Switching from Propane to Natural Gas Won’t Save Energy

Focus your cus­tomers on effi­ciency to get desired cost savings

Expect nat­ural gas pub­lic util­i­ties to become increas­ingly aggres­sive in switch­ing home­own­ers from propane to nat­ural gas for the pri­mary energy source for their homes.  Abun­dant sup­plies of nat­ural gas and low pric­ing have forced nat­ural gas com­pa­nies to look for the most prof­itable way to sell the increased pro­duc­tion from shale sources.  Nat­ural gas util­i­ties will be plac­ing extra empha­sis on the res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial uses of nat­ural gas instead of watch­ing all the new gas pro­duc­tion go to fuel new or retro­fit power plants.  It’s all about mar­gin, some­thing the propane indus­try knows very well.

The com­bi­na­tion of low home energy effi­ciency and volatile propane pric­ing can make switch­ing to nat­ural gas an easy deci­sion for the aver­age home owner.  Propane home­own­ers look­ing for a quick fix for their high energy bills will be tempted to switch to nat­ural gas, but doing so will not save energy.  The owner of an older home built to an ear­lier, less aggres­sive build­ing code, and with an orig­i­nal heat­ing sys­tem that has prob­a­bly been de-rated to 60% or less effi­ciency due to age and neglect, will not save energy by switch­ing to nat­ural gas.  Using nat­ural gas instead of propane will still send 40% or more of the pro­duced heat up the vent pipe and leak more through the enve­lope of the home.  All that is not even con­sid­er­ing the energy expended in propane ser­vice dis­con­nect and pip­ing of nat­ural gas to the home­site that energy switch­ing will cause.

If you see energy switch­ing as a chal­lenge in your mar­ket­place, now is the time to engage your cus­tomers in a con­ver­sa­tion about increas­ing the effi­ciency of their homes, includ­ing the enve­lope, heat­ing equip­ment and appli­ances, so they can pocket the sav­ings on their over­all energy bills and not be mis­led by energy switch­ing claims.  Home­own­ers can gain even more effi­ciency and energy cost sav­ings beyond space heat­ing by divert­ing home energy usage from elec­tric­ity to propane for other appli­ca­tions in the home such as water heat­ing, cook­ing, clothes dry­ing, and fire­places.  Your aver­age res­i­den­tial cus­tomer will end up with greatly increased home effi­ciency, lower total energy bills (propane and elec­tric­ity), and a more com­fort­able home.  There are dozens of National, State, and local pro­grams to help home­own­ers pay for home effi­ciency and weath­er­iza­tion improve­ments.  Energy not used is always the cheap­est, and energy not used is always the cleanest.

A next step for you as propane mar­keters can include part­ner­ing with a cer­ti­fied home energy audi­tor or start­ing a home energy audit­ing divi­sion of your own com­pany.  Home per­for­mance audi­tors use equip­ment to per­form tests such as Blower Door (whole-house infil­tra­tion), Duct Blaster (duct leak­age test), and Infrared Scan­ning ((iden­ti­fies invis­i­ble trou­ble spots in insu­la­tion).  Home energy audi­tors use a rec­og­nized per­for­mance stan­dard such as the REZNET (Res­i­den­tial Energy Ser­vices Net­work) -HERS (Home Energy Rat­ing Sys­tem) index, a nation­ally rec­og­nized sys­tem for inspect­ing and cal­cu­lat­ing a home’s energy per­for­mance.  Many new home builders are using the HERS index to effi­ciency rate their new homes to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from the used home mar­ket.  Find out more about home energy per­for­mance by going to the PERC builder web site, http://www.buildwithpropane.com, and look for train­ing courses and train­ing tools such as the Energy Cost & Car­bon Cal­cu­la­tor.  This tool and sev­eral oth­ers can also be housed on your web­site to help make your com­pany the local energy expert.

Your local net­work­ing should always start with builders, but don’t stop there.  Great net­work­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties also exist with HVAC con­trac­tors, plumbers, home energy audi­tors, home improve­ment con­trac­tors, and oth­ers.  For exam­ple, home energy audi­tors may know a lot about the effi­ciency of a home, but they may not know the impor­tant role that propane and related appli­ca­tions can play in rais­ing home effi­ciency and sav­ing energy.  You can bring them busi­ness, and they can help you pre­serve and grow your cus­tomer base.

PERC has avail­able impor­tant research results, train­ing courses, and a wide array of other up-to-date energy related mate­ri­als for res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial build­ing and remod­el­ing that propane mar­keters should be using to reach out to con­struc­tion and energy pro­fes­sion­als.  PERC also has an inte­grated national out­reach pro­gram that reaches res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial builders and archi­tects, and to a lesser degree, HVAC and plumb­ing con­trac­tors and other influ­encers.  Builders and archi­tects can be reached by PERC with such an inte­grated pro­gram in a cost effi­cient and highly effec­tive man­ner, but propane mar­keters need to be engaged with builders to help them close the sale for propane.  The fur­ther down the influ­encer chain that PERC gets from mar­ket­ing to builders and archi­tects, the more impor­tant it is for local propane mar­keters to be involved.  The HVAC and plumb­ing indus­try is not as eas­ily reached in national or regional mar­ket­ing cam­paigns because of less influ­en­tial national trade orga­ni­za­tions and less media oppor­tu­ni­ties.  This means the most cost effi­cient and effec­tive out­reach to them is local.  Local means propane mar­keters face to face, net­work­ing with builders, trade allies, and energy professionals.

