Electric vs Gas (LP)

Started by FrankInWI, July 31, 2006, 12:33:38 PM

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With the price of natural gas going up dramaticaly (LP too, right?) has the time come where it wouldn't cost much more to go with all electric cabin living, vs. some of both?  Water heating, home heating, etc.  I heard some of the 220 V baseboard heaters are pretty efficient.  


For what its worth:

These are electric and suposed to be quite efficient.  No forced air is nice too.


My HVAC monkey just put these in a project house and we'll see how the perform.

I still really like a nice little direct-vent stove/fireplace. Easy, clean, efficient.

Good Luck


All electric resistance heaters are 100% efficient, based on electricity in and heat out.


I am coming to the same conclusion and I have an alternative fuels worksheet that I use for plugging in the various fuel costs, equipment costs and interest rates to explore the trade offs.

Electricity looks better in many parts of the country compared to fossil fuel alternatives.

Here is a screen shot of a recent run:

The long term advantage of electricity is that it is a disbursed two-way network based grid - just like the Internet. There are all kinds of things that can be plugged into the grid as generators - wave power, wind power, small scale PV, burning or composting farming wastes, etc.

I'm coming to see electricity not so much a fuel source itself, but as a universal exchange currency that is traded at the speed of light over the electric power Internet. Almost anything can be converted into Kilowatts (and like the Internet, the cost of a transaction is going down and the efficiency of the network is going up).


My dad's house in Central Oregon is "Super Good Sense" home, with a reverse living design. The living areas are upstairs with the bedrooms downstairs. He has a wood stove with copper tubing running through the wall behind it, and the wood stove is in a open room/foyer type area downstairs. Cold water runs through the tubing, heats up and is stored in a hot water tank. He has a heat pump with an underground heat exchange system(?), this involved the contractor digging a trench behind the house and what all else he did I am not sure. Dad also runs solar for hot water collection as well.

Central Oregon at 4000 ft. above sea level often gets into the 90's during the summer and 30-40 in the winter is common. Dad's house is always comfortable and I never hear him complain about electric bills.

For our cabin in Tennessee at 2000 ft. we are considering solar for water, along with a wood stove and the piping idea to augment on cloudy/cold days. Gas to heat everything on really cold days and of course electric for lights.

Lp in our area is delivered by trucks, and most folks have a big tank out in the yard that they fill up when they need it.  In the summer our usage would be fairly low, winter would depend on how cold we get--

The big house would probably be like my dad's house with a combination of things, and the one option he doesn't have--- Gas.
So far for our are, the combination seems to be the best bet, but that could change.


After pricing every option I could find, I've concluded that electric is my best option.  We have cheap electricity do to local coal mining.  

Cove radiators are cheap to install and work very well.

I might put a wood stove in to hedge the cost a little.

LP has got to be on the way out.  The cost is getting crazy


My off-grid friends believe in electricity, partly because there are a handful of ways to generate it, and do you really want to use a Janes washer for your clothes?  They do have gas hot water, stove, generator at their house.  But for a nearby community center--same lot of people, only the stove is gas and that's grill gas bottles.  Water heater is (grid) electric.  No AC for either house or center.  Fans, though, usable in both.  And both buildings are pretty shaded.

The 100% efficiency is kind of phony.  It is, of course, after it gets to your house.  But I was reading today about coal gassification with CO2 sequestration.  If even half the story is true (probably), uh, can we not do this, even if it does keep the coal companies in business?

Here's the link:



Nice analysis John. I'm a bit surprised that zoned electric did so well considering that the low cost of capital favors the more expensive options. With interest rates a bit higher now, it might beat out all but the woodstove.


I wish I knew how to post some information on Cove heat.  BHP, or Black Hills Power has some good digs on it.

Initial cost to install is minimial.  In areas with forseeable cheap electric this seems to be a great option.

LP seems to have a limited future.  NG isn't available in a lot of rural areas.

All fuel sources in the US are only going to continue to soar.


So-how does this apply to off-grid?  I can actually hook up to power for about $15,000, so that is yet another consideration.  Goes to show, nothing is simple.

I want to use a generator as little as possible--noise and fumes, etc.  Am looking at some wind charts in Washington, and it looks like we MAY be able to access greater than 9 MPH winds, which could make wind power a possibility.  Was looking at a propane generator, but found that they are probably more expensive to run than diesel.

Anything more you can tell us about that house in Oregon? I could be convinced to be a copycat. Geothermal looks ideal, but it also looks expensive.  Just building a cottage, want to be sane about this.

John Raabe

An off-grid home changes the rules because you have to generate and store your own power. A grid tied home with wind or solar generation does not need storage and can sell power back to the grid. This is a huge advantage.

Storage (batteries) is the big expense and hassle of an off-grid installation. Many of my local off-grid folks gave it up after a few years and found a way to tie into the grid. It didn't look so expensive after playing around with battery acid for a few years!  :D

Diesel is the way to go for a long term generator installation.

None of us are as smart as all of us.

glenn kangiser

As far as off grid goes , electric heat is a no-no.  Electric heaters are just resistance loads that drain your batteries rapidly.
"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin  http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=151.0

Please put your area in your sig line so we can assist with location specific answers.


I haven't found a better alternative than propane other than burning wood (off grid). I use 100# cylinders and haul them into town. They are heavy to handle. The propane weighs 100# + the weight of the tank.
I have done so much with so little for so long that today I can do almost anything with absolutely nothing.


Grill gas containers--five gallons worth--if that doesn't mean you are going through two or three a week, which I was when I was heating with the furnace in the trailer.

Rent the tank, let the propane company come to you--most of the people I know do that.

