propane heat vs. electric heat

wildhares(4)September 10, 2005

We live in South Dakotan and have heated our home with propane for years. We need a new furnace and we are considering going with an electric furnace with a heat pump,

due to rising propane costs.

Can anyone tell us the pros and cons of electric heat? Any

comments are welcome. Thanks

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First - a heat pump will not heat below a certain temperature. For instance, in our big old drafty farmhouse, we had to adjust our heatpump so that the propane burner comes on when the outside temperature is 40 degrees or below. In a normal house you could probably get by with setting the change-over temperature closer to 20 degrees.
In the house we lived in before this one , we had a joke - turn the heat off, I'm freezing. The heat generated by a heat pump is not very hot so feels like a draft if it blows on you.
Our heat pump is also an air conditioner so that is a plus.
The heat pump will have to have either electric or gas backup heat - do some research on which would be cheaper in your area. This year, our propane may be more expensive than if we had electric backup but in most years the propane is less expensive - but then South Dakota is not like Tennessee.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2005 at 2:40PM
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DPallas(z6, SW Mo)

If you're considering a ground source heat pump, there's probably no less expensive way to heat (and air condition) with electric than that. The 3.5 ton unit I have costs $50/month max to heat an 1,800 sq foot home during the worst weather, though your worst weather is probably colder than -5 to +5F. I've had one for twelve or thirteen years and wouldn't consider another form of heating in the future because 1.) the cost isn't variable based on fossil fuel prices, 2.) maintenence free other than filters, 3.) pays for itself in fuel savings (50 - 75%) in 2 - 4 years vs oil, gas, or conventional electric, 4.) other cost benefits include resale value and water heating, 5.) efficiency: delivers 3 to 4 times more heat energy than it consumes.

The downside is the initial installation price, which is higher than conventional furnaces, and possible drilling problems on smaller lot sizes. Vs conventional heat pumps, the unit is indoors rather than outdoors, and vs radiant heat, requires duct work for forced hot air. Ground source utilizes fluid-filled loops of pipe (50 year life expectancy) underground to exchange heat with the soil and is proven efficient as far north as Manitoba.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2005 at 2:42PM
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Jan_Hobbs(z6a TN, USA)

You won't be satisfied with electric heat after propane... you WON'T stay warm...been there...done that. But then, we have changed to an outside wood furnace from propane because of heating costs. Might be an alternative for you.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2005 at 4:41PM
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erinluchsinger(z4 - Upstate NY)

Electric heat here in NY would KILL you. Electricity here is the most expensive in the nation... yes... more than California if you can believe that, so NOONE has electric heat if they can help it.
We have an oil furnace, but plan to heat w/ mostly wood this winter (wood stove in the basement all hooked in to the entire house) b/c it's going to be so expensive to heat w/ oil.
You're damned if you do... etc. Especially now. I joke that I"ll pay $3 for a gallon of diesel to run my car any day of the week, but I think it's going to kill a lot of people in our area to pay $2.50 a gallon for heating fuel this winter.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2005 at 9:03PM
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Thanks, everyone, for your comments and input.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2005 at 10:50PM
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We heat mostly with wood.
We have electric heat but when we use it, our electric bill is $200/month. Our electric company uses diesel for it's generators. Electricity will go up as the cost of fuel goes up.
When we went to wood, it dropped to $25/month.
Of course, It's an oven/wood stove so we can cook with it also.
Wood rocks!


    Bookmark   September 11, 2005 at 1:19AM
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Did I just say "Wood rocks"?
Isn't that an oxymoron?

