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Propane vs. geothermal

Posted February 26, 2014 in Advice Column

Many homeowners or businesses use propane furnaces and propane-fired boilers to heat their spaces, but this year in particular they are finding it difficult to stomach the high cost of propane.

Geothermal heating and cooling systems do not require the use of fossil fuels to function and harness earth’s natural energy to deliver heat throughout your space. For those thinking about making the transition from propane to geothermal, there are a number of aspects to take into consideration.

•    Rising propane costs and fluctuating demand. Heating systems using propane are susceptible to its unpredictable prices and fluctuating demand. As demand increases, you can expect supply to decrease, and prices to increase. There are a number of factors affecting the cost of propane, none of which are predictable. This leaves estimating your energy costs a variable factor. Fortunately, this issue does not apply to geothermal systems as they use natural energy from the earth, in addition to small amounts of electricity to operate the heat pump. As a result, geothermal systems are estimated to save homeowners upwards of $2,000 per year on heating and cooling costs.

•    Inconvenient propane deliveries. Using a propane-fired boiler or furnace is not the most convenient option. Propane deliveries can be expensive, not to mention the danger of having a propane tank on your property.

•    Energy efficiency. While propane furnaces are known to have efficiency ratings ranging from 90 – 95 percent on average, geothermal heat pumps go well beyond to provide efficiency levels reaching 300 – 600 percent. This leads to estimated yearly savings of approximately 70 – 80 percent over propane heating systems. Of course, estimating your exact savings is dependent on fuel costs, space size and your heating preferences.

•    Added functionality. While furnaces and boilers only perform heating functions, geothermal heat pumps are also capable of cooling your space in the summer, and have an option for delivering free hot water,as well. Factor in these savings, and the benefits are invaluable.

•    Installation costs. While the price and installation costs of a geothermal system are more costly than a propane system, the yearly energy savings you experience with your green system will allow you to recoup the additional installation costs spent, within five to 10 years on average.

•    System life span. It is estimated that furnaces have a life span of 15-20 years. Geothermal heat pumps have been found to have a life of roughly 25 years, while the underground loop can last up to 50 years. Additionally, those with furnaces must also take their air conditioner into consideration and its installation costs in the event that it would need to be replaced. By switching to geothermal, you will have just one unit to perform both heating and cooling costs.

Information provided by Steve Gilbert, vice president, Gilbert Plumbing and Heating, 641-437-HVAC (4822).

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