Propane Vs Natural Gas Generator

When choosing between propane and natural gas generators, propane offers more portability while natural gas provides abundant fuel. This guide explores both types to help you determine the better option.

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When it comes to powering your home or business, choosing between a propane or natural gas generator can be a tough call. Both have their advantages.

With a propane generator, you get portability and independence since you can easily refill the propane tanks. But natural gas generators provide abundant fuel as long as the pipelines are functioning.

To help make your decision easier, let’s dive into the nitty gritty. We’ll explore the pros, cons, costs, and characteristics of each. That way, you can determine which type of generator aligns best with your needs and budget.

Propane Vs Natural Gas Generator

With the right information, you’ll see more clearly whether propane or natural gas is the champion generator for your situation.

By the end, you’ll be equipped to make the perfect power choice. So let’s get started comparing propane vs natural gas generators!

A Quick Intro to Propane vs Natural Gas Generators

A generator is a handy device that converts fuel into usable electricity. This electricity can power appliances, tools, and other equipment during an outage or in remote locations without regular power access.

Propane generators specifically run on propane fuel, which is a type of liquified petroleum gas stored in portable tanks. You simply connect the propane tank to the generator unit to power it. Once the tank runs out, you can disconnect it and get it refilled pretty easily.

Natural gas generators operate using natural gas delivered through underground pipelines directly into homes and buildings. You hook the generator up to your existing natural gas lines to fuel it. The supply is continuous versus needing to refill tanks.

Both options are popular choices for providing backup power or standalone power off the grid. The fuel type used in your generator should align with your needs and what’s readily available onsite.

Now let’s take a closer look at how these two options compare across a few key factors.

Fuel Source: Propane vs Natural Gas BTUs

One major difference between these two fuel sources is the amount of energy density they provide, measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units).

Propane packs a bigger punch in a smaller amount, providing around 2,500 BTUs per cubic foot.

Natural gas has around 1,000 BTUs per cubic foot.

This makes propane roughly 2.5x more energy efficient than natural gas in terms of BTU output.

According to EPA data, natural gas also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions per BTU compared to propane.

You’ll go through less propane fuel to produce the same amount of electricity.

However, natural gas may still be the cheaper option per gallon/cubic foot depending on local rates and availability. You’ll have to do some cost analysis to determine which fuel is more cost-effective for your specific needs.

But in terms of pure power density, propane has the upper hand over natural gas.

Emissions and Environmental Impact

Since generators burn fuel to produce electricity, we have to consider their emissions footprint as well.

The good news is that both propane and natural gas are much cleaner options compared to gasoline or diesel generators in terms of air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

However, natural gas is a bit more environmentally friendly overall. It produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions per BTU compared to propane.

So if you’re looking for the most eco-conscious option, natural gas may be preferable, although both are relatively clean burning fuels.

Portability and Mobility

Here’s where the fuel sources really differ – propane wins big in terms of portability and mobility.

Since propane is compressed into liquid form and stored in portable tanks, you can easily transport these tanks wherever you need power access.

Propane generators are ideal for:

  • Camping trips
  • Construction sites
  • Outdoor events/concerts
  • Emergency preparedness kits
  • Off-grid tiny homes

You never know when or where you might experience a power outage or need electricity access outside of the main grid. Propane gives you that flexible mobility.

Natural gas generators require a fixed connection to an existing natural gas pipeline. This limits their placement to buildings already equipped with natural gas plumbing.

So for portable, on-the-go power needs, propane generators are the clear winner.

Cost Considerations

Let’s talk money – how do propane and natural gas generators compare cost-wise?

As mentioned earlier, you’ll have to look at the per gallon or cubic foot cost of each fuel type in your area. Sometimes propane is cheaper, while other times natural gas has the lower price tag.

Bonus: Check U.S. Energy Information Administration’s data on propane vs natural gas prices

Here are a few other costs to factor in:

  • Propane – The upfront cost of propane tanks, plus periodic refilling costs. However, no infrastructure or plumbing expenses.
  • Natural gas – Usually no major appliance expenses, but you’ll need existing natural gas pipelines and hookups. Includes monthly natural gas bills.
  • Maintenance – Both require routine maintenance, but propane generators may need a bit more upkeep over time.
  • Longevity – Propane can last many years without deterioration. Natural gas maintains a steady flow.

Get quotes for both fuel types in your area to determine the projected operating and maintenance costs over time. This will give you the full picture.