    Bookmark   September 11, 2005 at 6:58PM
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Yes, it is, Tom!!! lol
Thanks again, Everyone, for your answers!!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2005 at 9:31AM
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Has anyone seen those corn stoves? At present price of $1.55 a bushel, that might make pretty cheap heat.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2005 at 10:25AM
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mjw15618(Western Penn)

I've been seriously looking into a corn stove to heat my home. I currently use natural gas and even paying for it on the gas company's budget plan has gotten out of hand. I'm just paying off last winter's bill! And that's keeping my thermostat set at 65 when we're home and 60 when we're away during the day and at night while we're sleeping! Needless to say, I'm tired of being cold and I'm sick at the thought of gas prices increasing another 15-20% over last year. A medium-size corn stove costs about $2000 and burns about 50 pounds of corn every 2 days. Definitely the cheapest way to go now that gas and electric is sooooooooooo expensive.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2005 at 10:39AM
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DPallas(z6, SW Mo)

$1.55 per bushel sounds cheap. Friday, Illinois elevators paid farmers $1.66 to $1.80 for #2 corn, and January contracts are at $1.89 to $2.17, but of course prices vary widely by location and for all sorts of reasons. Those January prices may take into consideration speculation on petroleum prices, and may have dropped already.

But the variation is the point; corn prices aren't stable, so anyone thinking about this form of heating should take that into consideration, as well as the fact that consumers can rarely buy at elevator prices unless they intend to provide their own transportation for a bulk purchase.

For example, I just phoned the local farmers' coop that brings in shelled corn by rail and sells it on a non-profit basis. Bagged shelled corn is $7.25/cwt (per 100 lbs) or roughly $3.92/bushel. For an average heating season it would cost $588 for 150 bushels to $784 for 200 bushels.

A minimum purchase of 3 tons bulk picked up at the elevator is $6.15/cwt or $3.32/bushel or $498 - $664 per heating season.

The prices could be substantially higher outside the midwest.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2005 at 12:05PM
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A properly SIZED and PROPERLY installed (caps for emphasis!) ground-source(geothermal) heat pump will deliver the most energy efficient heating/cooling you can get, and despite Jan's warning - if it is properly sized for your house, it will deliver comfortable heating.
Most complaints about heat pumps(whether air-to-air or ground-source) are because the systems weren't properly sized; try this little test - open your mouth wide and breathe out onto the back of your wrist - feels warm, right? Now, purse your lips and blow hard on the same spot - feels cool, right? Well, the air coming out of your mouth - both times - is at 98.6 F, but increased rate of flow makes it feel cooler. If a heating system is properly sized, you won't get that 'cold' heat feeling too many folks attribute to a heat pump, when in actuality it's attributable to improper sizing &/or installation.

An air-to-air heat pump would not be a good choice in SD, and straight electric heat would be cost-prohibitive, I would think.
Typically, geothermal heat pumps are only economically feasible for homes over a certain square-footage - probably below 1800 sq.ft., you'd have a hard time getting it to pay for itself over its lifetime. They're usually quite a bit more expensive to install than a gas or oil furnace or air-to-air heat pump, but are much more energy-efficient to operate - saving you money over the long haul.

An energy audit of your home will identify other things that you can do - adding insulation, caulking around windows/doors, etc. - to improve the comfort level and energy efficiency of any heating/cooling system you install.

Check out the site linked below, as well as info at the CIMA website -

Here is a link that might be useful: Geothermal Consortium.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2005 at 12:52PM
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erinluchsinger(z4 - Upstate NY)

Lucky P... good info... and I did your little trick.. it works. Pretty funny.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2005 at 8:23PM
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Linked below is Doug Rye's website. With the rising costs of energy, everyone on this forum - no, everyone in the country - ought to visit and consider ordering his video, and if your local radio station carries his 'Home Improvements' program, you ought to give it a listen.
Some folks will look through his webpage and think, 'this guy is a charlatan', but he's not - all the things he teaches/preaches will SAVE you money on your utility bills AND help make your home more COMFORTABLE!

