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

cowdog
cowdog Member Posts: 50
It looks like propane is more popular than oil in most rural areas without natural gas service.
What is the reason behind it? Propane does not have a price advantage per BTU compared to oil.
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Comments

  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,085
    You are correct it doesn't offer the same price advantage per BTU but I can do more with LP Gas than I can do with oil from equipment selection. Oil here in the US still only offers a fixed rate burner residentially or Low-Med-High in Light Commercial while I can modulate with gas to better match the outdoor conditions and provide much higher overall fuel savings. LP is an easy sell over oil to a consumer should you be able to articulate that LP will cost you less in fuel as well as service cost over the lifetime of the equipment.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
    cowdogIntplm.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,864
    That, and the fact that a lot of oil companies provide rather poor service.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    CMadatMecowdogChrisJ
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,085
    Steamhead said:

    That, and the fact that a lot of oil companies provide rather poor service.

    lol. Sad but true.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
    cowdog
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 2,437
    There are not too many young techs that want to learn oil heat repair and maintenance. If not done properly, oil heat service can be a very dirty job for the next guy.

    We are a dinosaurs. A self fulfilling prophecy from the 1970s

    Mr. Ed
    Edward Young
    Retired HVAC Contractor from So. Jersey Shore.
    Cleaned & services first oil heating system at age 16
    cowdog
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,338
    Poor marketing by the oil heat industry.
    steve
    cowdogRobert_25SuperTech
  • PolychromeUganda
    PolychromeUganda Member Posts: 14
    Early 20th century natural gas explosions made methane and propane unwelcome as alternatives to the then dominant fuel - coal. The fuel people switched to, largely after WWII, tended to be driven by local price and availability. People born before ~1930 were unlikely to choose natural gas even where available and cheap until relatively recently,

    In the Mississippi basin propane is around 30% less per gallon compared to No. 2 and around the same $/BTU.

    In the northeast propane isn’t cost cost competitive and never has been. In the 1980’s it was 150% to 200% the $/gallon for No 2. In 2021 it’s roughly the same $/gallon for propane as No 2 but propane is 91,000 BTU/gallon and No 2 is 144,000 BTU/gallon, which makes propane around 50% more per BTU than oil, and around 350% (250% more than) the price of natural gas. There just isn’t enough added efficiency from a propane boiler to make up for the basic fuel cost. In New England propane is only around 20% less per BTU than electric resistance heating, which at 100% efficiency with low equipment and maintenance costs it’s about the same total.cost.

    At the moment people in New England who can’t get natural gas are more likely to look at reducing their heating bill with a heat pump before a higher efficiency oil fired boiler, even though the heat pump won’t be all that cost effective during the really coldest weather which when most of the BTUs are used during the heating season.

    If propane was as cheap in the northeast as it is in Iowa it might be all be very different, but it isn’t.
    cowdogSuperTech
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,013
    edited October 12
    Propane doesn't spill and require expensive cleanup (does blow up houses occasionally), tank install is simple, can be used for other appliances, is easier to modulate, there are more gas techs than oil...
    Condoman said:

    Propane doesn't blow up houses? I know of one that did, no injuries however but home totaled.

    typo, I corrected thx
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
    EBEBRATT-Ed
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,190
    It's really all dollars and cents... but to say propane is favoured over oil in most rural area just isn't true, as @PolychromeUganda pointed out. In some areas it is -- particularly the midwest, where ir's relatively low cost due as much to large agricultural uses -- but not in New England, where transport is the driver and oil costs less -- like a lot less -- to deliver.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Condoman
    Condoman Member Posts: 76
    Propane doesn't blow up houses? I know of one that did, no injuries however but home totaled.
    SuperTech
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,009
    In addition to heating your house and hot water, propane can dry your clothes, cook your food, grill your steaks, keep livestock watering tanks thawed in the winter, run LB White space heaters (unvented in drafty livestock barns) and dry an awful lot of corn......thousands of bushels)

    (That sounds almost promotional doesn't it....but I have no dog in the fight.
    I just about never work on any propane systems, don't want to).

    I know of several propane explosions, several fatalities, some close to it.

    If possible, in the country, everyone will switch to NG.


    Oil can only heat your house and water.

