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Should You Make the Switch From Propane to Natural Gas?

Though the price of natural gas is at least one-third less than that of propane, price isn’t the only factor that should be considered before making a switch. 
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
propane vs natural gas

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As energy prices continue to rise, it’s important to become even more conscious of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of our fuel sources. Natural gas, which is cleaner, more efficient, and less expensive than oil or electricity, is becoming more and more popular—but it’s also a source of growing legislative contention: Some municipalities are passing laws to preemptively prohibit natural gas bans, and other locations have started to outlaw natural gas hookups in new construction in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

If you have propane now and natural gas lines are coming to your area, you may be tempted to convert. You have a big decision to make: While there are a lot of great reasons to convert, there are also a lot of things to think about.

You may have to buy new fittings for your appliances. 

Many appliances can work with either propane or natural gas (water heaters are perhaps the biggest exception). They will, however, require special gas utilization fittings for each fuel source, because propane and natural gas operate with different levels of pressure.

Some appliances come with conversion kits when you buy them. If not, you should be able to order a kit from the manufacturer. There is more to a conversion, though, than simply replacing a fitting: Since regulators and burners will most likely need to be adjusted, a licensed professional should perform this conversion. If your appliances aren’t convertible, you will need to buy new ones that can accept natural gas.

propane vs natural gas

Converting to natural gas will require digging up the yard to install pipes.

Once natural gas is available on your street, it still needs to be brought to your house. A trench will need to be dug for the main that brings the gas up from the street, and your yard will be impacted.

The gas company should endeavor to be as non-intrusive as possible, including restoring your lawn with grass seed and straw if replacing the original turf proves impossible. Meanwhile, it’s your responsibility to clearly mark any underground utilities, irrigation systems, septic tanks in your yard. Call 811, the federally mandated Call Before You Dig number, and your underground utility lines will be marked for free.

propane vs natural gas

When calculating costs, factor in how much it will run you to remove your old propane tank. 

If you decide to convert to natural gas, you will need to figure out what to do about the propane tank buried in the side or back of your yard. If you own the tank you could sell it, but you’ll have the cost—and work—of excavating it and restoring the area.

If you don’t want the hassle of excavation, you can leave the tank in the ground but you’ll need to have it emptied, and follow whatever codes your locality has regarding tank maintenance. If you are leasing a propane tank from your gas company, you will need to either buy the tank or pay them to remove it. If you have an above-ground propane tank, the process of removal is much less complicated and expensive.

RELATED: How to Dispose of Propane Tanks the Right Way

propane vs natural gas

Natural gas costs about 30 percent less than propane.

The costs of converting from propane to natural gas can really add up. With the price of natural gas at least one-third less than the price of propane, over time the switch may be worth the investment. Most natural gas companies have calculators on their websites to help customers estimate costs and savings. And if natural gas is coming to your community, you can expect a representative from the company to knock on your door to give you a preliminary assessment.

When deciding between an electric or gas water heater or a gas or oil furnace, the gas option will almost always cost less to operate. This can be a benefit of either natural gas or propane to consider if you currently utilize oil heat or have electric appliances.

As with any major home improvement decision, do your research. Think about how long you plan to stay in your home, and weigh the benefits and costs carefully to see if switching from propane to natural gas is right for you.

propane vs natural gas

Natural gas and propane are both environmentally friendly—to a degree. 

Both propane and natural gas are classified as environmentally friendly fuels by many experts. They are both clean-burning gases, though propane holds a slight edge as a more environmentally conscious choice because it will not cause any damage to the atmosphere if it is leaked. It is not a greenhouse gas. This is one key difference between propane and natural gas. Natural gas is primarily comprised of methane, which is a greenhouse gas.

While natural gas may technically be a greenhouse gas, it emits much lower levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxides than other fuels. Compared to coal, for example, natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide.

If you go with natural gas, you’ll never have to worry about running out of fuel. 

One of the biggest benefits of natural gas is that once you have the pipeline set up, you don’t need to worry about propane gas storage, scheduling deliveries, or stocking up on canisters of fuel. Natural gas flows through the pipeline on-demand, so it will always be available when you need it for grilling, healing your home, or fueling your dryer, stove, or gas fireplace.

Unlike propane, there aren’t different types of natural gas to worry about, either. You don’t need to weigh the pros and cons of truck deliveries versus picking up canisters of fuel. After your infrastructure is set up, there really isn’t much else to think about.

When it comes to a propane vs. natural gas grill, both fuel types perform the same. The advantage lies with natural gas, since you won’t have to worry about running out of fuel in the middle of grilling a meal.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Natural Gas Grills

Propane is more energy efficient and burns 2.5 times hotter than natural gas.

Propane burns about half as much volume as natural gas in the same amount of time, making it the more energy-efficient option. Each cubic foot of natural gas produces approximately 1,012 BTUs of heat compared to the 2,520 BTUs produced by a cubic foot of propane. This means that in most cases, even when natural gas is less expensive than propane, propane will still end up being cheaper overall.

Because it will take about two to two-and-a-half times as much natural gas to heat an appliance compared to using propane, the cost of purchasing natural gas will have to be that much lower than the cost of propane to make it the most budget-friendly choice.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Propane Generators

propane vs natural gas

Final Thoughts

There are a number of pros and cons to weigh when deciding whether propane or natural gas is a better choice for your home. Consider the points outlined above to factor in the environmental impacts, cost of upgrading to natural gas compared to the overall costs of heating your home and fueling your appliances, and convenience of having natural gas on tap, so to speak, into your home.

FAQs About the Differences Between Propane and Natural Gas

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding between propane and natural gas. Consult the FAQs below to gain additional information that may help you choose between these two fuel sources.

Q. What is propane?

Propane is a colorless, nearly odorless, and nontoxic gas that is stored in liquid form. Also referred to as liquified petroleum gas (LPG), propane is used for heating homes, grilling and stove-top cooking, and fueling different types of engines, among other things.

One byproduct of burning propane is water. Carbon dioxide is also produced when propane is burned.  If there is not sufficient oxygen present to burn the propane, carbon monoxide can also be a byproduct of propane.

Q. Is propane a natural gas?

Propane is the byproduct of processing natural gas. When natural gas is processed, propane,  butane, methane, and ethane gases evaporate. These gases can then be turned back into liquid fuel and bottled for sale and use.

Q. Is propane toxic?

No, propane is not toxic. However, it is classified as an asphyxiating gas, meaning exposure to very high concentrations can negatively impact your ability to breathe.

When compared to the density of natural gas, propane leaks will be concentrated along the lower level of the home. Natural gas leaks, on the other hand, will concentrate around the ceiling level of the home. This is because natural gas is lighter than air and propane is heavier than air.

Q. Is natural gas cheaper than propane?

The natural gas vs propane prices can fluctuate. However, propane is typically seen as the most economically friendly choice. A cubic foot of natural gas yields around 1,000 BTUs of heat, while a cubic foot of propane yields around 2,520 BTUs, or about 2.5 times as much.

Q. What temperature does natural gas burn at?

Natural gas burns at 3,560 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the same temperature that propane burns at, however, propane yields more energy than natural gas.