Propane is a byproduct of natural gas.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel.
Propane costs more upfront but is also more energy-efficient.
Installing a natural gas line could cost you up to $1,350 extra.
Your lifestyle and home infrastructure determine which gas is best.
From outdoor living to indoor heating, propane and natural gas are top contenders for burning fuel. However, while these two fuel sources power up similar appliances, they each come with pros and cons that could impact which one ultimately is right for your home. So, before you choose, here’s everything you need to know about considering propane vs. natural gas.
What Is Propane?
Propane gas—also called liquified petroleum (LP) gas or LPG—is a common liquefied petroleum product for homes. You’ve likely seen propane in cylinder containers, where it’s compressed in a liquid form. Propane gas is a popular choice for grills, trailers, camping, fireplaces, vehicles, and more.
Propane is made through two possible processes: as a natural gas byproduct or through biomass from agricultural waste. In the first method, propane is extracted from liquid components found in natural gas processing to keep condensation from impacting natural gas pipelines. In the latter method, known as renewable propane, the gas derives from renewable sources like agricultural waste and fats, making it a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels.
What Is Natural Gas?
Natural gas is a type of fossil fuel that comes from a combination of various natural compounds found underground. The primary compound in natural gas is methane, which accounts for up to 90% of the gas mixture. The rest of the mixture includes ethane, butane, propane, trace amounts of carbon dioxide, and more.
The majority of ingredients found in raw natural gas must be removed in the processing stage before the natural gas can reach your home. Once processed, the natural gas is free to run through pipelines and reach residential and commercial buildings.
Propane vs. Natural Gas: The 5 Main Differences
Propane and natural gas both have advantages and disadvantages. Below, we’ll see how these fuel sources measure up based on price, safety, energy efficiency, eco-friendliness, and ease of installation.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the price of natural gas in June of 2022 averaged $9.66 per 1,000 cubic feet, while the price of propane in March of 2022 averaged about $5.13 per gallon. However, there are several factors to consider when weighing propane and natural gas costs:
Prices for both types of gas tend to fluctuate year over year, with global conflicts greatly impacting costs.
Natural gas prices are calculated based on cubic feet, while propane gas prices are calculated based on gallons.
While it may look like propane is more cost-effective, remember that these two fuel types use different units of measurement. To get to the real cost comparisons, take a look at what happens when you roughly convert both to British Thermal Units (BTUs):
One million BTUs is approximately 1,000 cubic feet, but to convert propane to the same unit, you’ll need to multiply the cost by roughly 11 gallons. This means that natural gas costs approximately $9.66 while propane costs around $56.43 for the same amount.
Winner: No clear winner
Both propane and natural gas are extremely flammable, but natural gas is considered to be less safe because leaks in natural gas lines are hard to find and fix. Between your service gas lines—which are buried at least 2 feet underground—and the utility’s main gas lines—which are buried at least 18 inches underground—finding the source of a leak can be like finding a needle in the haystack.
Natural gas also comes with a higher flammability range of around 5% to 15% compared to propane, which has a flammability range of around 2% to 10%.
The price of natural gas compared to propane might make natural gas seem like the front-runner for your budget, but remember to consider energy efficiency as a part of the long-term costs. Natural gas is not as energy-efficient as propane gas, so it can cost more in the long run, depending on your climate and energy needs.
BTUs determine energy efficiency—the higher the number of BTUs, the more energy-efficient. One cubic foot of natural gas uses about 1,030 BTUs to heat 1 pound of water, while 1 cubic foot of propane uses around 2,490 BTUs. This means propane gas is more than twice as energy-efficient as natural gas.
There’s a reason why propane is also called the greenest fossil fuel—out of all the fossil fuels, propane burns the cleanest. If you choose renewable propane, you’re also playing a role in reducing fossil fuels, as this form of propane comes from agricultural waste rather than the byproduct of unrefined natural gas.
Natural gas, on the other hand, contains a large percentage of methane. This greenhouse gas is 80 timesmore harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, at least25%of global warming comes from methane.
Ease of Installation
If you already have a gas pipeline running to your house, then installing natural gas is as easy as paying to turn it on. However, if you don't have a natural gas pipeline, you'll need to call a local natural gas plumber to run a new gas line. The price to install a new gas line falls anywhere between $120 to $1,350.
Propane, on the other hand, simply requires placing a storage tank somewhere on your property, so adding it to your home is fairly straightforward. You can either buy propane from the store and refill it yourself or schedule deliveries from a propane provider when it needs refilling.
Winner: Natural gas (if you already have a gas line installed)
Which Gas Is the Better Option for Your Home: Propane or Natural Gas?
Even with a pros and cons list, you might still struggle to decide which option is right for your home. Overall, propane is best for the environment and is more energy-efficient. For some more remote homeowners, natural gas isn’t an option at all. For others, it might be an option, but you’d need to install a gas line, which can turn your yard into an excavation site.
But if your home already has a natural gas line and natural gas-burning appliances and equipment, it may be more cost-effective to stick with natural gas and save the propane for grilling and camping.
Frequently Asked Questions
Natural gas may seem more cost-effective initially, but because it burns twice as quickly as propane, you may end up having to pay more. You also might need to install a gas line, which costs around $540 on average.
You don’t have direct access to unlimited propane gas like you do with natural gas, and you may end up having to spend more on propane-burning appliances and equipment compared to natural gas-burning ones.
Whether or not it’s worth making the switch from propane to natural gas depends on your lifestyle and personal preferences. While natural gas is easier to use, it’s not accessible for off-grid living. It also is less environmentally friendly than propane.