not choose the least expensive. In fact, we chose the most expensive because he was the most experienced. We also upgraded our insulation.
We have a separate propane tank for the gas cooktop and gas fireplace. I've been told that propane delivers less BTUs than NG, so something to keep in mind as you're looking at ranges/cooktops.
farmhousegirl asked - What options are available if you don't have access to NG...and don't want propane?
Fuel oil. A lot of us in SE Alaska use it for heat and hot water because we do not have access to NG and propane is too expensive here to consider using for heat.
Joyce! I am quite jealous! In my area the cost for a horizontal 3 ton system was closer to $35,000 after tax credits!