While propane is often more energy efficient, don’t assume it’s necessarily cheaper overall long-term. Do the math for your situation.

Maintenance Requirements

On the topic of maintenance, let’s compare how much TLC these generators need.

Since generators essentially contain small engines, they need care and upkeep for optimal performance and longevity. This includes tasks like:

  • Changing oil
  • Replacing air filters
  • Cleaning fuel lines
  • Replacing spark plugs
  • Checking for corrosion

Many maintenance tasks apply to both natural gas and propane generators. However, since propane is denser than natural gas, it can create more buildup of debris and residues over time.

Propane generators tend to require a bit more regular maintenance like cleaning fuel lines and carburetors to prevent clogging.

Meanwhile, natural gas burns very cleanly and doesn’t leave a lot of residual buildup internally. This means somewhat lower maintenance for natural gas generators overall.

Of course, you’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper maintenance of any generator. However the fuel type used does impact how much hands-on care they typically need.

Longevity and Shelf Life

Another consideration is long-term fuel stability and shelf life for emergency preparedness.

If you only anticipate using your generator sparingly for the occasional power outage, you’ll want a fuel that retains its properties when sitting unused for long periods.

Propane is naturally very stable and does not deteriorate quickly. You can store propane tanks for many years without the fuel breaking down or losing effectiveness. That makes it a great fuel choice for generators used primarily as emergency backup power.

Meanwhile, natural gas maintains a relatively steady flow when provided continuously through pipelines. However, it may have more inconsistencies in output and burn rates when relied on only sporadically.

So propane wins in terms of long-term shelf life and readiness after sitting idle for months or years between uses.

Ease of Use for Startup

No one wants to deal with a stubborn generator that won’t start when you need it most. Let’s see how propane and natural gas compare when it comes time to fire up your generator.

Propane is super easy to ignite and requires minimal priming or warm up even after sitting unused for long periods. Just connect your propane tank to the generator, turn it on, and it will start right up.

Natural gas can sometimes struggle with ignition after sitting idle for many months. The pipes may need to be primed first before the gas flows properly. Cold weather can also complicate natural gas startup.

So propane again wins points for being ultra convenient and reliable for quick, easy starts. You don’t have to worry about finicky ignition or complicated priming steps. Just power it up and go.

This makes it ideal for unpredictable emergency power needs that arise suddenly.

Key Factors When Choosing Your Fuel Type

We’ve covered a ton of nitty-gritty details here. Let’s zoom out and summarize the key factors to consider when choosing between propane and natural gas for your generator:

Propane Pros

  • More portable
  • Long shelf life
  • Simple startup
  • Very energy efficient

Natural Gas Pros

  • Convenient pipeline access
  • Lower emissions
  • Lower maintenance
  • Possible lower fuel cost

So in summary:

  • Propane = Portability, reliability, efficiency
  • Natural Gas = Convenience, lower maintenance

Your priorities will determine whether propane or natural gas is the better fit.

For frequent or portable power access, I recommend going with a propane generator. But if you need a stationary backup for your home, a natural gas generator may make more sense.

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s wrap up with some common questions about propane and natural gas generators:

Can you use natural gas in a propane generator?

No, do not attempt this without consulting your generator’s manufacturer. Propane and natural gas have very different combustion properties. Interchanging fuels in an incompatible generator can damage the engine or cause serious safety issues.

Which fuel type is more cost-effective?

It depends on current local fuel prices and your individual usage needs. Compare price per gallon/cubic feet and factor in any infrastructure/delivery costs for a true cost analysis.

Which is more reliable for emergency backup power?

Propane holds up better for sporadic long-term storage and easy starts after sitting idle. Natural gas works well for frequent backup needs.

Can you use propane or natural gas generators indoors?

Never use any type of generator indoors. They produce deadly carbon monoxide exhaust. Only operate outdoors in well-ventilated areas.

Which is better for outdoor activities/portable power?

Propane generators win here due to their lightweight, mobile design and readily available fuel.

The Bottom Line

Hopefully, this breakdown gives you a good general understanding of the key differences between propane and natural gas generators.

Simply decide which fuel type aligns best with your budget, usage needs, and convenience factors. And of course, always follow safety precautions.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any other generator questions.

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Elizabeth Garcia

Elizabeth Garcia, a distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering, has a rich academic and publishing history in the field of power generation and distribution systems. Her insightful discussions on electric generators are widely recognized in academic circles and industry publications.

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