Heating With Propane: Tips for Saving Money and Energy

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

Propane can heat up a lot more than hot dogs and hamburgers on the Fourth of July – many Americans rely on this abundant energy source to heat their homes. Residential and commercial customers account for about 45 percent of propane used in the United States. Fifty-seven percent of these households rely on propane as their primary source of home heating.

A cleaner burning fuel, propane is a by-product of natural gas and crude oil refining.  After propane is refined, it is delivered to customers in (compressed) liquid form, but converts to gas when it is released to produce heat. Propane gas is colorless and odorless, but refiners add a recognizable odor so that leaks can be detected easily.

To ensure you’re making the most of your energy dollar, the following tips can help you save money and energy this winter:

• Take advantage of the equal payment plans offered by many gas utilities.  These plans average a home’s heating bills for the year, enabling the utility to charge a consistent amount each month. That consistent amount covers the winter months, when bills are typically higher and summer months when bills are generally lower. Your local gas provider can provide you with information on these programs.
• Have your furnace and gas appliances serviced annually by a qualified contractor to ensure safety and maximum energy efficiency.  Consider having a qualified professional perform a home energy audit to determine your home’s energy efficiency.  Make certain appliances are always operated according to the manufacturer’s specifications and local codes.
• Install a carbon monoxide detector. Any home with a combustion-burning appliance – such as a gas furnace, gas water heater, etc., should also have this device. A carbon monoxide detector will not save energy, but can save your life by warning you and your family if carbon monoxide levels in your home become dangerous.
• Hire a trained professional to perform any air sealing (caulking, weather stripping, etc.).  Improper air sealing can cause back drafting in combustion appliances, leading to serious health and safety hazards.  Trained professionals will seal air leaks properly and then test verify that fuel burning appliances are operating safely after the sealing has been performed.
• Change or clean filters on the furnace according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
• Clean around warm-air registers as needed.
• Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable to you and your family.
• Put on your favorite sweater, use throw blankets and wear heavier socks to stay comfortable when you reduce the thermostat setting.
• Place furniture against inside walls. You’re less likely to feel cool drafts if you're not sitting next to the outside walls.
• Install a programmable thermostat and set it to accurately follow your family’s normal routine. A programmable thermostat allows you to adjust the times and temperature settings of your furnace according to a pre-set schedule.   For example it can be set to lower the temperature of the home while you are sleeping or are at work, and then increase the temperature when you wake or return home.
• Use kitchen and bathroom ventilation wisely. Use these fans only when needed and turn them off as soon as their job is done. The fans provide ventilation and excess moisture removal, but they also pull warm air out of a household quickly.
• Purchase inexpensive, pre-cut insulation gaskets and seal out the cold air entering your home through electrical switches and outlet plates, particularly on outside walls.
• Ensure that your attic and crawlspace or basement have recommended levels of insulation. Add insulation as needed. If you need to know how much insulation you need, visit http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/insulation/ins_05.html and enter your zip code.
• Use draperies, awnings, blinds or shutters on all windows to lessen the loss of heat through the glass. In winter, on southern facing windows, keep window coverings open on sunny days to let the sun's warmth in and close them at night to insulate against cold outside air.
For more energy conservation tips for your home, contact me at the Burke Extension Center and check our E-Conservation website at http://www.e-conservation.net.

Eleanor Summers
Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences