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Propane vs Gas Generator: Pros and Cons

propane vs gas generator

Mobile generators play an indispensable role. These generators light up spaces, operate machinery, keep temperatures comfortable, and ensure the smooth running of sound systems. Plus, both businesses and households increasingly rely on generators as a backup power solution. 

Traditionally, gas generators have been the go-to choice. However, as the world becomes more alert to environmental concerns, there has been a search for greener fuels. That’s where the propane generator comes in. 

To help you figure out which one suits your needs the best, we put together a breakdown of propane versus gas generators.

Propane vs gas generator: How they operate

There are some similarities in how a propane generator works versus a gas generator. For example, in both, an internal combustion engine is key to converting chemical energy to electrical energy. At the same time, there are notable differences between propane and gas generators:

How propane generators work

A propane generator operates by converting chemical energy into mechanical energy. Then, the mechanical energy gets transformed into electrical energy. At the heart of this mechanism is an internal combustion engine, similar to what you’d find in many cars. When propane is introduced into the generator’s combustion chamber, it’s mixed with air. This gas mix is then ignited. This air-fuel mixture combusts, and the resulting explosion pushes a piston within a cylinder. As the piston moves, it turns a crankshaft. This starts a process that drives the generator’s alternator.

The critical component for electricity generation is the alternator. It consists of two main parts: The rotor and the stator. As the crankshaft turns the rotor, a magnetic field is created. This rotating magnetic field induces a flow of electric current in the stator, producing electricity. This electricity is then channeled and distributed to power various appliances and devices. One of the beauties of a propane generator is the cleanliness of its burn compared to some other fuels. This leads to fewer emissions and a reduced environmental footprint. It also means less debris from emissions within the generator itself.

How gas generators work

Like a propane generator, a gasoline generator converts chemical energy from gasoline into electrical energy through a process known as internal combustion. When gasoline is fed into the engine, a spark plug ignites the fuel, causing a controlled explosion. This explosion creates mechanical energy by rapidly expanding gasses which push the engine’s pistons. The back-and-forth motion of the pistons is converted into rotational motion by the crankshaft. This mechanical energy is the primary force that drives the generator.

Once the engine generates mechanical energy, this energy is transferred to an alternator. The alternator is responsible for producing electricity. Inside the alternator, there is a rotor (a rotating component) and a stator (a stationary component). The mechanical energy from the engine causes the rotor to spin inside the stator. This rotation creates a magnetic field that induces a flow of electrical current in the stator’s windings. This current is then harnessed and converted into usable electrical power. 

The electricity generated is typically in the form of alternating current (AC). This is suitable for powering a variety of electrical appliances and tools. The generator’s output can be adjusted based on the power demand. This enables efficient use of gasoline while meeting the energy needs of the connected devices.

Propane vs gas generator: Fuel accessibility and methods of refueling

Gasoline is widely accessible and in situations of urgency, it’s even possible to extract it from other vehicles using a siphon method. This makes it a convenient option for emergency fuel needs. But, you should bear in mind that gasoline dispensers at service stations rely on electricity to function. If there’s a power outage or electrical failure, these gas pumps become inoperative. This limitation highlights the importance of considering alternative fuel sources or storage methods for emergencies. That’s where a propane tank and a propane generator can be critical.

Propane vs gas generator: Propane use in emergency power systems

If you’re considering a propane generator as a contingency for power outages, you need to know the requirements for fuel storage. Unlike small barbecue cylinders, a lot more propane is needed to power a household. This necessitates the use of a bulk storage tank. The capacity needed varies depending on the size of the home and the power requirements.

Either way, having a propane generator as your emergency power source makes sense. Gasoline’s main advantage over propane is much greater access. If there’s a gas station nearby, then you can easily refuel your gas generator. But what if you’re not close to a gas station? Then gasoline’s advantage vanishes. The fact that a power outage can knock out gasoline dispensers also makes a propane generator more appealing.

What are some of the benefits of propane vs gas generators?

If you’re trying to decide on a propane versus gas generator, knowing some of the key benefits is essential. Here are some of the advantages that stand out the most with propane versus gas generators:

1. Shelf life of propane is superior

When it comes to generators, shelf life depends on how frequently you use the generator and how you store it. Generators are not typically used on a daily basis. This means they spend a significant amount of time in storage. This storage period is crucial for the longevity and efficiency of the generator. The duration of storage is greatly influenced by the type of fuel you choose to use. Propane stands out as a more reliable and long-lasting fuel option compared to others like gasoline.

