Oil-to-Propane Conversions on the Rise

Switching from oil to propane makes sense, especially in the six New England states.

According to the Propane Gas Association of New England (PGANE), from 2006 to 2009 more than 1,000 New Englanders converted their heating fuel source. "I can almost guarantee you that 80 percent of those [conversions] were from oil to propane," says PGANE president Joe Rose. "An oil and propane dealer in New Hampshire told me that his company converted 100 of their existing oil customers to propane because customers are looking for ways to save money on energy. That's the driving force. If you can go with a propane furnace or boiler that's 95-plus percent efficient versus oil at 85 percent there's a huge incentive there."

Even though a number of the rebate programs that were once available in New England have been phased out, dealers are still seeing a demand for propane—both conversions and in new homes that are equipped with high-efficiency propane appliances and systems from the beginning.

Some customers make the switch because they want an energy source that is more environmentally friendly than heating oil. And, of course, fuel price also matters.

"Certainly there are fraction out there who want a cleaner-burning fuel like propane and we do the best we can to publicize [the benefits of] propane," says Nick Gnazzo, sales manager at Eastern Propane in Rochester, N.H. Whatever the reason for the conversion "people understand that oil will probably get more expensive down the line. Massachusetts is a particularly strong oil market, but we are certainly making some headway on the propane side."

Prospective customers of D.F. Richard, an oil and propane dealer in Dover, N.H., that's been on the scene since 1932, are offered both choices. "We don't steer them one way or another, but give them the Btu-per-gallon comparison," says Rick Card, D.F. Richard's CEO. "Converting from oil to propane started taking off a couple of summers ago when the crude price rose to $140 a barrel. Everything put together, propane is really the way to go. I've converted from oil to propane myself, as have the two owners and our sales manager."

Removing an oil tank and installing a propane-ready furnace or boiler isn't a do-it-yourself project for most homeowners. Bruce W. Maki, a remodeler and editor of HammerZone.com, takes 14 web pages to explain the process of getting two fuel-oil tanks out of his basement. Then there's the problem of disposing of the tanks, a complicated process that is often dictated by cumbersome EPA and state regulations.

The bottom line: It's best for remodelers and contractors to work with one of the more than 6,000 retail propane dealers for help with all aspects of converting from oil to propane.

For a detailed comparison of the first costs, efficiency levels, energy rates, and carbon emissions of oil and propane heating systems, check out the Comparative Heating Study interactive map and white paper. Also, stay tuned for our CEU course, Retrofitting Homes from Heating Oil to Propane, due to launch later this summer.

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