Kerosene or fuel oil heaters--Glenn has one of those, likes it a lot, but there's a widely posted rant by a man named Al who absolutely loathes the one brand of heaters.

I don't guess anyone wants to do coal any more.  

Corn (which I think sounds horrible) or pellet fuel stoves, which are another form of burning stuff, but you have to use what the stove is designed for.

Redesign the whole durned place so it will be "self-comforted."  That is, heat and cool itself without your having to buy anything extra after the house is built.

I'd think that 15 grand would give you pretty close to an "all the comforts of home" electrical system.  You'd have to be very careful about which refrigerator, clothes dryers are a no-no, but you might not have to use a Janes Washer.

And if you've got good solar potential, solar water heater--several ways to do it quite inexpensively--and radiant heat.

And if everybody around's power goes out, your lights are still on, you're watching television--or a video--the envy of the neighborhood.


(consider that if you are out in the middle of bleeping nowhere, a power outage puts you at the bottom of the list to be fixed--the time there was a major power failure in Nashville, I was between the substation and a hospital--got power back within 20 hours.  Several sets of friends in old established city neighborhoods were two weeks getting theirs back, I'd hate to think how that would play out here.)


I know that feeling!

In the mid 90's we had a terrible ice storm in Michigan. Much of extreme southeastern Michigan is rural and many were without power for days.

We were in a fairly new subdivision but some of the lines were old. The people on the street at right angles to us had power back on within days but it took us over two weeks. We were one of the last because our street wasn't a priority with only a few houses on it.

A lesson to be learned. I don't want to repeat that scenario again. I looked into fireplaces with thermostats that were very efficient and were marketed to heat the whole house. I'm thinking of installing one but won't rely on it solely because of past experiences. It was $1500 for the fireplace alone in 1995 and probably twice that now. I don't remember the name but since I'm in the design phase now, I better get on the ball!

So what's the recommendation for extreme weather conditions? We have a few days per year with below zero weather and about a month in the single digits. It's not uncommon to have heating bills of over $300/mo here and I'm sure prices will only rise further for NG.

glenn kangiser

I can't even imagine living under those conditions, MIEDRN.  First I would move south.  If that's not an alternative, then I think Johns Super Insulation techniques and a small home would help.  This was a few years back -- used only-- Maybe John has more  recommendations now.

Superinsulated Design and Construction: A Guide for Building Energy-Efficient Homes (Hardcover)
by Thomas Lenchek, Chris Mattock, John Raabe

"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin  http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=151.0

Please put your area in your sig line so we can assist with location specific answers.


Solar?  It would help here better than there, but two weeks without power? probably have some sunny days.  

The build-it solar has a handful of ideas (I'm thinking he might be a member here) all featuring short payback.  Including an elegant and simple barn heater. I just posted a link in Poor Man's Vent.

(the cheapest, and silliest--and probably ugliest--solar heater is a black plastic hung on the inside of an equator-facing window, leaving gaps at the bottom (for air to enter) and at the top (for it to come out into the room).  Take down or pull drapes at night--good to remember in an emergency, and the price is pretty much right--might work best if you had a pair of spring-tension curtain rods to hold the bag--top and bottom--in the window.)

I've generally got a portable propane heater of some sort on hand for such occasions.  The baby one-plaque that can use the pound cans of propane is pretty good.


I am putting in a high efficiency marathon hot water heater in my cabin.  It will be used to heat the radiant floors tubes as well.  I am putting in a LP fireplace w/ thermostat as a back-up.  We have a program here in Minnesota called Dual-Fuel, which allows me to utilize electricity at 4c/kWh.  On a 90% efficient LP furnace, this is the equivalent to 97c/gallon propane.  My neighbor just had his tank filled for $1.74/gallon.  Electricity will be 2x as efficient for me.  I just need the propane as a back-up because the power company can turn my dual fuel meter off for up to 12 hours at a time, however it is usually only 4 hours.  Here is a link to some statistics http://www.lakecountrypower.com/energy/sell%20sheet%20pdfs/rates.pdf


Part of any decision is cost, and there are some energy tax credits available for 2006 and 2007 by the IRS, and also some states.  Here's a link http://www.energy.gov/taxbreaks.htm


I am new to the forum, but wish to live an independent and self reliant lifestyle. For those of you who may wish to do the same here are a couple of links the do it yourself wind power.



And a commercial supplier http://www.bergey.com/

There are many resources available for alternative versions of energy. Of course it does mean using batteries. yeesh.


glenn kangiser

Welcome to the forum, vlloyd.  I am a Bergey Dealer but have not sold any other than my own.  I won't sell to people with misconceptions of wind and solar power. 

No - you don't just put up a wind generator and plug into it. rofl

Bergey was going to dump me and I told them to feel free but I would not mis-lead people and I would not sell to someone who failed to understand all involved -- they didn't yet, but as you mentioned I am going to be building home brew stuff from here on out I think.

I picked up two treadmills with DC permanent magnet motors, which are instant generators when you find a power source for them.  Sassy says she will pedal if I set her up a recumbant bike but, she already has knee and hip problems so I won't do it.

I have a 1.25 HP - 90VDC motor and the other is 2.5 HP - haven't checked the specifics yet.  They work great with a voltage booster to get the slow speed stuff  and on up from there. 

I see you know where to find the good stuff...even Hugh Piggot's site.

We can talk about this as much as you want.  New topic in off topics or here as it is of interest to off grid people---  if you want to have a separate category and go in depth on it - experimentation etc. :)
"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin  http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=151.0

Please put your area in your sig line so we can assist with location specific answers.


My TVA power is cheaper than my ATMOS gas.

My cabin is all electric.

Heat is resistive in a 2.5 ton mobile home package unit.
If you live a totally useless day in a totally useless manner you have learned how to live