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  1. #1
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    Aug 2008
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    54

    Is there a "right" answer to oil vs. propane? I'm stuck despite HOURS of research.

    Sorry for yet another oil vs. propane post, but I've spent quite literally HOURS researching this issue and have yet to reach a definitive answer.

    My question is deceptively simple: What am I missing?

    First, I'll get the easy stuff out of the way: I understand that propane has fewer BTUs than oil, even after efficiency loses are factored in (5% for propane, 20% or so for oil). I have also extrapolated the cost per 100K or million BTUs based on net BTU yields and prices per gallon.

    Second, I understand that many feel propane is a cleaner fuel, and requires less maintenance as oil is, well, dirty. I am concerned at longer term availability and cost.

    Third, I have an older heat pump and am contemplating a newer & more efficient multi stage unit.

    What puzzles me is how to bring it all together. At current local prices of $4.50-$4.75 /gallon for oil and $2.85 for propane, I get approximately $4.05-$4.28 per 100K btu for oil and $3.28 for propane. For now at least propane appears cheaper, but that can be deceptive or a short lived phenomena.

    The problem is that when I look at historical data things change dramatically. Over the last 10-12 years propane has generally been HIGHER than oil, despite it's lower BTU yield per gallon. Seems that this has reversed only in the last few years. See here: http://www.nyserda.org/energy_information/nyep8.pdf

    How does one make an intelligent decision or even an educated guess? In short, what am I missing and/or what questions do I need to ask?

    Thanks to all in advance for their time and courtesies.

  2. #2
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    Jan 2004
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    Since no one can guarantee the price of oil or LP.(LP comes from the same wells as oil)
    There is no one intelligent answer to your question.

    You can only go on the current price of the fuels.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Poestenkill, NY
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    What beenthere said - plus all of this is true independent of cost per btu:

    - Propane equipment will always generally require less maintenance.

    - At present time - and I don't see this changing, really - gas high efficiency equipment is more commonplace and more "reliable" - which is to say that condensing oil fired equipment has proved troublesome (soot and water make - well, sludge).

    - Oil-fired equipment requires pumping energy to transport (and "atomize") the oil from the storage tank to the combustion chamber.

    - Oil can be hard to store outdoors in cold climates - sometimes kerosene is used...

    I don't know -I think the choice is pretty clear - especially with the price per btu being less right now. And you have a "buffer" on the price difference because gas can be burned more efficiently.

    List out the advantages of oil - I'm all ears.

  4. #4
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    Aug 2008
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    True, larobj, but what puzzles me is the historical cost of propane vs. oil.

    I see your point, but what puzzles me is that until just 2-3 years ago propane was pretty much ALWAYS more than oil! In short, what happened to change this and why? If things go back to the way they were, propane could be a VERY bad deal. Allow me to address your well made points:

    Quote Originally Posted by larobj63 View Post
    What beenthere said - plus all of this is true independent of cost per btu:

    - Propane equipment will always generally require less maintenance.
    True. But, is this enough to offset the cost?

    - At present time - and I don't see this changing, really - gas high efficiency equipment is more commonplace and more "reliable" - which is to say that condensing oil fired equipment has proved troublesome (soot and water make - well, sludge).

    Again true. Oil is dirty.

    - Oil-fired equipment requires pumping energy to transport (and "atomize") the oil from the storage tank to the combustion chamber.

    Not sure if this is a significant factor

    - Oil can be hard to store outdoors in cold climates - sometimes kerosene is used...

    Not a concern for me at all.

    I don't know -I think the choice is pretty clear - especially with the price per btu being less right now. And you have a "buffer" on the price difference because gas can be burned more efficiently.

    This is the core issue for me: "...- especially with the price per btu being less right now.

    From what I can tell, propane has been less expensive for only the last 2-3 years and was MORE expensive for the last 30 or so. What happened? Why? Can this be expected to continue? More importantly, why am I STUPID enough to live in a climate where I need to worry about all this BS?:eek:

    List out the advantages of oil - I'm all ears.

    AFAIK there are none, except for oil being historically less expensive )by far), which has changed only in the last few years. Hold long, if at all, will this hold?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
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    Poestenkill, NY
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    I don't have a crystal ball, and no-one else does either. Right now propane is cheaper. And you can burn it more efficiently - by about 15% in general.

    So the price needs to swing by ~20% or more to make oil a better bargain per btu - and all of the things I listed will always be true irregardless of price.