    Out here in the rural ag country there are very few oil furnaces.
    I have seen only 2 oil fired water heaters in use. Since long gone now.
    CLamb
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,190
    Someone up there stated that LP won't blow your house up. Oh yes it will. The major differences between LP and natural gas in that regard are first, with LP the only leaks you have to worry about are the ones in your own piping. With natural gas, you have to worry about the gas piping in the road as well. Second, LP is heavier than air, so it will accumulate in the lower areas (often the basement) of the house rather than filling the entire structure before it finds an ignition source, thereby limiting the total volume of gas involved in the explosion, and thus limiting the damage -- although the difference is usually only of academic interest.

    As has been said, natural gas and LP can do other things besides heat and hot water, although adequate ventilation is always a concern (a gas stove for cooking is a wonderful thing -- provided there is a good exhaust fan which is always on when it is running). And as I said above, the choice is often a matter of dollars and cents.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Gilmorrie
    Gilmorrie Member Posts: 147
    In the Midwest, a lot of propane is used in the fall for grain drying, mainly corn. The rest of the year, that demand falls to essentially zero, and the propane price drops when using propane for space heating. Propane is also advantageous for areas that don't have natural gas now, but are expected to get it in the future - propane boilers and furnaces can be readily converted to natural gas, but oil burners not so much. Propane can, like natural gas, be conveniently used for your standalone water heater, BBQ grill, clothes drier, and cooking - not oil. Propane space heaters require less maintenance and are cleaner/less messy than oil.
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 366
    edited October 12
    Oil is still very popular where I live, but it is losing ground to propane. The oil heating industry seems to have no marketing, and very few people getting trained to work on the equipment. When people hear the words "heating oil" they probably picture a soot monster in their grandparents basement, not a modern appliance.

    With oil you can buy from whichever dealer you want. It does not depend on how much you use per year, who owns the tank, etc. I have also seen two winters in the last 10 years when it was below zero every day for at least a week, and the propane companies starting running out of propane. A few friends of mine ran out and when the delivery truck finally came, they only got enough to last few days. I have never seen that happen with heating oil.
    STEVEusaPA
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 10,397
    Oil tank leakage and liability is an issue that will only get worse
    BrassFinger
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,283
    This is very regional. I hear it all the time that oil is better/cheaper/warmer/ etc, but it seems those people are usually from the East coast. I'm in rural central MN but work all around the state, and aside from dual fuel commercial steam boilers, have literally seen 4 oil heating appliances in my 33 years on this earth. Oil has been dead here for decades mostly due to cost (LP has been less than 1/2 the cost per BTU compared to #2 until this year, currently about 70%, but still considerably cheaper) but it's also super messy and unreliable in addition to all the other versatility issues mentioned above.
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,719
    Propane can also fuel generators. Burner is simpler. But you vent some in summer. So LPG or butane is even better. If you count pennies maybe you can chop wood?
    Zman
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,190
    It depends on market conditions and supply, so far as costs go. And location, of course. We all know that installation and maintenance costs vary widely -- one of the reasons we have the no prices rule. But it seems that we sometimes forget that that also applies to energy -- electricity, oil, LP, natural gas, they all vary -- quite widely. Just at the moment, where I am, LP is twice as expensive as oil, and electricity half again more, and natural is not available at any price unless you are already hooked up. It's not always so; LP has been quite comparable with oil (although always slightly more) in the past.

    But this won't be true in Iowa, for instance -- and I wouldn't suggest that it would be.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 15,070
    more anymore and more you see oil dealers offering LP also, so….
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    edited October 13
    Gilmorrie said:

    In the Midwest, a lot of propane is used in the fall for grain drying, mainly corn. The rest of the year, that demand falls to essentially zero, and the propane price drops when using propane for space heating. Propane is also advantageous for areas that don't have natural gas now, but are expected to get it in the future - propane boilers and furnaces can be readily converted to natural gas, but oil burners not so much. Propane can, like natural gas, be conveniently used for your standalone water heater, BBQ grill, clothes drier, and cooking - not oil. Propane space heaters require less maintenance and are cleaner/less messy than oil.

