One of the reasons propane is such a popular source of energy is that it is particularly versatile. From pool heating to indoor space heating to outside lighting or cooking, propane can fuel a wide range of appliances you might want in your home, as you can see in the diagram below. It is particularly practical in areas that are not connected to a natural gas supply. Propane is an alternative source of energy to electricity or fuel.
The most popular propane appliances are outdoor grills (47 million users in the United States) and residential heating (6.8 million users in the United States). Other propane appliances are becoming increasingly popular given the relative advantage of propane over other sources of energy such as electricity or fuel oil in terms of pricing. However, appliances are not convertible, which means that a propane stove cannot run on electricity or fuel oil and vice-versa. The diagram above shows that propane can be used for outdoor lighting (1), clothes drying (2), water heating (3), indoor heating (4), fireplaces (5), outdoor grilling (6), spas (7), pool heating (8), cooking (9), refrigeration (10) and even car fuel (11).
One of the main reasons people decide to use propane is for heating. There are three kinds of propane heaters: propane space heaters are independent heaters installed to warm a specific room; propane furnaces provide central heating in larger homes or homes in colder regions; outdoor propane heaters are becoming increasingly popular as they enable you to heat a small outdoor space. The other very popular propane appliance is a water heater, of which there are two types: tank type water heaters (where propane heats a water container) and tankless water heaters (where water is heated instantly). Tankless water heaters are more and more popular because they are more energy-efficient and take up little space. However, they are more expensive than tank type water heaters (up to twice as expensive).
- Propane-fuelled outdoor light
Appliance propane usage
Propane appliances are essential in helping you determine what size propane tank your home requires. The more appliances you have, the larger the tank should be. A more detailed estimate can be made by looking at each appliance’s BTU rating. BTUs are units used to measure an appliance’s energy output per hour. For example, a 1,500 square foot home that uses propane as a primary source of energy in a mild climate needs around 1.5 million BTUs of propane per month. Given that each gallon of propane provides 91,500 BTUs, this home will require about 16 gallons of propane to run at full capacity for an hour. If you add up the BTU (and therefore gallon) requirements of each of your home propane appliances you can work out roughly what tank capacity you need. A simpler option is to get quotes from propane companies, which are used to estimating consumption in propane-fuelled homes.
Propane tanks are connected to your home propane appliances system via a gas line (also called a yard line). This is a pipe that leaves the tank, runs underground and is linked to indoor piping through a service valve. The link between your propane tank and propane appliances should be configured by a qualified service technician. Although it is a safe source of energy, propane remains a flammable gas and qualified service technicians know how to install your tank and connect it to your propane appliances according to the highest safety regulations and standards. It is strongly discouraged to attempt to install your propane appliance system yourself.
On the other hand, propane appliances themselves are easily found in department stores and most appliances can be installed directly by the homeowner (though stores often offer installation services). If you decide to install propane appliances yourself it is crucial to respect all manufacturer guidelines, failing which you might expose yourself to carbon monoxide poisoning (if an appliance is not connected properly). You should also inform your propane company of the new installation. Similarly, it is recommended to call a qualified LP Gas service technician for any repair or maintenance issues. Doing it yourself may damage the appliance and could pose a threat to your health or your property (for example, if it leads to a leak).
Appliance safety: valves, flex lines and venting
Propane appliances are connected to the home LP gas system through service connections (one valve per appliance). Appliances that are not connected via a valve are illegal (which means they will not be serviced). Connections can be easily found on the marketplace but it is advisable to ask a qualified service technician to install them, for safety reasons (avoiding leaks). On the other hand, valves that are not connected to propane appliances must be capped or plugged properly (NFPA 54 3.8.2). Similarly, flex lines (from the appliance to the valve) will allow connected appliances to be moved around but need to be expected because too much wear and tear may lead to a propane leak.
- Your typical propane tank shut-off valve.
For health and safety reasons some propane appliances require venting. This is because without ventilation certain appliances can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning (which accounts for 25% of propane related fatalities). Venting materials should meet NFPA standards and be installed by a qualified service technician. If a propane appliance requires venting, the equipment manufacturer will specify the venting material that is needed. Using unapproved venting material can be very dangerous. Therefore, it is recommended that when buying an appliance you find out what material is required to install it and use certified personnel for the installation.