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Why is propane more popular than oil in most rural areas?

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Comments

  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    edited October 13
    JUGHNE said:

    Cowdog; as Jamie said above; if there was a practical way to dry grain other than NG or LPG it would have been developed and in use.
    Some are lucky enough to let the corn dry on the ear in the field and then harvest.
    But depending upon many factors, of which I know little, sometimes the dryer must be used.

    As far as the ducted forced air is concerned; the only grain dryer I have worked on was about 50' tall, continuous gravity feed. 2" high pressure NG line to the burner.
    The pilot was a 1" line.
    The air flow thru the corn was provided by two 25HP blowers 480vac.
    Serious gas btuh and serious blower air flow.

    And corn stalks are not waste material. They used to run cattle in them for winter feed. When things were lean for hay in Montana, ranchers would truck cattle down to Nebr. corn fields to eat stalks. (think of that overhead). Today many stalks are harvested into large round bales and used for feed and bedding. Maybe trucked up to Montana or elsewhere as needed.

    Here is an old joke:

    The winner of a multi-million dollar lottery was asked what are you going to do now?
    The struggling farmer happily replied: "I'm going to farm until it is all gone".

    Thanks for the updated info, I thought corn stalk is waste. Basically you are implying direct fire has "power density" advantage over heat pump and heat exchanged furnaces.

    This is very true, and the burner's capital cost is also much lower than the heat pump.

    The seasonal nature of the grain dryer means the device sits idle for most of the year.

    I still guess coal-fired heat exchanged furnace could be overall cheaper. Coal has higher energy density than propane, and can be trucked in without a tanker. Even if the heat exchanger's efficiency is 80%, coal's price per BTU is 10%-40% of propane.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,974
    I believe some tried solar grain drying back in the 70's....the "Not so Bad after all"... days of Jimmy Carter.
    It did not pan out, requires a lot of hi temp energy quickly, might work but was too slow.
    Harvest time consists of 20 hour work days and a race to get grain into a bin before snow or rain gets to it....git er done!
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    ratio said:

    I'm not sure you can build a house without utilities. Almost certainly you can't sell one as a residence.

    It's called off grid residence. It can be developed and sold if the county/city law permit off grid residence.
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 365
    Hanna61 said:

    Folks in my small rural town in New England seem to be going propane.

    I need a new boiler, and they are really pushing propane. All the newer houses going up are being built with propane. Propane used to be taboo due to it's cost. So it seems odd to me.

    But from my reading, staying with oil still seems the way to go.

    One guy said that my oil tanks seem to be okay for now, another just glanced at them and said they looked like they needed replacing. Thanks!

    I've also large electric water heater since I have a small bed and breakfast. But then there also the tankless that might be good (?)

    Any thoughts?

    New home owners love hearing they don't need to pay for a chimney, and the unit doesn't need to be serviced annually like an oil boiler (which is not true if you want to maintain the claimed efficiency). See what your local pricing is on oil and propane, and go from there. If you are not sure how to compare the two, please come back with the info.

    A big electric water heater is a simple way to have a lot of hot water on hand, but in New England it is unlikely to be the most economical way to make hot water. Do you know what your local electric rate is?




  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,134
    Well, no. It isn't much different in terms of the physics from drying clothes. Quite true. However, as a casual read of @JUGHNE 's comment suggests, it's a little bit different in scale.

    May I humbly recommend a quick drive through Nebraska ( @JUGHNE 's stomping grounds) or Iowa to get some idea of the scale of modern farming?

    I suppose that the green revolution will be electrifying... but it's going to take a lot of money and a lot of work -- and a lot of scarce natural resources. The current grid can't even come close to meeting the energy requirements involved -- by at least an order of magnitude.

    Oh and a word on waste. There isn't any. These farms can't afford to waste anything. For that matter, to the extent they could, farmers never have wasted anything. Corn stalks? Valuable feed. Manure? Soil conditioner (it's not really much good as fertilizer... though horses are better than cattle) or power source (if you digest it first and use the methane for power before spreading it). As for machinery, there's another old saying: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do -- or do without". And if you are driving half a million dollars of combine around a field, you take care of it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    cowdog
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    edited October 13


    Oh and a word on waste. There isn't any.

    There is no waste on a farm, so how about trucking in landfill-bound urban waste? Iowa is not too far away from Chicago. You can charge Chicago $50+/ton for taking in waste, the fuel has very low cost.

    Compressed/crushed municipal and commercial solid waste, burn them in heat exchanged furnaces to dry grain?

