Why Propane? Efficiency

Next in our series is efficiency. We hear that term all the time, but how important is it? When we’re discussing burning fuel, it’s incredibly important. How much energy does the fuel contain and how efficiently is that energy being dispersed? Comparing apples to apples, using the same amount of fuel, wood has the most energy contained within it. This is followed by fuel oil, propane, and finally natural gas. However, delivering the potential heat contained within the fuel is where it gets interesting. Propane and natural gas are essentially tied for most efficient, since both typically use the same equipment (a conversion kit can be installed to move from one to the other), followed by fuel oil, and least efficient is wood.

Most Efficient – Propane and Natural Gas

Natural gas and propane furnaces can be up to 98% efficient. Most fall in between the 90%-98% range. Since propane and natural gas heating systems are comparable, but natural gas is cheaper to buy, gas must be the answer, right? Let’s remember from a previous discussion about fuel cost; it’s not that simple. However, a huge benefit of both of these types of fuel is their relative “cleanness”. You can learn more about clean energy and carbon emissions in the “What is Propane” article here.

Oil – Lower Efficiency – Sliding Popularity

Moving down the list, most new oil furnaces operate at 80%-90% efficiency. You can expect older units to operate far less efficiently. Some as low as 65%. In addition, the “dirtiness” of home heating oil, can make maintenance and cleanup far more frequent than both natural gas and propane. With fuel oil typically costing more than other sources and oil furnaces being less efficient, many people are moving away from oil and choosing other heating solutions. It has been on the decline since the 70’s in favor of more environmentally friendly alternatives. Strangely, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, nearly 85% of home heating oil is used in the Northeast. New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Maine are the top 5 oil consumers in the entire nation.

Wood – Lagging Behind

While wood contains the highest energy, the delivery system is the least efficient. As much as 90% of the heat generated for fireplaces can go right up the chimney. While this is the worst-case scenario and some people opt for a stove over a fireplace, according to the EPA, even the most efficient wood burning stoves only reach 83%. If you read the article “Ease of Use” in our “Why Propane” series, you already know how I feel about ash and soot. If you haven’t, you can read the article here. Oh, that ash and soot.

In the final part of our series, we’ll be discussing the versatility of propane. I know, the anticipation must be killing you! Well, you’ll just have to wait. If you’d like to binge read the “Why Propane” series, please also take a look at “Fuel Cost” and “Ease of Use“.