Here is a link that might be useful: Doug Rye

    Bookmark   September 15, 2005 at 9:58AM
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thanks, Lucky. I will check it out.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2005 at 10:40AM
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ladnarsr(sw IA)

PDALLAS I should have lots of corn this year for lots of corn burners. Wish Id bought myself a bagger and sewing machine 20 years ago when i wanted one. Id probably sell corn in 50lb feed sacks and make quite a some of $ for some labor. Cash grain $ 1.45 in Audubon Iowa at 6:50am. Needing some call the elevators around here. Corn going going out from them is $.15 over that. So $1.60 loaded on your truck and away you go with 900 bushel corn after you pay for it. Trucking probably $2.25 a loaded mile, maybe more since diesel is high now. Wish I had a corn burner as well!! RANDAL

    Bookmark   September 16, 2005 at 7:56AM
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Randal - those prices are ridiculous - crazy!!!!!!!! And the harvest isn't even in full swing yet. We've seen those old tin type bins on farm sales go for very little. Our coop charges $20 to deliver bulk grain. If we didn't have oodles of wood and a wood burner, I think we would look into a corn burner.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2005 at 11:17AM
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DPallas(z6, SW Mo)

You mean you got rain in Iowa? Thought you had a drought like us and corn supplies would be short. Nope, I can't store corn, I don't feed enough fast enough to keep any more than 500 - 1,000 lbs of assorted feeds on hand at any given time, excluding grass hay and alfalfa of course.

Yes, it would be nice to have a corn burner on hand for supplimental heat if the electricity goes out. Sounds cleaner and easier than wood or coal, but the smaller pieces of the cleaner coal - if you can find it - is a really nice means of heating too.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2005 at 11:36AM
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gourd_friends(z5/6 IL)

We heated with corn last winter. The stove was installed at the end of December and we estimate that we burned an average of ten bushel a week through January, February and March. Some days were a little colder and that might up the average a little. We bought shelled, dried corn from a neighbor and we kept it in his gravity flow wagon right out in our driveway. About twice a week, dh would spend a morning cleaning the corn...mostly to remove chaff, stalk pieces and other foreign bodies. The only other maintainnance is removing the clinker once or twice a day, filling it with corn twice a day, and about once a week, we shut it down and use the shop-vac to sweep out the ash around the clinker box.
I honestly don't know what we paid for the corn, but 120 bushel for three months of the warmest, most comfortable heat we've ever had was well worth it. We heated with propane in December, and used that very sparingly.
The fans and auger need electricity, so its not much good in a power outage. We kept a kerosene heater for those times.
We are fortunate that the layout of our house is great for the corn burner. We put it in the dining room and that is the central room of the house. All the other rooms open from the dining room.
Some units are actually fireplace inserts, but even those can be a free standing unit. They are direct chimney needed unless you use the fireplace.
The outside of the stove is cool to the touch, except for the fan vent and the glass front door.
There are several brands out there and I know for a fact they will have a hard time keeping up with the orders this year.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2005 at 12:49AM
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ladnarsr(sw IA)

wnet past COOP in Atlantic on the way home this afternoon.. They already hAve their outside grain storage ring covered. Maybe its just a permanent cover now. Seen about 200 acres beans out and 30 acres of corn out so far. Yes we got some rain this year, SE IOWA is really hurt from what I ve been told. If we had gotten an inch of rain 10 days ago we'd have 5 cuttings of hay for the first time. SW IOWA extension feild specialist calling for 50+ bushel beans and 160+ corn on highly productive ground. It takes that at this corn price. At least Ive got a good paying WALLY WORLD job, and I like what i do. RANDA;

    Bookmark   September 17, 2005 at 10:56PM
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building in NC.Is it better to use electric heating or propane?

    Bookmark   October 11, 2005 at 12:46PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

We have an air source heat pump, not to be confused with a ground source heat pump. The brand name is Heil. It's both furnace and air conditioner. It works great (the air conditioner is particularly good) when it's above about 35 degrees outside. Then when it drops below that, as my repairman says, "there's not enough heat in the air for it to capture" so then a regular electric furnace kicks in.

The repairman said he thinks I'm a little too far north (north central Missouri) for an air source heat pump to be really efficient.

The house we lived in before this one was natural gas. And the other posters are right -- the first couple of years with this electricity-based furnace I FROZE!!! Till I got used to it. The air coming out of the registers is NOT warm.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2005 at 3:45PM
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I'd agree - you are too far north for an air-source heat pump to do an efficient job heating.
Ground-source(geothermal) is the way to go - as far as the heat pump is concerned, it's 65(or whatever temperature it is below-ground in your area) degrees outside all day long, every day of the year.
Geothermal heat pumps are 4-5 times more energy-efficient than the most efficient gas furnace(and most folks get the least-efficient gas furnace allowed by law), and when your geothermal unit is running in the AC mode, it can supply 80-100% of all your hot water needs.