    Waste has about 5350 kJ/kg = 4.6MMbtu/ton, is 1 ton of waste enough for 1 hour of grain drying?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,134
    Municipal and commercial solid waste does have considerable fuel value, as you note (and, by the way, I have been involved in the design, construction, and maintenance of a few municipal waste incinerators or waste to power operations).

    But... it's not clean, and you can't get people to get it clean. Even pure paper or raw wood (no finish) waste is hard to get to burn cleanly. Even a small amount of contamination -- particularly plastics -- and to meet EPA air pollution regulations you absolutely have to go to afterburning. We ran our afterburners at 2,000 F to 2,500 F -- and then add fly ash filtration and sulphur stripping (and the result of both of those is a hazardous waste which has go to a secure landfill). Recently the requirements have been upgraded to add Nitrogen Oxide reduction to the exhaust train.

    It's a nice idea -- there's a lot of waster there! -- but it's no accident that municipal waster to power facilities are being phased out and closed down. Just not worth the cost to meet the EPA regs.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,974
    Burning waste by anyone for whatever reason is a great idea.
    But the emissions police will show up and I can imagine that would complicate things quickly.
    It works somewhere, but it is on a large carefully controlled scale.
    All kinds of hoops to jump thru to produce clean exhaust.
    More than one would want to deal with while the harvest is on.

    Our village has it's own power plant. 4 diesel generators from the 50-60's.
    They only run as peakers a few times a year and when we lose our grid supply.
    They had to have catalytic converters added as mandated by the EPA.
    Now consider, these are for emergency limited use only, but the EPA still dictates the emission quality.

    I can guarantee there are more old diesel tractors producing more "dirty exhaust" than this little plant could muster up.
    It is just that the Fed has their hands in power generation things and can force you to do as they dictate. They would love to "fix" all these old tractors also.

    Just to show how wacy the "green" movement is, our village also has a recycling station. We compress cardboard, paper, plastic etc.
    It is trucked away and sold to someone, not a money maker, maybe break even considering trucking. But it saves the tipping fee at the transfer station for added weight.

    But there is no glass wanted, no market available to buy it.
    However we can pay someone less per pound to haul away our glass than the tipping fee is at the transfer station to the landfill. We are not sure where it goes but it saves us money.

    Our compactor trucks haul the waste 30 miles to the tipping station where it is weighed and we pay accordingly.
    Then all is reloaded and trucked about 100 miles to an approved landfill.
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50


    It's a nice idea -- there's a lot of waster there! -- but it's no accident that municipal waster to power facilities are being phased out and closed down. Just not worth the cost to meet the EPA regs.

    Is your farm required to meet the EPA regs even for a few days of grain drying, and the exhaust does NOT go though the grain, and no power generation is involved?

  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    JUGHNE said:

    Burning waste by anyone for whatever reason is a great idea.
    But there is no glass wanted, no market available to buy it.

    Glass can be used as aggregate for concrete. I mixed concrete myself for slab, I used free crushed glass and ceramic as aggregate, 50% overall cheaper because gravel is easily 50% of concrete cost.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,134
    edited October 14
    cowdog said:


    It's a nice idea -- there's a lot of waster there! -- but it's no accident that municipal waster to power facilities are being phased out and closed down. Just not worth the cost to meet the EPA regs.

    Is your farm required to meet the EPA regs even for a few days of grain drying, and the exhaust does NOT go though the grain, and no power generation is involved?

    Yes. And they are getting more active and tough all the time. This might not be true for a small operation -- if only because they won't notice you and you hope a nosy person doesn't call you in -- but any decent sized grain drier has to be permitted and will be inspected.

    Then all newer power equipment has to meet all the EPA Tier IV requirements for diesels...

    You need to test your soil and get an EPA or Corps of Engineers or State permit (depends on where you want to work -- sometimes all three) to spread your composted or digested manure, and forget spreading raw manure...

    And so on.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Hanna61
    Hanna61 Member Posts: 16
    Robert_25 said:

    Hanna61 said:

    Folks in my small rural town in New England seem to be going propane.

    I need a new boiler, and they are really pushing propane. All the newer houses going up are being built with propane. Propane used to be taboo due to it's cost. So it seems odd to me.

    But from my reading, staying with oil still seems the way to go.

    One guy said that my oil tanks seem to be okay for now, another just glanced at them and said they looked like they needed replacing. Thanks!

    I've also large electric water heater since I have a small bed and breakfast. But then there also the tankless that might be good (?)

