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.

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