Don’t allow your cus­tomers to be mis­led by energy switch­ing.  Get local with your effi­ciency net­work­ing and allow your cus­tomers to have choices that will save energy, lower their over­all energy bills, pre­serve the envi­ron­ment, and give them a more com­fort­able home.  Increas­ing effi­ciency is where it all starts.


Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.

Home Builders Find Propane a Favorable Energy Source

Builders were propane buy­ers at the Inter­na­tional Builders Show

The 2012 Inter­na­tional Builders Show (IBS) held in Orlando, FL last month showed a mod­est increase in atten­dance.  Over 50,000 atten­dees and 900 exhibits still makes this one of the largest trade events in the coun­try, in spite of the down­turn in the build­ing indus­try.  Propane was well rep­re­sented in the gas indus­tries exhibit with the Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil (PERC) part­ner­ing with the Amer­i­can Gas Asso­ci­a­tion and over a dozen gas prod­ucts man­u­fac­tur­ers.  These equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers included Gen­erac and Marathon Engine Sys­tems show­ing off new gen­er­a­tor and com­bined heat and power (CHP) tech­nol­ogy devel­oped through PERC grants.

The gas exhibit had lots of traf­fic with nearly 1500 builders vis­it­ing the exhibit and reg­is­ter­ing for more infor­ma­tion about propane and related prod­ucts. Total builder leads from PERC activ­i­ties at IBS should total over 18,000.  Expect to see them posted on the Propane MaRC in the com­ing weeks.  Propane indus­try sup­port from the field to pro­vide vol­un­teers for the exhibit was weak for this event with sev­eral com­pa­nies pulling out at the last minute.  We should all thank Fer­rell­gas and Lib­erty Propane for pro­vid­ing great vol­un­teers to work with builders vis­it­ing the exhibit.  They were kept very busy.

All of the builders stop­ping by seemed favor­able toward propane and had great ques­tions regard­ing a project or two of which they were work­ing and how propane could fit into them.  Two broth­ers who are HVAC con­trac­tors in propane coun­try near Louisville spent over an hour with the Marathon rep­re­sen­ta­tives dis­cussing how CHP could fit into their projects instead of geot­her­mal.  I talked with Jim from Arkansas who wanted to know if propane rather than elec­tric­ity could ful­fill his energy needs in his soon to be con­structed 2,800 sq. ft. hunt­ing lodge.  By the time we were done talk­ing, I walked him over to the Ther­mador sec­tion of the exhibit and he was pick­ing out his gas range.  And there was Bill from Idaho who wanted to know about propane tan­k­less water heaters for a ski lodge project on which he is bid­ding.  Don from Ohio was inter­ested in learn­ing about propane tanks that can be installed under­ground on some of his cus­tom home projects.  Matt from Penn­syl­va­nia has been build­ing about 15 homes a year on propane and wanted to know more about being able to offer standby gen­er­a­tors as an option for his clients.  There were 4 dif­fer­ent builders or devel­op­ers who were look­ing for more infor­ma­tion on com­mu­nity propane sys­tems for projects they will start in the spring.  Robert stopped by and was hav­ing prob­lems get­ting a propane com­pany to per­form a site visit to deter­mine tank loca­tion and pip­ing needs for a cus­tom home he is build­ing for a client in South­ern Florida.  The home will be 18,000 sq. ft. in size and will have 5 propane tan­k­less water heaters and numer­ous other propane appli­ca­tions through­out the home and back­yard.  And then there was the woman builder from New Mex­ico who attended a PERC spon­sored “Meet the Experts” ses­sion who planned the pur­chase of 4 propane standby gen­er­a­tors for projects on which she is work­ing.
These are just a few exam­ples of the high qual­ity of the builder traf­fic stop­ping by the exhibit.  It helped to have the high qual­ity hand­out mate­ri­als that PERC pro­vided, such as the new Propane Tech­ni­cal Pocket Guide that gives com­par­isons between propane, nat­ural gas, heat­ing oil, and elec­tric­ity.  The Pocket Guide pro­vides con­tainer loca­tion infor­ma­tion, pipe siz­ing charts, and other tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion a builder may need to access on the job site.  Another pop­u­lar part on the propane exhibit was a big screen mon­i­tor that had the PERC con­struc­tion pro­fes­sional web site online so builders could try out sev­eral online tools such as the Energy Cost and Car­bon Cal­cu­la­tor.

Builder atti­tudes at IBS were guard­edly opti­mistic about build­ing activ­ity in 2012 based on the pos­i­tive response they are get­ting from prospec­tive home buy­ers.  Cus­tom home buy­ers seem to be lead­ing the shift in sen­ti­ment and direc­tion, and that is good news for the propane indus­try.  Large cus­tom homes in propane coun­try have always been our sweet spot for new busi­ness.  Don’t expect dra­matic changes this year, but it is def­i­nitely time to con­nect with builders and remod­el­ers in your area and turn favor­a­bil­ity into propane sales.

If you want to inter­act with trade pro­fes­sion­als, you should vol­un­teer to work at the JLC Live res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion show in Prov­i­dence, RI on March 21–24.  PERC will share exhibit space with the Propane Gas Asso­ci­a­tion of New Eng­land and sev­eral prod­ucts man­u­fac­tur­ers at the Rhode Island Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.  You can find more details at www.newengland.jlclive.com.


Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.  Con­nect on Face­book and LinkedIn