While everyone may not be in a position to put in a new geothermal heat pump system, with the upcoming heating season and the exorbitant costs we're likely to encounter, there are a ton of things everyone can - and should - do to help reduce energy consumption - making their homes more comfortable in the process: caulking around doors/windows, new weatherstripping around doors, additional cellulose insulation in walls/attics, closing foundation vents & insulating crawlspace perimeter walls, etc.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2005 at 1:01PM
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juniorballoon(Z8a WA)

You want to make sure you differentiate between a Heat Pump and a Goethermal Heat Pump. The former removes warmth from the air and so loses effectiveness in very cold climates. A goethermal system pulls heat from the earth via a series of pipes buried in the ground that circualte a liquid. They are very efficient and can heat homes in very cold climates.

Installation fo the Geothermal system is greater up front, but will pay for itself over the life of the unit. With both systems you only pay for the electricity to circualte the air or liquid through the system.


    Bookmark   October 12, 2005 at 6:49PM
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newjerseybt(5b NE PA)

All those millions of acres of government land that are off limits to the public could be put to good use.

Heck, there are millions of trees on State and Federal land that fall every year due to storms, disease and other trees that should be cleared to create a firebreak so we do not lose millions of acres of trees and surrounding homes due to a lightning strike. The park rangers just need to put an X on trees that can be taken for free....but that sounds too simple.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2005 at 7:12PM
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Seeking advice. Building in cold climate temps from -12 to 30 in winter with wind. Building a 800 sq ft wkend cabin. What's best heat source for a wkender? Currently we use wood, but considering a non electric option--propane freestanding stove with vent, monitor heater, or kerosene drip stove. I don't mind wood with electric backup--but is wood practical for heating houses up that have been cold for days at a time? Don't want to be a wood slave either just to warm a home.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 6:17PM
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Have heated with wood for , ? 36 years. takes little time too heat about 1700 sq. ft. on 2 floors. The house is pre 1800 post & beam with large rooms, its obviously warmest nearer the wood stove but never a problem, air tights dont need refilling all that often.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 11:00PM
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Propane hit $2.87 in South Carolina this year. That's it! I'm getting a (geothermal) heat pump. Good-bye propane! In the best case scenario I'll get a dual fuel furnace system running both elec and propain and the latter one will be rarely used if ever to avoid feeding the greedy oil industry. Thanks for the advise, guys.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2007 at 5:53PM
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judyag_44(SW FL)

Have to tell you about the niftiest little wood stove in the world. It is a soapstone stove (made in Vermont) and is pretty year around. In winter it is a blessing.

We have a farm with lots of hardwood trees (oak, hickory, mulberry, osage orange, black locust). Cut, split, haul and stack what we need and love the warmth all winter.

Had our house built in 2003 with lots of insulation and a gas water heater and furnace. We use the furnace as back-up (setting it at 65 degrees) for emergencies, in the warm/cool Fall and Spring weather and when we go away from home for a few weeks in the winter. Our propane cost for last year (365 days) was $440.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2007 at 11:17AM
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GROUND UP TO U: (vs. in-ground)
Since 1980: about 7,ooo btuh [separately in a ditch]
in damp clay as described below can be extracted from
52-deg earth with every 500 ft of 3/4" Poly-Black tubing
and circulated easily [up to 5-3/4" pipe runs with a header to 1.1/4"]
hdpe pipe 160 psi thicker sdr-9
on one
1) 1/6 hp (B&G pl 33)

if the loop is ~ 35 degrees (chilled) by/on (ARKANSAS)
a heat-pump, having ~ 18% methanol
antifreeze by volume ~20% glycol,
for usable(net) output per the following:
if at a depth of ~6-to-7ft, lower piping runs (back-in-bottom-of-ditch-tightly-packed)
x ditch length of 245 ft, up to 3-pipes in 2ft ditch
and on the bottom of the ditch,
up to 5 piping runs (2 ditches) on 1) pump 1/6hp
damp clay soil, and returns back in same ditch as follows:
RETURNS are on top at a depth of ~5ft (4.1/2 settles to 5ft in backfilling~) like a 'hair-pin over under design on side view...