    Any thoughts?

    New home owners love hearing they don't need to pay for a chimney, and the unit doesn't need to be serviced annually like an oil boiler (which is not true if you want to maintain the claimed efficiency). See what your local pricing is on oil and propane, and go from there. If you are not sure how to compare the two, please come back with the info.

    A big electric water heater is a simple way to have a lot of hot water on hand, but in New England it is unlikely to be the most economical way to make hot water. Do you know what your local electric rate is?




    Oh that makes sense about the chimney. Thanks!

    In our area, currently oil is 2.79/gallon, while propane is 2.69/gallon for a large tank and usage. This makes oil the winner when using the 1 gallon of oil (85% efficiency) = 1.35 gallons of propane (95% efficiency). I think I'm using the correct calculations.

    My electric rate is .097/kWh. Someone mentioned that they have an oil fired hot water heater. Don't know anything about this kind of comparison. My highest electric bills are winter time. Last month is was 341kWh for the month. It's been double that with a full house.

    Any thoughts???

  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 365
    edited October 14
    In our area, currently oil is 2.79/gallon, while propane is 2.69/gallon for a large tank and usage. This makes oil the winner when using the 1 gallon of oil (85% efficiency) = 1.35 gallons of propane (95% efficiency). I think I'm using the correct calculations.

    My electric rate is .097/kWh. Someone mentioned that they have an oil fired hot water heater. Don't know anything about this kind of comparison. My highest electric bills are winter time. Last month is was 341kWh for the month. It's been double that with a full house.

    Any thoughts???


    So your last bill was $33.08 ? That seems low. The electric rate you need when comparing to other fuels is the total bill divided by the number of KWH for that period.

  • Hanna61
    Hanna61 Member Posts: 16
    Got it, so it's actually .26 (bill was 87/month). Trying to look up now how to do the comparison.
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 365
    Hanna61 said:

    Got it, so it's actually .26 (bill was 87/month). Trying to look up now how to do the comparison.

    Here is a quick table to compare the three. Your electric rate would need to be about $0.08 per KWH to be competitive with oil at $2.79



    A heat pump water heater would probably be competitive with oil and propane, but in your cold climate I would be concerned about having enough capacity for your B&B.

    An oil boiler with an indirect water heater would be my choice given your local energy prices.
    SuperTech
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    Hanna61 said:

    Got it, so it's actually .26 (bill was 87/month). Trying to look up now how to do the comparison.

    You need a new boiler. Are you on property of your BnB? If yes, have you considered outdoor wood boilers? Wood is abundant in New England, not to say there are fuels even cheaper than wood that could fit in OWBs.
    GroundUp
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,283
    Power providers have a "cost of basic service" that is typically a flat fee simply to be hooked to their service- no matter what you actually use. Your rate is not $.26/kWh, it's $.097 as you stated earlier plus the cost of service which appears to be approximately $54/mo. One gallon of oil at 140k BTU input yields 112k output at 80% efficiency, which would take 32.83 kWh to produce (3412 BTU per kW) so at $.097 you are at $3.18 for the same amount of heat as one gallon of oil. Your heat load is relatively small, and would take decades to get your money back by switching to a different source of heat with today's prices. A wood boiler is laughable at best, and cowdog also doesn't seem to realize that OWB have been outlawed in the USA since 2016 unless they meet the strict phase 2 EPA standards- and zero of those EPA compliant OWB will burn anything besides wood.
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 365
    GroundUp said:

    Power providers have a "cost of basic service" that is typically a flat fee simply to be hooked to their service- no matter what you actually use. Your rate is not $.26/kWh, it's $.097 as you stated earlier plus the cost of service which appears to be approximately $54/mo. One gallon of oil at 140k BTU input yields 112k output at 80% efficiency, which would take 32.83 kWh to produce (3412 BTU per kW) so at $.097 you are at $3.18 for the same amount of heat as one gallon of oil. Your heat load is relatively small, and would take decades to get your money back by switching to a different source of heat with today's prices. A wood boiler is laughable at best, and cowdog also doesn't seem to realize that OWB have been outlawed in the USA since 2016 unless they meet the strict phase 2 EPA standards- and zero of those EPA compliant OWB will burn anything besides wood.

    The electric is likely a supply charge, delivery charge, and then a fixed service charge. Sure - the effective rate is less as you use more electric due to the fixed portion of the bill, but I would be surprised if it was ever competitive with oil.