When considering the storage stability, propane has a notable advantage over gasoline. Gasoline is known for its high flammability. But it tends to lose its effectiveness after about a year of storage. This degradation not only affects the fuel itself. It can also lead to a reduced shelf life of the generator due to the formation of carbon deposits. 

On the other hand, propane exhibits an impressive stability over time. It doesn’t degrade, maintaining its quality and efficiency for an extended period. This attribute makes propane an ideal choice for powering generators that are not in constant use.

The storage of propane requires careful handling and adherence to safety regulations. Propane is classified as a hazardous material. So, it must be stored in specially certified cylinders or tanks. These storage containers need to undergo periodic recertification to ensure they remain safe for use. Propane cylinders are typically recertified every 10 years. The larger bulk storage units need reassessment every 25 years. These safety measures are essential to reduce the risks associated with storing propane. They also ensure the longevity of both the fuel and the generator itself.

2. Propane generators are more environmentally-friendly

Propane generators offer significant environmental benefits. These advantages primarily stem from their cleaner-burning nature. Unlike gasoline generators, propane units emit considerably fewer pollutants. This characteristic makes them a more eco-friendly choice for power generation.

One of the standout advantages of propane generators is their lower carbon monoxide output. Carbon monoxide is significantly reduced in propane generators. They are known to produce approximately half the amount of carbon monoxide compared to traditional gasoline generators. This plays a crucial role in reducing the generator’s carbon footprint. This makes propane generators the preferable option for those concerned with air quality and environmental impact.

Propane generators may fall short in terms of overall efficiency. Gasoline generators are often preferred for their higher power output. However, if you’re concerned with environmental impact and air quality, propane generators are the better choice. This balance between efficiency and environment is an important factor when choosing between propane and gasoline generators.

3. Propane is better for emergencies

Propane generators have a distinctive advantage in emergency situations due to their fuel supply reliability. When you have access to propane delivery trucks, you can ensure a consistent and uninterrupted supply of fuel. This is particularly crucial during prolonged emergencies. Natural disasters and/or power outages can prevent access to gasoline. Meanwhile, if you have a propane tank, you have fuel to power your house. Propane can be stored in large quantities and for extended periods without going bad. This adds to its reliability as an emergency power source.

One of the key benefits of using a propane generator is the potential for extended power duration. This is especially true when equipped with a sizable propane tank. This setup allows your home or facility to remain powered for a very long time during emergencies. All that without the need for frequent refueling. Propane tanks come in various sizes. This allows homeowners to choose a capacity that suits their specific power needs and expected duration of use. This capability to store large quantities of fuel safely and use it as needed makes propane generators an efficient choice for sustained emergency power.

4. Operational noise and maintenance are less of a concern with propane

Propane generators generally operate more quietly compared to their gas counterparts. Less noise pollution can be especially helpful in residential areas. Another advantage of propane versus gasoline generators is their durability and lower maintenance requirements. Propane burns cleaner than gasoline, leading to less build-up of deposits in the engine. This results in fewer maintenance issues and prolongs the lifespan of the generator. Longer lifespan means fewer costs of repairs and part replacements. 

Being a cleaner fuel, propane also contributes to reduced wear and tear on engine components. This further enhances the durability of the generator. These aspects, when combined with the fuel cost savings, make propane generators a financially wise choice for long-term use, despite their higher upfront investment.

5. Propane generators offer longer-term savings

Propane generators often prove to be more cost-effective in the long run compared to gasoline generators. This cost-effectiveness is primarily attributed to the lower operating costs associated with propane fuel. Propane is typically less expensive than gasoline on a per-unit basis. Propane often experiences less price volatility, making budgeting for fuel costs more predictable. Additionally, propane generators tend to have higher fuel efficiency. They consume less fuel to produce the same amount of power as gasoline generators. This efficiency translates to lower fuel costs over the lifetime of the generator.

Get quotes from up to 5 propane dealers in your area today to get the best pricing on propane delivery.

How far should a generator be from a propane tank?

The recommended distance between a propane generator and its propane tank is 10 feet. But, this can vary depending on local regulations, the size of the tank, and the generator’s specifications. However, as a general guideline:

  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards: The NFPA recommends that portable generators, including those running on propane, be placed at least 5 feet away from any structure and away from doors, windows, and vent openings to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the building.
  • Local codes and regulations: It’s important to consult local building codes and fire safety regulations as they may have specific requirements regarding the placement of both propane tanks and generators. These regulations can vary significantly depending on the area.
  • Manufacturer’s instructions: Always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for your specific generator and propane tank. These instructions often include minimum distance requirements for safety reasons.
  • Safety considerations: Adequate distance is crucial for safety, not only to prevent fire hazards but also to ensure proper ventilation and to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Professional advice: If you are unsure about the appropriate placement of your propane generator and tank, it’s a good practice to consult with a professional. A certified technician can provide advice based on your specific setup and local regulations.