    It's a waste to dry corn with a fossil fuel. Drying is just pumping hot air through corn, we can burn anything to generate the hot air, including wood, stalk, waste etc.
    GroundUp
  • Tom_133
    Tom_133 Member Posts: 774
    I saw a lesson first hand after Hurricane Irene, I dealt with basements stained with the oil tank that emptied while it was basically in a spin cycle. It takes a LONG time to get that smell out. Also, when you see oil tanks floating down the river after a flood, you gotta think "where did its contents end up"? I am not a wood pellet guy nor am i against, but when they float by you have a warmer fuzzier feeling.
    Tom
    Montpelier Vt
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,190
    cowdog said:

    Gilmorrie said:

    In the Midwest, a lot of propane is used in the fall for grain drying, mainly corn. The rest of the year, that demand falls to essentially zero, and the propane price drops when using propane for space heating. Propane is also advantageous for areas that don't have natural gas now, but are expected to get it in the future - propane boilers and furnaces can be readily converted to natural gas, but oil burners not so much. Propane can, like natural gas, be conveniently used for your standalone water heater, BBQ grill, clothes drier, and cooking - not oil. Propane space heaters require less maintenance and are cleaner/less messy than oil.

    It's a waste to dry corn with a fossil fuel. Drying is just pumping hot air through corn, we can burn anything to generate the hot air, including wood, stalk, waste etc.
    If our farmers didn't dry corn with fossil fuels -- or something equally effective -- you would be a very very hungry puppy, @cowdog . Nor would you have ethanol laced gasoline. Or biodiesel. Yes you can burn wood. And clear all the forests and woodlands. Yes you can burn the cornstalks (oh, but what happened to no till agriculture?)

    3% of the population feeds and fuels the remaining 97% in this country, and they can only do it using the highest tech. they can get their hands on. It would be well if that 97% would keep that in mind...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    BrassFingerIronmanbburd
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,986
    Can we dry corn using ethanol?
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,190
    ChrisJ said:

    Can we dry corn using ethanol?

    Sure. Works fine. Figure out a way to dry the corn, use it to make the ethanol, then dry more corn with the ethanol and... perpetual motion!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 2,936
    Hmmm. I think I've got a better use for that ethanol...
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,190
    ratio said:

    Hmmm. I think I've got a better use for that ethanol...

    I have a cousin in eastern Kentucky who still makes it the old-fashioned way -- copper kettle, copper coil, good spring water, hickory or ash for fuel... pretty good stuff, too.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ratio
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,986
    ratio said:

    Hmmm. I think I've got a better use for that ethanol...

    Call me boring, but I'd rather use it in a machine.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,009
    Propane might be cheaper than ethanol.

    As far as drying with other fuel than NG or LP, the corn or any grain is considered a food product. There is no heat exchanger in a grain dryer. The exhaust gases pass thru the grain to dry it.
    Wood or trash burning might leave a bad taste in your mouth from your corn flakes.

    We have prairie grass harvested into large round hay bales for cattle feed.
    Often lighting finds a bale pile and fire breaks out.
    If only the outside of the bale is burned, the cows will not eat the unburned portions because of smoke contamination. Only if starving, then they would eat it.

    They might thumb their noses at smelly corn also.
  • Hanna61
    Hanna61 Member Posts: 16
    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?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,190
    I'd avoid a tankless water heater if your B&B has en suite bathrooms -- or you could go to each bath having its own. Last thing you want is for your guests to have a cold shower...

    As I've said with oil vs. propane -- it's dollars and cents. Stick with what you've got.

    On the oil tank -- they can be tested (some oil companies do it) with ultrasound, but there's no way to evaluate a tank by looking at it. Well, unless it's really bad and dripping...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,338
    @Jamie Hall or it's double walled with leak indicator.
    steve
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 10,397
    The two biggest problems with oil are the tanks and the shortage of "technicians" left who can service it.

    Propane & Natural gas may be more forgiving to service but as one of my instructors pointed out 50 years ago "If there is a problem with oil you remodel, with gas you rebuild"
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    JUGHNE said:

    Propane might be cheaper than ethanol.

    As far as drying with other fuel than NG or LP, the corn or any grain is considered a food product. There is no heat exchanger in a grain dryer. The exhaust gases pass thru the grain to dry it.
    Wood or trash burning might leave a bad taste in your mouth from your corn flakes.

