Electric Heat Pump or Propane for Country LIving?

farmhousegirlJuly 24, 2014

We need to make a decision. We are building in the country on the East Coast. Both electric and propane have their downside, and some of the green solar, geo systems are awfully costly up front...not sure if we will be in this house more than 8-10 years. Our builder is a pro electric heat pump person. His house is 5000 sq. foot all on heat pump, no propane backup. We have had propane before and worry about the costs and shortages...but it is a nice heat. Never used electric heat before. We are doing a propane generator for backup.

We also price a hybrid electric/propane system, and since we need two furnaces, it's an additional $7200..not sure it's worth the cost.

Thoughts on country living and propane vs. heat pump?

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What is your tree-electric line like? (since you said "country living") Do you have frequent, long power outages? If not, for me the choice would be an easy electric heat pump...

If you have many, long power outages, then, your choice might be different.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 7:55PM
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My suggestion would be a geo-thermal electric heat pump with 2 zones, or two separate condensers w/controls from the common geo thermal source.

For backup, have your house wired for a separate gasoline or butane generator.

Be sure that your exterior envelope is well insulated and sealed, including efficient windows.

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 10:24PM
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Geothermal is nice and all, but for many/most of the country, it is cost-prohibitive. Not sure about NY. Seems they are often done in the carolinas. But, that are a multi-10s of thousands of dollars in my area.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 10:28PM
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We got an electric 5 ton Heat Pump (A/C and heat, all in one) with a propane backup furnace. $13K including all ductwork and installation (2 zones).

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 11:00PM
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A heat pump could work, depending upon how cold your area gets. We are using two mini-split ductless systems. Ours are rated down to -13 F. for heat. They were fairly inexpensive, extremely quiet, both inside and out, and very efficient- 26 SEER. Our house is small and very well sealed and insulated, though.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 6:31AM
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There is a difference between a ductless (minisplit) heatpump; and a regular heatpump.

OP. Do you know about the HVAC forum here? It might be a good "research" location to visit, if you are undecided about the plusses and negatives of each type.

If you are asking about what might be better for rural--I think that gets to your electricity reliability.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 12:22PM
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I have had both gas/propane and electric heat. And I much prefer gas. Actually, I VERY MUCH prefer gas heat. I hated our electric heat pump - I never could get used to it. It always felt cold to me.

If you are cold-blooded like me, you might not like it either.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 4:37PM
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I'm not much for cold either.
gas is the warmer heat as compared to
elec strip (which is the most expensive way to heat)
or heat pump heat.
but you have to weigh the cost of LP vs NG.
LP is very expensive IMO.

that said...I live in the boonies. propane tank in back yard.
not long ago I put in a heat pump, and energy
efficiency nerd that I am..only connected half
the heat strips. still with the record setting winter
we had last year...warm as can be. I actually
cracked a window in the bedroom at night.

now I just have propane for water heater & stove.

and lots of trees out here, but utility substation is nearby
& we are never out of electricity for long...except after
hurricanes. to be on the safe side...and because I
don't like to be cold, I left a propane heater installed
in my living room. haven't had to use it yet...but
if electricity goes out when its cold...its there!

I read online last winter about propane costs hitting
the $7.00 range in cold climates. ouch!
prices are cheap when you don't really need it,
and on the rise when you do.

my electric rates are some of the lowest in the
state due to being on a co-op utility system.
I pay about 8 cents per Kwh, as compared
to large utilities who get as much as 13 cents
per Kwh. maybe more...its been a while since
I checked.

if you chose heat pump, stage the electric strips
rather than have them all come on at once.
you'll use less electricity.

whats your location?

and always air seal house, mastic seal ductwork.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 6:12PM
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You can have both for very little difference.

Dual fuel systems take best of both world, almost same price.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 6:18PM
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Regular propane furnaces require electricity. But can be powered by portable generators. Heat pumps require a big generator. I have two heat pumps in my house, one with propane backup and one with electric auxiliary strips. Setting the thermostat to "emergency" operates the propane furnace with the generator.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 6:58AM
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"My suggestion would be a geo-thermal electric heat pump with 2 zones, or two separate condensers w/controls from the common geo thermal source."

