If you are trying to choose between propane and natural gas for your home energy needs, then you’re probably confused by some of the claims made about these energy sources. Proponents of natural gas decry propane as hazardous. On the other hand, you have propane fans driving home the fact that propane is safer for the environment.
How do you know what to believe? How can you decide between propane and natural gas? We’ve laid out some of the key differences between these two energy sources. We’ve also explained how to compare energy costs so that you can make a budget conscious decision and lower your energy bill.
Propane vs. Natural Gas
Propane, sometimes referred to as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and natural gas are both fossil fuels. In other words, they were formed millions of years ago by the remains of plants and animals breaking down under the pressure of the earth over time. They are also both non-toxic, colorless, and odorless. However, artificial odors are often added to them to warn of leaks.
Although both propane and natural gas are considered among the cleanest burning fossil fuels, natural gas qualifies as a greenhouse gas while propane does not. This means that natural gas contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming, while propane is safe for the atmosphere. Fans of propane point to this to indicate that propane is the preferable choice. However, natural gas is still significantly safer than other greenhouse gases, it’s contributions minimal, and as you’ll soon see, propane too has its downsides.
Propane is not as safe as natural gas. Sure, it’s non-toxic, but propane is heavier than air. When there is a gas leak, propane will sink to the floor and could create a hazardous pocket of gas. Because it sinks, it is less likely to be blown away naturally and may stick around for a long time (long enough to be ignited). Still, many people use propane with no ill effect.
Natural Gas and Propane Pricing
The key to accurately comparing natural gas and propane is to convert everything into cost per British thermal unit (BTU), a unit of measurement used for measuring heat energy. Before we get into natural gas and propane prices, let’s look at the amount of BTU produced by each.
- Natural gas contains around 950-1150 BTU of energy per cubic foot of gas, typically hovering around 1030 BTU.
- Propane contains around 2500 BTU per cubic foot (gas form) or 91,000 BTU a gallon.
Next, let’s establish how much each of these energy forms typically costs. Note that prices can and will fluctuate (sometimes greatly). That’s why it’s important to know how to compare them. In this way, you can keep track of which energy source is cheapest at present.
- At time of writing, propane costs roughly $2.40 a gallon. That’s $2.40 for 91,000 BTU.
- At time of writing, natural gas costs roughly $13.50 per 1000 cubic feet. That’s $13.5 for about 1.3 million BTU.
You can probably already see where this is going, but let’s spell it out. We need to get the BTU on the same scale.
- Remember that a gallon of propane is 91,000 BTU. 91,000 goes into 1.3 million roughly 11.32 times.
- Multiple $2.40 for a gallon by 11.32. That’s $27.17.
- We can conclude that you can get roughly 1.3 million BTU of propane for $27.17.
Compare that number to the $13.50 you need to pay to get 1.3 million BTU of natural gas. Natural gas is clearly both an energy smart and financially smart decision. For now, at least. If you want to stay on top of pricing and do a little math of your own, simply type “how much is propane per gallon” into Google. When it comes to knowing how to reduce your energy bill, a little research and due diligence is key.