    We have prairie grass harvested into large round hay bales for cattle feed.
    Often lighting finds a bale pile and fire breaks out.
    If only the outside of the bale is burned, the cows will not eat the unburned portions because of smoke contamination. Only if starving, then they would eat it.

    They might thumb their noses at smelly corn also.

    If exhaust gases pass thru the grain, we can only use clean burning fuels like natural gas and propane.

    but it's not hard to hook a large air duct furnace (burning waste, stalk etc) to the grain dryer hot air inlet.

    We can also use condensing dryers to utilize cheap off peak electricity. It requires the outlet to be vented through the evaporator, again, not a hard thing to do.
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50

    I'd avoid a tankless water heater if your B&B has en suite bathrooms -- or you could go to each bath having its own. Last thing you want is for your guests to have a cold shower

    The key to not having cold water in the first several seconds is not tank or tankless, but recirculation. You can use a reciruclation system with tank or tankless.
  • Hanna61
    Hanna61 Member Posts: 16
    Thanks for the input! Yes, it seems to make sense sticking with oil on a number of fronts. Just didn't know if I was missing something though, since so many newer homes in the area are going the propane route. Everyone I know has oil here in Central MA, except the new houses. And the eco-builds are going with heat pumps and pellet stoves.

    And yes, cold showers and guests do not mix.

    cowdog
  • Jon_blaney
    Jon_blaney Member Posts: 144
    I use oil fired hot water.
    cowdogSuperTech
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,190
    cowdog said:

    JUGHNE said:

    Propane might be cheaper than ethanol.

    As far as drying with other fuel than NG or LP, the corn or any grain is considered a food product. There is no heat exchanger in a grain dryer. The exhaust gases pass thru the grain to dry it.
    Wood or trash burning might leave a bad taste in your mouth from your corn flakes.

    We have prairie grass harvested into large round hay bales for cattle feed.
    Often lighting finds a bale pile and fire breaks out.
    If only the outside of the bale is burned, the cows will not eat the unburned portions because of smoke contamination. Only if starving, then they would eat it.

    They might thumb their noses at smelly corn also.

    If exhaust gases pass thru the grain, we can only use clean burning fuels like natural gas and propane.

    but it's not hard to hook a large air duct furnace (burning waste, stalk etc) to the grain dryer hot air inlet.

    We can also use condensing dryers to utilize cheap off peak electricity. It requires the outlet to be vented through the evaporator, again, not a hard thing to do.
    I assure you @cowdog , that a great deal of effort and research has and is going into methods or drying grains and other seeds. Some very brilliant scientists and engineers are working on this -- and other agricultural -- topics. Furthermore, the farmers are using the best tech (which has to be proven -- and very low labour cost) they can get their hands on in all aspects of their operations. Agriculture -- not the alternative living off the land on a plot somewhere, but the agriculture which feeds the world -- is a very high tech., capital intensive proposition with insanely low profit margins and return on investment. Most farms -- to the uneducated city slicker -- look like big business, and they are -- but 97% of them are family owned, and go from generation to generation, staying in the family. You have to be willing to work hard -- very hard -- and care for your land and your animals, if you are doing dairy or livestock, very deeply. It's not easy, and it's not a 40 hour week, and it surely isn't for the faint of heart -- but it is incredibly rewarding. For those with the intelligence, work ethic, and dedication to stay with it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ratiocowdog
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,986
    edited October 13
    If anyone has any issues with the safety of gaseous fuels like natural gas and LPG they need to look up statistics on electrical fires etc.

    If you refuse to have a gaseous fuel in your home because you're scared you shouldn't have electrical service either it's far more dangerous.


    Anyone having their electric meter pulled?

    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    GroundUp
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 2,936
    I'm not sure you can build a house without utilities. Almost certainly you can't sell one as a residence.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,009
    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".
    cowdog
  • cowdog
    cowdog Member Posts: 50
    edited October 13
    Suppose you are all right, your points don't negate my comments. Drying grain is no much different from drying clothes, for which heat pump dryers are already having lower energy cost than propane direct fired dryers. It might take some time for all equipment to be retrofitted, but with the continuous fall of off-peak electricity price, propane's future is making shift for the peak electricity hours.