    Good point on the ROI though - if the existing boiler is not leaking and still reliable, the best path is probably to just leave it alone.
    cowdog
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    GroundUp said:

    A wood boiler is laughable at best, and cowdog also doesn't seem to realize that OWB have been outlawed in the USA since 2016 unless they meet the strict phase 2 EPA standards- and zero of those EPA compliant OWB will burn anything besides wood.

    What about using an EPA certified wood stove indoors, and put a tankless water heater coil in the flue pipe to heat the water? This set up is much cheaper in plumbing work than the OWB.
    It depends on the availability of scrap wood in the area. Common sellers of scrap wood include logging operations, sawmills and furniture factories, landscapers, construction workers etc.
    GroundUp
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    edited October 16
    Hanna61 said:

    Folks in my small rural town in New England seem to be going propane.

    I need a new boiler, and they are really pushing propane. All the newer houses going up are being built with propane. Propane used to be taboo due to it's cost. So it seems odd to me.

    But from my reading, staying with oil still seems the way to go.

    Any thoughts?

    I agree with @Robert_25 that if the oil boiler still works, don't replace it, keep using it until it totally craps out.

    If you want to make money in the fastest way, why not try waste oil? Waste motor oil from auto oil change shops.

    The fuel cost is very low, and you need to filter the waste oil. Also it has to be pre-heated to a certain temperature before it gets to the nozzle, so be prepared to add a PTC heater.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,134
    At some risk of pointing out the obvious, may I point out that our OP is trying to run a business? A bed and breakfast, in fact. In Vermont. In the wintertime. They are not trying to be as green as possible, or as alternative as possible, or are virtuous as possible. They are, however, trying to break even in a notoriously difficult business with miniscule margins.

    Whether the electricity rate is made up of a fixed charge plus a generation charge or whatever is irrelevant -- for the amount of electricity they use (or are likely to use) the rate is better than 20 cents per KWh, and that is not sustainable against either oil or propane.

    Waste wood may or may not be cheap in their immediate area -- likely not, given the demand for it. But on top of that that is one chore you just don't need if you are trying to run a BandB.

    Sometimes reality is a pain -- but for a business in Vermont, it's oil.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    cowdogSuperTech
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50

    At some risk of pointing out the obvious, may I point out that our OP is trying to run a business? A bed and breakfast, in fact. In Vermont. In the wintertime. They are not trying to be as green as possible, or as alternative as possible, or are virtuous as possible. They are, however, trying to break even in a notoriously difficult business with miniscule margins.

    Whether the electricity rate is made up of a fixed charge plus a generation charge or whatever is irrelevant -- for the amount of electricity they use (or are likely to use) the rate is better than 20 cents per KWh, and that is not sustainable against either oil or propane.

    Waste wood may or may not be cheap in their immediate area -- likely not, given the demand for it. But on top of that that is one chore you just don't need if you are trying to run a BandB.

    Sometimes reality is a pain -- but for a business in Vermont, it's oil.

    Yes! I am usually marveled to see how business owners innovate to save the last penny.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,974
    And waste oil burners may not be allowed in residential.
    The few I have seen, and they are the good ones, require a lot of maintenance.
    The owners are mechanics and need to be.
    Plus they fit well in a garage/shop where the fumes are tolerable.
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,715
    B&B can be kept colder at certain times of day. High temperature electric radiant is flexible for saving $$$$. For example program bedrooms to be toasty early AM when people get up and late afternoon when they return. Steam heated ski lodges were managed that way.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,134
    "Yes! I am usually marveled to see how business owners innovate to save the last penny."

    Ever run a business or a farm, @cowdog ? There's a reason folks doing that squeeze to save the penny -- farms around our way run net profit margins after taxes and all that trivia of around 1% to 2%. In a good year.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,974
    Also, there is a another discussion here on the wall about pre-heating water with a wood burning stove. Again, not for a B&B...too much risk, liability and hassle.

    At best is to have good fireplaces and burn wood in the evenings. Feels good and has nice ambience.......not very efficient though....most fireplaces are heat losers.
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    edited October 17
    JUGHNE said:

    And waste oil burners may not be allowed in residential.
    The few I have seen, and they are the good ones, require a lot of maintenance.
    The owners are mechanics and need to be.
    Plus they fit well in a garage/shop where the fumes are tolerable.

    Any way to use waste oil for existing oil boiler? Have to pre-heat before it reaches the nozzle, apparently.

    Waste motor oil is usually 10% price of #2 heating oil. The exhaust/flue is already going out of the flue pipe.

    One gallon replaced is 2 dollars saved!

    Here is someone using waste motor oil for his furnace. He mixed 1/10 acetone into the WMO as a "catalyst" (I would call it an accelerant instead)
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,974
    Special burner, compressed air needed, extra filtration for oil.
    Perhaps at least 2 storage tanks, one which might let the water settle out to be drained off. Then second tank (inside..warm) to pump out of.
    Replace/rebuild heat exchanger every 10 years or less.
    Clean at least once a year.
    They burn, or try to burn, every automotive fluid there is. Including brake fluid and antifreeze.

    Like I said, mechanics are matched to these beasts.

    You should go visit one at maybe a service station and visit with the person who has to keep it running. They may not think it is much of a hassle but ask for the details.
    Then think of a homeowner doing what is needed or paying someone to do it.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,134
    Years ago, @cowdog , there was an organization called the Rodale Press -- based out of somewhere in Pennsylvania, I think -- which also came up with a truly amazing array of innovative solutions to non-existent problems. You might do well to research some of their publications and guides; I distinctly recall discussions about waste oil and such items.

    Practicality was never one of their strong points...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,974
    edited October 17
    Jamie, I always thought Rodale to be a fairly straight forward gardening organization.

    Now, if you want some early unique ideas, look for "The Mother Earth News".
    I was an early subscriber and found the issues very interesting.....still have a few dozen of the first ones.

    Another was "Alternate Sources of Energy" aka ASE.
    More off the wall (pun intended) ideas. :)

    These started in the 70's.
    I believe The Mother Earth News is still on news stands.
    It went "slick" years ago, to the dismay of some readers...." they sold out"...so to speak.

    IIRC, the owners bought an existing farm house that had an existing automatic dishwasher installed....heresy....!
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,283



    Whether the electricity rate is made up of a fixed charge plus a generation charge or whatever is irrelevant -- for the amount of electricity they use (or are likely to use) the rate is better than 20 cents per KWh, and that is not sustainable against either oil or propane..

    Well, no. Unless he's going to abolish electric service altogether, he's still stuck with those fees whether he uses 1 kw or 1000. The rate is $.097/kWh for the heat and that's that.
  • Hanna61
    Hanna61 Member Posts: 16
    I looked into waste oil at one time thinking it would a great recycling project, but it's a lot of work. And, I'm not a tech. And, waste oil folks in my area warned me that the set up would most likely negate my home insurance policy.

    In Mass, my electric bill has a fixed customer charge, plus all other monthly charges (Dist Chg, Transition, Transmission, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Distributed SOlar, Electric Vehicle Charges) that fluctuate with kwh used per month. This is the total Delivery Services charged.

    My current boiler is cracked and spitting water. Saw it myself in action. So after reading here and talking with others, I'm going to stay with oil and not go the way of propane.

    MA has a $400 rebate for an oil water heater (Indirect Water Heater-Must be attached to an oil-fired heating system. Must replace a freestanding or tankless water heater. Solar storage tanks are not eligible.) Don't know much about this, so with the info above. Anyone have an opinion on going with a new oil water heater? A friend put in a hybrid HWH and likes it (rebates here too.) Any comments?

    Trying to think ahead, and obviously this is not my field. So thanks for your expertise.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,134
    You've started three foxes there... First, direct fired oil hot water heater. The main place I care for has one -- a 32 gallon Bock -- and I love it. Second one in there -- the first one lasted 30 years. Recovery rate is around 3 gpm, so it's really hard to run out of hot water. One of the other places I care for has a hybrid, and it too works very well -- but if you push it, it switches to resistance hot water to get something approaching a decent recovery rate (but even then only the half gallon per minute of a straight electric) and the electricity demand goes up a lot. It is, however, quite adequate for the occupant -- a single elderly woman. The third option is an indirect heated from your regular heating boiler. These have a recovery somewhere between direct fired oil and resistance electric, but you get a larger tank (perhaps 80 gallons) if you have more hot water demand. That would be the one with the $400 rebate you mentioned.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Hanna61
    Hanna61 Member Posts: 16
    Good to know!!! Sounds like good options here.

    I had forgotten another reason the heating guy said propane was better over oil was that the system was faster to heat. I can't imagine that would be so great a differential to make me go propane, but any thoughts?

    Thanks again everyone!
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,134
    Well that's a sales pitch for propane which I hadn't heard before... can't think why it would be true, unless the propane boiler had less water in it than the oil fired one. Which it might...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Hanna61
  • Hanna61
    Hanna61 Member Posts: 16
    Thanks!