Comparing propane and natural gas involves looking at two versatile fossil fuel energy sources for various residential, commercial, and industrial applications. Both propane and natural gas produce heat energy when combusted, typically measured in British thermal units (BTUs). However, there are some key differences between these two types of gas in how they are produced, stored, delivered, and used as fuel sources.
Propane, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), is derived from natural gas processing and refining. It is condensed into liquid form under pressure for convenient storage and transport in pressurized tanks and cylinders.
This allows propane to be used in many locations without pipeline access. Natural gas, however, is mainly composed of methane and is distributed through an extensive pipeline network to homes and businesses as a compressed gas.
When considering energy output, propane produces twice as much heat per gallon as natural gas per cubic foot. Propane also produces lower emissions than natural gas when burned. However, even with twice the energy of natural gas, compressed natural gas typically costs less per BTU in most markets.
In our guide, you can learn more about using natural gas or propane. By the end, you’ll better understand which type of fuel offers the best to use for your home, whether you have natural gas appliances or propane. (Read Propane To Electric Conversion)
What Are Propane Or Natural Gas?
Propane and natural gas are both fossil fuels commonly used for heating, cooking, and powering various appliances and equipment. However, there are some critical differences between these two types of gas.
Propane, also known as LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) or LP gas, propane is a by-product of natural gas processing and crude oil refining.
It is derived from petroleum and is usually found in a liquid state. Propane delivery is in pressurized tanks where it is stored, and propane turns to gas when you use it on your appliance, like an outdoor gas grill.
Propane is colorless and odorless in its pure form, so an odorant called ethyl mercaptan is added to propane to help detect leaks.
Natural gas is a non-renewable fuel source or hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane.
Natural gas is extracted from underground deposits and transported through pipelines as a gas. Natural gas is odorless, colorless, and tasteless in its pure form. A sulfur-based odorant is added to help detect leaks.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel like propane, yet propane is usually seen as a green fuel, while natural gas isn’t. Another area where they differ is that one offers better energy efficiency than the other. (Read What Happens If You Shoot A Propane Tank)
Difference Between Propane And Natural Gas
There are a few key ways that propane differs from natural gas:
One of the significant differences is how the two gases are stored and transported. Propane is liquefied under pressure for storage and transportation in portable cylinders or tanks. This allows propane to be delivered and used anywhere, even locations without natural gas pipeline access. Propane tanks can quickly be refilled or exchanged for full tanks as needed.
Natural gas is delivered through an extensive system of pipelines and distribution lines from the local gas company. It remains in a gaseous state when stored and delivered.
Natural gas comes with a fixed infrastructure and is less portable than propane. Expanding natural gas service often requires building new pipelines, like if you had a natural gas furnace in another area of your home.
Propane contains a higher energy than natural gas per unit volume. One gallon of propane produces about 91,500 BTUs (British thermal units) of heat energy when combusted. One cubic foot of natural gas releases approximately 1,030 BTUs. This means propane delivers around 2.5 times more energy than natural gas may produce per one cubic foot of propane.
Liquid propane is versatile and can be used for many applications, from heating homes, water heaters, and clothes dryers to fueling stoves, grills, generators, and vehicles. It’s commonly used in rural areas without natural gas access.
Propane’s portability is also popular for RV and boat appliances, outdoor patio heaters, temporary construction heat, and portable stoves/grills.
When combusted, propane produces fewer emissions and less air pollution than natural gas. Propane emits 43% less carbon dioxide, about 20% fewer nitrogen oxides, and as much as 60% less carbon monoxide than natural gas per BTU. This makes propane a bit more environmentally friendly. (Read Propane Won’t Flow In Cold Weather)
Propane typically costs more per BTU than natural gas. However, propane providers usually offer fixed pricing plans that can protect against seasonal price spikes. Natural gas prices fluctuate more with market conditions. The cost difference depends on location, usage amount, and current pricing.
Comparing Propane & Natural Gas Grills
One area where people often compare propane and natural gas is for barbecue grills. What are the differences between propane and natural gas grills?
