Propane Tankless Water Heaters vs. Natural Gas Tankless Water Heaters: Factors to Consider
When it comes to tankless water heaters, there are a variety of different choices available. One of the first choices revolves around the energy source. There is the option to go for a gas-powered water heater, an electric resistance water heater, or a heat pump water heater. However, among gas-powered water heaters, there can be natural-gas-powered ones or propane water heaters. Let’s look at the differences between propane tankless water heaters and natural gas tankless water heaters.
Table of Contents
What is Propane?
Propane is a gas that is usually derived from crude oil (petroleum) or as a byproduct of natural gas processing. Sometimes, it is referred to as LPG or liquefied petroleum gas. It is considered an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. It is a relatively cleaner fluid when compared to gasoline and fuel oil as it leads to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
What is Natural Gas?
Natural Gas is essentially a fossil fuel, primarily composed of methane. It is formed due to the decomposition of animal and plant remains over millions of years. This natural gas often gets accumulated into large spaces between the layers on Earth’s surface or in the pores of shale/sandstone/other sedimentary rock formations. In the United States, most of the natural gas is extracted from the pores of shale, sandstone or other sedimentary rocks. Natural gas is also considered an alternative fuel and is a relatively clean-burning energy source when compared to gasoline and fuel oil.
Propane Water Heaters vs Natural Gas Water Heaters
Now that we know what propane and natural gas is, let’s understand whether a propane tankless water heater is more sensible for you or a natural gas tankless water heater. Here are some factors to consider when it comes to making a decision between a propane water heater and a natural gas water heater.
1. Propane is More Efficient Than Natural Gas
Propane is a more efficiently burning fuel than natural gas. That is, propane yields a higher heat output for every unit consumed than natural gas. One cubic foot or propane can deliver approximately 2526 BTUs while the same amount of natural gas will only deliver 1030 BTUs. Hence, propane tankless water heaters would consume much lesser fuel than a natural gas tankless water heater. So, does it mean that propane tankless water heaters would cost lesser to operate? Not quite.
2. Natural Gas Costs Lesser Than Propane
Although propane is more efficient, propane tankless water heaters might incur higher operational expenses than natural gas tankless water heaters. This is because natural gas costs lesser than propane. As of May 2023, the average cost of propane in the United States stood at $2.67/gallon while the average cost of natural gas in the United States stood at @2.22/gallon. Hence, the higher efficiency of propane is mitigated by the lower cost of natural gas.
3. Ease of Installation and Availability
The choice between a natural gas tankless water heater and a propane tankless water heater would be most significantly impacted by the availability of either of these two fuel sources. In most cases, if you already have a supply of either of the two fuel sources, it might make more sense to buy a water heater that runs on that fuel.
When it comes to natural gas, most areas that have natural gas typically have a gas line that can be connected to the water heater. However, if your property does not have a gas line, you might need to install one which can be costly. If your area does not have natural gas availability, you would have to choose a propane tankless water heater. Usually, it would cost more to install a natural gas line if your property does not already have one.
However, propane usually needs to be filled regularly in a tank that is installed outdoors or underground. The refill requirement usually adds some inconvenience. Moreover, it means that you would have to rely on the business that delivers propane to you. There might be situations where you run out of propane and face a delayed delivery.
4. Propane is More Eco-Friendly Than Natural Gas
Although both natural gas and propane are relatively more eco-friendly energy sources, the latter is better for the planet. Natural gas does release less carbon dioxide upon combustion than propane. However, over its entire lifecycle, propane releases much lesser greenhouse gases. This is because natural gas tends to release greenhouse gases like methane during its refining process.
The choice between a propane tankless water heater and a natural gas tankless water heater would ultimately come down to availability of either fuel source. If your property already has a natural gas connection, then a natural gas tankless water heater would make more sense for you since you wouldn’t need to install a natural gas line, or pay for propane tanks. According to the US Energy Information Administration, natural gas fuels 42% of American homes. Moreover, you would be able to reap the benefits of natural gas costing lesser. In most cases, the cost difference would make up for natural gas being less efficient than propane.
However, if you do not have an active natural gas line, you may consider a propane tankless water heater to avoid the cost of installing a natural gas line. You may also consider choosing propane if you are concerned about natural gas being slightly less eco-friendly than propane.
What about tank-style systems? Are propane tankless water heaters better than propane tank-style water heaters? Are natural gas tankless water heaters better than natural gas tank-style water heaters?
The comparison between tank-style and tankless systems does not get impacted by the fuel source. All the above-mentioned differences would still apply when it comes to choosing between a propane tank-style water heater and a natural gas tank-style water heater. For instance, propane would still burn more efficiently than natural gas but cost more.
However, tank-style systems are quickly becoming outdated. They consume large amounts of space and are highly inefficient since they need to keep a giant tank of water constantly hot. Tankless water heaters only run when there is a hot water demand, thereby saving large amounts of gas/electricity and energy bills. Moreover, tank-style systems are also less safe since stagnant water in storage tanks ends up providing ideal conditions for pathogens like the Legionella bacteria to grow.
What are the best propane tankless water heaters? What are the best natural gas tankless water heaters?
There are several factors to consider when choosing the best tankless propane water heater and the best tankless natural gas water heater. It would vary for each use case. Intellihot manufactures some of the most advanced commercial tankless water heaters. Our gas-powered water heaters can run on propane or natural gas. You can check out our range of products here. Intellihot manufactures the world’s first, second, and third highest-capacity tankless water heaters. Moreover, all of our products offer industry-leading redundancies and next-gen features like 24×7 wireless factory monitoring, wireless cascading, and a maintenance-free design that reduces headaches like regular flushing and downtime.