New Jersey home inspectors inspect heating and other appliances that operates on both propane and natural gas. Home inspectors in NJ should understand the similarities and the differences of both fuels so they can provide useful information to their clients.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel that comes from the decaying remains of per-historic plant and animals. The majority of natural gas comes from the breakdown of marine organisms. Natural gas comes from nature and is not manufactured. The gas forms after millions of years as heat and pressure change the layers of decomposing matter. Natural gas is a mixture of several different gases however it is primarily composed of methane.
Propane is a little different in that it does not occur naturally in the environment. Propane is a byproduct of processed natural gas or refined petroleum. Propane is actually extracted from natural gas. Propane is usually compressed into a liquid before it is stored or delivered to a residence or building. Propane is often referred to as LPG which stands for Liquid Propane Gas.
An important difference between propane and natural gas is the energy content that can be produced. Propane has an energy content that is higher than that of natural gas. As a result, it can be stored in smaller tanks and still produce the same amount of energy. Both propane and natural gas burn clean and have lower emissions. As a result, they have lower pollution numbers then other fossil fuels such as oil.
Many appliances can operate on both propane and natural gas. Each of the fuels does require a special fitting called an orifice. It is possible to switch an appliance from propane to natural gas and vice versa but a conversion kit would have to be installed to complete the conversion. These kits are better left to professional plumbing contractors to install because it is imperative that they are installed correctly to avoid possible gas leakage and hazards.
Natural gas is a utility that is delivered by underground piping. Propane is stored in tanks that will need periodic refills. The larger the propane tank the larger volume of gas it can store. For example, the propane tank for a gas grill is a much smaller tank then a propane tank for a home's range and furnace. Larger propane tanks are typically buried below ground to save the space above ground.
Propane is typically more expensive than natural gas. However, the same volume of propane creates almost double the heating or BTU output of natural gas. Propane is measured in gallons and natural gas is measured in in cubic feet. Both energy outputs are measured in BTU or British Thermal Units. To provide an example one British Thermal Unit is the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of I pound of water by one degree measured in Fahrenheit.
Both natural gas and propane are both colorless and odorless. Natural gas and propane producers add an odorous chemical to the gas to help people detect gas leakage. NJ Home inspectors should be alert to this well-known odor when inspecting homes. Some inspectors carry combustible gas detectors which can be used to isolate the source of the leakage. If there is a sting odor of gas all occupants should leave for the fresh air and call the utility company or the police/fire department immediately. This chemical is not harmful to people, but it is necessary to alert people to possible gas leakage. The odor smells similar to sulfur or rotten eggs. If you detect this odor inside your home, you must exit the home quickly. Once on the exterior you should call the gas utility company or the police. You should also take note of any negative health effects such as headaches, dizziness or nausea that improves when you leave the home. If this occurs, contact the natural gas or propane supplier and have a gas leak inspection performed.
Doing a cost comparison between propane and natural gas is interesting. When you look histrionically between the cost of the two gases it appears that natural gas is the more cost-effective option. However, a more useful means of comparison may not be to compare the cost per unit but rather BTU ratings. Propane has a much higher BTU rating and thus even if you are paying more for the propane on a per unit basis the fuel you are using will heat your home, dry your clothes, or run your range/oven more efficient. So, propane may when looked at this way may be the most cost effective,
New Jersey home inspectors do not need to be experts of fossil fuels, but it is helpful to understand some of the similarities and differences between natural gas and propane. We should educate our home inspection clients about the benefits of both natural gas and propane. They are both very useful fuels and are something that we will see almost daily as we inspect homes in New Jersey.