This is an absolutely terrible suggestion for someone that posted, "not sure if we will be in this house more than 8-10 years."

I'd also suggest that the OP take a visit at the Heating and A/C Forum.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 9:32AM
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saltidawg, your manners and respect are in need of repair.

The suggestion might be "an absolutely terrible suggestion" for you, but hardly for those seeking information and options to consider.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 6:01PM
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We built our house about three years ago, and installed ceiling heat. This has proven to be extremely efficient, warm at very low cost. We installed the panels ourselves - they're flexible sheets with embedded circuitry which attach to the studs. You do have to insulate under the floor above, then attach the sheets, then the drywall goes up against them (ordinary drywall installation). Not something you'd considered, but it's inexpensive both to buy and install as well as to run. My favorite part is that it is completely silent.... We used Calorique.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 10:35AM
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I live in Maine, and we built a house last year and have two mini split heat pumps. We have been really happy with them. We have double walls for 9 inches of insulation, and the house has not felt cold to me. And I'm usually always cold. I love not having an oil bill as the price goes up & up!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 11:17AM
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You could augment propane heat with free-standing electric heaters instead of having two furnaces.

You could also augment with wood heat, if that appeals to you.

I would not want to rely exclusively on either electricity or propane, because if you've only got electric heat, you could end up with burst pipes if there's an extended power outage (a heat pump needs a lot more generator power than a furnace blower), and if you've only got propane, you could be in a bind if we have another shortage.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 12:15PM
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Another smart option for avoiding frozen plumbing in power outages and reducing heating costs 25-90% is passive solar design. I like to encourage folks to avoid combustion appliances inside the conditioned space as much as possible. That said, it probably makes sense to have propane backup or woodstove if your area experiences frequent outages.

LP is probably the most expensive common fuel. It would be wise to ensure your home meets the current international energy codes to ensure you take a cost-effective path to low energy costs. Love to see that mini-spit heat pumps are more commonly entering these conversations. These typically ductless systems require that your building envelope and fenestration details are well designed and built, but they seem to offer the most versatile and affordable heating and cooling strategy available in most climates.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 12:34PM
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My 6500 watt portable generator could easily run both of my mini-splits, as they only draw a maximum of 10 amps each. It would be a pain (and expensive) to run off the generator for a week, but it could be done. We get a lot of ice storms here in SC, so I imagine my generator will get tested from time of time.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 6:15PM
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Live in the country, have both. I prefer the warmth of the propane particularly when it is very cold. Just switch from heat pump to emergency heat, voila!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 4:37PM
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I live in a rural Ohio area and have a heat pump. Love it. We have a propane tank for our gas fireplace, barbeque grill and our back-up generator, so we could have also done a propane furnace. I've had both propane and natural gas in other homes, but I like constant tempuratures, not the up and down hot blasts of air that gas heat gives you, so I much prefer the heat pump. I also find that heat pump heat is much cleaner than any heat with a flame.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:22PM
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Passive solar, mini split heat pump and maybe wood heat backup... Add double stud walls and about R100 in the attic and you'll be set. Or at least that is what i would do if i was rebuilding. New mini splits operate even below 0F.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:30PM
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We live out in the country and have propane. I wouldn't chose it again. I don't know if it's just our system or what, but the air blows out at 140 degrees. I've had to close the vent above the master bed because I cook when the heat comes on at night in the winter. Also, the cost has risen and was crazy expensive last winter when there was a shortage.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 2:10PM
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Did I miss it? East Coast - spans Fl to Maine. Makes a big difference...

Electric rates are a big difference also. I can pay as little as 5 cents a kwh - makes LP expensive even compared to electric strips.

So there is really not enough info here to make any kind of recommendation.

Of course passive solar is a good idea anywhere - But who knows, the house might be in deep woods or facing a highway on the south side...

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 7:56AM
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