Propane grills are portable and self-contained. The pressurized propane tank attaches directly to the grill, providing an integrated fuel source to be used anywhere outdoors.
Propane grills heat quickly, and fuel levels are easy to monitor. You can take your propane grill camping or tailgating or quickly move it around your patio.
Natural gas grills are connected to your home’s existing natural gas line, eliminating the need for propane tanks. They provide continuous fuel without running out as long as you’re connected to your gas supply.
Natural gas grills provide consistent heating and convenient operation without tank refills. The tradeoff is less portability – your grill stays put in one location.
Propane To Natural Gas Conversion
Is switching from propane to natural gas, or vice versa, possible? Propane appliances can be converted to run-on natural gas with proper equipment installed by a professional technician.
However, some specialty propane-only equipment may not be convertible.
To switch a propane appliance like a grill, water heater, or propane furnace to natural gas. The equipment’s jets, orifices, and regulators must be adapted to work with the different gas supply. This requires changing some parts to match the pressure, BTU output, and volumes of natural gas.
Pros And Cons Of Propane vs. Natural Gas
So, when choosing between gas supply options, what are some pros and cons of natural gas vs. propane gas?
Some advantages of propane include:
- Portable and accessible almost anywhere
- It does not depend on pipelines or delivery infrastructure
- Tanks can be refilled or exchanged quickly & quickly
- Fuel levels are simple to monitor
- It provides more BTUs per unit than natural gas; thus, the amount of heat is higher.
- Versatile for many residential & industrial uses
- Used on grills, stoves, furnaces, water heaters, and more
- Lower emissions than natural gas
- Prices are not as prone to volatility as natural gas
Some benefits of natural gas include:
- Connects directly to existing gas lines in your home or business
- Provides continuous, uninterrupted fuel supply
- Usually less expensive per BTU than propane
- Suitable for appliances used regularly, like furnaces, water heaters, stoves
- Convenient and efficient heating system for entire homes
- Environmentally cleaner than other fossil fuels
- No heavy tanks or refills are required
- Very stable energy platform with established infrastructure
Conclusion: Switching from Propane to Natural
Propane and natural gas are versatile fuel options for heating, cooking, and powering equipment. However, it means you can quickly run out of gas. Natural gas can be stored in various ways, including compressed natural gas (CNG), liquified natural gas (LNG),
Propane’s portability and that propane delivers more BTUs than natural gas. However, for many, the price of natural gas makes the choice between propane and neutral gas easy.
Choosing the best gas solution depends on accessibility, costs, usage, and safety considerations. With their distinct properties, propane and natural gas will continue meeting complementary energy needs for homes and business gas today. (Read Can You Lay A Propane Tank On Its Side)
FAQs About Propane vs. Natural Gas
What’s the difference between natural gas and propane grills?
The significant difference is that propane grills use portable propane tanks that attach directly to the grill, while natural gas grills connect to existing natural gas lines. Propane is more portable, while natural gas is an unlimited heat source at home.
Is propane or natural gas better for the environment?
The energy from propane is cleaner than natural gas, producing fewer emissions and air pollutants per BTU. However, propane, like natural gas are fossil fuels that releases greenhouse gases.
Is it cheaper to use propane or natural gas?
Natural gas is cheaper per BTU than propane. But propane providers offer fixed rate pricing that buffers against seasonal price spikes seen with natural gas. Since propane delivers double the energy, it is a viable option for other heat sources, including natural gas.
How is propane gas measured?
Propane is measured in gallons rather than cubic feet. The gas is compressed, and propane is stored in a liquid form. Standard tanks hold 20 to 1000 gallons, and propane tanks must be refilled when empty.
What types of appliances use propane gas?
Propane can fuel furnaces, water heaters, stoves, grills, generators, and other equipment, especially in off-grid locations.
How do propane companies deliver gas?
Propane companies use truck fleets to deliver pressurized propane tanks directly to homes and swap out empty ones on a regular delivery schedule.