each ditch may support a "2-TON" Hydro-Temp, which is equal to others' 2.2/2-"ton" rated units that use higher than normal blower speeds, or water:water with over pumping to just get "high" ratings... LOOK at COMPRESSOR labels:
they should have a 19,000-24,000 btuh compressor

Directly GeoLoops : ECL's (Earth Coupled Loops)
generally producing only ~ 4,200 btuh at 40-degrees/avg
and high volumes of ~ 3.1/2 gpm per 3/4"pipe
and no antifreeze keeping things obove 38-degrees
(ie @ 37 entering ECL, from loads applied/
with or without a heat pump... )

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 1:11PM
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We're going to have to go with a heat pump too - the cost of fuel oil broke us up last year - and we thought the year before that was bad! Just can't see heating entirely with fuel oil - it costs almost as much as gasoline! I figured we'd have to buy an electric furnace & heat pump, but my brother-in-law (master journeyman HVAC for the last few decades!) told me we'd probably be better off with just the heat pump and using the fuel oil furnace for the back-up heating source; he said we're just not going to be happy with an electric furnace because it's the coldest heat there is and we have a fairly large sized home (just shy of 2000 sq. ft.).

I am concerned though, because our present furnace really isn't large enough for the house - it had an addition built on to it before we bought it and the furnace wasn't upgraded. 75,000 btu ain't big enough and very little heated air reaches the split-level addition. So......... still trying to decide between a new larger fuel oil furnace or an electric furnace. NOT fun.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2008 at 9:54AM
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I live in Dallas Texas, and I have a electronic heat pump with a gas furnace. I have no idea about either one, but I am replacing my heat pumps (3.5 ton and 2 ton). I have had a few contractors look at the system. 2 out 3 recommend that I go with an air conditioer vs heat pump. I need more information. Please Help. I was wondering what is the best unit to with as well?

    Bookmark   October 14, 2008 at 11:48AM
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heat Pumps were made originaly for states such as Arizona,California or warmer winter states not the colder winter states, We had one and all it threw was baby breath air and it was not even warm and once the temp fell to 32 degrees the heat pump quit working, so we had to put a propane furnace in and that threw some heat. For climates like WY,SD,ND,MT or any state that gets below zero heat pumps don't work.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2008 at 12:48PM
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You should check out the 'Acadia' by Hallowell. This is a heat pump that rivals geothermal (200-400 % efficiency). It also works to -30 F, so does not require a backup in most climates. They have dealers in WY,SD,ND,MT. I am currently debating between this and geothermal. The advantage to the Acadia is not digging up the yard in a pre-existing house. One disadvantage is the Acadia qualifies for a $500 tax credit from the IRS while geothermal now qualifies for a $2000 tax credit.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hallowell web site

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 2:31PM
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Has anyone had any experience with the Hallowell's Acadia?

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 10:56PM
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We are using propane for heating the water in our degreaser machine.
If i go for electric heater, it is saving for me?

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 5:22AM
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I found various web articles on comparing electricity and propane useful. What struck me most is that the propane price depends on so many factors! I'll share what I found most useful below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Electricity v. Propane

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 9:36AM
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Get a big tank and keep it full - fill it in the summer or fall before prices skyrocket. Propane is always more costly in the winter, by a lot.

The most efficient heat is hot water radiated heat. Modern radiators look just like baseboard electric radiators.

Geothermal heat pumps sound great - until you get an estimate for installation. Mine was 20k just to drill the wells and run the piping needed. The upfront cost is horrendous and beyond the reach of most people.

Just go to hot water radiated heat instead. The return on investment will be much faster, and radiated heat feels much much warmer than forced air.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2014 at 2:51PM
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