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  • Questions answered about natural gas and propane

    Thursday, February 9, 2023   /   by Amy Brown

    Questions answered about natural gas and propane

    North Carolina is one of a few states that has no producing natural gas wells and no underground reserves. Natural gas did not arrive in our state until the completion of the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline in 1951 that runs from Texas to New York. 

    It took over 60 years following the pipeline completion to bring natural gas to the Western North Carolina mountains. In a push to find cleaner energy sources, Duke Energy built the Asheville Combined Cycle Station in Arden in 2018, bringing natural gas to the urban areas. While today the city has a natural gas underground system in place in the majority of neighborhoods, this is not an option in every neighborhood. Natural gas availability is most often found in the districts closest to the city center like Oakley, Kenilworth, Grove Park, Montford, and Biltmore Forest.

    Asheville Combined Cycle Station

    Natural gas is most often used for heating systems, tankless hot water heaters, and gas ranges and ovens. While historically it has been a less expensive energy source, in recent months natural gas prices have risen significantly making heat pumps a more cost effective option depending upon the tightness of the home.

    For homes in rural areas or areas that are not close to the city natural gas supply system, these homeowners must use propane if they choose a gas utility product. Propane tanks can be either above or below ground and are serviced by a gas company on an annual or semi-annual basis. Propane can be used in exactly the same manner as natural gas; for cooking, heat, fireplaces, etc. 

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                 Small tank                 Underground tank                          Large tank

    Propane tanks come in many different sizes and the size required depends on your home’s square footage and the number of appliances using that energy source. The majority of NC homes use propane only for heating or heating and a fireplace so you will most likely see a 500 gallon tank. Larger square footage homes that run heat as well as all appliances on propane will require a 1000 gallon tank. Your chosen gas utility company can recommend the correct size if you are building a new home. 

    How long will a tank last?

    Furnaces burn approximately 1 gallon of propane per hour and tankless hot water heaters use 1.5 gallons per day. Depending upon how many appliances you use that require propane, the average home uses 100 gallons per month. Since a 500 gallon propane tank actually holds 400 gallons, 1 fill per year should be enough to provide fuel throughout the cooler months. 

    How much does it cost?

    Natural gas and propane are fossil fuels that are sold on the open market and therefore subject to fluctuating prices just like gasoline. Natural gas is measured in the number of therms used. Current price is $1.57 per therm. Propane is charged by the gallon and the current price per gallon is $3.32.

    When building, the price of a 500 gallon propane will run approximately $1,500.

    Are propane and natural gas safe?

    Both propane and natural gas are very safe fuel sources when used with common sense. Spontaneous ignition occurs when gas lines are damaged, with the improper use of appliances, or when appliances have been incorrectly installed. It also has to be a perfect storm for natural gas to ignite. Natural gas can only ignite in a concentration of 5-15% mixture with air and a spark. Natural gas and propane have been infused with a “rotten egg” smell so that you can tell if there is a potential leak, leave the area, and call for help. In addition, any home with a gas energy source should have a carbon monoxide detector to alert you of a leak, especially during the nighttime hours. 

    Many homeowners actually prefer this energy source for its cost and environmental benefits. It is considered an off-the-grid fuel source with low emissions and it is the same fuel used in your backyard grill or your RV.