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Propane vs. All Electric: Propane is getting tougher to justify…

  My company just finished a whole house remodel/addition project on Lake Travis that only had electric service and not natural gas.  My clients considered adding a propane tank so they could use a propane powered tankless water heater, possibly a propane furnace, and a propane cooktop but we had some space issues in placing a tank since their lot was so sloped to the water.  Most people in surrounding Austin areas who are building and want to use Propane as fuel bury a tank near the house.  Like this one:

Over the past two years some electric appliances have come to market that are really a game changer for people who are in all electric areas.  The propane option is not a foregone conclusion like it used to be for a well built new home in an all electric area.  Let’s look at the Propane vs All Electric issue for people who don’t have Natural Gas as an option. There’s three major appliance decisions:
1.  HVAC – For our Texas climate a high efficiency heat pump is a wonderfully efficient way to cool AND HEAT your home.  Our mild winters make heat pumps very efficient to operate.  For you Yankee’s moving down South remember that a heat pump is like a turtle heating your house (slow & steady) unlike the gas furnace that’s fast and hot.  Heat pumps heat the air a few degrees hotter than the house air temp so if your furnace is set at 70 the air might be blowing out of your registers at 78 which feels cool compared to your body at 98.6 degrees.  Your gas furnace might be blowing air out at 110 degrees.  I’ve also found that Heat Pumps are less expensive to install (no gas line, no plumber, simpler mechanicals, less cost).  Round 1 Electric Wins
2.  Water Heating – I’ve put in alot of tankless water heaters and they are indeed sexy.  Nearly limitless output, good efficiency rating, no standby loss.  Standard electric water heating tanks are inefficient and I think alot of people opt for propane to get a “gas” tank or tankless water heater.  But, with the advent of the Heat Pump water heaters like the Rheem HP50 and GE GeoSpring that are twice as efficient as standard electric units it’s tough to justify propane for water heating as a cost savings anymore.  See my video review of the Rheem HP50 we installed this spring.  The only way I see Propane winning this round is for large households that need tons of supply that a tankless unit can give.  For most US households of 4 people or less the Electric Heat pumps will be perfect.  Round 2 Electric Wins
3.  Cooking – Not that many years ago the luxury appliance that every wanted was a gigantic 6 or 8 burner Wolf gas professional cooktop.  I think that appliance is probably still high on wish lists, but I’ve now put electric induction cooktops in three houses and clients (who are active foodies mind you) LOVE THEM!  They boil water super fast (probably three times faster than gas), have precise heat adjustments, the cooktop itself doesn’t get hot so food spills are easy to clean, and they are pretty energy efficient!  See this NY Times article about NYC chef’s going to Induction cooktops.  The big boys like Wolf and Viking are coming out with new Induction models to keep up with the demand.  Below is a shot of a KitchenAid 36″ Induction cooktop in a house designed by Nick Deaver Architect.  They make for a sleek modern & clean look.    Round 3 Electric Wins again.

  In conclusion, it’s my opinion that electric appliances have really stepped up the efficiency and propane is less of a necessity in high performance custom homes.  -Matt Risinger