Do generators last longer with gas or propane?

The longevity of propane versus gasoline generators is an important consideration. Several factors come into play that generally favor propane for longer-lasting performance.

Longevity of propane generators

Propane generators typically have a longer lifespan compared to gasoline generators. This is largely due to the cleaner burning nature of propane, which results in less carbon buildup and fewer contaminants in the engine. Such cleanliness reduces the wear and tear on engine components. Less wear and tear means fewer maintenance issues over time. Plus, propane does not degrade over time like gasoline. So, propane can be stored for longer periods without affecting the performance or lifespan of the generator. This aspect is particularly beneficial for standby generators that may not be used frequently but need to be ready for immediate use.

Challenges with gasoline generators

Gasoline generators, while popular for their initial cost-effectiveness and high energy output, often don’t match the longevity of propane generators. Gasoline can degrade over time, especially if stored for long periods, leading to issues such as varnish and gum deposits in the fuel system. These deposits can cause significant wear and damage to the engine, thereby shortening the generator’s lifespan. Moreover, gasoline is more likely to emit more carbon and contaminants when burned, which contributes to quicker degradation of engine parts. Regular maintenance and proper storage can mitigate some of these issues, but gasoline generators generally require more upkeep to maintain their performance over time compared to propane generators.

Is it cheaper to run a generator on gas or propane?

The initial investment in gas-powered generators might seem more economical. But it’s worth considering the long-term benefits of propane-powered alternatives. Most users don’t operate their generators daily, so storage becomes a critical factor. Propane has a distinct advantage in this regard, as its shelf life exceeds that of gasoline. Over extended periods of non-use, gasoline can degrade. This leads to potential issues with performance and maintenance. 

On the other hand, propane remains stable for longer, ensuring that your generator is ready to perform when needed, even after prolonged storage. This can lead to savings on both fuel replacement and potential repair costs over time. This makes propane-powered generators a cost-effective choice in the long run.

How long will 100 gallons of propane last for a generator?

The duration for which a generator will operate on a given amount of propane largely depends on its power capacity and load. For instance, if you have a 100-gallon propane tank and a 7kW generator, you can expect it to run continuously for approximately 66 hours when it’s operating at its maximum capacity. Conversely, a more powerful 12kW generator drawing from the same 100-gallon tank will have a shorter run time of around 36 hours at full load.

However, in real-world scenarios, generators rarely operate at their maximum capacity continuously. More often than not, they function within a range of 25-75% of their total capacity, depending on the power demands placed upon them. This means that, in practical situations, a 100-gallon propane tank can sustain a generator for a significantly longer duration than the mentioned hours, as the generator’s power consumption will fluctuate and rarely reach its peak for extended periods.

Is it worth converting my generator to propane?

Converting your generator to propane offers several advantages. They’re mainly in terms of fuel efficiency, environmental impact, and fuel storage. Propane burns cleaner than gasoline, resulting in fewer emissions and a reduced environmental footprint. This is especially important if you’re concerned about eco-friendliness.

Propane typically has a longer shelf life than gasoline. Propane also does not degrade over time, making it a more reliable fuel source for emergency situations. The conversion might also lead to lower operational costs. This is because propane is often less expensive than gasoline in the long run and generators running on propane typically require less maintenance.

However, there are considerations to keep in mind before proceeding with the conversion. The initial cost of converting your generator to propane can be significant, depending on the model and the complexity of the conversion kit. You need to figure out if the long-term savings in fuel and maintenance costs justify this upfront investment.

Additionally, you should consider the availability of propane in your area. While propane is generally widely available, in some regions it might be less accessible than gasoline. The conversion will also mean that your generator will be dedicated to propane use unless you choose a dual-fuel kit. A dual-fuel kit allows for both gasoline and propane operation but at an additional cost.

Get quotes from up to 5 propane dealers in your area today to get the best pricing on propane delivery.

The bottom line on a propane vs gas generator

Gasoline generators may be more cost-effective at first. But propane generators can save you money in the long run. You probably won’t be using your generator every day, which means you’ll be storing it for the majority of the time. When it comes to shelf life, propane is a far superior fuel supply.

The decision between propane and gas isn’t a simple matter of superiority. It’s about aligning the specific advantages of each with the unique requirements at hand. Whether it’s the ecological benefits of propane or the rugged reliability of gas, understanding the context and desired outcomes will guide users toward the most fitting choice.

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