Balancing Upfront Cost With Long-Term Savings
For some homeowners, the lure of lower bills is too great to resist.
Bryan Rekrut's new home in Charlton, Mass., will be a 3,000-square-foot farmhouse colonial with 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and an ultra-tight building envelope with closed-cell spray foam and blown-in fiberglass insulation. Built by local custom builder Elliot Burlingame & Sons Construction, the high-performance standards suit Rekrut's view of his new home as an investment in technology that pays off in the long run.
Propane systems contribute to those long-term goals in several areas of the home. A 94 percent efficient tankless water heater by Rinnai supplies on-demand hot water. The home's main fireplace is a direct-vent model by Heat & Glo. In the kitchen, the cooktop and oven are propane models. And the laundry room features a propane dryer.
But Rekrut stopped one application short of building to the full Propane Energy Pod model: Instead, a geothermal system with an electric-resistance backup heats the home. When asked why he did not use propane for either the main heating system or the backup, Rekrut expressed a characteristically New England anxiety about energy prices. The prospect of the low monthly bills that are sometimes possible with renewable systems were just too enticing for Rekrut to pass updespite the extremely long payback periods and higher carbon emissions associated with those systems.
Construction professionals operating in areas of the country where energy prices direct homeowner selection of heating systems should be ready to explain that a comprehensive comparative analysis of upfront and ownership costs of oil, electric, and heat-pump units repeatedly shows the advantage of high-efficiency propane furnaces over alternatives. For example, a typical geothermal system chosen over a high-efficiency propane furnace takes up to 14 years of trouble-free service to recover the additional upfront investment, even with the application of the 30 percent federal tax credit. Propane systems achieve paybacks in a fraction of the time.
Learn more about how propane systems compare with common alternatives in your area of the country by using the Comparative Heating Map interactive tool. For a deeper understanding of the claims made in this article, take the free online continuing education course about this topic, called A Comparative Analysis of Residential Heating Systems, now available at the Propane Training Academy.