    The energy required to pump oil may not be very significant - but the pump itself, and the filter, are more pieces of equipment that are mechanical in nature and prone to failure. Kind of encompassed by the "more equipment maintenance" statement, I guess.

    The subject is kind of exhausted, I think? You need to be happy with your choice - it's a roll of the dice which will stay cheaper, so you may as well bank on the definite advantages?

    Cheers.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
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    The Beach
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    Hmm Oil or Propane

    You might think of going back with a new heat pump (High seer rating) with duel fuel (Propane). You want need the propane unless it get real cold. Oil is so dirty and smelly and it has to be maintane and serivced more than propane.
    Blue Fox

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by jws3 View Post
    How does one make an intelligent decision or even an educated guess? In short, what am I missing and/or what questions do I need to ask?

    Thanks to all in advance for their time and courtesies.

    Don't chase a short term trend.
    Oil has been and will be cheaper.
    Propane is going to be more expensive than Natural gas.
    Use the current high price to effect a free upgrade in your current oil heat system (with the savings/cost average) and use the lower prices (coming) to come out way ahead.

    As far as oil being dirty...
    If you use a typical up draft boiler (peerless or the like) with a typical U.S. burner (Beckett or the like) then you are going to have to deal with that issue.
    However....if you go with a scotch marine boiler and a good positive pressure burner such as Riello, you wont have any of those issues.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Idaho
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    37
    Look it to the duel fuel, propane or oil furnace with a high seer heat pump.
    We have installed lots of them were natural gas is not available.
    Stating to do some Nat duel fuel. One customer told me mild winter this year mind you after last winter Pay back in two to three years, we told him five. Was newer oil furnace to propane duel fuel.

  9. #9
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    Jan 2004
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    PA
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    Quote Originally Posted by bt1 View Post
    If you use a typical up draft boiler (peerless or the like) with a typical U.S. burner (Beckett or the like) then you are going to have to deal with that issue.
    However....if you go with a scotch marine boiler and a good positive pressure burner such as Riello, you wont have any of those issues.

    I could be mistaken. But I believe if you read his other post. He has hot air heat.
    So going to a boiler would be an expensive thing to do.
    He's trying to save money. Not throw it away.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by hvac6470 View Post
    One customer told me mild winter this year mind you after last winter Pay back in two to three years, we told him five. Was newer oil furnace to propane duel fuel.

    Many people are discovering, that if they switch to a LP dual fuel. With a 500 gallon tank, that gets them through the winter without a mid winter fill up. They save far more money then if they stayed with oil. Because they would have had to have their 275 gal tank filled when oil is at its highest price.
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  11. #11
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    Aug 2008
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    Good catch! I do indeed have a hot air furnace. I see this a hotly debated issue (m)

    Quote Originally Posted by beenthere View Post
    I could be mistaken. But I believe if you read his other post. He has hot air heat.
    So going to a boiler would be an expensive thing to do.
    He's trying to save money. Not throw it away.

    I do in fact have a hot air furnace, which is definitely oversized. Both heat calcs I had done showed about 75K as the max needed. My furnace has a nonchangeable nozzle putting out 1 gph, or about 111K btu after deducting 20% for efficiency losses.

    If I could only figure out what I'd save by installing a "right sized" furnace. A few contractors suggest I could save a good 25% with a properly sized unit. I wonder..... Can't seem to get a definitive answer.

    This whole propane vs oil issue is "hotly" debated. From what I can see, over a 30 year history propane hs been inexplicably HIGHER than oil. Only in the last 3 years has this changed. The big question is "why?"

    Not sure what to do. Need more research! Too bad I'm not sure where else to look.

  12. #12
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    Jan 2004
    Location
    PA
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    Propane is normal one of the most expensive ways to heat.
    The way it can be cheaper for youo. Is with dual fuel, and a 500 gallon tank. The tank has to be big enough that you don’t refill it in the middle of winter.
    So that you can shop in summer for the best price.
    The heat pump will do the heating the majority of the time. The furnace will only run for defrost, and of course when the OD temp is below balance point.
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  13. #13
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    Aug 2008
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    How about this to throw a wrench into the discussion: Propane furnaces are stageable.

    How about this as a possibility:

    From what I can see many propane furnaces have 3 stages to better accommodate different requirements. The Carrier i was looking at would work at 45,75 and 100K btu or something like that. An oil furnace, AFAIK, has but 2 settings: On and off. From what I can see oil is dependent on the nozzle, which is kinda hard to change on the fly.

    Is it possible that a staged propane unit could be more efficient because of this? If so, can it be quantified?

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